Great Master Miao Xing (妙兴) [1891-1927] Head Monk of the Shaolin Temple (1923-1927)
Translated by Adrian Chan-Wyles (PhD)
Calligraphy of the Great Master Miao Xing
Translator’s Note: This English translation is drawn from the Chinese language encyclopaedic text entitled ‘释妙兴’ (or ‘Venerable Miao Xing’), which serves as a thorough record of his life. The Venerable Miao Xing was a very capable Ch’an Buddhist monk, who diligently trained at the Shaolin Temple from the very young age of just 8 years old. Although he died at 37 years of age, by that time he had already been in the Shaolin Temple for around 29 years. From his Dharma-Words (translated below) it is obvious that he possessed a profound understanding of Ch’an Buddhism and martial arts. Furthermore, he correctly taught from the position of medicalised knowledge (common within Daoism) so that the practitioner not only experienced a spiritual awakening, but also a profound increase in psychological and physical well-being. Miao Xing was not frivolous or taken to impulsive action. He believed that the best way to develop was by strictly following the Vinaya Discipline which allows the mind to settle and the body to relax. He certainly did not advocate ill-discipline, and after he became Head Monk of the Shaolin Temple in 1923, he took the decision that lay-people would benefit from learning hitherto ‘secret’ Shaolin martial arts, and in so doing, the virtue and discipline of the local areas around the Shaolin Temple would be increased and strengthened – thus allowing the people to maintain the peace. This is similar to the great Qianfeng Daoist Master Zhao Bichen (1860-1942) who –after being taught Wu Liu Daoism by two Ch’an Buddhist masters – was instructed by those masters to make this previously ‘secret’ art available to the general public. Ironically, the Nationalist local authority after 1911, had officially charged the Shaolin Temple with the legal right to raise an armed militia comprising of an elite core of ordained Shaolin monks, assisted by lay-volunteers, to police the Dengfeng County area. This kept peace and stability in the area because the Shaolin monks were highly respected by the laity – even the criminal element did its best to steer clear of the temple police. With the Nationalist government of China descending into civil war during the mid-1920’s, Miao Xing took the decision to extend the geographical sphere of his peace-keeping activities into areas not necessarily under his legal jurisdiction. At the beginning, this was very successful, with Miao Xing and his men winning many battles, but in 1927, Miao Xing was killed in combat. Around a year later, the Nationalist (and ardent Christian) Feng Yuxiang had his warlord colleague – Shi Yousan – attack the Shaolin Temple for temporarily giving sanctuary to another Nationalist – Fan Zhongxiu (and his men) – who was competing with Feng Yuxiang at that time for control of Henan province. Master Miao Xing lived in difficult times, and like many eminent Ch’an masters of the past, he adapted himself to prevailing circumstances for the betterment of humanity. In this regard, his actions were motivated by compassion, loving kindness, and wisdom. The Shaolin Temple was destroyed because of the inherent corruption of the Nationalist regime that was renowned for its anti-Buddhist policies. It is likely that the Shaolin Temple would have been interfered with sooner or later by the Nationalists, even if Miao Xing had decided not to assist the people. As matters transpired, Master Miao Xing had been dead for around a year when the Shaolin Temple was destroyed in 1928. ACW 5.3.2016
