Monday, January 25, 2016

The three elements of Buddhist enlightenment in a triangle

When one word or concept is placed at each corner of a triangle, there is a special property. Each word or concept will affect the other two. In Mahāyāna branch of Buddhism, the three components of enlightenment Insight (見地) Practice (修證) and Vows (行願) can be placed in such a way. In this post, I shall briefly tackle their relationships. My approach is Zen (and Tao), without apology, and certainly is far from definitive.

When we talk about Practice in Zen, we have in mind of Zazen (坐禪), or meditation. Meditation however is a common practice for many schools of religious, spiritual and health related (both physical and psychological) disciplines or practices. The special thing about Zen meditative practice is that a proficient practitioner is supposed to be able to get into a certain meditative mode or state while walking, living, sitting and sleeping (行住坐卧).

Koans are special tools related to Zen Insight. They are like case studies. And the Insights are imbued or embedded inside the stories. These stories are oftentimes examples of successful and unsuccessful insights, both are important (for example in the famous story of "Monk slaughters a cat" [NANQUAN KILLS A CAT (南泉斬貓)] one monk got the Insight while the other monks could not). Understanding the koans presupposes the students to have understood relevant theories of the relevant Sutra. Koans are like case studies in business schools. It is easy for students to mistakenly think that they are enlightened/having got the Insight after "understanding" the logic behind the story. The gist of the matter is that the "story" facing each individual will be his personal story of tomorrow. Understanding helps but the test is always our "personal koans" of tomorrow. To take the business school analogy further, having high GPA does not guarantee a student being able to make good business decisions in future. It is always the next decision to judge whether a manager is a good manager.

Now we can answer the question of "How is Practice relevant to Insight?" The simplest way to explain is that with good meditative practice one can be in a better position to be able to do the right thing when one faces one's "personal koan" tomorrow. And likewise, without Insight, a student's Practice will have no influence to what define an enlightened person.

Then "How is Vow relevant to Practice?" The simplest way to put is that Vow is a means to direct one's meditative practice into a deeper zone (as a comparison, free divers have to be trained under different guiding principles to go into deep meditative zone, Without a guiding principle, be it Buddhist Vow or free dive hurdles, going into deep meditation is unnecessary). For common folks (like most of us) who do not intent to make Bohsavista Vow, a simple vow to be more compassionate towards people around us can give us good training direction (and motivation) to our meditative practice.

Further analysis is possible but will probably bring my readers into a purely intellectual journey outside the realm of Zen which will defeat the whole purpose of writing this post.

(edited on 26 Jan 2016)

Monday, January 11, 2016

Zen - poetry or inner experience?

Inner experience when written out in prose or verse very often looks like literature, and may well be. The difference is that an author of inner experience writes down what he considers important spiritually, the truth as he has perceived and the communication (i.e. the piece of writing) is between him and the Divine. An example (in the West) is Carl Jung's The Seven Sermons to the Dead. In literature, it is always a communication between the author and his readers. In the former, failure in communication is not a non-issue, while the latter communication failure is fatal, though in both cases a correct reading needs to be learned.

Zen stories (koans) though are in a special position. They entail enlightenment experience, yet they are embedded in drama. To fully understand the stories, one must mentally participate in the drama. In other words, one must re-enact the inner experience of the each participants in the koan. For example in the famous koan NANQUAN KILLS A CAT (南泉斬貓), a student must put himself separately into the monks, the cat, Nanquan and his famous student monk Zhaozhou 赵州.

Where then is the inner experience of Enlightenment in a koan? The inner experience of Enlightenment, if any, lies within the reader. In this regards, those who have background in literary training, in particular with training in reading plays, will have a definite advantage. That is the reason why Zen is an enlightenment route for intellectuals.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

In search of Zen

Today my wife and I went to Stanley. A Japanese friend of ours loves Stanley. Every time he traveled to Hong Kong he would spend a weekday afternoon there. Contemplating by the seaside cafe with a glass of Asahi, in search of mushin (無心), the quint-essential Japanese Zen.

