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Entering the Sea of Awareness

Entering the sea of awareness is the idea behind the eighth road of Luohan Gung known as 'Venerable Monk Enters Nirvana.' In order to succeed at our training our mind must be pure and focused with no extraneous thoughts to disrupt our mind. Practicing this posture is good for stretching the legs, hips and back. The name of the posture reminds us to keep our mind calm.

A Startling Discovery in Taiwan

While translating Eighteen Luohan Gung many years ago in Taiwan a student of mine pointed out the meaning of a puzzling passage of the text. It was a reference to the romantic relationship within a play called Story of the Western Chamber written during the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368). A romantic comedic play which remained popular among the common folk of China for hundreds of years. This passage within Eighteen Luohan Gung alluded to the play and how the desire of the male lead, Student Zhang, for a beautiful girl that he had briefly glimpsed had disturbed the calm tranquility of his mind. This sentence in Eighteen Luohan Gung shows how our mind can be easily disturbed by excessive desires just as how the mind of Student Zhang was disturbed by his desire for a beautiful girl.

Postures From Eighteen Luohan Gung

The move 'venerable monk enters nirvana' can be done both high up or squatting low to the ground as shown here.

first posture second posture  
Lao Sen Ru Chan-Venerable Monk Enters Nirvana Lao Sen Ru Chan-Venerable Monk Enters Nirvana Lao Sen Ru Chan-Venerable Monk Enters Nirvana

The Venerable Monk Enters Nirvana
The clean and pure sea of awareness

1. Touch your leg stick out your ribs and tightly close the crotch.
2. Clear your mind see your innate nature then your eyes will become radiant
3. As the venerable monk sits in meditation,
4. Shadows of waving bamboo appear on the window screen,
5. The lamp's clear light won’t be extinguished by wind.
6. A dream of Hongniang going to the western chamber.
7. Lying sick in bed he (Student Zhang) sends a letter.
8. The fiercely tempered little monk is obstinate as bronze.
9. In pursuing success ambition becomes uncontrollable,
10. There is no need to search for the Western Paradise.

The sub heading, The clean and pure sea of awareness, represents what the student of meditation is trying to attain, a mind of awareness unclouded by worldly desires.

Of the ten lines only the first ones give a clue as to how to perform the posture.

Line 2 reminds the student to clear your mind and view your innate nature. Innate nature is a Buddhist term that identifies that part of us that exists independent of our physical body. From a Buddhist perspective birth, aging, illness and death are stages of life that all of us must experience. Death is simply the termination of life, not the soul. Our consciousness will drift with our karma and change its form after we breathe our last breath, yet our innate nature remains alive and, like the changes of the seasons, goes on in an endless cycle.

Shadows of waving bamboo of line 4 are the thoughts of your mind while the window screen is where you see these thoughts. The lamp's clear light represents our own conscious clarity and the wind is that which disturbs your mind. In other words, don't let your thoughts lose their tranquility.

Oriole from 1616Lines 6 and 7 are the reference to Story of the Western Chamber where Student Zhang falls in love with a girl, Hong Niang, but has no way to communicate his love to her. He tries to get a monk at the temple to help him deliver the letter, but the 'little monk' obstinately refuses.

The ninth line reminds us of the lengths that Student Zhang eventually is willing to go to marry Hong Niang. By extension, how anyone might lose sight of who they are by the mad pursuit of realizing their goals of success.

The final line, 'There is no need to search for the Western Paradise,' Western Paradise being the Buddhist heaven. The writer reminds us that the 'Western Paradise' is a state of mind, not a place to go. The path to this Western Paradise starts with controlling the mind.

Story of the Western Chamber

What follows is an outline of a very long play. Traditionally, this play might take several days to perform. I find the story of the martial monk most interesting and have outlined the part of the story that causes him to bring his martial valor into play. The martial prowess of Monk Benevolent Perception saves the lives of Student Zhang and Oriole and the lives and property of Monastery of Universal Salvation. The 500 year old precursor to modern Chinese martial hero cinema.

The Story of Oriole
A Chancellor of China named Cui lived in the capitol city with his wife and beautiful daughter Oriole. Unfortunately, Chancellor Cui suffered sudden onset of illness and soon passed away leaving behind a wife and daughter to fend for themselves.
The wife ‘Madam’ and daughter Oriole took along their two servants and attempted the long journey of transporting the Chancellor’s coffin back to the ancestral shrine for burial. During the journey to their hometown the road became temporarily impassable. Stranded as they were with no way to continue they took refuge in the monastery of Universal Salvation.

The Story of Student Zhang

Student Zhang rides a donkey while his servant follows

A certain student Zhang, on his way to the capitol to sit for the imperial examinations also happened to pass through the monastery of Universal Salvation. While admiring its ancient architecture he caught a glimpse of Oriole and became instantly smitten by her beauty.

Stunning knockouts-I’ve seen a million;
But a lovely face like this is rarely seen.
It dazzles a man’s eyes, stuns him speechless,
And makes his soul fly away into the heavens.
She there, without a thought of teasing, fragrant shoulders bare,
Simply twirls the flower, smiling.

On further reflection of her beauty;

My hungry eyes have gazed until they are shot through,
My starving mouth has salivated until I swallow in vain.
In vain I am infected with a marrow-piercing love-longing;
How can I withstand her, who turned autumn ripples (lovely eyes) on me as she left?

He asked the abbot, Dharma Source, for permission to stay in a spare room under the pretext of having a quiet place to prepare for the imperial examinations. Shortly thereafter Oriole said of Student Zhang,

A dashing appearance,
A youth of greening spring,
An inner nature perceptive and quick,
A talent and learning to cap the age.
Twisting and turning his body in a hundred posturings,
Right in front of us he runs back and forth to show off his wit and good looks.