Venerable Miao Xing (1891-1927) was born during the latter part of the Qing Dynasty, in the Xieran (谢湾) area of Henan’s Ruzhou City (today Xieran is part of Ruzhou City). His childhood name was Xie Geda (谢疙瘩) and his family comprised of four brothers and one sister. As his family were poor, at 8 years old, he ordained as a monk at the Shaolin Temple under the guidance of the great monk known as Dharma Master Heng Lin (恒林法师), who became his teacher. Under this teacher, he was taught correct meditation technique and authentic martial arts systems, and received the name ‘Miao Xing’ (妙兴) or ‘Wonderful Flourishing’. He also received the stylised named of ‘Hao Wen’ (豪文) or ‘Heroic Culture’. Miao Xing was highly intelligent, and had a natural affinity for understanding martial theory, whilst excelling in martial practice. In fact so talented was Miao Xing, that his master – Heng Lin – referred to him as a ‘genius’ and a ‘prodigy’ (奇才 – Qi Cai). Heng Lin transmitted the direct Shaolin Temple lineages of the various martial and medical arts to Miao Xing – including Suppress Mountain Stick (镇山棍 – Zhen Shan Gun), Arahant Boxing (罗汉拳 – Luo Han Quan), Acupuncture (点穴 – Dian Xue), Grasping & Capturing (擒拿 – Qin Na), Bone-Breaking & Joint Dislocation (卸骨 – Xie Gu), 72 Methods of Qi Cultivation Practice law (气功七十二艺练功法 – Qi Gong Q Shi Er Yi Lian Gong Fa), together with any other arts. Miao Xing practised very hard and experienced much suffering on his road to martial excellency – but eventually his perseverance paid-off, and he became recognised as a greatly talented martial artist. Eventually Miao Xing became the ‘Head Teacher’ (教头 – Jiao Tou) responsible for over-seeing the training of the monks in Shaolin martial arts. At this time, Miao Xing was sometimes challenged by members of the lay (凡俗 – Fan Su) community who had come to the Shaolin Temple to offer incense and prayers – to a test in martial arts skills. Miao Xing was never defeated and he developed a reputation of invincibility and his fame spread far and wide throughout China. He was greatly loved and admired by the common people, who referred to him by the name of ‘Golden Arahant’ (金罗汉 – Jin Luo Han). Miao Xing became a truly great master of Shaolin martial arts.
After the (1911) revolution, the Great Monk Heng Lin became the ‘Head Monk’ (住持 – Zhu Chi) or ‘Upholder of Life’ (often transliterated as ‘Abbot’ in the West). This was a time of political and social chaos throughout China, and this led to the rise of warlords and bandits everywhere. It was not even safe in the secluded forests or lonely peaks. At this time, the Shaolin Temple represented a rare oasis of peace and tranquillity. As the Shaolin Temple (and its monks) were held in very high regard, local government officials requested that the Shaolin Temple take responsibility for the policing of the Dengfeng County area. This also meant that the Shaolin Temple could also be ‘officially’ protected from unwanted outside interference. After considering the situation, Heng Lin decided to adapt to prevailing circumstances, and agreed to accept the stipulations presented in the letter of appointment entitled ‘Shaolin Temple Guard for Regional Security’ (少林寺保卫团团总 – Shao Lin Si Bao Wei Tuan Tuan Zong). Despite the fact that the Shaolin Temple practiced martial arts from an earlier time period, Heng Lin understood that the 20th century was now the era of power through the use of fire-arms. As this was the case, an elite group of Shaolin monks were formed into a modern-style, uniformed militia, and trained in contemporary military tactics and strategy, and in the use of modern fire-arms. They become renowned marksmen through their shooting skills, and because of this skill, they were able to maintain law and order in the local area. So much so, in fact, that the Shaolin Temple was granted accolades and awards from the local government.
