Your cart

Zen: Training The Heart

"Your life is a Zen Koan that you must solve"

 When Bodhidharma arrived in China from India, he found that Buddhism was being studied rather than experienced. Bodhidharma travelled to the Shaolin Temple and started a new school of Buddhism called Zen, Ch'an in Chinese but it can also be translated as The Buddha Heart School.

There is a famous story about a scholar called Eka who went to the temple to see Bodhidharma and ask him to teach him. Bodhidharma didn't turn around. This continued for a week then on the eighth day it started to snow. The next morning, Eka was still kneeling at the gates of the temple, knee deep in snow. Finally Bodhidharma turned and looked at him. Eka said, "Please teach me," and the Bodhidharma replied, " How can you expect to see the truth? Training with a lazy conceited heart is training in vain." Eka, as proof of his commitment, cut off his left arm and presented it to Bodhidharma. Eka then said, "Please put my heart at ease." Bodhidharma replied, "Put your heart before me and I will put it as ease." Eka said, " My heart doesn't stop for one moment, but I can't find it or get hold of it." Bodhidharma replied, "There, I have put your heart at rest for you."

What does this story mean? The first thing to make clear is that Eka didn't literally cut his arm off. It's a symbol that he released his limited past experiences. It is like the famous story of the student who went to see the Zen master to request teaching. The master invited him for a cup of tea, they sat down and the master picked up the teapot and poured tea into the student's cup and kept pouring until the tea flowed out of the cup and onto the table. The student said, 'Master, what are you doing, my cup is full?" The master replied, "Yes, your cup is full so I can't teach you anything."  Eka cutting off his arm was a way of him saying I have emptied my cup and I now have room to receive your teachings.

It doesn't matter what religion you practice or whether you practice none at all, we all have the same desire to feel happy, whole and complete. We think if we have a big house or a million pounds or a family or that job we want or that degree or a six-pack then we will be happy. But the only way to complete our self and feel truly happy is by putting our heart at rest, and how do we put our heart at rest? Through understanding the nature of our heart. To understand the nature of our heart is not to study the Buddha as something outside of our self, but to stop looking outside our self for happiness or answers and instead turn our focus onto our own mind so we can see into its true nature. The Buddha said we need to do two things:  

1) Train our mind

2) Understand who we are.That is all. End of teaching. Sounds easy? In Zen we train our mind in our daily activities. We don't separate; now John is going to sit on a cushion for twenty minutes and he will meditate and be a Buddha but for the rest of his 23 hours and 40 minutes he will be John.  

In Zen, we are a Buddha 24 hours a day. And when I say Buddha, please don't be put off by the term Buddha or Buddhist, they are just labels. Buddha simply means awakened one. The historical Buddha awakened to how the world truly is and this gave him everlasting happiness. The Buddha was a normal human being and we are too. We can also do the same as the Buddha. Being awake means we stay present in each moment. This regulates our nervous system, and harmonizes our mind and body.

Most people believe meditation is sitting on a cushion but this is only one type of meditation. I advise my students not to do sitting meditation when they come home from work. Why? Let's say that you have desk job and you've been sitting at your computer all day, your mind has been very active. To then come home and sit on a cushion and expect your mind to calm down will take a great deal of effort.

Your body also has needs. We recognise when it needs to eat but many of us have lost the art of listening to the need of our body to be active. If you feel tired be aware that tiredness can come from a body that doesn't move.

The best thing you can do after work is train in Shaolin. This is your meditation practice.Tell yourself, for this one hour I'm going to dedicate myself to my training. You can dedicate your training to someone who is unwell and this strengthens your training. Now you're not just training for yourself, you're training for someone else. Turn off your phone and anything else that may distract you. Light a candle if you want to the Buddha or whoever inspires you.  Begin your Shaolin program. Be aware every time your mind moves from your training but don't get annoyed with yourself. It's pride to expect to be perfect. We think most of the time so it's not so easy to turn it off

As you move through your Shaolin Workout, you will find that your mind effortlessly begins to slow down as it becomes absorbed in what you are doing. There is a letting go of the day, a letting go of worries and concerns and thoughts that circle in the head. You will find that your mind becomes clear, like dirty water in a glass, once the glass is allowed to settle, the dirt goes to the bottom and the water is clear.

This is an extract from Instant Fitness: The Shaolin Kung Fu Workout.

If you'd like to start training in Shaolin, click HERE.

1 comment

  • Arnaud

    Hey Shifu Yan Lei,
    The article is very interesting. One of the takeaways is that sitting meditation is not the only one meditation available. It’s avery different perspective. Thank you !

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published