Life @ Shaolin: What I Actually Do

With the backdrop of an rapidly advancing China led its new open-minded leaders and the rise of the commercialized enterprise called “Shaolin Temple” lead by its political minded abbot Yongxin, I think it is important to talk about why I am here and what I really do.

I came to Shaolin, not because of the flashy kungfu so often wrongly portrayed as voilence in action movies, but because of the “spirit of shaolin”; it’s essence of a peaceful mind centered around three parts the chan ( Zen Meditation), wu (martial arts), and yi (Chinese herbal medicine). These are the reasons why I came to Shaolin, and these are the principles that, many say, have been neglected in preference for tourists dollars, commercial deals, and personal indulgence in the name of spreading the Shaolin name. But just because many say it isn’t here, doesn’t mean I will just pack my bags up and leave (the thought never crossed my mind), and now after months of work and working my connections, I ended up with my own version of the “Chan, Wu, Yi”.

A typical day looks a little like this:
5:30-6:30 am: Morning Prayer Class with the few monks that actually wake up early enough for this, most tend to sleep in till much later.
7:30am: Breakfast at my current residence, a flat I rented on a nearby hill just beyond the temple’s view.

9:00-12:00pm: Traditional kungfu training with my master in the mountains behind the temple, away from the swarming tourists.

12:30pm: Lunch back at my place, follow by meditation then a nap till 2:00pm.

2:30-5:30pm: Training in the mountains, sometimes we train among the thousand yr old buildings in the temple to get a bit more feel.

6:30pm: Dinner.

7:00-9:00: Tea time at my master’s tea lounge, where I meet and learn from all kinds of people from Chinese medicine experts to martial arts film directors, it is truly one of the most enriching experiences of the day, even after all the training.

9:30: Usually when I go to sleep, once a wk, I will take time to reply to all my emails, fb msg, and etc. But most nights ends in me sleeping soundly.

This happens to me Monday through Friday, sometimes I have more Zen-centered conversations with my master during training, so I have to train more on my own time, but this is a rough sketch of my life here. On Saturdays, I head down to the Shaolin Orphanage a couple miles down the mountain to spend some time with the kids, they are just the cutest, weirdest, most awesome-part of my week. I play basketball with them, teach them how to rap to Tupac songs, educate them in the art of sarcasm, occasionally some formal English classes when the head of the orphanage is looking, but en general just spreading that “Jerry Wisdom”. On Sundays, I wash my cloth and myself included, clean the uncleaned, unwrinkled the wrinkled, write the unwritten, blog the un-blogged, and check usually send a call to my mother telling her that I am still alive and well and that I hope she knows how lucky and unlucky she is to be living in Amurica.

Surely, I did not expect to experience 90% of the troubles I have met so far, but life has a way of circling back to where it begins, so eventually I did end up with the Shaolin spirit of (chan, wu, yi), just in my own unplanned, unexpected, and unique way. And I made a whole bunch of friends along the ways, who are all in some way connected to my past.

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Chinese Wisdom: Your Body is the Universe

One of the new ways I will be sharing my experiences in China with you all is through the discussion of some of the “Chinese Wisdom” I am currently learning to understand and appreciate. For those of you who are Asian, these might sound “remotely” familiar to the “Confucius Says” jokes or even “rants” by your Asian parents and relative. I just hope that doesn’t get in the way of you enjoying my posts and trying to pry open the vault of wisdom it holds.

One of the first concept I learned from Chinese Medicine after I got injured at Shaolin was the intimate relationship with natural universe and our bodies. All the laws of the universe, from it’s patterns of growth to the Circadian rhythms of plants, are all exemplified in the human body in ways both obvious and unfathomable. Like nature, our body takes time to change such as growth in height and of body hair, but change is also happening constantly in our body such as when we produce proteins and renew enzymes every single second. The constant state of change and activity is one of the principle similarities, another is the balance of opposite, the Yin and Yang. Just as our bodies are constantly growing and changing, it is also constantly decaying and dying. For every new cell generated, waste of the dead ones must be transported out of the body, it is always working and striving for a state of balance.

Whenever one has a question about life or about the world around him, one has to look no further than ones own body, because all the answers to questions of philosophical depths to cutting edge science can be answered by observing and understanding our own bodies. Whether you believe that we are creations of Gods or a product of time and constant change, our body is the most intricate and enigmatic object known to man. Even the most advanced computing technology of today is no match for the human brain, a mere part of the human body, though a very important part. Until the day of Singularity comes, when Artificial Technology can reach the same efficiency of human thinking, I firmly believe that all the questions we have today (from chemistry to physics to psychology to math to even bio-fuel) can be answered by further researching and analyzing the human body.

That is how great I think our body is, which is also my reason for respecting all human beings no matter their background, ethnicity  sexual choices, income, education, or personal belief. Because I believe the human body is absolutely wonderful and beautiful, almost as beautiful as the human soul. So the next you disrespect someone, think of it as disrespecting yourself,  because respecting yourself and your body means respecting others who share the same human body.

What’s Wrong With Western Science?

Western science has been a tremendous force behind the advancement of human civilization for the last 300 years or so, and the benefits it generated are as evident as they are numerous. But like everything beneath the heavens, it is not perfect.

Let’s look first at the positives of western science, which are plenty to say the least. The emphasis on the observation of “observable facts” and the collection of “quantifiable data” are both empirical foundations in western science. Combine that with “experimentation” and the testing of hypothesis before it becomes thesis, you have yourself an extremely effective “system” of answering questions with ostensibly “observable answers”. I say it is effective because it really is. From medical technology to transportation technology, and not to mention the ever expanding electronic and digital computing science; western science has allow us to transform the way we live in mere decades, and it will continue to do so. These are the actions of western science, an area which it excels in, but what of the underlying morals that guides these actions?

The problem with western science is that it lacks an underlying set of morals to guide its super-effective actions, this lack of morality comes from a dearth of deep and clear understanding of the world and it’s natural patterns and tendencies, an area which is fundamental to Oriental science. The nature movements of the seasons, the changing of the weather, the never-ending cycle of sun rise to sun set, these are all observable facts in both Oriental and Western Science, but western science only sees these as “observations” or “physical and chemical reactions” in motion, while Oriental science digs deeper into these observation to see clearly the “nature” of our world. Oriental Science goes deeper than to say there are “+ and – charges”, “protons and electrons”, it explains the nature of opposites combining to form an ever-changing world, a world of “yin and yang”, and a world where humans are actually equals with “heaven and earth” and not a product of it, so as to instill a sense of respect for the world around us in order to co-exist with it as we advance forward with technology, it’s like getting along with your partner of the group project of your life.

What western science suffers from is a absence of  “responsibility” in their questions and action, that comes from an overall lack of respect for the world which they can “observe in detail” but cannot “understand with clarity”. This problem is as much a product of western philosophy and religion (individualism, democracy, “God gave us this Earth to”, etc.) as it is the influence of an unwarranted “Western Pride” that has co-developed with European imperialism and expanding technological advancement since the 2nd Industrial Revolution. Many authors and film-makers has warned us about the “irresponsibility” of western science, from films like 2012, I am Legend, Prometheus, Planet of the Apes to childhood books like Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. They are all warning us of this “slight mishap” within Western science, and that if we do not start to change it soon, it will amount to momentous disaster. That or they can start reading the “I-Ching” aka Classics of Change, the building block of Chinese culture.