At that time of realizing their mutual admiration for each other a quivering monk ran in, ‘Help us! Help us! General Flying Tiger has sealed off the temple with his 5000 mutinous troops. They are sounding the gongs and beating the drums. The general says that he is here to snatch away Oriole as his wife. What will we do?’
    Oriole lamented to herself, ‘An orphan and a widow, a child and her mother with nowhere to flee. Truly, my father who passed away before us turned out to be the lucky one.’

General Flying Tiger


The news of deceased Chancellor Cui’s exceedingly beautiful daughter staying at the monastery of Universal Salvation had found its way to General Flying Tiger. Sitting astride his war horse outside the gates of the Monastery Flying Tiger delivered his ultimatum, 'Present Oriole to me for marriage or my soldiers will burn this temple to the ground and massacre every last soul inside!’
    Oriole decides, against her mother’s wishes, that the only way to save the situation is to commit suicide and present her corpse to General Flying Tiger.

    In desperation Madam calls together all the temple occupants, both monk and laity, and offers her daughter hand in marriage to whoever can overcome Flying Tiger and his army of 5000 pillaging soldiers, ‘ Who among you monks and laymen of either corridor has a plan to repulse these soldiers will receive a dowry and Oriole as a wife.’
    Student Zhang stepped forward shouting out boldly, 'I can turn back these 5000 rebel soldiers, why don’t you ask me?’
    ‘Where lies your plan?’ Asks Madam?
    ‘Whenever the reward is great a brave man will appear.’
    ‘If you can drive away these soldiers I will give away Oriole as wife.’
    ‘If it is really so, then lets not scare my wife anymore. Please return to your bedchamber, I have a plan to repulse these troops.’

Oriole’s Poem

On the way to her room Oriole laments,
All the monks flee for their own lives;
Of all my relatives, who cares about us?
This student, who knows me not at all,
shows great concern for a perfect stranger…
Whether the situation can be rescued or not
Is temporarily in the hands of this budding talent…
I only hope that you can wipe away 5000 men
With the tip of your brush!

After Oriole leaves, Student Zhang gives instructions to the frightened abbot, Dharma Source, and orders him to carry out the plan. ‘For my plan I must use the service of Abbott Dharma Source.’
    As if splashed in the face with cold water he says, ‘I can’t fight, spare my live and call out another to serve you.’
    ‘Don’t be foolish. I need you to deliver a message to the general.’

Dharma Source Speaks with Flying Tiger

Dharma Source goes outside the temple gates, ‘General Flying Tiger, would you please come here and talk?’
    Flying Tiger approaches, accompanied by soldiers, ’Send out Oriole quickly!’
    ‘Don’t be angry General, Madam has sent me here to talk to you. Madam really wants to deliver her daughter up to you, General. But she is still wearing mourning for her father and, alas, she has fainted out of alarm over the sounding gongs and beating drums. If you want to become a bridegroom, you should lay down your armor, restrain your troops, and retreat the distance of one bowshot. Within a limit of three days her mourning will be completed; she will change her mourning garb for a bright red bridal gown, Then will she be sent to you, General, with a dowry thrown in. But if she is given up immediately, first, she will still be wearing mourning clothing, and second, she will be unlucky for you.’
    ‘Well, since it is like this, I’ll give you three days; grace, If she’s not delivered then, you’ll die to the last man. Go and tell Madam that.’
    Dharma Source returns to report,’ The troops have withdrawn. If she’s not delivered up in three days, we’re all dead!’
    Someone asked,’ What happens after three days? We still must deliver the girl or else we’ll all be massacred.’

Flying Tiger in his tent waiting taking reports from soldiers circa late yuan early Ming

Student Zhang’s Plan
It so happens that Student Zhang had a childhood friend who later became General White Horse. Presently in charge of 100,000 men guarding nearby Pu Pass. ‘A single letter sent from me to him and he will surely save us. I will write the letter but who amongst you dares deliver it?

A Wild Monk Gives Vent to A Murderous Heart
A monk stepped forward,' I dare.’ This was Monk Benevolent Perception who begins by describing his lust for battle.

These vegetable stuffed buns at the temple are really tasteless. No need to bake, fry or roast those 5000 traitors. The hot blood from their throats will slake my thirst for a time. Their raw hearts, lungs and livers will temporarily stave off my hunger.’

    ‘What if they won’t let you pass?’ Asks Student Zhang.

Those far off, with giant steps, I will sweep away with my iron staff;
Those nearby, with a flick of the wrist, I will cut down with my prohibition’s knife ( a small religious knife).
The small ones-I’ll pull them up and give them a toe kick!
The big ones-I’ll squash them down and trample their skulls!
With a single angry stare, roaring and crashing, I’ll roil the breakers in the ocean;
With a single wave of the hand, thundering and smashing, I’ll shake the cliffs in the mountains.
My feet will trample until the axis of the earth trembles, rattling apart;
My hand will pull until the gate of heaven collapses, splitting asunder!

And so, Monk Benevolent Perception takes the letter to General White Horse.

In the end the letter is delivered and General White Horse comes to save the day. But all is not over there. The story continues with Oriole's mother refusing to honor her promise and give up her daughter to a poor student.

In the end the of Mantis Boxing exhorts us to Clear your mind see your innate nature then your eyes will become radiant

More Articles

Prints from Story of the Western Chamber taken from The Moon and the Zither 1991 by The Regents of the University of the California


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