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Thread: Kung Fu – A karmic burden?

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    Andrew is offline Sifu Andrew Barnett - Chief Instructor, Shaolin Wahnam Switzerland
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    Kung Fu – A karmic burden?

    We live as humans - beings trapped in the endless cycle of birth and re-birth. How, where, when and even if we are re-born is the result of the sum of the karma we have accumulated to that point. The more negative karma developed, the worse our lot in a next life. Conversely, the more positive karma developed, the better our lot in a next life. And, for those who are ready and have achieved karmic cleanliness, the cycle of birth and re-birth may be escaped as they merge with the cosmos for all eternity.

    With this very basic level of knowledge, it would seem logical for everyone to try and avoid creating negative or bad karma and try to create as much good or positive karma as possible. This provides the best opportunity to be re-born in a situation conducive to cultivating for enlightenment.

    What part does Kung Fu play in this cycle of karmic generation? It may be easier if we start by defining arbitrary levels of Kung Fu. I must stress that the definition of these levels is in no way intended to belittle any of the arts associated with them. More it is to make the reason for possible karmic effects more comprehensible.

    At the first level, a level which many modern schools have adopted, Kung Fu has lost much if not all of its martial aspect. It has become a beautiful demonstrative art – modern Wushu. The exponents of such arts are extremely well trained, physically strong, fit, flexible and agile. They train for the purpose of pleasing spectators and not for fighting. How can this ideal – pleasing others – cause bad karma? I don’t think it really can.

    At the second level, we look at Kung Fu as a true Martial Art. Martial Arts are, by definition, fighting arts designed to make the exponent an efficient and effective fighter. And how does this affect the karma of the exponents of these systems? It is useful to split this second level into two sub-levels.

    The first of these sub-levels represents the many aggressive systems that are taught. They encourage their exponents to inflict maximum damage on their opponents. Quite along the line of “strike first, ask questions later”. It is quite clear that the exponents of such systems are destined to create bad karma. Just the aggressive training methods which are employed alone, let alone inflicting unnecessary damage on opponents, are enough.

    At the second sub-level the Kung Fu is still “just” a fighting art. But the exponents are taught to inflict minimum damage if involved in a fight. They are trained in discipline as are those in the previous sub-level. But the type of discipline is different. Exponents of such arts do not fight if they do not need to. In fact they will go out of their way to avoid a fight. Faced with a combat situation which is unavoidable they will defend themselves and their loved ones with the minimum required force. These arts may well generate some bad karma for their exponents if they are ever involved in a real fight. Otherwise, their training is more for peace than war. So the net karmic effects will be positive.

    So - is fighting the only component to be considered? Not for great Kung Fu systems such as Shaolin Kung Fu and Taijiquan (both, of course, in practiced as traditional Arts in their original forms). This is then the final level to be considered.

    Both of these systems were developed by monks - those dedicated to spiritual cultivation; their ultimate aim being enlightenment, nirvana, becoming one with the cosmos – or whatever other name you would like to use for the ultimate spiritual achievement. How could such people even consider training in an Art which would, by definition and inherently, move them further away from their goal? That’s exactly the point – they didn’t …. and we don't either.

    Both Shaolin Kung Fu and Taijiquan are extremely efficient and effective fighting systems. But their exponents are those who are least likely to be involved in a fight. And this high level of combat efficiency often enables the exponents to avoid fighting where it would otherwise be unavoidable. The positive karma generated by this highest form of combat (winning without fighting) is obvious.

    The training methods employed are non-aggressive. Spiritual cultivation is an integral part of the training. These Arts, maybe even uniquely, teach compassion – even in fighting; even in life or death situations. In fact it was not unknown in the past for great Masters to sacrifice their own lives in order to avoid killing others --- the ultimate act of compassion. Obviously this sacrifice did not generate the best karma. But the karma generated was far better than would have been caused by taking the lives of others.

    So these great Arts are themselves methods for spiritual cultivation. Their correct practice generates good karma. Having the opportunity to learn these great Arts can actually be considered a sign of having accumulated good karma previously. And being able to learn them from a great Master such as Sifu Wong is a blessing.
    Sifu Andrew Barnett
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    No such thing as good or bad

    I was talking to TaiSihing Kai about this recently and he suggested that I post the information regarding a murderer who went out to collect 1000 little fingers.

    The students name is Angulimala and a quick internet search turns up much information. The article and the example are excellent soure material in the 'no such thing as good or bad'.

    To quickly summarise - A man who was extremely filial to his parents (good) and excelled in his studies (good) generated jealousy in his classmates (bad), who then turned the teacher against him (bad). The teacher then requested 1000 fingers as payment (bad) so he started murdering people (bad), collecting fingers (bad) and wearing them (bad). For his 1000th victim (bad) he met Buddha (good) and ended up being accepted as one of Buddha's disciples (good),eventually reaching Enlightement (good) but was attacked (bad) when he went begging for alms and so on. I think that this is the student who was himself murdered by a vengefull mob (bad) because of his previous actions (which were bad) but that he forgave them even as they did so (good).

