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Thread: Shaolin History - Fact or Myth?

  1. #61
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    Quote Originally Posted by Scott R. Brown View Post
    One other interesting tidbit, the earliest sources of chan actually do not mention meditation, but "wall examining"; no one really knows what it refers too. It was presumed by later generations to mean meditation, however some of the earliest chan writings actually criticize meditation!
    Buddhist Faith and Sudden Enlightenment by Sung Bae Park is a great little book I read years ago which has an interesting chapter on "Bodhidharma's Wall Meditation". The book's central concept is how sudden enlightenment occurs through the awakening of patriarchal faith. This is the non-dual affirmation that one is already Buddha as opposed to the doctrinal, dualistic faith that one can become Buddha. By making a distinction between ordinary and saint, one creates a false gap that one then must attempt to cross by practice. The book covers the concept of Patriarchal Faith in various Mahayana schools. It's a good read.

    Anyway, why is it that "no one really knows what it means"? Bodhidharm's Errusixinglun is pretty straightforward on the concept of "ningzhu biguan" (firmly abiding in observation like a wall).

    Other translations seem to be too colorful and poetic, which imho can obscure the meaning and lead to imagination and incorrect interpretation by the reader. Classical Chinese can certainly infer much broader meaning, but is very succinct in 4 characters. So this is just my unadorned translation on "entrance through principle";

    舍伪归真,凝住壁观。无自无他,凡圣等一。坚住不移,不随他教。与道冥符,寂然无为,名理入也 。
    "Abandoning the false and returning to the true, firmly abiding in observation like a wall, wherein there is not self nor other, ordinary and saint are one, firmly abiding without waver, not led by other teachings, in deep communion with the path, serene and non-acting- such is called the entrance of 'principle'."

    In Chinese it is not "wall observation", with a superficial understanding and emphasis on 'wall' as the object of seeing, but the emphasis is on 'observation' or the act of seeing like a wall. Since a wall sees both sides but does not take part in either, as it were, it is a symbol of non-duality and nondiscrimination, "serene and non-acting".

    Further, "firmly abiding" is directly related to the Buddhist concept of faith, or sraddha, which is the act of sustaining confidence, remaining steadfast, or retaining one's trust in the sense of abiding firmly. "Firmly abiding in observation like a wall" therefore means remaining steadfast in a state of non-duality and nondiscrimination. It is a combination of "abiding firmly" (or faith) and "observation" (or practice), which indicates the inseparability of the two.

    A wall sees the emptiness of all things and the emptiness of self as well as others. So in this sense, any meditation in which one's mind can be like a wall as defined by Bodhidharma can be called "wall observation", regardless of posture or place of practice. In other words, "wall observation" is not a specific kind of meditation but establishes the criteria for meditation and right practice, namely (1) that all sentient beings have the same true nature, (2) a state of mind like a wall, i.e. "abiding firmly" in a state of non-dualism, and (3) a constant mindfulness of the fourfold practice in one's daily life (explained further in the treatise).

  2. #62
    Very nicely put LFJ!

  3. #63
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    Scott,

    I was referring to the source you listed; "The Record of the Buddhist Monasteries of Luoyang". The excerpt, when examined in the context of time and geography, is more likely the description of an Indian of Persian influence (of which there was a lot) than an Iranian.

    "At that time there was a monk of the Western Region named Bodhidharma, a Persian Central Asian. He traveled from the wild borderlands to China."

    Again, take a quick glance at a map of The Persian empire at the time, which by the way extended to cover both modern Afghanistan and at least most of Pakistan.

    My point is not that the sources are conclusive, but that they are highly consistent with one another and provide enough of a historical and geographical foundation from which one can conclude certain aspects of such a character's life, if he did exist. when it comes down to accounts of obscure ancient individuals, the four primary sources for Damo's appearance at Shaolin are a lot more than we have for some other notable "historical" figures.

    But again, they are not conclusive and for the record I admit that they are "enough for me" to believe he existed.


    I would comment about the wall meditation but LFJ pretty much took the words right out of my mouth (indeed, good post)! Dhyana as Buddhist meditation is interesting to me because of the debate on its origins. Historically speaking, the earliest record of it precedes its Brahman counterpart in the Mahabarata. I think that this is an additional reason why someone of Damo's general description may have converted to Buddhism in the first place.

    However, it is undeniable that the primordial form, the "thing" that became Dhyana in Buddhism, was already there in Hinduism. Also of interest in this sense is the fact that the story of Damo and HuiKe, which revolves around a spiritual journey in a cave, bears significant symbolic similarities to an ancient tale about Krishna. I think that post-Damo Chan scholarship tends to neglect Hindu elements of its nascence as a means of differentiation.

