Religious Studies and Buddhist Studies: Research that matters, especially now!

Category: Qigong (page 1 of 1)

Performance in a Former Bomb Shelter Made into a Lively Peace Sanctuary

On Saturday, January 17, 2015, I had the privilege to attend a performance by the art group of Meimen. This performance was titled Bǎirěn zhī yè 百忍之夜 , which literally translates to “The Evening of a Hundred [Forms of] Forbearance.” We will see, however, that the Chinese word rěn 忍 can be interpreted in a myriad of different ways and that it may have been intended here to mean something different from its usual meaning of “endurance, patience, or forbearance.” First, something must be said about the location called Meimen Garden (see, only in Chinese). This in one of the restaurants belonging to the Meimen Qigong group, right next to the former City Hall (Zhōngshāntáng 中山堂). The fact that it is situated underground results from its former function as a bomb shelter (fángkōngdòng 防空洞 ). The founder of the Meimen approach, Master Lee, reinterpreted these three characters to mean “preventing the human heart from being hollow” (fángzhǐ rénxīn kōngdòng 防止人心空洞), which is also why it has a stage where various heart-filling cultural events can take place. This is how the sign in stained glass posted above the entrance leading underground looks now: DSCN1463 I will abstain from attempting to interpret this piece of art, which obviously suggests the convergence of various religious approaches. The caption on their website explains that it was created by Yóu Shūfēn 游淑芬 and “symbolizes the world where all phenomena return to the one” (象徵萬法歸一的境界). Let me rather return to the performance. It was made of six sections, each referring to one of the functions of the six consciousnesses (the five senses, plus the mind). From what I heard, this is linked to the teachings given by the founder about the Method [to Cultivate] a Mind of Great Endurance (百忍心法). I will post further info about this when I learn more. At first sight, it involves much more than “patience” and seems to carry the nuance of “appreciation” as well. In any case, as a performance, it was really impressive. Each of the six sections made a distinctive point about the six aspects: 1. sight (guān rěn 觀忍), displaying an enthralling dance performance, 2. hearing (tīng rěn 聽忍), expressed through two mini concerts, one with violin and the other one with the traditional èrhú 二胡, 3. smell (wén rěn 聞忍), expressed through danse, 4. taste, involving amazing sleights of hand culminating with the magic apparition of a guava juice (pǐn rěn 品忍), 5. touch (chù rěn 觸忍), which featured acrobatic martial art combat, and 6. thoughts (yì rěn 意忍) conveyed through songs. A video excerpt from the martial art section is visible here: Video. Regarding the technical term rěn 忍 and its use in Buddhism, although it is widely understood in modern Chinese in the sense of the verb rěnshòu 忍受, to endure or to bear, or as the adjective or the noun rěnnài 忍耐, patience, endurance, ancient Buddhist texts used it as a translation for the Sanskrit kṣānti, with slightly different nuances. Recently, I came across the following fascinating article by a Professor in the Department of Comparative Studies at the State University of New York: Cho Sungtaek (趙 性澤). “The Psycho-semantic Structure of the Word kṣānti (Ch. Jen).” (online article, no date) Although this is fairly technical, his discussion focuses on the expression wúshēng fǎ rěn 無生法忍, and its equivalent in Sanskrit, anutpattika-dharma-kṣānti, which indicates one of the forms of awakening assuring avinivartanīya, the non-retrogression stage of the bodhisattva. He claims that “the earlier usages of kṣānti in Buddhist texts will show no relation to the word ‘patience’.” He further asserts that, “as a Buddhist technical term, it denoted an attentive ‘intentionality,’ or various modes of such mental states.” If you had the patience to read up to this point, what do you think about the Chinese word rěn 忍? What does it suggest to you, and do you see any good translation into English that would avoid the largely negative nuances associated with verbs such as “to endure”?

Well, since I raised the question and asked to members of the Meimen movement how they perceived this technical term, here are the few elements of answers gathered so far.