    Naturally, the 'good or bad' labels I have shown demonstrate my own lack of understanding, but is this a good or bad thing ?

    Good article Andrew, I look forwards to an interesting discussion regarding Kungfu & Karma.

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    Hubert is offline Sifu Hubert Razack - Instructor, Shaolin Wahnam Canada
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    I thought I had finally understood all of this until Darryl's post.
    I probably almost reached enlightment reading it

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    Charles David is offline Sifu Charles Chalmers - Instructor, Shaolin Wahnam Canada
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    Quote Originally Posted by WahnamCH
    So these great Arts are themselves methods for spiritual cultivation. Their correct practice generates good karma. Having the opportunity to learn these great Arts can actually be considered a sign of having accumulated good karma previously. And being able to learn them from a great Master such as Sifu Wong is a blessing.
    Andrew Sihing,

    Thank you for this reminder.
    Charles David Chalmers
    Brunei Darussalam

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    Zhang Wuji is offline Sifu Zhang Wuji - Instructor, Shaolin Wahnam Singapore
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    This is a great thread, Andrew.

    I have been wondering myself about the seeming paradox of kungfu and karma. No matter how you cut it, when it is used, kungfu is used for a violent purpose. Perhaps the exponent at a high level need not kill or maim but he still needs to incapacitate, however temporarily. Whichever country one comes from, the law usually defines direct physical contact without consent as some form of criminal force or bodily harm (In the English law of torts, being pushed accidentally in a subway has been explained away as unvoidable interaction rather than implied consent). Even if we never use the techniques we learn for vicious ends, the fact remains is that they can be.

    Compare a knife with a stick. It is generally harder to kill with a stick than with a knife; a knife falling from a low height is more likely to hurt you than a stick. Even without the deliberate intention of a person weiding a knife or a stick, by its very nature, a knife has more potential to hurt. The tool, like certain technique, is inherently dangerous to another person, and by extension to oneself.

    I have wondered if it were possible for spiritual cultivation to be achieved through a different set of techniques. For example, the Indians use yoga. The reason why still meditation alone (common among ALL religions) is not enough is because only the mind and spirit is cultivated, to the detriment of the body. Sifu explains all these much better than I do in his books. But say instead of physical training through martial techniques, how about spiritual cultivation through running or basketball or yoga-like calisthenics?

    Most Chinese would have read the book "Tianlong Ba Bu" 《天龙八部》 It is probably the best book on Chinese classicial knights ever written. The book describes a Shaolin monk who works as a menial worker, unseen by all the marital monks but in a dramtic encounter defeats the greatest exponents in the world. He posed this question:"Shaolin has 72 great arts. Why is it that no one mastered all of them?" (Hint - the answer is not that they did not have the time or aptitude).

    In my view, the inherent violence of kungfu is not by itself an impediment to good karma. Passivity is responsible for as much evil and suffering as unadulaterated violence. Sometimes, violent and decisive action is necessary. I recall C.S Lewis's famous description of God as a "cosmic sadist" in "A Grief Observed". He said that like a surgeon, God sometimes must do things that are necessary for you but will hurt like the devil (my paraphrasing ). A surgeon will appreciate the pain you are going through during the surgery but he will not stop the operation just because of that.

    Like the nuclear arms race, if one side lays down its arms but the other doesn't, the stage is set for total destruction by the non-complying enemy. The act of peace ironically removes all deterrence and opens the floodgates of violence. In a world of violence, the lovers of peace must be able to vanquish the perpetrators of violence, and they cannot do so with sweet talk. So, if a master sacrifices his life in order not to kill a band of marauders pillaging a village, it is the villagers that will die as a result. Perhaps despite knowing that he will generate bad karma by killing the robbers, he does so out of compassion for the villagers, he demonstrates a saying I have often heard attributed to Buddha "If I do not go to Hell, who will?". He loves the villagers so much he would rather go through more cycles of pain than to let them suffer a horrible death.

    At the same time, possessing great kungfu allows one to avoid violence as far as possible, as the instructors have explained in here. Morehei Uesiba was said to be so benevolent because he was invincible (in Japan at least). He need not fear anyone. Fear, it is said, is a major cause of violence. Many people resort to evil and violence out of fear, like the king who must kill off his enemies out of fear of losing his throne. Or the student who destroys library books to prevent other smart students from getting the same edge from the books. If you are secure, there is no need to get rid of the competition.