  4. #64
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    Meditation, yoga, tantra, etc were never a part of Brahmanic Hinduism. It wasn't until well after popularization of Jainism, Buddhism, and other post-Upanishad philosophies that Hinduism started to integrate these practices, as they were considered heterodox in the Vedic times.

    I'm not sure why it would be strange for Damo to come from Persia. Chan always struck me as a bit Greek, and the Greek influence on Buddhist art is undeniable. The area of Afghanistan was a bastion of Buddhist practice in those times. But, as LFJ mentioned, their claimed lineage is pretty clear about what philosophies came to influence Chan.

    Also, whenever I think of "wall staring" (which people actually do) I've always thought of this.

  5. #65
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    Paz,

    I have heard this before, and i understand why people (in particular Buddhists) feel this way.

    The problem is that there is no real certainty regarding when the relevant Yogic principles first appeared in Hinduism. It could be anywhere from 200 B.C. (making their adoption reactionary to Buddhist influence) to thousands of years before then, with possible roots in Egypt, to whom the skillful manipulation of states of mind was no news.

    I am of the opinion that the Brahmanic tradition did in fact contain these elements, if not under different names. Buddhism, however, brought them to the forefront in a way which, understandably, would have made the otherwise pompous Brahman society very self-conscious, even resentful. Vestiges of this tension can be found in Hindu commentary and writings.



    As for it being strange for Damo to have been from Iran. I do not think it is impossible or even strange. My comments were directed at several very specific sources which are considered to be "historical". If you look at or read the actual geographical references, then you will understand what i mean. They are available in Wikipedia, with sources.

  6. #66
    Quote Originally Posted by DoGcHoW108 View Post
    Scott,...I was referring to the source you listed; "The Record of the Buddhist Monasteries of Luoyang". The excerpt, when examined in the context of time and geography, is more likely the description of an Indian of Persian influence (of which there was a lot) than an Iranian......
    Thank you for the reply and explaining in more detail your meaning!

    Quote Originally Posted by pazman View Post
    Also, whenever I think of "wall staring" (which people actually do) I've always thought of this.
    This is very close to mirror gazing and crystal gazing!

    I do not think this serves the same purpose as wall gazing though, at least as it has been interpreted traditionally.

    And that is my point. I think that most of the interpretation of it, of course, has come AFTER the event of its first mention. And although there is a historical context for meditation in Buddhism, I think that the conclusions most people come to are speculation and educated guess work and not necessarily what the original intended meaning was.

    It is sort of like a Rorschach, it can mean whatever people want it to mean according to the context from which they choose to view it.

    Chinese Buddhists were already meditating, so what is the big deal with "wall gazing" that makes it something special or different? If all it is, is mediation, basically, so what?

    My educated consideration then is that it must be something different than regular meditation, otherwise, might as well have referred to it as meditation from the start.

  7. #67
    this thread isnt about damo, its about whether he taught kung fu.

    and the answer is no.


    shaolin boxing began 500-600 years ago.

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  8. #68
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    Quote Originally Posted by DoGcHoW108 View Post
    he problem is that there is no real certainty regarding when the relevant Yogic principles first appeared in Hinduism. It could be anywhere from 200 B.C. (making their adoption reactionary to Buddhist influence) to thousands of years before then, with possible roots in Egypt, to whom the skillful manipulation of states of mind was no news.

    I am of the opinion that the Brahmanic tradition did in fact contain these elements, if not under different names. Buddhism, however, brought them to the forefront in a way which, understandably, would have made the otherwise pompous Brahman society very self-conscious, even resentful. Vestiges of this tension can be found in Hindu commentary and writings.
    Don't know if you've read it already or not, but Johannes Bronkhorst has a really good book on the interaction between Brahmanic Hinduism and the spiritual practices of Greater Magadha, it tackles a lot of these issues:
    "Greater Magadha Studies in the Culture of Early India", Handbook of Oriental Studies, Section 2 India, Volume 19. Lieden, Boston 2007.
    If you look hard you can find it...

    PS - I've also seen it argued that a lot of what we consider "Taoism", including meditative practices, sprung up *after* contact with Buddhism.
    Last edited by Pork Chop; 03-11-2013 at 10:17 AM.
    What would happen if a year-old baby fell from a fourth-floor window onto the head of a burly truck driver, standing on the sidewalk?
    It's practically certain that the truckman would be knocked unconscious. He might die of brain concussion or a broken neck.
    Even an innocent little baby can become a dangerous missile WHEN ITS BODY-WEIGHT IS SET INTO FAST MOTION.
    -Jack Dempsey ch1 pg1 Championship Fighting

  9. #69
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    Pork Chop,

    This is an area of interest for me as well, although it is a lot harder to pin down these sorts of practices and their origins in Taoism. What I will say is that the martial arts present today can be analysed (in terms of philosophy, kinetics and origins) through Taoist as well as Buddhist lenses.

