Before everything else, let me provide the links to some of my poetry published in two recent journals, one poem in the first and 4 in the second. I was surprised to read a couple of comments about me from two authors.
We’re all busy at this time late in the year, I am sure. I’ve been busy myself.
There was a 2-week pilgrimage to Indonesia on my 76th birthday on October 25: a few days in Yogyakarta, the rest in Bali. It was basically visiting temples – Borobudur, Prambanan, Tirta Enpul, Tanah Lot, Purah Besakih and a few others whose names I cannot remember. In the 90 degree heat, climbing stairs was quite an effort for me. I came back to Easton, PA with a terrible jet lag. I had never suffered such disorientation and exhaustion in all my trips. It was not just the time-difference (13 hours) and the heat but also the disappointment in not having space to worship because so many people were visiting these sacred places. (Well, I was also recovering from bronchitis, an illness I picked up just two weeks before.) I had been to Java and Bali in February 2006, a total period of one month, but I came back exhilarated, despite the flu I suffered at the beginning of the journey. Probably, it was because in Java I was able to spend time with the Magus and my friend David Verdesi. Their Qi must have boosted mine.
I also spent a few days with family in October in Reno, NV, a long weekend in San Francisco and a week in Vancouver (to visit relatives and attend a Babaylan Conference in the YMCA Camp on Elphinstone on the Sunshine Coast). I’ve heard from my friend David Verdesi who was flying to Moscow: he, too, has been kept busy teaching ; along with Karma Lhatrul Rinpoche, he is consulting on a movie about Asian masters. He invited me to join him a Kalachakra initiation retreat early this year in Bodhgaya, where the Buddha attained enlightenment under the banyan tree, but previous commitments and lack of sufficient funds kept me away. I’ve also been invited to teach seminars in the Philippines, San Francisco and Florida. But they’ll stay in the backburner until probably this summer.
I am also packing another 4-5 big balikbayan (literally returning to the home country) boxes in the garage. I have shipped 3-4 boxes three times a year the last three years to the Philippines. There are a lot more books I have to ship to the Philippines and the cost is getting prohibitive at $60 – $70 per box. I am planning to donate them to the library in my hometown, Tarlac, now a city. That’s where I used to spend hours reading books and periodicals and magazines when I was in high school across Romulo Boulevard. I expect to reduce my collection of books by at least 3/4 the total. I am also planning to send some of the artifacts and art objects (paintings, swords, statues of Garuda, Ganesha, Buddha, Guanyin, tchotsckes) home to the Philippines within the next 2 or 3 years. My brother Roland and Vicky, his wife, have assured me of a place in their house in Estipona, Pura, surrounded by some 1300 blooming ylang-ylang trees, 30 minutes north of my hometown.
Writing the blog for my website has taken a lot more of my time because I am dealing with the demise of beloved masters. I heard that Jiang Feng, acupuncture and qigong teacher extraordinaire, had died but I could not confirm it until I read an item on the internet that he had passed away trying to save somebody who was seriously ill and dying. I also heard that the hermit and breatharian Xuan Kong, Jiang shifu’s teacher and adoptive father, had died some 6 years ago. I don’t know under what circumstances. I spent two weeks with them in 2007 (on my 67th birthday). I wrote about them in the essay “Thunder Path in Huangshan” in the Writings section.
Most of my teachers have died: Lao Kim and Johnny Chiuten, my Shaolin masters in Manila back in the 60s; Guiling Tinga and Filemon Caburnay of Cebu, in arnis de mano in 1986-87, the former in the island of Bantayan, the latter in barrio Labangon; Chan Bun Te, my first teacher in Yang Family Tai chi chuan in Binondo, Manila’s Chinatown; Rodolfo C. Vidad, my guide in music in 60s Manila; Len Roberts of Hellertown, PA in poetry; and, last but not least, Ricardo Y. Navarro, my father who was my teacher, too.
The passing of these masters underscored and deepened my sense of mortality. How much time do we actually have to finish what we planned in life? How long will the physical body and the mind retain their health so that we can actually “engage” life to the fullest? You reach your 6th decade and the body begins to deteriorate, the genetic predispositions for certain family illness kick in. A morbid thought, but a reality in the world. A childhood friend is slowly losing his mind to early signs of dementia. Friends I went to university with are going one by one like leaves on a tree. Some who are alive are limping along with a cane or showing signs of a stroke.
