The Chinese Kungfu Philosophy of XinYiBa from a westerner’s point of view – 2


In part 2 of her article, Veena explains the connections between kungfu and XinYiBa, and XinYiBa and the Gulun Kungfu Heritage.

Read Part 1

Starting with the body

Throughout the history of mankind there have been certain enlightened individuals or masters who have devised systems to help their followers to understand and go deep into their own consciousness, to know themselves, and therefore to know the truth of existence or universal consciousness. Nearly all masters started with a sort of training of the body, because, in the beginning, that is where we are!

Shifu teaching kungfu
Children training kungfu
Children trainingChildren training kungfu
Kungfu 3
Kungfu 2

Please understand that what I am describing here is very simplistic. I am using a few examples just to illustrate the connection between kungfu and XinYiBa.

Exactly when Buddha lived is not clear but dates mentioned are between 600 and 500 BCE. A meditation technique associated with Buddhism, said in fact to be devised by Buddha himself, is Vipassana: watching the breath; watching the incoming breath; watching the gap; then watching the outgoing breath and again watching the gap before the next inhalation. On the surface this looks to be a simple technique. In practice it is quite difficult.

The next system we know of is yoga, developed by Patanjali (a Hindu) whose dates are also not clear. He could possibly have lived between 200 BCE and 400 CE. Very briefly, one could say: The ultimate goal of yoga is to know one’s self within and bring union between the individual self (Atman) and Universal Consciousness (Parmatman), to attain liberation (Moksha or Kaivalya) from cares and anxieties, pains and sufferings of worldly life and enjoy Truth-Knowledge-Bliss-Absolute. (Wikipedia)

The yoga exercises were all designed with scientific precision to purify the body, remove attachments to it and so reach a state of ‘Universal Consciousness’.

Sufi Whirling is another physically active form of meditation developed by Sufis in the 12th Century in Persia. The concept behind it is that by whirling continuously for many hours the energy of the body eventually becomes centred at what the Chinese call the dantian (equivalent to the Japanese hara), enabling the individual to become so empty that he is able to be filled with universal consciousness. To increase the chance of this happening the whirler always turns with his right palm upwards – to more easily receive the universal energy – and his left palm downwards – to ground the energy so it falls downwards. In this way the whirler channels energy from his right hand, through the dantian at his centre, and then down to the ground. This enhances the transmission of energy to purify his body and himself – a bit like a lightning rod!

Latihan is another physical meditation developed by the Indonesian Master, Bapak Muhammad Subuh Sumohadiwidjojo (1901 to 1987) who started the Subud movement. Latihan has no particular method. Usually the person is standing; he tries to calm his mind by breathing softly and quietly. He then feels himself in tune with a universal energy which causes his body to move and purify itself. It is more easily done in a group with other people who are practised in this meditation, because their energy can help a newcomer’s energy. This technique is widely used throughout Indonesia and the rest of the world. J.G.Bennett, one of Gurdjieff’s disciples, was very interested in this technique.

Then there are the active meditations developed by Osho within the last 50 years. Osho’s idea is that the 20th and 21st Century people are very different from those who lived in the past, and are adversely affected by modern technology, lifestyles, food and materialism. Osho said new techniques were needed for people as they are today, so he developed five techniques all based on the same principle: start with the body. Osho draws on older traditional techniques but ‘repackages’ them to suit a person living in the stressful 21st Century.

Osho’s most famous and most effective technique is Dynamic Meditation; the other four active meditation techniques are: No Dimensions, Nadabrahma, Kundalini and Gourishankar. I won’t describe them in detail here except to say they all start with the body, aiming to reduce its tensions and harmonise the individual with a universal energy and hopefully enlightenment. Many of the techniques also use the dantian as an important point.

Of course there are many other systems – chanting or singing mantras, the wild dancing of the Bauls in India, Gurdjieff Dances etc – which I haven’t touched on. A book could be written about them all…

XinYiBa – a state of absolute consciousness

I explained to Master Wu Nanfang that my understanding is that XinYiBa is the Chinese concept of enlightenment attained by practising, with absolute totality and awareness, the comprehensive training system of kungfu developed over many, many years at the Shaolin Temple. XinYiBa is not the highest level of kungfu – as it is commonly described. Rather,  it is the transformation of the individual to a state of consciousness beyond the physical level, beyond body, heart and mind. It is a state of absolute consciousness which has been arrived at by the use of physical tools, in this case kungfu forms. As such it is in line with the other systems of physical trainings leading to a spiritual state which I have outlined above.