Stanley is very crowded on Sundays. To avoid the crowd in Starbucks, we went straight to the cozy cafe on the second floor. Me the usual double expresso and my wife tried the medium strong Latte White recommended by the friendly lady owner who happened to be there today. We loved the ambience and the music. One could choose to meditate or sleep there without annoying sudden explosive noise, made by some too excited tourists. I chose the former, for a while, otherwise we just observed and chatted. All patrons absorbed themselves in their own affairs without bothering others, including a pair of endlessly talking young lovers, English speaking Chinese, sitting nearby. Outside we spotted a big husky waiting for its master, and we realized for the first time that in Stanley there is something called 'dog's parking lot'. I thought about it and suddenly realized that a frequented place can become a new and exciting place if we can let go of our preconception and experience what is immediately happening around us.

The public mini-van that took us back to Causeway Bay however created ripples to our tranquility. A group of young people seemed having some trouble with the driver inside the van when we boarded. The guy sitting behind the driver still kept using abusive language to provoke the driver while he was driving. Other members of the group kept trying to calm down this fellow called Ahmed, using Cantonese, English and their own native language, but without much success. We, including the German couple sitting next to us, were all afraid that the guy would assault the driver or the driver might lose his calm! When we finally arrived, the German gentleman told us that if such fuss happened in an Lufthansa flight, the pilot will probably call the police and the guy will end up in jail for two years. We both couples agreed that the driver should be given credit in keeping his calm. This middle aged driver just taught us the true meaning of Zen.




Saturday, December 26, 2015

All structural problems can be solved...almost!

Japanese are great preservers of traditional Japanese internal arts. They also great carriers traditional Chinese internal arts, interpreted in their own cultural way, oftentimes also using modern concepts. The Japanese are very systematic in their disciplines. Recently I came across the writings of a lady healer who among other things claimed that 99% of her patients' bodily pains caused by structural imbalance can be cured. I can't agree with her more. Why? The theory goes like this.

Our joints, primarily ball-and-socket and hinge, are there to facilitate our movements. As such the articular cartilages need to be separated by the synovial fluid inside the joint, the cartilages being held in position by the ligament and supported by our tendons. Joint pain arises because some parts of the articular cartilages of the adjoining bones touch and scratch upon each other. It is ultimately caused by an overuse (at certain angle or orientation), and it is immediately caused by the collapse of a certain point(s) separating the cartilages and weakening and shortening of the affected tendons. What makes a cure by chi kung possible is that the collapse is only one pointed or single sided. If we can lift up (or slightly separate) our joints, train our tendons, re-position our bones, so that our bones will be jointed together at a slight different place (with strengthened tendons), then the articular cartilage will not touch upon each other while the joint is in action (i.e. the person in movement in respect of the joint concerned). And we are cured!

It can be done by finely-conditioning of our tendons around our joints. And it can be achieved with a good practice of chi kung, starting with zhan zhuang. The Japanese master said she had many examples of successful cases of healing, and so have I. One caveat, a continual practice is needed to stabilize and/or further improve the situation. Lack of continual practice can easily make the joint fall back into its original (wrong) place!

Note: A number of anatomical terms were mentioned above. Readers have to check their meaning for a good understanding. In future, I will do some explanatory drawings for a better explanation. Until then, do some research for a better understanding.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Understanding Muslims and Islamism

With ISIS's terrorist attack in Paris and the inappropriate comments by Donald Trump, I feel there is an urgent need for people around the world to understand Muslims and Islamism. People in Hong Kong generally have two ways to get to know Muslims in person. One, there is a growing number of Indonesian maids in Hong Kong. Second, there are noodle restaurants in Southern China run by Muslims (Hui or Uyghur) whose complexion is significantly different from Han Chinese.  I have been trying to understand them more in person, firstly through my family's and my relations' Indonesian maids; as well as through personal communications with Halah restaurant operators in Southern China . Besides the practice of Sufism is an internal discipline that I have an interested  in and actually wrote about in this blog, the study of which also leads me to seek further understanding of Islamism.

