Transforming a Temple, Creating an Art

3f555a46a49a3747As we prepare to move into our new martial arts school in the New Year, I am reminded of a talk given by my Tai Chi Instructor, Sifu Robert Brown, which he entitled, ‘Transforming a Temple, Creating an Art’.

The story is told of a temple that was situated high in the mountains, and this temple was a site of pilgrimage. People would come on a pilgrimage to the temple from all over the place, and when they got there they found the temple well tended, fresh flowers and offerings everywhere, incense perfumed the air, and there was an air of quiet purpose with an undertone of great rest.

There were over 100 monks who attended the temple, and it was a thriving place where people came to pray, and left feeling uplifted. The monastics were dedicated to their temple, and kept it swept clear of leaves, kept the incense sticks burning and the incense ash cleared away. It was a place of great beauty and great calm.

Over time, however, there started to be fewer visitors. Just quietly, over time, not so much that anyone would really notice, but the flood of visitors slowed to a river, then to a stream and then it was barely a trickle. The monks moved on, went to serve at different temples and eventually, over time their numbers dwindled to less than 20. With the visitors coming so infrequently, the monks so few, the temple fell slowly into a state of not disrepair exactly, but certainly not the great example that it once was.

The abbot of the monastery called the monks together for a meeting, and it was decided that he would pay a visit to another temple to see if there was any insight he might gain on how to bring the life back to the temple.

It was a week’s walk to get to the next temple, and while he was there he had plenty of time to think about what to ask the abbot of the other monastery. After his long walk, he arrived at the temple and immediately sought an audience with the abbot. He described his situation, and the other abbot thought about it carefully. At last he said, “well, at the moment, nothing really comes to me, I’m afraid. However, eat with us, sleep and rest after your journey, and I will meditate on your problem, and let you know what occurs to me.”Zen-Monk-in-Peace

The next morning, the abbot of the monastery came to the visitor and said, “my friend, I have meditated on your problem, and I am afraid I still have no answer for you. I am sorry you have had such a long trip, but there is nothing I can tell you.”

The visiting abbot was disappointed, of course, but thanked the abbot and started out the long trip back to his home monastery. As he was walking away, barely started on his journey, the abbot came running up to him. ‘I don’t know if this helps at all, but during my meditation it did come to me that one of your monks has made it – has become an enlightened person.” This was interesting, but neither of the abbots could think how this would be useful in revitalising the temple. So they took leave of each other and each went back to their own monastery.

Upon his return, the abbot called his monks together. They were eager to hear what the other abbot had to say. Everyone was disappointed to hear there was no instant answer, but they were all fascinated to hear that one of them had achieved enlightenment. They all looked at each other, asking the obvious question – who is it, which one of us has made it? No one knew.

Over the next few days, the monks all went around with very thoughtful expressions. One of us has made it! They would think. Then slowly, they started to think about their daily actions. If someone in their presence was an enlightened being, perhaps they should focus a little more in their mediation practice, so as not to distract the enlightened one with weak and mundane thoughts. If someone in their temple was enlightened, perhaps they should work a little harder on their cleaning around the temple, to be sure that the enlightened one had a pleasant place to live and would stay with them, and inspire them.

No one ever found out who it was that was enlightened amongst those monks, but over time, with the effort of the monks in their meditation, their concentration in their studies and their conscientiousness in their cleaning, the temple gradually once again started to attract more visitors, as those who did visit told others of the dedication, purity and peace of the monks.

It is interesting to think of this in relation to our new school. In any class, who knows who amongst out student will be the one who will one day achieve mastery, who will achieve greatness in the martial arts. It could be any of us, it could even be most of us!

If you knew that in your class, training right there with you was the future Tyler Weaver, Jet Li, Bruce Lee, Musashi Minnamoto, how would that affect the way you train? How would that make you treat the other students in the class when you are partnered with them? How would that make you treat the place where one of the greats had trained?

groupIf we can all adopt that attitude to our training, how much better would everyone who train with us become? When we build a new martial arts school, we will do everything we can to create the best possible training environment. How it evolves and it used comes down to the attitudes and intentions of the people who use the place. If we want to have the best training environment in the world, all we have to do is act as though we already have it, and that is exactly what it will become.