Although Shaolin is heavily influenced by Taoism, the application of Taoist concepts in Shaolin Ch’an is almost purely confined to martial arts practice. The NOSC will not concern itself with martial arts for a considerable amount of time. The reason for this is two-fold:
- We are disturbed by the popular conception of Shaolin as nothing more than an ancient, mythical training ground for gung fu masters. The true core of Shaolin is Buddhism. Martial arts were developed as a way for Buddhist monks to defend themselves against unscrupulous thieves and wild animals while spreading the Dharma. It was also developed as a way to maintain physical health, and most importantly as a form of moving meditation. The fact that the core has been ripped out of Shaolin has all but destroyed it’s most important teachings.
- Martial arts schools are ubiquitous. Should our disciples desire to learn gung fu as a way to defend themselves, we will be happy to point them in the direction of a competent teacher.
It is our belief that it is easier to defend oneself against zero enemies than any other number. We will focus on developing sharp minds and well-adjusted moral compasses through academic and spiritual studies to provide our disciples with the resources to avoid physical confrontations in all but the most extreme situations.
That is not to say that we will completely eschew the physical aspect of the development of the whole person. Our Taoist influences encourage us to integrate training of the body into our daily practices. We believe that a healthy body supports a healthy mind, and a healthy mind supports a healthy spirit. We are not interested in staring at walls or books all day while our bodies waste away.
Gung fu is not translated as “kicking butt.” Being mindful of every action that you take is gung fu. Maintaining perpetual awareness of the present moment is gung fu. Gardening, cleaning, cooking – all of these are gung fu if done with the proper amount of concentration and effort.
This balance of training the whole person – mind, body and spirit – is very much Taoist. It is what makes Shaolin unique. The Taoist influence on Shaolin helped us to realize that the extreme denial of the body that is entailed by devoting all of your time to studying the Dharma is a violation of the harmonious laws of nature. Without a focus on developing the body, the mind eventually rots away along with the body. Similar to watering a sun-starved plant, pouring knowledge into a mind that is missing a fundamental ingredient is virtually useless.