    Oh my, how I have rambled and I have used up my lunch hour. Hope to hear more from all here.
    百德以孝为先
    Persevere in correct practice

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    This was a nice post with lots of interesting points raised. I hope someone can answer the riddle about the Tianlong Ba Bu, because I don't know the story well enough!
    Quote Originally Posted by Zhang Wuji
    Like the nuclear arms race, if one side lays down its arms but the other doesn't, the stage is set for total destruction by the non-complying enemy. The act of peace ironically removes all deterrence and opens the floodgates of violence. In a world of violence, the lovers of peace must be able to vanquish the perpetrators of violence, and they cannot do so with sweet talk. So, if a master sacrifices his life in order not to kill a band of marauders pillaging a village, it is the villagers that will die as a result. Perhaps despite knowing that he will generate bad karma by killing the robbers, he does so out of compassion for the villagers, he demonstrates a saying I have often heard attributed to Buddha "If I do not go to Hell, who will?". He loves the villagers so much he would rather go through more cycles of pain than to let them suffer a horrible death.
    I think the nuclear arms race analogy might not be the best one to use in this case... I feel the arms race is most certainly a phenomenon that arose out of paranoia and fear. Moreover, both sides end up suffering because valuable resources are devoted to military defense at the cost of the basic well being of the people that are supposedly being defended by such armaments (witness the decline of social security, public health programs, and worst of all education in the "nuclear superpowers"). I think this would be likened to a martial artist who conditions his or her body with little regard for health, and all attention devoted to being a better fighter. This would entail brutal conditioning like hitting oneself with sticks, exchanging blows freely, taking performance enhancing drugs, etc. But when all is said and done the quality of life is diminished. An indivdual with such masochistic tendencies (possible a result of bad karma) may not realize the damage being done to his or her body. Or, he or she may realize that they are on a wrong path and may turn to something that can help defend while at the same time improve quality of life and spiritual well being.

    Best,
    Chia-Hua

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    Sunyata I think that is a very apt analogy the two have some striking similarities.
    from the ♥

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    An interesting example for this discussion of how genuine Shaolin Kung Fu is not aggressive and actually practices compassion would be one of Sifu Wong's main teachers - Sifu Ho Fatt Nam :

    Years ago, a Fifth Dan Karate Master from Japan specially paid a visit to Sifu Ho Fatt Nam to test his Shaolin Kung Fu. With a thundering shout and in lightning speed, the Japanese expert executed a double flying kick at Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, who responded with the Kung Fu pattern "Catch Tiger in Mountains". The Japanese master flew over the head of Sifu Ho Fatt Nam. There was no contact between the masters. After he had steadily landed, the Japanese master turned round, gallantly bowed, thanked Sifu Ho Fatt Nam and said the match was over. Spectators, who had come to see an exciting match, were very disappointed, as they did not understand what actually had transpired.

    Had Sifu Ho Fatt Nam trained his Kung Fu poorly (at the highest level), he would have caused great injury to the other master, egotistically proving his prowess and dominance over the other master. Also, had the other master trained his Kung Fu poorly (again at the highest level), he might have continued his attacks failing to see the compassion demonstrated. His ego might have pushed him to try again to win the fight rather than acknowledge his defeat.

    The point is that genuine Arts like Kung Fu, Chi Kung, Tai Chi Chuan and Zen develop such attributes as compassion, when put into practice definitely create good karma. Sadly in this day and age, the methods for this type of training is very rare - leading to the misconception that Kung Fu generates bad Karma. Shaolin Wahnam is different, practicing compassion is a major part of our training.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Durkin
    Sadly in this day and age, the methods for this type of training is very rare - leading to the misconception that Kung Fu generates bad Karma. Shaolin Wahnam is different, practicing compassion is a major part of our training.
    Even rarer are the amazing individuals who work hard enough to get to that level.

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    Hello hello!

    Quote Originally Posted by Zhang Wuji
    by its very nature, a knife has more potential to hurt. The tool, like certain technique, is inherently dangerous to another person, and by extension to oneself.
    While reading the above, an idea struck me. A knife is made to cut things. It can cut our food for us, or it can cut another person. It's is how you treat the knife that counts. Relating this to Shaolin Kungfu, Kungfu can be used for spiritual cultivation, but it can also be used to harm others.
    If someone uses a knife to attack someone, people don't say it was the knife's fault. Similarly, just because a person uses Kungfu to protect themselves (and in older days, kill), it doesn't mean Kungfu is a vicious art. As has been said many times, it's probably one of the most compassionate fighting arts out there.
    The subject of karmic burden is very complicated. Killing one very evil person to save a innocent lives certainly isn't bad, and if you can use Kungfu to make it a compassionate, quick and painless death, then I think bad karma has a small effect.
    What I'm trying to get at is Kungfu itself is not a karmic burden. It's how you use it that is going to determine your karma.

    Warm regards to all
    Alex

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