Respect to Venerable Grandmaster Shi Suxi
Shaolin's Elder Monk Turns 80
by Gene Ching (with Gigi Oh and Wang Yu Min)
The Shaolin procession for the First World Traditional Wushu Festival is applying for the Guinness Book of World Records. This water-bucket-lifting troupe from Taguo had over 50 performers participating; only one-nine-hundredth of amount of participants in the entire demonstration.
Respect to the Elders - Shaolin Monk Venerable Shi Suxi
For those who might not know Shi Suxi, he is one of Shaolin's most venerated monks and martial arts masters. I wrote an article about Shi Suxi in our Jan/Feb 2002 Shaolin Special (The Elders - Shaolin's Senior Grandmaster Venerable Shi Suxi [put this article online]). Born Geng Shuanzhu, Suxi entered Shaolin Temple in 1938 and has lived there ever since. From within the walls of this venerated refuge, Suxi witnessed sixty-six years of Shaolin's turbulent history: the rise of the Communist party, the founding of the People's Republic of China, the rapacious Cultural Revolution, the decline of the Shaolin brotherhood to only a handful of loyal monks, and the rebirth of Shaolin in the last two decades.
In the early eighties, only a few buildings and foundations remained. But by the end of that decade, the temple was reconstructed. The side halls were rebuilt, as well as monk quarters. Suxi's new quarters were erected on the north side of the temple. Since he was one of the elder monks, he had a small garden courtyard, a reception area and a personal living space, raising his standard of living much higher from his previous years, perhaps the highest it has ever been.
Around the turn of the millennium, a southern Shaolin Temple was rebuilt in Fujian, and there was discussion of Shi Suxi becoming abbot there. Many people even thought he had moved south; but while he does hold an honorary title there, he has no plans to leave Shaolin. He visits the southern temple frequently; in fact, he now prefers to spend the cold mountain winters in the warmer south. But his home remains Songshan Shaolin. A few years ago, construction began on his pagoda in Shaolin's Talin (pagoda forest). It's Chinese custom to prepare the pagoda for an illustrious master when he reaches his autumn years as a show of respect. Suxi's was the first new pagoda to be added to Talin's exemplary collection of Shaolin monk relics, but it aroused some controversy because it depicted scenes of the 21st century, such as cars, jet planes and laptops.
In early 2004, Shaolin began another massive reconstruction project, a new phase in a complete overhaul of the area. Over the previous years, the village that had risen around Shaolin in the late eighties was relocated. Now the temple itself is undergoing change. The eighties reconstruction was done quickly in an effort to capitalize on the wave of tourists and pilgrims visiting Shaolin after Jet Li's blockbuster film SHAOLIN TEMPLE (1982). Recently, historic photographs of Shaolin Temple were recovered that captured the temple prior to its 1928 burning by a warlord named Shi Yousan, so all of the eighties reconstructed side halls were torn down and replaced by new halls in the original architecture. All of the newly constructed monk quarters were torn down too, including Suxi's old residence.
Author and Associate Publisher Gene Ching, Venerable Shi Suxi and Publisher Gigi Oh
Venerable Shi Suxi is now wheelchair bound, suffering from an ailment that plagues many great fighters - Parkinson's disease. It is difficult to understand what he is saying since his speech is slurred, but those among his inner circle can still gather his meaning. Although challenged with the burden of a hard life, Suxi is still bright-eyed and smiles wisely at the passage of time.
Of course, Suxi is pleased with the reconstruction of Shaolin, despite the inconvenience it has placed upon him personally. It's a small hardship, considering what he's experiences in previous decades. How can anyone fault beautifying the temple by returning to a more traditional architecture? Nevertheless, he has his reservations. When we spoke to him, he expressed concern about the restoration of the Shaolin area as a whole, not just the temple. Many people only focus on Shaolin Temple and overlook the bountiful heritage of the entire area. That bounty has not escaped the attention of UNESCO.
Respect to the Land - UNESCO recognition
Songshan, the mountain upon which Shaolin resides, was named a UNESCO Geopark in the last year. Geoparks are a new way that UNESCO is seeking to recognize and protect sustainable world treasures. A UNESCO Geopark is a territory encompassing one or more sites of scientific importance, not only for geological reasons but also by virtue of its archaeological, ecological or cultural value. China has the most Geoparks of any nation at this time because the Office of World Geoparks just opened its doors in Beijing in June of 2004. UNESCO chose Beijing because China has made outstanding contributions in geological heritage protection with 44 national Geoparks already established.
The Second General: A 4500-year-old "living fossil" Cypress Tree in Songyang Academy, one of the top four Confucian academies of China - another treasure of Songshan, the UNESCO Geopark.
Shaolin's current Abbot, Venerable Shi Yongxin, has sought UNESCO recognition for Shaolin for several years now. Since, like most temples in mainland China, the majority of Shaolin Temple is actually reconstructed, it's not quite eligible for status as a World Heritage Site. Talin is eligible. What's more, Abbot Yongxin is hoping to get the art of Shaolin kung fu recognized as an Intangible Heritage, which recognizes cultural arts. While the Intangible Heritage bid awaits UNESCO's decision, Songshan's acceptance as a UNESCO Geopark is a welcomed accolade for a deserving natural wonder.
The Kuanyin statue inside Shaolin Temple.
Respect to the Ancestors - Shaolin's founder Batuo and Bodhisattva Kwan Yin.
