Finding Zen in Singapore

Saw this article entitled Five Places to Find Zen in Singapore.

These five places are not near where I live so does this mean if I want to find Zen I have to travel a long way to find it? Whatever happened to finding Zen within yourself?

If you can find Zen in yourself you have it all the time. There is no need to travel to another place to find it.

Also, have you thought what would happen once other readers read this article? Yes, they too would travel there to find peace and quiet only to arrive to find others have the same idea and with some many people converging there the place is no longer peaceful or quiet.

So if you want Zen try finding it in yourself. One of the easiest way to do this is to practice Tai Chi. Why is this so?

The practice of Tai Chi involves getting the mind to control the body. You can’t do this if your mind is distracted and busy with other thoughts. By following the instructions you can train your mind to focus. Once you can focus you will slowly immerse yourself in the experience to the point where your mind can quiet down and that’s when you find Zen.

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Student Notes-Learning Tai Chi Successfully

Today I have added in a folder Articles in which I will put the clippings I refer to in my posts. This applies to posts written from today.

I was just reading an article in last week’s Sunday Times  entitled Lecture Me. Really. and saw this interesting quote from a lecturer Kjirsten Severson who said :-

Where I needed to start was by teaching them how to create space in their inner world, so they could take on this argument on a clean canvas.

This reminds me of the story of the Zen master serving tea to a visiting professor which you can read here.

The enemy to learning is not the teacher not teaching. Granted there are teachers who basically don’t teach either because they don’t know how to teach, they are bad teachers or they just don’t really want to teach.

However, the main enemy to learning is the self who is like a cup overflowing with knowledge and opinions.

For example sometimes I get people telling me that a group class is better than a 1-to-1 class because then they will have fellow students to practice with. On the surface this would seem to be true.

However, proponents of this point of view tend to forget a very important point. Can you guess what this point is?

The simple point is that when you practice against another person who has not mastered the art then chances are high you will pick up his habits too, both good and bad.

For example, when you learn or practice with someone who only knows only side of the story then what you are learning is basically a perpetuation of a belief whether it is actually true or not.

Some of my students have picked up on an undesirable flying elbow* habit from their past learning. If I were to put two such students to practice against each other and leave them to it they will end up perpetuating the mistake.

(*note – most students don’t regard as flying elbow what I view as such; however, a short demo will normally clarify for them this point)

Why this happens is because X will use his flying elbow Peng arm posture against Y. However, Y is not able to stop X’s attack because his skill is not good enough or he is simply using the wrong method.

The end result is that :-

a) X’s flying elbow habit becomes self-fulfilling and is accepted as correct and the norm

b) Y will see that what X did is working and copy likewise

For one of my students at least when he automatically tried to use a flying elbow Peng arm posture against me he quickly found himself losing balance easily. This intrigued him because I didn’t seem to be making much of an effort and he asked that I do it again. I ended up showing it several times.

If my student had not been practicing with me then he wouldn’t have learned about this error. Even then he still automatically offers up the flying elbow Peng arm posture each time. It will take him a while to get rid of this habit even though he now knows that it is a liability.

To Master Tai Chi Today successfully you should put yourself up to a higher standard of learning. As Master Chen Zhenglei the noted Chen style Tai Chi master once said learn from those who know, not just those who are famous.

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Flow in Tai Chi 2

If you still don’t understand how Flow fits into the objective of mastering Tai Chi as mentioned in my first post I have laid out some explanations below using some of the pointers covered in Steven Kotler’s talk at Google.

1) To enter into the Flow state you must attain a state of no-mind. This can be achieved by practicing the Tai Chi long form in an accurate manner. “Accurate manner” can mean different things to different people but to me it means to practice in a precise manner that allows me to actualize the principles of the Tai Chi Classics.