Meantime, after the demise of the masters, Who will continue the lineage? To be sure, the disciples of Xuan Kong will perpetuate the transmissions or whatever they have learned from the master. But sadly, more and more of the ancient knowledge is getting lost partly because the masters, perhaps out of caution and a sense of privacy, are keeping knowledge to themselves and partly because there are no students who are serious and determined and talented enough to learn the systems. Only bits and pieces are being transmitted and practiced. Many teachers and students are more concerned with earning a living and other pursuits.
Gin Soon Chu, the last living disciple of Grandmaster Yang Sau Chaung, son of the legendary Yang Chengfu, has enough disciples to carry on. His sons Gordon and Vincent in Boston and his disciple Hwon Gim, who has a school in NYC, have mastered the system and are teaching. I have tried to attend his birthday dinners in Boston all these years. I have been working on a book about his secret teachings off and on. It has been difficult focusing on the project because there is so much to do at this time in my life. A few chapters are done, but there’s a lot more to cover: the 34 Fajing techniques, the rare halberd set, the demanding and rare qigong forms, Zhan Zhuang … There are arcane methods that I haven’t even seen. How much can I actually cover? The Classical Yang Family Tai chi chuan system seems inexhaustible but I haven’t given up.
There are other teachers I haven’t even mentioned before. For instance, my herbal teacher Yao Zhang with whom I apprenticed at the acupuncture school (still alive and actively practicing acupuncture and herbs in Boston) and arnis teacher Guiling Tinga (deceased) in Bantayan Island. I will write about them one of these days. Yao Shifu led me by the hand through the intricacies of pulse reading and herbal formulas when I was just a first year student in acupuncture school. Teacher Tinga introduced me to the ancient mystical healing of the Philippines back in 1986. I wrote a poem about him (“Island Shaman”).
I truly hope that Healing Tao master Mantak Chia will continue to teach for another decade. He is showing signs of weakness, however, possibly from adrenal exhaustion or kidney deficiency. I know there are pretenders to his title and estate who are only too eager to take over: the simmering un-Daoist conflict in the Tao Garden in Chiangmai sometimes bubbles through the surface. I wish he would retire or cut down on his international seminar schedule because he has a lot more to share of the advanced courses; he now needs the time to practice on his own, perhaps isolate himself in a dark room or on a mountain sanctuary as he had professed repeatedly before. At my age, I would like to learn the other levels of the nei dan of immortality after the Kan/Water and Li/Fire stages and transmissions (Yijing 63 and 64) with him: Reunion with the Dao, to start with. I wrote and/or edited some of his books in alchemy and internal qigong in the early 90s that became the basis for new editions edited by his younger students. Three of these neidan manuals were “The Greater Enlightenment of Kan and Li,” “The Greatest Enlightenment of Kan and Li” (Michael Winn was the editorial consultant in the latter project) and “Sealing of the 5 Senses,” three of the highest levels of alchemical transformation. I also helped edit the Chi Nei Tsang internal organs and Tao Yin books. Obviously, I learned a lot from the 30 years that I studied with this generous master. He asked me to edit “Fusion of 5 Elements 3” when I was a student at acupuncture school in 1991 but I begged off. (My write-up about Master Chia and the Healing Tao will appear on these pages in the next few months. )
I often wonder what challenges these masters had to face to pursue their dreams. I know there are painful initiations before one enters the exclusive circle of fellow seekers or a system of knowledge, for I have gone through the trials, too. I have also seen how people on a quest have to confront their own fears, not to mention difficult obstacles – societal mores and constructs, authority figures, traditional taboos, and even opposition from family members – and financial limitations. To get to where you want to be, there are indeed many steps to climb and many sacrifices to make. It is not an exaggeration to say that it is like a baptism of fire. It is what tests – and strengthens — your mettle for the ascent ahead. Along the way, there are temptations and distractions. There are enemies to fight or ignore: some skeptics and opponents will try to destroy you, sometimes with bare lies to wreck your reputation or opportunities. If you have weak knees or heart, or are not ready for real suffering, you’ll probably be discouraged and abandon your search. If you survive, hopefully you will have achieved mastery or enlightenment, or “gong,” depending on what path you’ve followed or what you find at the top.
All best, always,
*I did mention in an earlier blog that I was wondering what to call my study in the basement. Somebody in the gym called it “Man Cave.” The name seems to be prevalent and fashionable in the United States. But it is not creative or imaginative. It even sounds like some primitive sanctuary. For goodness sake, my working space houses books, artifacts, art objects, CDs and DVDs, Tai chi chuan swords. It is where I do my serious meditation, puja and darshan, and writing. I realized that a friend gave me a statue called “Dragon Dreaming.” So there you have the name “Cave of the Dreaming Dragon.”