Rebuilding Shaolin

From the Story Arc: Grandmaster in Name

Next Story in the Arc: You're a Hero Now by Grandmaster Te (Tuesday, September 07, 2004)

(posted Monday, September 06, 2004)

San Te had to shield his eyes as the bright morning sun reflected off the small fishpond like a scintillating mirror.   He knelt on the slippery rocks and called out each fish by name, dipping a measured amount of ground shrimp into the water for each of his scaled diners.


"You take your responsibilities seriously," said Master Chen, who had silently walked up behind his promising student.
 
Startled, San Te dropped the rest of the shrimp into the water, spoiling the controlled diet of his dependents.  "Ah, uh, yes, Master Chen!   The sixth on the Eightfold Path is Right Effort."


"You are correct.   Walk with me, San Te," beckoned the old man.   Master Chen had broken a hip two years ago, and he still used a polished ebony staff as an aid.  San Te quickly fell into slow pace beside the old Buddhist master.  They walked barefoot on the polished stone path that wound its way through the manicured gardens of the ancient school.


"Golden Dawn Temple is one of the few remaining Buddhist schools in China.", stated Master Chen.  "It survived the Cultural Revolution only because of its connection to Chairman Mao's mother, who was a devout Buddhist.  We are lucky our temple was not burned down like most of the others."


"I have heard stories of the Cultural Revolution, honored teacher, but I was but a child then," replied the younger monk.


"A great deal of culture and history was lost in those fires, San Te.  But the greater loss was that of the monks themselves.  Those zealots with their Little Red Books killed many of them outright.  In the name of their Cultural Revolution they drove the rest abroad.  Only a handful of temples survived, such as Golden Dawn, and those were mainly for show.


"During the years of the Cultural Revolution I was forced out of the Temple and to the fields.  Master Zheng worked alongside me.  Master Cho was beheaded."


San Te looked horrified, "Barbarians!" he exclaimed.


"Hmmm," Master Chen nodded, and he walked silently for a few moments before continuing.  "Now Beijing wants to rebuild the temples, and populate them again with monks.  I think that they have no great love for Buddhism or religion at all.  'Opium of the masses', they call it.  But they do have a fondness for Chinese pride, and yet a greater yearning for Western dollars.   They think the revival of some of the more famous temples will bring them tourists."


"A temple and school is not for show, Master!", San Te replied.  "It is a place for serious study of the Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.  One cannot concentrate with Westerners gawking at you during prayers, screaming children laughing and ringing the great gong-bell, and Japanese flash-cameras going off like lightning!"


"When the Buddha sat beneath the Bodhi tree, San Te, was he not tempted by Mara?  Did not the whole earth rise up against his concentration?  Staring eyes, loud noises, and lightning were the least of his distractions.  It was the very strength of the opposition's efforts that drove him to concentrate further, to put aside all the distractions of life, and to become Awake?"


"As always, you find the pearl in the mound of oyster shells, Master Chen", acknowledged San Te.


"You have been with us for twenty-six years San Te, since your parents brought you here as an infant.  I did not want you here and commanded you be sent to the orphanage.  But Master Zheng noticed the birthmark on your shoulder, like the tiger's stripes and the way you held your small hands like the claws of the tiger.  He believed it a prophetic sign, and he was right.'  Master Chen's staff found a chink in the pathway and he stumbled backwards, but San Te was quick to step forward and help the old monk regain his balance.  "In those few years, you have mastered works and techniques that have taken others over forty.  I myself did not achieve your level of knowledge until I was forty-eight years of age."


"It is only because of the excellence of my teachers, Master," replied San Te.


Master Chen came to a halt and spoke directly to San Te.   "Nonsense!  You have a natural talent.  You read or speak Chinese, Mandarin, Sanskrit, Hindi, Japanese, and English.  Your meditation skills are exemplary.  You even come close to avoiding the trap of seeking too hard not to seek.   That is why I have decided you will become a Grandmaster in Shaolin school," declared the white-haired Master.


"What!?", protested San Te, "I am not even yet a full Master in Golden Dawn!  The Shaolin school has a tradition fifteen hundred years old:  New Forest is one of our most famous schools!   And I know nothing of the martial arts!"


"Nor does anyone, San Te.  The old Shaolin masters were killed or driven off in the 1930's.  There is none to take their place.  And no one in China to teach their ancient arts."


San Te looked confused.  "Then how am I to learn?  If you would have me play this charade, how will I learn?"


Master Chen spoke angrily, "No!  Never a charade!  It would not be Right Livelihood.  It would not be Right Effort.  It would be a waste!"  He lowered his voice and spoke more calmly.  "You must see this as an opportunity, San Te.  The Chinese Communist Party wants to create a showpiece temple.  Fine.  We will accept their aid.  But it will not be an empty shell to please the drooling tourists.  You will create a fully working temple and school.  Yes, there will be tourists, both from inside and outside China.  Inspire them with your effort!  Some will see the concentration and skill of you and your monks and will join you.  Others will merely pick up some small piece of Buddhist philosophy and carry it home with them.  Each visitor will be touched by what they see.  And the monks of Shaolin will not be actors -- they will be fully engaged."


"But Master, people coming to Shaolin will expect to see the Martial Arts.  I have no skill."


Master Chen was ready with an answer.  "You will go to America, San Te.  There you can learn without attracting attention of the Chinese bureacrats.  There you may find some students of the old Shaolin masters.  And most importantly, there you can refine your skills.  In Paragon City crime is rampant.  Show them your way.  Refuse to accept violence, and return it to the sender.  Refine your skills!


"I have arranged for you to study under a great master of the Chinese blade who leads a group of heroes in America.  She will teach you and introduce you to the right masters.  You leave tomorrow."


"Tomorrow!", protested San Te.  "There is so much to do!  I have duties here.  I must prepare."


"Accept all experiences equally, San Te, whether they bring pain and discomfort or joy and happiness.  All experiences are opportunities for learning.  The fact that you are hesistant to leave betrays your attachment to this place.  Attachment brings desire, and desire brings suffering."


"Yes, Master.  I am humbled," replied San Te.  "I will prepare to leave tomorrow.  There will be new lessons for me in this foreign land."


"Good!" exclaimed the old Master, "Good!  You will see a world totally unlike this, San Te.  I wish in some ways I could go with you, but I have many students who are not as far along as you.


"Go with my blessing!  And -- as of this moment -- you must discard your old name.  You are no longer 'San Te', advanced student of Golden Dawn school; you are now 'Grandmaster Te' of Shaolin school.  Now go to America and become worthy of your title!"


San Te -- no, Grandmaster Te -- bowed low to his old teacher and friend, knowing he may never see him again.  "As you command!"  he finished.