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Meditation: -

In the Moment


Meditation is the essence of Chan Buddhism and Shaolin kung fu. It is the soul of Da Mo's teaching. Da Mo was famous for sitting in a cave before a rock for nine years in meditation. His practice was so powerful that it left an impression of his face in that rock. This rock is still housed in a special hall of the Shaolin Temple for anyone to see.

The word Chan is short for Chan Na, just as its Japanese translation Zen is short for Zen Na. Both words are efforts to phonetically translate the term Dhyana from Sanskrit. Dhyana is one of the "eight limbs of Yoga," translated into English as meditation. According to legend, Da Mo created chi kung and kung fu exercises to increase personal vitality so monks could sustain prolonged meditations. However, the very act of practicing kung fu can be, in itself, an act of meditation. Such is the paradox of Chan.

So what is meditation? In the West, we tend to think of it as a devotional exercise in contemplation of spirituality. Chan simplifies this concept considerably. Meditation simply means to be fully aware of the moment. This is not as easy as it appears. Your mind is always processing your sense perceptions, constantly contributing to mental noise. We all have that internal dialog, which inhibits our complete awareness of the moment with a head filled with presumptions and distractions. To be in the moment, all of these delusions dissolve and what remains is what it is. This is why doing nothing and practicing kung fu (in a sense doing everything) can both be acts of meditation. To a Chan Buddhist, any act can be meditation if you are in the moment. Although these paths may seem totally different, ultimately they are one and the same.

Sitting Meditation

Sitting Meditation is a regular part of Shaolin practice. All you really have to do is just sit and do nothing. There are some accepted guidelines for how to practice seated meditation at the Shaolin Temple.

First sit. Cross-legged is the mode of preference. The Lotus position is even better if you are flexible enough; however, even seated on a chair is possible. The Japanese Zen Buddhists have special pillows on which to meditate. These consist of a square padded mat called zabutan and a round pillow called zafu. Chinese Chan Buddhists did not always have the luxury of soft pillows so they sat anywhere. If you are new to meditation, use the pillows. They are very helpful. Sitting for a long time becomes tiresome.

If possible try to find a quiet place to meditate, one with fresh air where you will not be disturbed. Align the point on the top of your head and the base of your pelvis so that your spine is erect. If you are male, the fingers of your left hand should be placed in your right palm. Reverse this if you are female. Your thumbprints should be lightly touching and your little fingers should be resting on your dantian, just below your navel. The five surfaces, the palms of your hand, the soles of your feet and the base of your heart should face upwards. Your eyes stare at your nose and your nose stares at your heart. Observe the process of your breath, being attentive to each inhalation and exhalation. If a thought enters your mind, observe it and let it pass like a floating cloud.

Meditation and Chi Kung

Shaolin practitioners often accompany their meditation with the practice of some chi kung, in particular Baduajin (eight-section brocade), Yi Jin Jing (muscle tendon washing form) or Xi Xue Jing (bone marrow washing form). Meditation periods can vary from a few minutes to several hours. Some monks have achieved high levels of sitting practice. In Japan there is a practice known as "monk killer" where monks will meditate for a week straight with no break for sleep. Some monks have skills so high that they abstain from lying down ever again. At the highest level, some even die in state, which means to pass on in seated meditation without falling over.

For most of us, shorter practice sessions are adequate, especially for the beginners. A daily practice is recommended, generally beginning with fifteen to thirty minutes a day and working up to longer periods as your lifestyle allows. The effect of meditation is subtle at first but can be very rewarding in the long run. In fact, it may even lead to your enlightenment. ;-)