Integrating Action, Education, and Conscious Evolution
By Edward Orem, PhD
Bodhidharma devised the higher education of his "three jewels" (Shi Pa Lohan Shou, Yi Jin Jing, Shii Shoei Jing) as methods of conquering desires and authority outside ourselves--impulses which tend to cause us suffering and keep us stupid. Through constant self-vigilance and earnest concentration he sought to create an extraordinary super-force of mental focus, the human tool used to cultivate enlightenment and evolution.
Of course Bodhidharma didn't invent the tool. His contribution was to assimilate older Mahayana and Right Path Tantra meditation techniques and the equally ancient breathing techniques of the Taoists with his own work ethic creating a very unique, far-reaching system of self-education. He later summarized this educational approach:
"The spirit should be tranquil and alert, but the body should also be strong and active. Without tranquility one cannot have good circulation and breath. Hence the body should be properly exercised so that the muscles and bones may be supple and the spirit not have to likewise suffer from the misery of weakness."
And in his statement to his first student, he maintained that truth "can be understood only after long, hard discipline and by enduring what is most difficult to endure, and by practicing what is most difficult to practice. Men without wisdom and of inferior virtue will never comprehend it."
Whatever the man may have said, you will (and should) find for yourself that the exercises are rooted in honing the powers of concentration and on correct methods of respiration. Indeed, the significance of controlling the vital energies of Heaven and Earth as they course through the practitioner's body is the enduring contribution of Bodhidharma in the field of integral studies.
The physical control of breathing apparatus, i.e. using diaphragmatic or hypo-gastric methods rather than those powered by thorasic and inter-coastal musculature, are paramount in beginning these esoteric studies. If a student concentrates on the correct physical methods in themselves, the results would be significant: 1) Improvement in stamina, coordination, balance, speed; 2) Better health through augmentation and distribution of chi; 3) Improved digestion and elimination; 4) More efficient gland and organ functions through the massaging effect of abdominal style breath control.
However, there are farther-reaching, deeper influences upon both body and consciousness when correct physical technique is used with mindful meditation methods of visualizing energy flow. The following sections illuminate this conjunction. There is no amount of intellectualizing or rational dissection of doctrine that can bring such astounding results.
When the chi is circulated a certain way, we get certain results. Whether the results are physical or border on the mystical, all can be seen as a simple result of circulation of chi. Filling both mind and body with light: This the path of comprehending the body. Swept Path, Polished Jewels.
Important results of martial arts study already include the discipline and strength that abide during times of adversity. So just what do these teachings of Bodhidharma hold for the trained martial artist?
For the last 1,500 years, generations of men and women have become enlightened through the transformative power of these teachings. The training will ultimately challenge negative patterns of action, thought, emotions. It will point the way for understanding how the mind shapes experience and for transforming emotions to awaken the wisdom that lies in your own heart. It will speak to you if you are concerned about the direction society is taking and are interested in exploring alternatives, especially the value of righteous (read: not-for-profit) work as a training ground for spiritual development.
This training will encourage you to construct a healthy, satisfying lifestyle framed in a context of continuing spiritual evolution, meditation, service. The remembering and study of true "higher education" will keep you from being tricked by the agenda of our modern mercantile society. The daily meditation will help you to integrate what you're learning into daily life. And service will tether your ego while improving your physical and social environment.
The program of training is designed to clear the way for change by teaching you to recognize patterns of suffering, and to question the structures you impose on the experience of phenomena. It will make room for fresh possibilities, and help you to discover ways of knowing that penetrate to the heart of our human condition.
You will be introduced to the ancient disciplines of self-cultivation, and provide access to the wisdom that resides within you. This will encourage you to move beyond current limitations, cut through destructive patterns of conditioning, free your mind and senses to enjoy the human experience more deeply.
One of the characteristics of a master is that he recognizes not only the ultimate needs of the student, but how to counter present blocks to growth and understanding. Bodhidharma recognized the need to help the monks at Shaolin to counter the stress of approaching self-knowledge through intellectual means, i.e. reliance on the study of scriptures and seated meditations. He introduced specific therapeutic practices to neutralize those stresses arising from intellectualism and stasis. Each facet of the triple jewel reflects different approaches to full illumination:
While the Shi Pa Lo Han Shou seeks to get the physical vehicle strong and flexible, it also presents its exercises as "mind-forms" or physical mudra which have imprints on consciousness development.
The Yi Chin Ching likewise has integrated psycho-physical functions. Loss of muscle tissue and bone density through lack of contractions inherent in resistance work characterizes all those with sedentary lifestyles. The dynamic tension inherent within isotonic contractions of Yi Chin Ching builds muscle matter and increases bone strength. Significantly, the physical emphasis on deep, internal strengthening is reflected on the subtle plane in the deep cultivation of will necessary to execute this challenging program successfully. This training teaches one to be the "Destroyer of the Enemy." The Sanskrit term for this accomplished state is arhat; that is, "One who has conquered the passions which hinder enlightenment and perfection." Bodhidharma was carrier of the title "Arhat." Step up, finish the program, and assume your place in this ancient lineage.
The focus of the third jewel, Shii Shoei Ching/Washing Marrow and Brain with Essence, will be discussed in depth in a later article, but we may clarify its position now: it concentrates the collected energies of the previous six years of the first two programs, and uses the body's most vital and potent essences for illumination and enlightenment.