Sign in to follow this  
peter falk

The Fool on the Hill

Recommended Posts

This is the hardest part to write because it requires a departure from the mundane. I wasnt able to do it then, and I dont think I can do it now. There was something hidden going on. There is always something hidden going on. Normally we don't look for it. Some of us never do. Some people look so much they just "happen to notice it" all the time. That day in Wudang I was neither looking nor noticing. So whether I can see it now and convey it is something else that remains to be seen.


Instead of being a journey forward from that moment, it is a journey backward from the present. It doesn't really matter because time travels both ways. The question is, can we?


The night before our departure for Wudang, I'd gone to the bus station to buy tickets. Even though no buses were running, there was still a dimly lit hall with a ticket booth that remained open. The woman wouldn't tell me the bus schedule, but whatever time I asked about, she said there was a bus. They must've had every bus in the province dedicated to the Xiangfan to Wudang route. Or i'd won some cosmic jackpot in synchronicity. Maybe the universe was trying to tell me from the start it's all just a matter of when I choose to get started. It's not so much finding the vehicle that's a problem, but the choice to get on it.


We got the 9:30 bus. There's a number for ya. More messages from the universe? 9, 3, 0. 9+3=12. There's a journey around the tarot! A fool and his empress get on a bus to go see a hermit, and end up getting hanged. Or do a hermit and empress get on a bus and turn into fools?


The bus dropped us at the entrance to the park. It's not just some mystical place in remote Hubei Province that people never go in order to leave the monks alone or due to quaking fear of the power of their kung fu. It's a thriving and crowded tourist destination like any other. We were mobbed by touts looking to fill empty seats in ther minivans up the mountain to the main trailhead. But we had other plans.


We called Tian Liyang, one of the Daoist masters that lives in the area that my doctor, Dr. Zhu, had referred us to. Dr. Zhu is a rather remarkable doctor. He works at the traditional Chinese medicine hospital in Shenzhen. He's head of the qigong massage department. His practice includes herbal treatments, acupuncture, massage, and general energetic work which is a by-product really of his years of practice and cultivation. He cured my mother of her sciatica, a feat which Western medicine has yet to match.


We called Tian Liyang on his cell phone and he came to meet us at the park entrance. Daoist monks have cell phones and email.


Wudang is lagging far behind the flow of tourists that flock there, so he took us to the one "good" restaurant in town for lunch. How a town that gets so many tourists is so devoid of restaurants is remarkable. It is also remarkable that a city the size and age of Wuhan is so devoid of restaurants, culture, hotels and transportation options. China is remarkable. It never ceases to amaze me. If you're asleep, this is the place to wake up, in the same way a bad roommate awakens you to a BeeGees album after a night of hard drinking. If you are very, very lucky, it might be the way 4-year-olds jumping into your bed awaken you. Don't resist. You'll never get back to sleep.


We talked about Master Tian's trips to Germany, Belgium and France where he goes to teach "Daoist culture." He doesn't speak any English so Mrs. Columbo had to translate the whole time.


I noticed he was eating with us, so I asked him about bigu. Bigu is a special state achieved by cultivators of the dao. That sounds strange, doesn't it? "Cultivators of the dao." How can the dao be cultivated? It simply is. It always has been and always will be regardless of who or who doesn't "cultivate" it. But people do. Or think they do.


He told us he had one month of bigu. He didn't eat or drink for a month. He said he lost weight, but had lots of energy and was never hungry. He continued his workouts, and even got better. He could climb mountains and run and other people couldn't keep up with him. He'd never get tired, but his friends and colleagues would tire keeping up with him. I didn't really understand why the bigu only lasted a month. Perhaps something was lost in translation. Maybe he just likes to eat.


The meeting felt very strange. I felt like I was there prematurely and not really ready to deal with this guy, but we kept on. He explained that he left his job as president of the Wudang Daoist Association in order to devote more time to teaching. The government built him a school where he now teaches wugong, the local, and I guess correct, term for Wudang style gongfu.


The school was about 10 minutes outside of town, making it quiet and restful. Wudang, though very small, is a noisy and somewhat dirty and uncivilized place full of hawkers, touts, and rip-off artists, hardly reflecting the Daoist culture for which it is famous. Wudang, like the rest of China is a den of vipers. For anyone who has trekked in rattlesnake country, you know what it's like. The difference between Chinese business people and rattlesnakes is that rattlesnakes don't want to actually bite you.


Upon arriving at his school, he set up a few demonstrations of wugong with his students and explained that the chief difference between wugong and Shaolin is that with wugong you get better, quicker, and more powerful with age. Shaolin only works for the young and healthy. Eventually your skill and quickness decline. From what I saw of the 84-year-old Ren Farong, a Daoist master near Xi'an, his assessment seemed accurate. He said that Daoists are firmly rooted like trees. The Shaolin are strong, but lack roots. They can take a punch or a blow from a hammer or sword, but if you watch them, they move. The Daoist doesn't move.


We tried this. He lifted his leg, gently pushing it towards his student and then released a powerful burst from his foot. His student flew back and busted his ass on the floor more than once. Sometimes the other two students caught him.


I said to him, "How do I know you're not all acting?"


So he said, "You try."


I did. He gave me the same sort of kick, a simple push kick. I dont know if he held back or not, but my feet came up, moved back a few inches, and came back down again in the fighting stance. Aside from this I didn't notice anything. "Just like Shaolin" he said. We did that a few times but he never sent my ass flying. It was always a slight dislodge and landing.


