Veena talks about her recent stay in China.
I have just returned from yet one more trip to Song Mountain in China. As always it was wonderful – not because of what I or anyone else did, but because of how I feel when in the presence of the mountain – or, as I like to think, the enveloping mellowness of the Damo field. Osho used to say that an enlightened person’s energy field spreads out over an area of a radius of eight miles and that the energy field lasts forever. I certainly feel that here the energy field of Damo – the Chinese name for Bodhidharma – still exists and gently seeps into my being when I stay here. Nowhere else, since leaving the commune, have I experienced that feeling of being endlessly and totally in the ‘here and now’ and in a state of blissful contentment.
Usually I am mostly alone when I stay in my little flat in the small village of ShiLiPu (about five miles east of the Shaolin Temple and Bodhidharma’s cave) but this time was a time of being with people. I at first spent two lovely days in Beijing being with my precious young friend, Yujie, and her husband and baby buddha. We celebrated baby Xi’s first birthday with a grand meal at a grand restaurant. Then on to Song Mountain where Panky joined me after a few days, as did Deep, my old Australian buddy, who came over from Japan to visit for a week. Then there was the meeting of my kungfu family: Master Wu Nanfang, his wife, daughter and son and new baby granddaughter, and students, some of whom have now become good friends – like Chengeng, Hufei and Wenzhe.
We also met two very intelligent and articulate young western students, Michael and Xingyuan, whose deeply-felt words of appreciation of the school and its ambience brought a smile to my face and some tears to my eyes. Without knowing anything about us and our spiritual journeys they explained why they were there, in words almost exactly the same as we used when trying to describe why we were with Osho. See this talk on Panky’s video: Michael and Xingyuan talking about studying Kungfu at the Shaolin Wugulun Kungfu Academy
Michael told me about some interesting news. Wugulun Kungfu is now becoming fairly well-known in China and Chinese National TV has featured some film clips. In September, a TV station from Shanxi, the neighbouring province (where the Terracotta Army was unearthed), decided to make a thirty-minute documentary of the kungfu school. They became interested in Michael, whom they featured because he speaks Chinese. They found him reading a book and asked him about it. When they heard it was written by an English woman (me) about the school and the mountain they got excited and filmed him reading the book and then zoomed in close on the cover and a few pages − especially where I introduce Master Wu Nanfang. Michael briefly translated what was on the relevant pages. I heard they were even thinking of calling their documentary ‘A Mountain in China’! Well, let’s see….. Read more about my book – A Mountain in China.
Panky had plans to make a documentary but that didn’t happen because the school was busy with two big events. First came one of the most important kungfu events in the area’s kungfu calendar – an international kungfu tournament – and the students were all practising hard for this. Gold medals glinted, were sought after and eventually obtained by quite a few of the school’s contestants. And second, unknown to us, Master Wu Nanfang had hired a professional cameraman to make a cultural document of the activities at the school so he was very much focussed on that. Fortunately we were allowed to accompany them as they filmed in choice locations around the mountains so Panky still did shoot some good footage.
As always, the weather played its part in orchestrating things. For the five days that the professional filming was in progress, the sun shone and the mountain loomed high and majestic over everything. But then the fog that had been there when I arrived rolled back in and I never saw the mountain again. In my book, A Mountain in China, I talk about Dengfeng’s capricious weather – it certainly lived up to this description. It even rained when we went to see the open-air theatre built into a valley in the mountain! I have been to see it four times and it had never rained before.
But Deep was there during those few days of sunshine and of course what he wanted to do was to go and meditate in Bodhidharma’s cave, so I took him and Panky to the Shaolin Temple, played tour guide for awhile and then watched them as they set off to climb the steep path to Wuru Peak and the Bodhidharma’s cave. My not-so good health meant that I couldn’t go with them, but I had another agenda important to me. Tucked away at the foot of Wuru Peak is the oldest surving building in the Shaolin Temple compound, a small nunnery called the Chuzu Temple. On this site, in an even older temple, Bodhidharma (in the sixth century) would come down from his cave and talk to his followers. He wasn’t interested in the much larger and more important Shaolin Temple whose abbots wanted to promote him as their own – Bodhidharma was not interested in playing any political games. I had heard there were some old pictures painted on the Chuzu Temple walls of Bodhidharma giving discourses but unfortunately the hall was closed and there was no-one around. After watching Deep and Panky’s distant ascent up the side of the mountain I sat and meditated for a long time in the profound silence pervading this small old compound.
Then after judging it to be about time that Panky and Deep would descend I got up to leave. Just outside the main entrance I noticed a small notice board and went up to read it. It was pointing to a cypress tree and said that the tree had been planted by Huineng, the sixth Zen Patriarch, when he visited the area to pay homage to Bodhidharma early in the eighth century. This tree is about 1,200 years old! But it is a spring chicken compared to some other trees not too far away; for example, in Zhongyue Miao there are trees estimated to be 2,000 to 3,000 years old. And in the Songyue Temple there is one tree that is about 4,200 years of age, one of the oldest still-living trees in the world.
Huineng was the last of the Zen Patriarchs after Bodhidharma and lived in southern China. It was he who defined and separated the Northern School of ‘slow’ enlightenment (Dogen was one of the most well-known of the masters of this school) and the Southern School of ‘instant’ enlightenment which is what Osho seems to me to advocate. One of Huineng’s most famous disciples was Linji Yixuan who was called Rinzai by the growing number of Japanese Zen followers. As we all know, Rinzai was a huge favourite of Osho’s because it was he who was responsible for the rise of Zen in Japan and later the western world.
I did not know that Huineng had gone to Song Mountain to meditate here in the Chuzu Temple and to pay his respects to his spiritual ancestor, the great Bodhidharma. Once again I felt immersed in an ancient spiritual heritage which is, however, still very, very much present for us modern pilgrims to tap into and be transported by.
Master Wu Nanfang on Song Mountain – Veena writes about the film by Pankaja
A Mountain in China by Veena – Dhiren reviews Veena’s latest book about her thrilling journeys of discovery on Song Mountain in China
Three Temples in China – Veena writes about her visit and experiences at three very special temples: Shaolin, Zhongyue Miao and Rinzai’s temple