    I've practiced yoga for about a year now and have found that, aside from being similar in terms of physical form, both my gongfu and yoga benefit tremendously from one another. The one missing piece, now, is actually qigong. So it is interesting that you mention it, and to address Bawang's post, gongfu is not Shaolin martial arts.

    To be sure, the two are closely related but as a meditative practice, gongfu is actually more reminiscent of the notion of devoted work than it is of anything resembling a violent practice. Work involving violent practice is by nature geared towards achieving material results. So, aside from contradicting the practice of nonviolence towards sentient beings, i see the idea of goals-based gongfu as a fighting system to be indicative of ignorance regarding both Buddhism and meditation.

    More to your point, PC, i tend to see "gongfu" as the love child of yoga and qigong, the result of Buddhism combining taoist and hindu principles.


    **edit** Oh and thank you for the reference, that is very interesting. Ill have to get to it once i am through the book i impulse-bought after LFJ posted a link to it haha
    Last edited by DoGcHoW108; 03-11-2013 at 10:45 AM. Reason: Note and grammar XD

  10. #70
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    Here's a root of Ch'an: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lankavatara_Sutra

    Buddhism is a child of Hinduism.

    Taoism is particularly Chinese and is closer to more shamanistic practices in it's earlier iterations.

    The was various intercourse obviously, But Buddhism didn't gain a seat in China until about 1000 years after it was already in full swing in India and throughout south and south east asia.
    Kung Fu is good for you.

  11. #71
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    David,

    I've been reluctant to mention this text as it would have led me to a long tangent about the meaning of the Vajra, but it is exciting as hell that someone referred to it.

    The two most interesting things i have picked up from T.D. Suzuki's translation of this writing are as follows:

    1. The Mani Stone
    2. Skillful Means

    But in all honesty, i think that it would be more appropriate for another thread, if you all are interested in discussing it further.



    LFJ,

    I was wondering if you could help me figure out something. Why is it that the "fu" in "gongfu" looks the way it does? Why was this character, specifically, chosen for the phrase?

  12. #72
    Quote Originally Posted by David Jamieson View Post
    Buddhism is a child of Hinduism.
    Actually it is the other way around. Maybe you mean the Vedas ? They are indeed related to the school of Buddhism. What indeed occurred was that later generations of monks mixed things from Hinduism in their school.


    Best regards,
    Xian

  13. #73
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    Quote Originally Posted by David Jamieson View Post
    Buddhism is a child of Hinduism.
    You should check out that book I listed.
    The topic deserves a much more in depth treatment than I can possibly give here.
    A lot of what we know today as "Hinduism" is a rather late invention.
    There are a lot of debates about the true dates of Hindu texts but even the earliest of the Upanishads shows a spiritual dialog between Brahmanic Hinduism and the spiritual culture of Greater Magadha; the former borrowing more from the later than the later did from the former.
    What would happen if a year-old baby fell from a fourth-floor window onto the head of a burly truck driver, standing on the sidewalk?
    It's practically certain that the truckman would be knocked unconscious. He might die of brain concussion or a broken neck.
    Even an innocent little baby can become a dangerous missile WHEN ITS BODY-WEIGHT IS SET INTO FAST MOTION.
    -Jack Dempsey ch1 pg1 Championship Fighting

  14. #74
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    Quote Originally Posted by DoGcHoW108 View Post
    LFJ,

    I was wondering if you could help me figure out something. Why is it that the "fu" in "gongfu" looks the way it does? Why was this character, specifically, chosen for the phrase?
    Why does it "look" the way it does? Are you just asking about the form or function?

    In classical Chinese it often performs auxiliary grammatical functions, or acts as a noun suffix particle or demonstrative pronoun. In the case of "gongfu" it is a suffix word- a root word (gong- [Buddhist] meritorious deeds) with a suffix particle.

    Now you may hear fu as indicating time and growth, since it usually refers to an adult male, but I think this is just an attempt to add an explanation to it when referring to acquired skill, as it is used to mean today. In classical Chinese it often simply performs grammatical functions.

    Interestingly, there is a rarely seen character with gong over fu ( 巭) pronounced as pu, with the meaning of effort in study or forced labor.

  15. #75
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    More specifically form. Is it a coincidence that the written word looks like a derivative of the words "ren" and "tian"?

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