In kung fu we say in defining the movement of our hands that, “One hand lies while the other hand tells the truth.” The Shaolin would say that it is to summon the spirit of the crane and the tiger. Kung Fu means “supreme skill from hard work.” Through earnest effort, or even sometimes seemingly as if there was no effort of our own, we get to live again as if it is the movie Groundhog Day. Actor Bill Murray who relives the same day repeatedly until he finally wakes up seeing beyond what could be and not simply for what is…
A great poet has reached kung fu. The painter, the calligrapher they can be said to have kung fu. Even the cook, the one who sweeps steps… or a skilled servant… can have kung fu. Practice. Preparation… endless repetition. Until your mind is weary and your bones ache. Until you are too tired to sweat… too wasted to breathe. That is the way the only way one acquires kung fu.
From the beginning of Season One Episode Three of the Marco Polo series. The pictures are from the Shaolin Temple taken the September 2018.
(Or the farmer or gardener who toils for years improving the soil growing corn, flowers and vegetables enjoying the fruits of his labors, can be said to know kung fu.)
I had always wanted to visit the famous Shaolin Temple in China after watching David Carradine in the old TV series “Kung Fu” when he travelled the old west retrieving people from messes of theirs and of others making. I even videotaped all the shows and still have them somewhere.
It is as if a collecting gene in our DNA expands continuously with awareness of where it has been and adjusts its makeup accordingly. Not only physical attributes, but innate continuing spirit. Some talent or ability becomes triggered, another way expressing kung fu. Understanding begins by having to know your Why. Why do you think you should be the one? What is your vision — how to get it done.
Through my writing and travels in China for over twenty years and almost fifty trips, I experienced many successes and failures. Mostly, telling where my energies should take me, discovering who I was and who I am yet to become. Knowing the bliss described by Joseph Campbell, finally waking up seeing beyond what could be and not simply for what is… and what it is that takes us there.
Taking thousands of pictures, those of the Shaolin Temple described here only a few. Pictures often re-telling a story or simply retracing steps. All the while, connecting as if a personal thread through history. Not of things seen for the first time, but to document how things may have changed since my last visit that may trigger another thread that conveys the next step and the why. A sojourn through history as the ultimate personal Ground Hog Day with no need to travel further beyond our own doorstep with our reach now exceeding the moment’s grasp. Always opening the next door of self-discovery through the ages and our actions. This loss of self and ego that makes us eternal. It’s always the how that enables us to go there connecting both mind and body that gives us ultimate freedom.
I’m reminded of the parable of the ancient Buddhist monk, who travelled to the opposite shore of a river on a small raft, finding he no longer needed the raft once ashore, not knowing what he will find. But anxious to go into the unknown in hope of finding himself. Why and how the premise of kung fu by any other name becomes the paramount fixture of our lives… gaining the supreme skill with hard work described above. How living in what we find as the status quo becomes abhorrent, and rules made by others anathema. We travel a path undefined by others who don’t see the world as we often do, with what seems our imagination saving us from boredom. Why we are guided by spirit to see and look for the best in all living sapient beings, while showing self-awareness for the world around us. As we set the stage for the timing of our next arrival.
The Buddha’s teachings can help us heal and transform suffering for ourselves, our children, and our society. I’ve spoken before about the Taoist ideas of cause and effect and complimentary opposites, along with today’s understanding of quantum physics, with the idea that both past and future exist in the present moment. If we take care of the present, we can transform and heal the past, and we can create a good foundation for the future as we change. Healing takes place in the present moment, and it takes place when body and mind are unified. As we simply become a conveyer of spirit.
During my visit to the Shaolin Temple and Songshan Mountain, two things stood out on two separate peaks. Like the coming together of different thoughts of a universal God. First Shaolin Monastery (少林寺 Shàolínsì), also known as Shaolin Temple, a renowned monastic institution recognized as the birthplace of Chan Buddhism and the cradle of Shaolin Kung Fu. It is located at the foot of Wuru Peak of the Songshan mountain range in Henan Province, China. The name reflects its location in the ancient grove of Mount Shaoshi, in the hinterland of the Songshan mountains. Mount Song occupied a prominent position among Chinese sacred mountains as early as the 1st century BC, when it was proclaimed one of the Five Holy Peaks in ancient China. It is located some 48 km (30 mi) southeast of Luoyang, the former capital of the Northern Wei Dynasty (386–534), and 72 km (45 mi) southwest of Zhengzhou, the modern capital of Henan Province.
The Buddhist Temple and Shaolin complex on one peak and Songyang Academy and Temple on another peak of Songyang Mountain that began as a Buddhist Temple, changed to a Taoist Temple, and later taught Confucian philosophy over the centuries.
Lao Tzu, Confucius, and the Buddha over a pot of vinager.
Its legacy was to synthesize and demonstrate the commonality and confluence in Chinese thought that changed the history of China. Both less than an hour south of Luoyang that was the capital of China for a thousand years and served as the beginning of the Silk Road. Over the centuries, there was always the debate on the emphasis on physical training made famous at the Shaolin Temple, verses training the mind through what became known as Chan Buddhism. Through its teachings, reverence for our spirit, training both the mind and body.
Over time they came to understand that we are all universal and share the same purpose and God. Like seeing things, a certain way until we don’t. As if appearing in God’s thoughts.