Meditating with Bodhidharma
Young students learning to meditate on Song Mountain
Daily meditation practice
Head coach, Chengeng, meditating on the mountain
Head coach, Hufei, meditating on the mountain
Head coaches meditating

In fact, glimpses of a heightened level of consciousness – when a person is so totally focussed that he enters another level beyond body and mind – are not uncommon. For example, in a crisis or life-threatening situation. And it is a commonly documented fact that people doing long-distance running sometimes enter a state of euphoria which enables them to keep running when physically the body shouldn’t be able to do so. The point is that when a person enters another level of consciousness – and there are many different degrees of this – the body no longer follows the usual physical laws and an individual can perform seemingly impossible tasks that he would not be able otherwise to attain. Performed with totality over a long period of time, and combined with a devoted spirituality, especially with the help of an enlightened Master, the result can be enlightenment or XinYiBa.

One example well-known to sannyasins is Osho sitting for two hours in discourses with his left leg crossed over the other, and then getting up and walking away normally. Medical experts say this is impossible as usually the blood flow would be stopped when holding such a position without moving for such a long time. And remember how so many times and in so many ways, he pushed us to move beyond what we thought was achievable. He also clearly explained the phenomenon using the example of Nijinsky, who jumped to seemingly impossible heights for seemingly impossible lengths of time. This feat was constantly wondered at as being unattainable in normal circumstances. Osho explained that Nijinsky was so total in his dancing that he entered a state of meditation or heightened consciousness, and was thus able to perform unimaginable feats.

Shifu totally agrees with my explanation. XinYiBa is therefore not a secret or a mystery but it is very difficult to explain to a westerner – and even to modern Chinese students – who don’t have the tradition of oriental martial arts or meditation in their upbringing.

I also think that language is a huge barrier here. Firstly, western languages, having no traditions of meditation or enlightenment, simply have never formulated words to comprehensively describe these states. A modern dictionary absolutely does not give an adequate translation so it is almost pointless using one. (Remember, when Lijuan tried to explain XinYiBa to me her dictionary gave a Japanese word, not an English one!) How is a Chinese person, whose English is probably pretty limited, going to explain? English, let alone other western languages, is still not widely spoken in China, even less in a spiritual context.

The XinYiBa Heritage and Gulun Kungfu

Bodhidharma arrived at the Shaolin Temple from India in about 500 CE. At that time, the monks were already practising kungfu, but as sport or for protection and defence. Bodhidharma would already have been familiar with Buddha’s and Patanjali’s systems of meditation to help their disciples towards a higher consciousness. He therefore introduced the dimension of meditation to the kungfu practised by the Shaolin monks. This was very successful and reached a peak in 1592 when the 26th Abbott, WuYang ZhenDao, defined and compiled a training system, incorporating meditation and XinYiBa, into a system called YongHua Tang which became known throughout China. Many students and seekers came to learn this special training.

The tradition reached a peak in the latter part of the 19th Century when the monk, Wu Gulun (Shifu’s great-great-grandfather), attained XinYiBa and was revered as one of the greatest masters of kungfu. The times were troubled, however, and the Abbot of the Shaolin Temple instructed Master Wu Gulun to leave the Temple, hide himself and protect the precious heritage of YongHua Tang and XinYiBa. He should only return when peace had been restored and continue to pass on what he knew.

In 1928 the event that had been so feared by the Temple’s monks occurred. A warlord called Shi Yousan set fire to the monastery, burning it for over 40 days. An entire heritage was lost, many monks died, the rest dispersed. (It is because of this event that we know so little about Bodhidharma’s life.)

Master Wu Gulun’s son, Master Wu Shanlin, continued to teach his father’s Shaolin heritage in secret, handing down the precious tradition of Gulun Kungfu and XinYiBa to his sons and eventually Master Wu Nanfang.

Master Wu NanFang meditating on Song Mountain
Master Wu NanFang meditating on Song Mountain

Shifu tells his students that when the first Gulun Kungfu movement is performed, he or she is doing XinYiBa. He is right in a sense. You have taken the first step on the journey. But it is a very long journey requiring total commitment, dedication and devotion. It is a journey that cannot be understood by the mind, especially the westerner’s analytical mind! It can only be experienced. And it has to become part of everyday life – practising awareness in work, in play, in sleep…

As you practise, you start to get glimpses of something deep and fulfilling; you start to touch inner spaces you have never touched before; you feel the stresses and tensions of your life receding and a purity, harmony and silent emptiness taking its place. Something takes over; you are no longer performing forms or exercises. You have started on the path to experiencing a state of consciousness, an understanding of existence – the state of XinYiBa, or enlightenment.


Veena is the author of a trilogy of books about her path to and with Osho.

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