2) When you are in a Flow state your sense of awareness is hyped up. This is true for the practice of Tai Chi because without this sense of awareness you will not be able to convert your state of intent to issue power using the models described in Grandmaster Wei Shuren’s book on the 22-form into reality.

3) Practicing the Tai Chi form in a state of Flow will dilate time. This is why without entering the Flow even a 1-hour practice session will seem very long. But once you are in the Flow a 4-hour continuous session will pass by quickly.

I know it is not easy to put in a 4-hour practice session. For many even a 2-hour session is a luxury but without finding a way to do so you will not achieve the desired state. Even then, you need to put in many X-hour sessions before you hit the stride and tip over into a state of Flow. In the meantime you will have to battle impatience, boredom, etc in your uphill climb to master Tai Chi.

4) Repetition, tons and tons of it, is important to get to the state to enter the Flow. As you practice your actions will become more refined, seamless, controlled; at this point you will start to notice certain patterns that once they make sense will trigger off exponential growth.

Even though I could write and describe what these patterns are reading about them won’t help you to master Tai Chi. You need to physically feel them.

5) When you learn Tai Chi using the tools of intention your brain will be swamped with information; many times, this is too much even for practitioners with doctorate degrees much less the ordinary Joe.

It will not get easier. The information will keep adding up. However, if you keep up with your practice the chunks of information will become clearer and you will no longer struggle mentally.

After a certain time the information will become part of you. You will use lesser and lesser effort to practice; no longer having to deal with the huge chunks of information not because they are no longer relevant or there but because your familiarity has reduced the information to smaller bite size.

At this stage you no longer have to do for example three movements to actualize a principle, you can merge the three movements into one movement. Your movements will take on flavors and characteristics that define the style you are learning.

6) When you can trigger off the principles using less intention this is when you begin to achieve the high level principle of “wu wo, wu wei” or what can be termed as the disappearance of self consciousness.

When you arrive here practice will feel pleasurable; your movements will flow effortlessly like a hot knife cutting through butter, your reaction will be swift, automated and magical recalling what Grandmaster Wei wrote about the mysterious manifesting itself. It is not magic but it is happening in a manner than does not seem possible to a normal level practitioner. When you understanding the principles it will be simply un-magic.

7) To enter the state of flow requires you to change. But as pointed out by Steven Kotler’s 7 out of 8 persons will not change their old habits even if they need to change due to a life threatening health problem.

If your life is threatened and you will not change what are the chances of you being willing to change your habits in order to master Tai Chi? Now you know why so few practitioners actually master Tai Chi.

8) To master Tai Chi through Flow we must be willing to fail time and again. However, we must first know the why and how of our failing.

I know it is difficult to separate the emotional part of ourselves from the intellectual side when learning Tai Chi. Without doing so we cannot accept criticism from others even when its evident that it is valid.Criticisms when its constructive is vital to our improvement.

Some parts of our Tai Chi journey will be difficult to go through, yet other parts will seem impossible. However, we should not despair because the art can be mastered. When in doubt go back to the fundamentals. Starting over is OK. Do it as many times as you need to until you get it. This is why my master said that Tai Chi is easy to learn but difficult to master.

10) Finally, you need to play the same Tai Chi form over and over again until you recognize what it is trying to tell you. When you reach this tipping point that’s when you start to achieve Flow.

After experiencing Flow you will probably lose it. If you keep at it you will find the Flow again. And you will lose it yet again. Again and again. Until one day when you find a way to instantly call it up when needed. If you cannot do so then your Tai Chi skills will be useless in an emergency situation.

Well, that’s it from me. Time to go and prepare for a Tai Chi lesson.

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Intention Exercise 4 – Control of Balance

INTRODUCTION

This is a continuation of the following :-

i) Exercise 1 – Optimizing Sung with Intention

ii) Exercise 2 – Settling the Body

iii) Exercise 3 – Substantial-Insubstantial

We continue our study of the above by examining the usefulness of substantial – insubstantial in the control of our balance.

