January 08, 2009

Don't mess with monks

Painting from wall of Shaolin Temple. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

Lately, Goat Rope has been musing on topics related to Buddhism. While El Cabrero is not a card-carrying Buddhist, that tradition has been a big influence on my life from early childhood.

As I mentioned in earlier posts, I grew up around some Buddhist artifacts thanks to some wandering grandparents and later became interested in fighting arts that trace themselves back to Bodhidharma, a legendary Indian monk said to have brought Chan or Zen Buddhism to China.

While there is probably no historical basis to claims that Bodhidharma himself taught anything like kung fu to the monks at Shaolin, there has long been an affinity between Buddhism and the fighting arts, which may seem strange to people familiar with the Buddhism's teachings about nonviolence an unfamiliar with the non-aggressive nature of traditional martial arts. What's up?

First, the Buddha himself came from the Kshatriya or warrior caste and probably excelled in the appropriate arts. His teachings about nonviolence sound more like one who has gone beyond it than one who was never capable of it to start with. It is also possible that Bodhidharma himself came from the same social group.

Second, both were probably steeped in yogic traditions, which combined physical exercises with breathing methods and mental discipline. Such practices are common in the martial arts as well.

Third, travel in those days was no picnic, especially going from India to China, whether the route was via the ocean or over the mountains. Even pacific travelers either had to be capable of protecting themselves or relied on those who could. And travel means influence between cultures and mutual learning.

Fourth, the monks at Shaolin in the years after Bodhidharma's alleged arrival did acquire a reputation as fierce fighters when the need arose, thus inspiring any number of Chinese movies.

Finally, Zen's emphasis on mental discipline has proven to be an asset to those who practice martial arts for either personal cultivation or more serious situations.

So here's to Bodhidharma, who is at least the patron saint, if not the founder, of those traditions.

UNEMPLOYMENT JUMPS AGAIN. If you thought the November numbers were bad, check out December's.

ON THAT NOTE, this snapshot from the Economic Policy Institute looks at how long a labor market recovery might take. Short version: too long unless something gets done.

ONE THING THAT WOULD HELP would be reforming unemployment benefits to cover part time workers, as this report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows.


No comments: