THE SHAOLIN GRANDMASTERS’ TEXT – ORDER OF SHAOLIN CH’AN

1. Shaolin has no dogmatic take on this issue: the precise nature of reincarnation, whether actual or metaphorical, is left up to the individual. (p.50)

2. Passing pain to another creature only adds karmic debt to ourselves. To harm another is to harm one’s self. Yet we are willing to accept this price, if necessary, to prevent others from reaping such a karmic harvest. We are all part of the same interrelated network of life. Compassion in action is an affirmation of that bond and helps us overcome the ego, which is always trying to separate suffering into “mine’ and “other.” (p.50)

3. If Theravada constitutes the “high” aspect of the broader middle path, then our Shaolin Ch’an (all Ch’an and Zen, really) probably corresponds to the “low” part of the middle path – especially in the sense that our Buddhism is practice-based as opposed to sutra-based, ritual based-based, or rule-based. (p.54)

4. Shaolin Ch’an is included in the middle path, primarily because it walks a line between hedonism on one side and asceticism on the other. Individuals are supposed to be individuals. This is a path that avoids extremes, staying on the middle of the road. Like orchids, we believe that human beings need to be stressed in particular ways to thrive – hence our rigorous martial and meditative training. But stress an orchid too much and it dies. Humans are no different that orchids in this regard. Fasting, abject poverty, excessive praying, and devout practice of daily rituals do not necessarily lead to enlightenment. In fact, Shakyamuni Buddha’sown cousin, Devadatta, urged the Buddha to make certain ascetic practices obligatory within the Sangha, such as: life in the open, wearing only rags taken from cremation grounds, strict vegetarianism, and avoiding meals at laypeople’s homes. The Buddha refused on the grounds that such ascetic practices should be voluntary and were no essential part of the middle path. (p.55)

5. To a Buddhist, profession is an expression of intention. In American society it is common to hear people say of themselves: “I am my job.” If you ask someone to tell you about herself, she will typically start by saying something such as “I am a writer” or “I design books.” So linked with our sense of identity is the way we make our living that a poor match almost always causes grief and suffering. Finding right livelihood is especially important in walking the spiritual path. (p.60)

6. A great path of right livelihood is finding and truly understanding your niche in the world. (p.60)

7. In short, Ch’an Buddhism rejects the blind obedience of the “faithful,” and prefers its practitioners to know life from experiencing it in all its glory and despair. It absolutely requires the individual to experience something before accepting it as real. (p.62)

8. In these characteristics are the guidelines for what Buddha meant by “right.” These traits are 1) charity, 2) selfless kindness, 3) humility and patience, 4) perseverance, 5) tranquility, and 6) wisdom. An action cannot be “right” in the sense of being good activity if it violates one of these traits. (p.63)

9. Much of right action, for instance, relies upon common sense (which is downright uncommon and should probably be given a new label). The first step to cultivating common sense, and the ability to do the “right” thing, is to develop an understanding of the law of karma, also known as the law of cause and effect. Without a firm grip on cause and effect, i.e. wisdom, actions motivated by the highest of virtues and the best of intentions are liable to result in tremendous heartache and suffering. Although not a Shaolin aphorism, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” is apt here. The Buddhist notion of “right” entails much more than just whatever is morally good – appropriateness and correctness are also essential. (p.64)

10.The Shaolin Buddhist doctrine centers on the concept of learning truth for your self. We encourage doubt, questioning, and self-discovery. Although there is recognition that doubt can be a hindrance to spiritual progress, there is also an understanding that (at certain points) is a useful goad for progress. In our focus on self-discovery, Shaolin adheres to the Buddha’s teaching that enlightenment can only come from within and not from a “secret teaching” or mysterious “passed power” from teacher to student. (Bruce Lee aptly describes “secret teachings” in the martial arts as a kind of “psychological constipation” that cannot compare to clarity of understanding.) A Shaolin teacher is, therefore, more properly described as a guide than a teacher. Like all Ch’an sects, however, Shaolin holds to the “teaching outside of doctrine,” meaning that enlightenment does not come primarily from analytical study of the sutras (which becomes philosophizing, two consequences of which are tremendous barriers to spiritual peace: doubt and clinging to opinions). (p.66)

11. In Tamo’s life and teachings there are numerous suggestions that the “trappings” of being Buddhist were inconsequential. Tamo ate meat, wore robes of his choosing, and did not shave his head or beard. He practiced his own individuality instead of adopting a “uniform” and “expected” appearance. “Listen to the message,” he was proclaiming, “and ignore the messenger.” (p.78)

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