A New Breed of “Monks”

Long story short, a long long time ago, like 495 AD during the Northern Wei Dynasty when the Shaolin Temple was first built, there was only one kind of monk, the monk. These monks read scriptures, had prayers in the morning, and spent most of their time sitting down with a scroll in front of them (similar to the hard-working modern desktop cubicle fanatics). So as a result, they had similar problems to those who sit in front of their laptop all day; back pains, shoulder issues, flabby skin, weak physical health, and lethargic attitudes. A few yrs later, an Indian monk named Damo came to the temple and saw this, and he thought to himself “nah man, if y’all ain’t even physically fit, how can y’all carry out the road to enlightenment and spread the practices of Buddhism with passion and diligence.”  So he decided to teach them meditative physical exercises similar to yoga, which concentrates on breathing and increasing the internal movements within your body, this combined with the physical labors of farming and cleaning the temple helped the monk greatly. As the centuries went on, it slowly developed into two groups of monks who both studied Buddhism, but one spends more time dealing with the scholarly and the academic called the Wen Sen, and the other group spends more time keeping their bodies strong and fit to protect the safety of the temple from bandits, called the Wu Sen.

And those have been the two groups of monks ever since, until recently. Nowadays, there’s a new breed of monks in town called the performance monks or the Biao-yan Sen. These people are more actors and super-skilled martial artists than actual monks, most of them don’t even have deep connections with the Shaolin Temple.  But the deceptive part of this for tourists and non-insiders is that these performance monks  dresses the same and has the same bald head as all the other real monks, and when they partake in activities such as drinking “gatorade”, consuming large amounts of red protein,  going to KTVs and nightclubs, spending time with beautiful woman (materialistic activities that they have the right to partake in), it often sheds a bad light on the temple and the name of Shaolin. This is not to say that ALL the real monks don’t partake in these activities as well, some do, but at least they are very discrete and private about it and won’t do it within the vicinity of the respected temple. Most of these performance monks start out in small private martial arts schools all over the country or in Deng Feng, and after a few yrs of fundamentals, the super-skilled and athletically gifted ones with connection to people around/in the temple,  are brought to Shaolin to try-out for the performance team, if they make it, they will practice and eventually travel the world and perform with real martial monks and fellow secular but “I am really good at martial arts and acting, so I made the team” counterparts like themselves, but to the foreign eye they are all monks.

The reason for the creation of this new breed of “monks” is the exponentially expanding popularity of Shaolin kungfu that just took off the late 1980s and is still going strong today. Skilled martial monks are scarce in numbers to begin with, and as the demand for more performances, shows, and martial arts schools increase all around the world, so does the demand for more martial monks. But skilled martial monks, well-educated in the culture and history of Shaolin, aren’t made in a year or even years. So to supply the demand for all these newly needed bodies, the Shaolin temple used it’s allure of a “better life” with opportunities to go overseas and perform to attract the athletically skilled and mentally tough and  hardworking young men of rural China, who through martial arts are seeking not only a better life for themselves but also for their families back home. With the influx of the new performances monks, Shaolin has been able to spread its influence all over the world today from Europe to Australia, South America to Singapore, it is literally everywhere. Before this “Shaolin Fever”, neither kungfu nor Buddhism has attracted this much popularity in this many places around the world at this rate, it has truly helped to spread the Shaolin culture and sell the Shaolin Franchise as one of the most well-ran associations in the world, right up there with the NBA and the NFL (without the unions and the lockouts). And this is how we come to have a new breed of monks, and there is really nothing wrong with it, China has got to catch up and adjust to the world, and so does Shaolin. That is a fact. The End.

PS: Please note that what I write is purely my opinion and a projection of what I perceive to be the truth; a collection of fragmented personal observations, blurry interviews, and self-connected dots. So seriously, take this with a grain of salt, as you should with all things written by people with a mind of their own.

Happiness in A Sieve

Preface: I haven’t really wrote about Buddhism on this blog, but it is also a big component of my time here. This is a little snippet about it.

One of the most important “goal” in Mahayana Buddhism is to escape from the continuum of the Six Realms of Existence (God, Titans, Ghosts, Hell, Animal, and Human), in street lingo, when your ass dies your soul leaves your current body and enters another realm where you will live again in another body as a different being, and this all depends on your “street cred” in the current life, so if you did lots of good shit in this life, you will live well in the next life, if you did lots of shady stuff you will have to suffer in the next life, if you really didn’t do much, then you follow the natural order and continue to not do much, in the next life.

So how do you escape this never-ending cycle? There are countless ways and each individual needs to attain enlightenment through personal expressions of insights from Buddhism teaching, basically you can’t just read them books, you also have to actually go out and do things and through personal experience, obtain knowledge that is purely original to you. Kinda like research in college, or not. One of the main doctrines in this quest for enlightenment is understanding that “Happiness lies in a Sieve” (pls don’t confuse this with Nectar in a Sieve, different audience, different meaning). No matter how happy you feel at the moment or throughout your life, it is ephemeral as it is literally slipping through a sieve as we are speaking. Sadness also lies in a sieve, it too slips gently through the holes without a moment of rest. What this means to the Buddhist trying to gain enlightenment is that “emotions” are just products of our thoughts meant to trick us into feeling a certain way or reacting in a specific manner, the tricking begins with the mind and ends with the body and our actions. What regular normal folks can learn from this, is that we can’t place too much weight on things in life, lighten up a bit, don’t stress too much on things, if things don’t go our way “oh well then, no biggie”, if things do go our way “oh well then, no biggie”. You know this makes sense, cause people nowadays can be a little “exaggerated”, and over time that exaggeration becomes a habit and it becomes real.

Now why do we need to escape this continuous cycle of the 6 realms? Well you don’t need to, no one will force you, and you will live a perfectly awesome life without doing so. That’s the chill part about Buddhism is there ain’t nobody telling you to believe this or that, or this is the ultimate truth, this is the creator, this is why we are created, this is what you have to do. No, there ain’t none of that. They has something called “yuanfen” which is basically similar to Swiss psychologist Carl Jung’s concept of synchronicity, it literally means that what we experience and do in this life is influence by our actions in all of our previous lives. And only when the time is right, the person is willing,  and the “yuanfen” there, may you be on the pass to learning Buddhism.

Personally, there are still way too many awesome things in this life that I haven’t experienced or learned (you know what I am saying?), so I ain’t really interested in enlightenment at the moment, but maybe when I am older and have seen this world, maybe then will the “yuanfen” be there and the timing be right.