I'd never met a Buddhist Monk before. My knowledge about Shaolin Buddhist Monks came from watching Channel 5 Kung-Fu Theater on Saturday afternoons when I was a kid. By the time I was a teenager I'd seen every Kung-Fu movie ever aired. I had always been fascinated by martial arts. Bruce Lee is not only my idol, he shares my birthday, and weapon of choice, and first fighting style (Kung Fu).

When I first learned that I was going to interview a Shaolin Buddhist Monk I was very excited. I had this weird feeling that my destiny was unfolding. A while ago it was revealed to me that on my-twenty-eighth year I would be meeting my master. The prophecy was unfolding as it was told and so I went with it. We met at the Shaolin Temple on Broadway. When you walk in you can't help but feel the powerful aura of the huge Buddha that is resting on a shrine table. Everyone is exceptionally nice, and waiting for the Sifu, as he is referred to, becomes a delightful experience.

When Shi Yan-Ming appears he is wearing a Nike pullover and looks quite relaxed.

 

Shi Yan-Ming is a 34th Generation Shaolin Temple Monk. He began his study of Chan Buddhism and martial arts 25years ago at the Shaolin Temple in Henan, China at the age of five. Since his arrival in 1992, while on a first-ever Shaolin Temple Monk's tour of the U.S., he has appeared in a variety of magazines and national television programs including The Discovery Channel, TNT, CNBC, MTV Europe and the BBC. While in China he won several national fighting and forms championships. Today, Sifu Shi Yan-Ming runs the U.S.A. Shaolin Temple located at 678 Broadway. His objective is to afford students the opportunity to learn authentic Shaolin martial arts as an integral part of the physical, mental and spiritual training using the exact curriculum he was taught in at the Shaolin Temple in China.

I thought it would be interesting to begin our conversation with the topic of happiness and so I asked why so many people are unhappy? "That's because they don't trust themselves." The conviction in tone was undeniable. He spoke from a profound understanding of himself and of his reality, one that goes beyond normal experience. "You have to understand yourself, be yourself and respect yourself." He continued, "If you respect yourself everyone will respect you. If you understand yourself deeply, only do good, don't do bad. Help others. Help yourself. Help this world, that's the point." Then he let out a deep laugh breaking the intensity of the moment, as if he was psychologically embedding a page mark on my psyche so that I wouldn't forget his words. (I was busy digesting the formula he laid before me.) Hearing his wisdom was like watching an artist gracefully paint a masterpiece, making it look simple. In this way Sifu made a complex concept understandable.

When someone becomes a Buddhist Monk it is quite an endeavor, a marriage if you will, between a way of life and an individual similar to priests and Rabbi's. " Shaolin Temple Buddhism and other types of Buddhism are completely different. Shaolin Monks are allowed to marry, drink special water (alcohol) and eat beef," he explains.

 

I asked him what it was like to make to make that kind of a commitment so early in his life? In the most serious tone Sifu speaks, "You have to understand this, I believe in destiny and karma. This entire world is balanced. "When I was 3 yr. old I almost died. I had a big problem. I was very sick. They (my parents) wanted to keep me alive, but it was very difficult for them. They had no money left. One day, when I was five, we were on the road, a man stopped and asked my mother, "why are you crying?" My mother said, "my son he's dying." The doctor said, "let me take a look." This doctor used acupuncture on me, on my head, temple and my butt. He saved my life, my parents brought me to the Temple that day. My parents believed that Buddha saved my life. They were Buddhist, and so they brought me to the Shaolin Temple. "

From that day until now Shi Yan-Ming has never been to a doctor. "No more sick," he says with an increasingly louder voice, as if to demonstrate his vitality. "Very strong! I can break brick on my head and put a spear to my throat. No problem! ", he says jokingly, "Yeah, easy," before letting out a boisterous laugh.

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I asked Sifu about those difficult days everyone has now and then, and how one would go about ameliorating a difficult situation or mood. "There is nothing difficult," he said with the candor that destabilizes years of formal education. "If you train harder and believe in yourself you can do anything." In other words we would have to consciously intervene (cognitive intervention) when pre conditioned negative responses arise.Change you mind and you will change reality. Choosing proactive, positive ways to influence reality is a more intelligent way of using energy. According to the Master it all begins with how we perceive things in our mind, that is why it is so important to be positive.

Sifu then decided to give me an example of positive chi; "Everyday, every morning you wake up, you smile from deep in your heart, GOOD MORNING! You will send positive chi to everybody. If you're positive then positive people will come to you. If you are negative then you can expect negative to come to you. That is karma. We have to catch this karma, this destiny." Sifu explained that destiny could be influenced by simply making a decision. The choice between our options is where trust comes into play. Having the faith in yourself to chose wisely is where the decision begins to have the hints of consequence and the subconscious acceptance of karma.

The motivation behind our actions determines whether the chi is good or bad and whether positive or negative will come out of it. Whether we are motivated by selfishness and greed or by compassion and love ultimately becomes the real issue.

We learn one way or another, the lessons we are supposed to. If we don't the moral of the mistakes we make will always be the same, until we learn to listen to the signs of our karma. Listening entails trust and understanding. Listening to yourself is a result of knowing who you are and what you want. If knowing yourself is important to you then you will surely visit parts of your deepest self that resonate simple fears that we were programmed within us as children. Otherwise we become like the people out there who fell to their fears, became insecure with themselves and as a result, live discounted lives. "Life is expensive" says Sifu. He believes so because, of the cost we ultimately pay in karma, "life is beautiful, this is very important."

Good positive chi is the moral key to happiness. I was supposed to interview him. Instead he made me review myself and I was comfortable with what I saw. I hear his words in my head when trying times present themselves, "train harder, more chi" and I remember that I really am in training. My journey had taken me to him. All of my convictions were instantly strengthened. My heart was calm, (even though I had a double espresso 5 minutes before the interview) and I felt that I would continue my journey with a smile on my face. Again I hear his words "even now I have to discipline myself, and train harder."

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