STQI Downtown Toronto School
Your Journey to a Strong Mind and Body
Shaolin Meditation is a discipline that stems from a philosophy called Chán 禪 (pronounced 'Ch - ah - n' in Mandarin Chinese with a rising tone). It’s well over 1,500 years old and was initially conceived by an Indian prince named Bodhidharma who first established Chán at the Shaolin Temple in Central North China around 500 AD. Since then, the ideas of Zen have evolved a little differently all over the world.
The word Chán 禪 is more commonly known as Zen and is derived from the word 'dhyāna' in Hinduism and Buddhism. A quick linguistics investigation reveals the word comes from the Sanskrit root word 'dhyai', which means 'to contemplate or meditate'.
Thus you could say the word Chán 禪 is a philosophy that requires the practice of meditation. That is, it's not Chán or Zen without meditation practice.
But when asked what Chán 禪 means, a Chán 禪 Master, would more than likely skirt around a precise definition. That's because its meaning to an individual evolves with time and practice.
That’s also why some Zen Masters may tell you that Chán 禪 means wisdom.
So what is the goal of the Shaolin Meditation Discipline? How can it help and is it important?
The vision of the Shaolin Meditation Discipline is to teach Self-Wisdom, and this is what Chan-Dao is all about. Self-Wisdom is about you understanding yourself, the reality and environment you are in, and your interactions.
There are three main parts of Self-Wisdom:
1) The Principles of Chan-Dao Self-Wisdom - helps people to understand themselves better by reflecting upon 4 different and interrelated ideas,
2) Shaolin Virtues - provides philosophical guidance that is easy to understand and test,
3) Meditation Techniques - helps students with techniques to practice stillness and introspection.
There are four key components to the Principles of Chan-Dao Self-Wisdom: 1) Ego-Self, 2) Perceptions, 3) Emotions, and 4) Subconscious. You can find a summary here: The Principles of Chan-Dao Self-Wisdom.
The Shaolin Virtues is a system of guidance to help people make better decisions for themselves. They include the Shaolin Virtues of Focus, Perseverance, Strive, Respect, Compassion, and Leadership. Wisdom is already built-in to these virtues, so people can follow them and use them to easily learn wisdom for themselves. A link will be provided here when we have more articles about the Shaolin Virtues.
There are many Meditation Techniques that can be used to help students quiet their mind and find peace and stillness. The most obvious one is what I call Silent Sitting Meditation; however, it’s actually not the best place to start for most people. It’s at least worth trying to give you more perspective and experience.
Do you consider yourself emotional? Do you get distracted a lot? Do you find that sitting alone in silence is scary? If so, Silent Sitting Meditation may not be the best technique at this time. What you need is more mental stimulation and thus a form of Moving Meditation is better.
The spectrum of Shaolin Meditation techniques is quite broad. Here is one way that I like to classify them:
Still Meditation Techniques: Silent Sitting Meditation, Silent Standing Meditation (Lotus Posture or other Still Postures)
Light Moving Meditation Techniques: Walking Meditation, Quiet Contemplation, Sitting or Standing Meditation with Music
Heavy Moving Meditation Techniques: Shaolin Tai Chi, Shaolin Kung Fu
These all have their own merits. Heavy Moving Meditation requires the most mental and physical effort, which makes it unlikely for you to get distracted by your daily life and problems. In Shaolin tradition, Heavy Moving Meditation techniques are used, and the philosophical ideals of Zen are built-in. For that reason it is one of the best places to start for many students.
Soft Moving Meditation techniques is also a great place to start since it works on breath, qi, and movement. This results in more energy and control of your energy, and is a great way to complement lighter forms of meditation techniques.
Light moving Meditation techniques are commonly found in other Meditation Disciplines. Calm music is used as a way to lightly stimulate the mind and level emotions, preparing one for deeper meditation practice.
Still Meditation Techniques are the toughest and considered the ‘deepest’ forms of meditation techniques because the aim is to have 'no thoughts' entering your mind. It’s beyond the scope of this article to talk about what ‘deepest’ means and why. It’s worth mentioning though that the aim of ‘no thoughts’ is very difficult to achieve, and that it is important to have a teacher to help you understand what that means and how to get there.
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