PRELIMINARY

We continue to stand upright with both feet together whilst mentally separating our body into a substantial half and an insubstantial half.

INTENTION-IMAGERY EXERCISE

1. Imagine there is a stone pillar on your right hand side.

2. Use your intention to command your body to gentle and subtly lean onto it.

pillar3. Use the pillar to help you adjust your balance until it is entirely on your right foot. Your left foot should feel very light.

CONCLUSION

In the internal styles of Chinese martial arts the control of balance is very important. In order to have a firm grasp of balance manipulation the study of the use of single leg balance is essential. So if you want to Master Tai Chi Today do not ignore this exercise.

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Intention Exercise 3 – Substantial-Insubstantial

INTRODUCTION

Craft is what we are expected to know; art is the unexpected use of our craft.” – Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation, writing in Creativity, Inc.  Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

The previous two Intention Exercises paved the way for the following attainment :-

i) Intention Exercise 1 – how the use of intention can relax the body internally

ii) Intention Exercise 2 – how the use of a mental weighted ball can still the body

In this post we continue expanding on our learning of intention principles by examining how we can use intention to render the body into substantial and insubstantial parts.

Again, the use of intention is paramount. You have to be clear on the use of intention. Otherwise, you will feel stress in your body when you begin to step. If you use intention properly your body will feel light and effortless; yet when your training partner applies pressure on you he will feel as if you are a mountain. All this simply from thinking it.

Simple yet powerful, and so easily abused in the wrong hands. This is the reason why this aspect of Yang style Tai Chi training has been kept hidden from the public’s eyes for a long time and only first introduced into the open with the publication of the book on the Yang family Old Six Routines form by Grandmaster Wang Yongquan.

PRELIMINARY

We are still standing upright with both feet together.

INTENTION-IMAGERY EXERCISE

1. Mentally divide your body into two halves.

substantial

2. Imagine that the left side of the body is being hollowed out and its mass given to the right side. Thus, the right side becomes substantially heavier and the left side becomes insubstantial.

3. When you feel your body becoming heavier on the right, yet the entire body remains relaxed you should feel something. That something will enable you to do the next Intention Exercise 4.

CONCLUSION

Want to know what that feeling is? Send me feedback and I will tell you what it is. Feedback is to let me know that you are a serious student of Tai Chi because only those who are super serious, who have been looking around will know the value of these Intention Exercises because they are essential if you want to Master Tai Chi Today.

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Intention Exercise 1 – A Feedback

Anyone tried my Intention Exercise 1 in this post?

Anyway, one person, X, did and below are some extracted comments :-

The first time, I did not even visualize the torch light.  I just worked with the 5 zones demarcation, and otherwise tried to relax using what I would call my normal approach.  I got a new feeling right away!  It was odd but not unpleasant; more the opposite.  The word I eventually came up with was “dissipating”.  Now why should it feel good to have my head dissipate?  But it did.

Oh yeah, by this time I had remembered to try shining the torch.  And I got another new feeling!  This one was more pronounced and also a little easier to describe.  I could feel the torch beam hitting my face.  And I felt something like pressure.  But it was dispersed rather than focused and in searching for a description I decided I was feeling “energizing pressure”.

Which is funny because what the heck is energizing pressure?  It doesn’t exist, I can’t think of any ready examples offhand.  Except maybe a massage?  I dunno — all I can say is that I felt a strong yet gentle, and steady energizing pressure from the torch shining.  Nothing like a massage, certainly.  I felt the dissipation more distinctly and yet the “pressure” continued, it was a weird steady state feeling.

Just now I find myself thinking “What if I really was feeling pressure and I was dispersing it; that would fit into the Zenmindsword taiji”.  But it wasn’t like that; the torch was dispersing me with pressure, and it was automatic, I was doing absolutely nothing consciously except trying to maintain the Intention as described in the instructions.  There was no ‘activity” on my part except for maintaining the shining torch.  My body feeling responded immediately; and continued to do so.