Indonesia being a secular society allows their Muslims to have a wider choice of actions or behavior. One example is that an elder sister of my Indonesian maid was a Muslim who later became a Christian after she married an Indonesian-Chinese Christian. Her family and village members (maids usually come from poorer rural areas) have accepted such change of religious belief. Indonesian maids in Hong Kong enjoy lots of personal freedom and material goods that they cannot get in their home village. Some behaviors local Hong Kongers frowned upon while most are welcomed. The latter include their participation in group mind-body exercises, one I previously mentioned is Zhan zhaung chi-kung and the other is Yoga (see photo). Every Sunday in Central there are free open classes for the maids run by volunteers (Chinese and Caucasians), from morning till early evening, and a student can join any time. In the park, sometimes we can even see instructors teaching them martial arts - actually wearing karate gi. Most of them are hardworking domestic helpers during weekdays (they are in particular in high demand for taking care of elderly people) and fun-loving ladies on Sundays. And when they talk about religion, they are very serious and know quite a bit. Though some of them also carry elements of their local superstitious beliefs (carried down from Indonesian's folk religion), in general they have far less into idol worship then most Chinese. In short, they are more religiously minded than an average Hong Kong Chinese (be the latter Christian, Buddhist or whatever). Religion forming part of their personality.

Communication with Muslims in China is more difficult. Chinese in Mainland China do not seem to be interested in understanding Muslim culture. In a city in Southern China, we can see Muslims (recognizable by their different complexion) operating noodle shops serving halal food or as hawkers on bicycle selling Xijiang (Uyghur) snacks such as dried grapes. Mainland Chinese just eat in their restaurant and buy their snacks without reaching out the the minority. On the other hand, Muslims also do not take the initiative to communicate with Han-Chinese. I tried to reach out with minor success. And I came to the understanding that Muslims usually prefer to send their kids back to their home town for education, with the objective of keeping their special culture.

A lot needs to be done to promote cultural exchange. And a lot needs to be done AFTER a better understanding.


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Healing joint pain with zhan zhuang chi kuing

Pain at our joints affect most of us when we approach middle age, affecting avid sportsmen as well as couch potatoes. A standard advice for many doctors in Hong Kong is to get rest to alleviate the pain, swallow some pain killers and in future, when "it is cured", refrain from strenuous exercises, no more jogging and no more badminton. The theory goes like this, "after decades of wear-and-tear at our joints, we have to accept the situation, after all, ligaments between joints cannot repair themselves". In severe cases, i.e. even the above cannot help, surgery will be needed. The above advice looks sound to most people, but not to practitioners of zhan zhuang chi kung whose practice has such healing effect. What is the theory behind such claimed healing? I shall explain.

The fact is that total wear-off of ligaments between joints is rare. In most cases, pain at joints is caused by bones in joints being pressed together, which is in turn caused by blockages limiting joint movement. Such blockages will inevitably accompanied by weakness in muscles that are supposed to be responsible for otherwise possible movements. Lack of usage causes a weakening of the muscles concerned. This explain the case why seasoned athletes can also suffer from joint pains. They may be able to move smoothly in ways demanded by their sports, other degrees of movements can be hindered due to insufficient usage.

In zhan zhuang chi kung, joint opening/relaxation (song 鬆)is of primary importance. The ultimate requirement of the practice of song is an internal sensation of "floating", most significantly (and importantly) being felt in our major ball and socket joints, our hip joints (kua 胯 ) and our shoulder joints.  Whereas floating is the condition or sensation achieved by the advanced students (and whose continual training rests on the basis of floating joints), the intermediate students' training focus is to open the blockages. The simple rule is that when in nano or mega movements (the former refer to "movements" generated by our breathing muscles in zhan zhuang), our focus should be in the points of maximum resistance. Focusing as such requires a highly focused mind resulting an internal experience of exercise effect.

In standard zhan zhuang or combat stance, the process is called "listening to Jing" (聼勁, a tai chi lingo, in Yi-Chuen, it is called six direction tag-of-force 六面爭力). A practitioner has to patiently find the blockage or point of maximum resistance (which has to be listened/tested in three-dimensions, therefore six ways) and to direct jing (or force generated by breathing muscles that activates our body holistically) to ease open the blockages. It needs regular practice with a focused mind. When one blockage is cleared, the next blockage will appear. With a focused mind, your body will lead your way.

Friday, November 13, 2015

New Facebook on training

I have just created a Facebook page on Training Notes (Beta). Each post will be written in both Chinese and English. The contents will solely be on techniques. Interested readers can take a look as per linkage below. You will need a Facebook account to Like the Page and be alerted to future posts though.

www.Facebook.com/paul.chikung

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