I wanted to try kicking him. This whole time I really wasn't into it though. It wasn't why I was there, and I wasn't even really sure why I was there or if I was wasting his time and mine. I'd seen these kinds of demonstrations before, some better and more impressive than others, still others nothing more than showmanship. I was going along with it all and looking for some way to make it a productive meeting since I just spent three days trying to get there and had been planning it for a while. It was like flowing along a river till you got where you were going.


So I kicked him a few times. I went easy at first, getting a feel for it. His body would rock back, but his feet wouldn't move. I really started to lay into him with the most powerful kicks I could muster. We started with push kicks, but that really isn't my best kick, so I set my stance and came around with a powerful, rib-breaking, internal organ crushing hook kick. His body rocked back, but his feet didn't move. And all this rocking back seemed like histrionics designed to embellish his point.


"You see? Roots, like a tree. Only the Daoists have this. This is the first thing a Daoist must learn. We never teach how to attack. The next thing the student learns is how to absorb the attack. See this picture?" We went over to the bulletin board with photos of his adventures in Europe. "Here people are ramming me with a big log. My feet are still. Only my body is moving. In wugong you must learn this before you learn to fight. That is why people like the Shaolin better, because they learn to fight. Daoists are different. A lot of students leave because they don't learn to fight soon enough. Then after you can do all this, then we teach you how to counter an attack."


Although there are some very big schools in Wudang, Master Tian will only take 8 students at a time.


Finally, I said to him that all these martial arts are very interesting and I have spent some time with the martial arts. My true interest, however, was immortality. I was schooled in qigong, neidan, and neidan gong and wanted to pursue that path.


At this point Mrs. Columbo stopped translating and asked me what neidan gong was, but the master stopped her and explained it in her native language. He dismissed his students and led us into a kind of reception room where we spent the next few hours talking about deep things and driving Mrs. Columbo crazy trying to translate things she's never even thought of. He began by saying immortality is nonsense. The longest-lived Daoist is Zhang Sanfeng, who is several hundred years old, and that is hardly immortal.


We had to take a break to play with the puppy.


I questioned him about all the Daoist practices I'd learned, surfed into Western alchemy a bit, went on and on about a lot of stuff that in the end is all really bullshit. We humans often think that if we make a big enough pile of bullshit we can really impress people. The U.S. education system encourages and promotes this custom, and so we have a lot of salesmen, politicians and educators, but very few mystics.


You're probably all wondering what the hell we could've talked about for four hours and are annoyed that I'm not telling you. Surely there must be some pearls of wisdom in it all, and I'm a selfish bastard for keeping it to myself. Surely there must be something I can take away and show off with to my spiritual friends about how "i know a guy who went to Wudang in China and he says...."


It will not suffice you.


In the end, he told me what I already knew but refused to accept--the dao has nothing to do with Daoism. Seek the dao and let it unfold naturally. All that alchemy crap is just one way of doing it. You'll take each step when you're ready and not a moment before. The dao cannot be forced. Immortality is unimportant. Only becoming dao matters, and it doesn't matter how you do it. It's going to happen.


After this, Mrs. Columbo tried to talk me into staying for a while and studying with him while she went back to work, because she's like that. She'll schlepp her ass for three days to Wudang to interpret for me for four hours and then be perfectly happy to go home and leave me to do my thing. Everyone should be loved like this. And I was considering it.


But I was also thinking, "Why am I even thinking about this? He already told me what I came here to hear." Yet I could not stop wanting to stay longer. I was attached to the feelings I was SUPPOSED to have after all that journeying and looking forward to. All that was left was to play on the mountain with Mrs. Columbo. That is all I really wanted to do.


I guess she was looking for something bigger. I guess she knew I was too, but in her translator's fatigue hadn't realized I was already shifting. I fell back into a pattern beaten into me by my father to feel the things other people (particularly him) expect you to instead of what's real.


We clumsily asked about staying at his school or coming back another time and so forth, but it was very obvious the moment wanted to end. Mrs. Columbo couldn't believe it. After all that--the shitty hotel, the long bus rides, the callithump at the food street restaurant, the iron bladdered bus driver--surely, there must be something more than this. How can he leave us hanging?


And that is precisely what remains hidden to those who expect to see.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Great Stuff Peter!!! Thanks for taking your time to share this with us. Telling it like it is and not glamorizing.

This is not a glamorous path after all, even though the glamour might be the thing that gets us on the hook in the first place, well that's partly what got me into this in the beginning anyway. Cheers! :D

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Great Peter!


The first two parts about travelling are classic. Reminded me of experiences I've had. Too funny! I'm glad that when I go to China with Winn that I'll be spared all of that, so I can just enjoy myself.


I wish in Part 3 that you'd had time to visit the mountain and birds and comment on their energy and what your shen had to say about it all.


Interesting contrast between the students sent flying by their teacher and you only being bumped.


Too bad you didn't have a chance to meditate with the instructor, and not just talk. Different people have such a different vibe to them, that take us to different states.


thanks again,


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

hahahahaha! you may not be spared some of it with michael. in 2002 we were scheduled to stay inthe bell tower hotel in xi'an, a really posh joint. when we arrived at the hotel we discovered we'd been kicked out. the gov't was having a meeting and transferred all guests to other hotels around town. fortunately they kept our group together at the same hotel. made perfecft sense at the time, but now i'm thinking they don't always do any case, it will be much more organized and predictable than my trip to wudang was.


stay tuned for part 4.........different bat time, but still the same bat channel.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites
Thanks for sharing.

Have you heard of this place? Wudang retreat




yeah, maicael winn sent me a link that joint when he heard i was going. never had a chance to check out their joint though. next trip. i'm hoping to go back and have more time to jsut be with the mountain. thanks fer the link. i'd lost it, and it's worth checking out for anyone who's coming this way.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this