However, as someone who’s been working on this kind of stuff for years and having had sporadic successes here and there, I know what I did and I know what I felt.  No one told me what to feel…

If you have tried the exercise and have some experience to share please post in the Comments at the end of this post. Want to Master Tai Chi Today? Be open minded and adventurous to try things that are beyond your comfort zone. You might be surprised at what you come across.

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Tai Chi Intention Exercises

The use of intention to control the body’s movements during form play, fajing and push hands is a distinguishing characteristic of the Yang style Tai Chi of Grandmaster Wei Shuren’s lineage.

As passed down by Grandmaster Wei the use of intention requires a clear separation of what the mind is thinking of from what the body is doing at the same time. If this is not complied to then the force from the ground will be impeded and you will end up relying on strong muscles to push / thrust out the power instead of borrowing strength from the opponent to spark off the power generation process.

The difference between both process of power generation can be easily seen if you but open up your eyes. The power that is generated by using muscular pushing requires a lot more effort and the opponent will be pushed back linearly by being displaced from his initial position. On the other hand, when the power that comes from using intention to manipulate the body is applied it will make the opponent feel as if he has been suddenly lifted up by a wave before being dumped down.

If you are not clear on what I mean then take a look at this video of Grandmaster Wei, specifically at 0:09.

Try to duplicate what he is showing here and see if you can reproduce the result. I’ll bet that even if your partner is cooperative it will be difficult if not impossible to duplicate the result. Ask your partner to voluntarily hop, video it and compare to see if the flavor of the hop is similar to what is on the video.

Want to Master Tai Chi Today? First learn to see and discern the difference between that which is claimed to be internal but which is not against that which is really internal. Perhaps then you can begin to make real progress.

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Hindsight in Tai Chi Learning

…because we think we see what happened clearly – hindsight being 20-20 and all – we often aren’t open to knowing more.

“We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it – and stop there,” as Mark Twain once said, “lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again – and that is well; but she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.” The cat’s hindsight, in other words, distorts her view. The past should be our teacher, not our master.

Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation, writing in Creativity, Inc.  Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

Have you practiced Tai Chi for years and still stuck trying to do simple things like push hands with a degree of skill instead of using brute strength pushing or being able to issue crispy, penetrating internal force instead of blunt force?

Blame this on the mindless, blind worship of master, lineage and style. Most practitioners equate master, lineage and style as being able to give them the skill. This is clearly wrong. In general, many practitioners will find out eventually that I am right in this respect. I am not the only one who is saying this. Many times I have watched others and silently say to myself that there by the grace of God goes I.

A master can be skilful but be a terrible teacher; and many clearly do not teach properly, if at all. Many are more interested in womanizing, gluttony and collecting money. They just aren’t interested in passing their skills along, sometimes, not even to the highest bidder but they will pocket the money anyway thank you very much.

A lineage also means nothing because it is easy enough to pay a master to take a photograph with him and even buy a certificate of discipleship. This practice is quite common in the West but it happens in the East too.

And styles can be an impediment to progress. If you get caught up in secret styles, hidden styles, oldest style, original style and whatever the next Tai Chi marketing guru comes up with then you are in for a rude shock when one day you realize you have been had.

To Master Tai Chi Today we have to look beyond the obvious. The Tai Chi Classics is a written record of the experiences of past attainment of master practitioners; a record, albeit limited, that can hopefully allow future generations to learn from and a means to verify that they are trodding along the same path. The Classics never say you cannot improve on what you do, merely if you are practicing a style that is transmitted from the past then you should be able to demonstrate similar and consistent insights if you are to claim lineage. Once you are there you are now a master and can develop in any direction you see fit.

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Sit All Day

Yantou Quanhou and Xuefeng Yicun were two main disciples of Deshan Xuanjian whom I mentioned in this post. Despite being younger Yantou mastered Zen earlier than Xuefeng.

Once they were both caught in a blizzard and sought refuge in an inn where they stayed for a few days. Xuefeng meditated whilst Yantou slept. Seeing Yantou asleep Xuefeng shook him awake and insisted that he too mediate saying “It’s said that when monks are on pilgrimage, they must make profound knowledge their companion and be ever vigilant. And yet you spend all day sleeping.

Yantou replied that sitting like a clay statue all day won’t help Xuefeng to be enlightened. Instead he should try to follow the advice of Zen Master Linji Yixuan who famously said “Eat when hungry; sleep when tired.” otherwise he (Yantou) would just frighten the simple-minded by sitting still all day.

I would rephrase the above advice as “Follow principles when practicing Tai Chi” otherwise the efforts spent on zhanzhuang, practicing forms and push hands whichever your choice of poison would avail to nought and though you may fare better than someone who has learned little Tai Chi you are still basically on the path of trying to be stronger to beat someone strong. In this case learning Tai Chi is a waste of time.

To Master Tai Chi Today you should reexamine and rethink your learning strategy of standing still like a clay statue, play form by waving the hands and push hands like two buffaloes. Remember to “Eat when hungry; sleep when tired.

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No Ancestors, No Buddhas

I don’t hold to some views about the ancestors. Here, there are no ancestors and no buddhas. Boddhidharma is an old stinking foreigner. Shakyamuni is a dried piece of excrement. Manjushri and Samantabhada are dung carriers. What is known as “realizing the mystery” is nothing but breaking through to grab an ordinary person’s life. “Bodhi” and “nirvana” are a donkey’s tethering post. The twelve divisions of scriptural canon are devils’ texts; just paper for wiping infected skin boils. The four functions and the three virtuous stages, original mind and the ten stages, these are just graveyard-guarding ghosts. They’ll never save you.

Deshan Xuanjian
Zen Master

deshan

Many readers may not be familiar with Deshan but he is well known for burning the sutras the next day after he was enlightened by Lungtan Chongtzin saying “I now know that no matter how deep and profound the writings are, in comparison with awakening they’re like a single hair compared to infinite space or like a drop of water compared to the vast ocean“.

Why I brought up Deshan is because his experience in being suddenly awakened by Lungtan Chongtzin can apply to our attempts to Master Tai Chi Today. If you have a problem grasping the principles of Tai Chi or think you already got it but there is a disquiet feeling in you that something is missing perhaps in understanding Deshan’s journey you could make a breakthrough.

Deshan was initially like some of these folks I see on social media happily arguing away on what Tai Chi is or isn’t, happily carrying their lineage / style / master banner and proclaiming that their path is the one true one. They remind me of Deshan’s proud attitude before he was enlightened as he thought he knew a lot due to his scholarly studies of the Diamond Sutra and commentaries as well as his understanding from penning a commentary himself.

However, Deshan was stumped when he stopped at a rest house on the way to challenge Lungtan Chongtzin and was tested on his understanding of the Diamond Sutra by old woman who ran the rest house. The old woman offered Deshan cakes known as “mind refreshers” free of charge if he could answer a question about the Diamond Sutra. However, poor Deshan had to go without the cakes when he failed to answer the question of “In that sutra, it says that past-mind is no more, future-mind is not yet; and present mind is beyond comprehension. In that case, Reverend Sir, which mind is it that you seek to refresh with these cakes?

When we think we know a lot there may be a day when we can be stumped when we least expect it. Today’s learners and teachers of Tai Chi carry a lot of baggage with them; they have a lot of ancestors and worship a lot of Buddhas. However, I now know that in attaining the 4 keywords passed down by Grandmaster Wang Yongquan there are no ancestors, no buddhas. If you still have ancestors and buddhas then you are no different from Deshan with his pack containing the Diamond Sutra and its commentaries when the old woman’s question caught him out.

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