  • The character rěn 忍 evokes rèn 認 without the radical yán 言 for “words” and can thus hint at preverbal recognition, such as in the compound  rènmíng 認明 signifying to see clearly or to recognize something for what it is.
  • One person suggested “acceptance” but I am more inclined to favor “awareness.” I understand this as a pointer toward the need for mindfulness, a nonjudgmental recognition of how the sense objects interact with the corresponding faculties and mental factors associated with them.
  • This seems to closely correspond to the early Buddhist discoveries about epistemology, formulated by differentiating between the eighteen components of cognition, made of the six sense faculties, their six objects, and the corresponding six consciousnesses (shíbā jiè 十八界).

The discovery of true shame removes the root of all conflicts

Today, first guided class of qìgōng 氣功 at Meimen, focused on the píngshuǎi 平甩 exercise, followed by a meditation. Wonderful people and warm atmosphere. After spending some time sipping their special tea in the tea house, went to their restaurant called Meimen Tea Pavilion (Méimén shuǎichálǔ 梅門甩茶滷), which promotes the ideal of “nourishing one’s life [energy] with strong tastes” (yǎngshēng lǔwèi 養生滷味). The dining hall is a reconstituted ancient school, displaying traditional mottoes on the wall under the portrait of Sun Yat-sen. Here is a picture:

Inside the Meimen Tea Pavilion

For a better definition, see here: Now, curiosity demanded to transcribe these characters and to seek their meaning.

The translation below has been adjusted thanks to several readers’ comments but I would appreciate further suggestions for improvement.

禮尚往來 lǐ shàng wǎnglái

義在合宜 yì zài héyí

廉得其情 lián de qíqíng

恥化干戈 chǐ huà gāngē

Courtesy calls for reciprocity

Righteousness derives from what is appropriate

Thorough purity and lucidity leads to obtaining such sensibility

The discovery of true shame removes the root of all conflicts.

The first sentence can easily be traced back to the Book of Rites (Lǐjì 禮記), and I believe it has a lot to do with the current importance given to preserving one’s “face” or reputation (miànzi 面子) by reciprocating gifts or favors. The last sentence, however, is the one that struck a nerve, especially given recent events. The Confucian exemplary person (jūnzǐ 君子) radiates power and virtue that originate from a profound awareness of his or her own limitations, so profound that it leads to what I have translated as “true shame,” an indirect way to indicate realization. The presence of such persons will lead those who surround them to cease conflict and drop all weapons. Furthermore, the microcosm interacts with the macrocosm and, by extension, a realized person will contribute to make warmongers and trigger-happy folks realize their foolishness and help them realize that violence toward others is harming themselves.

Aside from the Confucian classics emphasizing the importance of this deep self-awareness, Chan recorded saying also include the telling example of the Linji master Wǔzǔ Fǎyǎn 五祖法演 (1024?–1104) who expressed his deepest insight by modestly saying he had “discovered true shame” (zhīxiū 知羞).

Amazing Taipei

Intensive first day of Chinese classes, followed by the discovery of the back streets around Shida (Taipei Normal University). Guided by the HappyCow app and intrigued by the description of a vegetarian restaurant belonging to a group of Qigong practitioners, I landed in the Meimen Center for Arts and Ethics. Although the restaurant was closed to the public on Monday, a lady invited me to share their meal and provided me with a wealth of information. I ended up learning the basic movement of Píngshuǎi 平甩, and receiving an invitation to come any time or on Saturday during the formal Qigong practice in English. Not too bad for my second day in Taipei! Although this is a huge city whose air is more polluted than the places I am used to, it exudes considerable positive energy and an uplifting vibe. Youth and elderly people seen in the streets mostly look happier than in many other places. I suspect that this may be related to the deep layers of spirituality supporting this thriving culture. Young people may seem unaware of their legacy, with their usual vulnerability to superficial trends coming mostly from the U.S., but they are unknowingly participating in something much bigger, which has the potential to transform the world. I am eager to learn from everyone with great humility.