Shi Suxi hopes that the UNESCO Geopark status will help to protect and restore Songshan's treasures beyond just Shaolin Temple. Shi Suxi believes one site that stands right next to Shaolin Temple is in particular need of attention - Ganlutai. What is Ganlutai? Old monks like Suxi remember. It goes back to the founder. Shaolin Temple was founded by an eminent monk named Batuo in 495 CE. As Shaolin's first Abbot, Batuo established one of the period's most outstanding translation halls for Sanskrit to Chinese. The famous Chinese translators Bodhiruci and Ratnamati both worked there, and one of China's most famous monks, Xuanzang, petitioned emperor Li Shimin (626-649 CE) to transfer there, but was denied because the emperor wished Xuanzang to stay near him.
According to legend, Batuo was translating a Buddhist Sutra on a rise nearby the temple one sunny day. When he finished, the clear sky changed; cool pure rain fell, but only on the spot where Batuo was translating. It was taken as a good omen signifying that this translation was correct. There were no mistakes. Since then, this sacred spot has been called Ganlutai. Ganlu means literally "sweet dew," referring to the mystic rainfall. But it also can be defined as manna - spiritual nourishment of divine origin. The Bodhisattva of Compassion, Kwan Yin, is often depicted like Aquarius, holding a vase and pouring forth water. The vase symbolizes Kwan Yin pouring out her compassion and healing the world. This holy water that issues from her vase is called ganlu. Tai means "platform" just like the tai in the elevated fighting rings known as leitai.
Today, nothing remains of Ganlutai except an empty rise near Shaolin Temple and the legend. There used to be a temple there, but even the foundations of that building have disappeared. For generations, the site was marked by two ancient trees; however, a few years ago the trees fell ill. During a particularly hard winter, villagers cut down the trees for firewood and all was lost.
As Shaolin Temple and Songshan renovate their ancient treasures, many other sites are at risk of being lost. Ganlutai is a prime example, with absolutely nothing remaining but the memories in the minds of elder monks like Suxi. According to Suxi, reclaiming such historic cultural legacies should now be at the forefront of the renovation projects.
Respect to the Grandmaster's Eight Decades - Tiger Claw Foundation Contributes to Venerable Shi Suxi's Birthday Celebration
When we met with Venerable Shi Suxi in China, we were delighted to learn that his 80th birthday was approaching in three weeks. Unfortunately, last year's SARS epidemic and the cost of reconstruction took its toll on Shaolin Temple's funds. A grand celebration was planned to honor Suxi, with visiting abbots from other Buddhist temples. Suxi's inner circle was scrambling to gather donations.
|The commemorative monk bag, miniature pagoda and VCD given out at Grandmaster Shi Suxi's birthday celebration.|
On November 9th, 2004, under the approval of the Shaolin Temple Organizing Committee and in partnership with religious department leaders, Venerable Shi Suxi observed his eightieth birthday at Shaolin Temple. In addition, the completion of Suxi's pagoda was celebrated. The Organizing Committee for Grandmaster Suxi's birthday celebration, established on September 19th, 2004, was under the direction of Shaolin monk Yinsong Fashi, with Shaolin Temple's abbot, Venerable Shi Yongxin, sitting in as an honorary director. The assistant directors were Yongchen, Yongxu, Shenzhi, Deyang, Yinjun, Jiangzhi, Wang Zhangqing (Deqian), Geng Jun, Liu Xiangyang (Shawn Liu) and Chen Zhou, with Deyang also serving as executive secretary. Disciples, students and followers of Venerable Shi Suxi and Shaolin Temple gathered to honor one of the great living grandmasters of Shaolin. A huge crowd pressed into the temple. Visiting dignitaries and guests were treated to a large banquet and performances of Chinese opera. Each guest was given a commemorative monk bag containing a VCD about the grandmaster and a miniature replica of his new pagoda. The grandmaster was very happy to see such a glorious day.
Respect to the Sangha - The Contributors to Tiger Claw Foundation's Fundraiser for the 80th Birthday Celebration of Shaolin Monk, Venerable Shi Suxi
We'd like to thank the following people and organizations for their support of Tiger Claw Foundation's Fundraiser for the 80th Birthday Celebration of Shaolin Monk, Venerable Shi Suxi. The Tiger Claw Foundation is a non-profit charitable organization dedicated to promoting martial artists and assisting martial artists in achieving their goals. After making the limited edition t-shirts for Shi Suxi, Tiger Claw Foundation was inspired to create a line of "Thank You" Gift t-shirts as premiums for contributors. All donations are tax deductible.
The supporters of the Tiger Claw Foundation's Fundraiser for the 80th Birthday Celebration of Shaolin Monk, Venerable Shi Suxi are as follows:
- Shaolin Kung Fu Academy under Shi Xinghao and the True Buddha Temple
www.houstonshaolin.com - www.tbsn.org ($900.00)
- Tiger Claw Foundation - www.tigerclawfoundation.org ($800.00)
- Klaas Padberg Evenboer, Netherlands
- Andrew Hsen, Australia ($50.00)
- Shifu Don Newton, Tai Mantis Kung-fu Academy, CA
- Damon Manni, CA ($25.00)
Venerable Shi Suxi 80th Birthday Celebration Project Leaders:
Gigi Oh and Gene Ching
Joan Chien, Kevin Ho, Jake Hsen, Jennifer Oh, Patrick Lugo
Happy Birthday, Venerable Shi Suxi! And many, many more!
Written by Gene Ching (with Gigi Oh and Wang Yu Min) for KUNGFUMAGAZINE.COM