In the 12th year of the Republic (1923), the Venerable Heng Lin passed away, designating Miao Xing as his successor as ‘Head Monk’ for the Shaolin Temple. The monks also ‘elected’ Miao Xing as the monk in charge of Dengfeng County security (and leader of the Shaolin Militia). For over a thousand years the Shaolin Temple martial arts were exclusively reserved for only ordained Buddhist monastics and were never taught to the laity. However, at this time, Miao Xing took the decision to allow members of the lay community to learn Shaolin martial arts. This was a direct violation of the rule designed to keep this martial knowledge ‘secret’, and is the reason why many lay lineages of martial arts developed. It is believed that Miao Xing had over a thousand monastic and lay disciples. To popularise the martial arts further, Miao Xing wrote the following martial arts manuals; ‘Explanation of Shaolin Boxing’ (少林拳解 – Shao Lin Quan Jie), ‘Explanation of Shao Lin Stick’ (少林棍解 – Shao Lin Gun Jie), ‘Bodhidharma Five Fist Classic’ (达摩五拳经 – Da Mo Wu Quan Jing), ‘Illustrated Explanation of the Ch’an Staff’ (禅杖图解 – Ch’an Zhang Fu Jie), ‘Illustrated Explanation of the Shaolin Lineage and School Genealogy’ (少林宗派渊源世系图解 – Shao Lin Zong Pai Yuan Yuan Shi Xi Tu Jie), ‘Interpretation of Shaolin Monastic Discipline’ (少林戒约释义 – Shao Lin Jie Yue Shi Yi), and ‘Additional Advice for Fist and Weapon Usage’ (增补拳械箴言 – Zeng Bu Quan Xie Zhen Yan), as well as many other texts on the structure, practice and application of Shaolin martial arts. However, as these books were kept in the temple library, many were destroyed when soldiers set fire to the Shaolin Temple (but copies have survived from other sources). When Miao Xing took-over as Head Monk, the Shaolin Temple became full of adherents – there were ten dormitories housing at least 25 monastics each. Around 1000 to 2000 lay-people either visited the temple, or supported in its defence, rising to a potential of around 20,000 people by the time the temple was destroyed. Therefore, although the area of western Henan was over-run with bandit and secret societies – the Shaolin Temple and surrounding area remained impregnable.
As the power of the warrior monks grew in the Henan area, the local warlords were very careful not to offend the Shaolin Temple or interfere in Dengfeng County security matters. However, because the reputation of the Shaolin Temple served to keep the local warlords, bandits, and secret societies in check, Miao Xing was of the opinion that it might be possible to expand the Shaolin sphere of military influence beyond the boundaries of Dengfeng County, and therefore bring peace and security to more people not living in the immediate vicinity of the Shaolin Temple. The former Head Monk Heng Lin had a lay disciple named Fan Zhongxiu (樊钟秀) who was from the Baofeng County, and an older Dharma-brother of Miao Xing. As he longed for revolution in China, Fan Zhongxiu had participated in the Wuchang Uprising initiated by Sun Yat-Sen (孙中山). He also participated in the Northern Expedition. After the Nationalist Revolution failed to take control and transform society, Fan Zhongxiu retreated into the wilderness, and eventually joined forces with the warlord Wu Peifu (吴佩孚). In 1922, Fan Zhongxiu visited the Shaolin Temple and met with the Head Monk Heng Lin and his disciple Miao Xing (who was Fan Zhongxiu’s younger Dharma- brother, as both men followed the same teacher – namely Heng Lin). Fan Zhongxiu donated 400 dollars to help pay for the cost of repairing the Main Hall. The older Fan Zhongxiu influenced the younger Miao Xing, and when Miao Xing became the Head Monk of Shaolin, he led the troops that comprised his Shaolin Temple Guard out to join the warlord Wu Peifu, and in 1925 participated in the ‘Battle of Hu Han’ (胡憨之战 – Hu Han Zhi Zhan’) in western Henan. Ming Xiao commanded his Shaolin force very carefully, closely observing Fan Zhongxiu’s troop movements and other activities on the battlefield. In the spring of 1927, Meng Xiao’s forces clashed with those of the Nationalist commander Ren Yingqi (任应岐) and Miao was killed during the fighting. He was 37 years old at the time of his death. In June, Miao Xing’s body was returned by his disciples to the Shaolin Temple on Mount Song – guarded by Zheng Fayong (郑法永). He was buried near Heng Lin in the northeast side of temple grounds situated on the side of the hill.
Compendium of the Venerable Miao Xing’s Virtuous Insights
Miao Xing was a very talented Buddhist monk and martial arts practitioner who breathed new life into the ancient systems of martial self-cultivation. Arahant Boxing is considered one of the most precious treasures in the Shaolin Temple and surrounding areas. Miao Xing is considered one of the greatest masters of Arahant Boxing the Shaolin Temple has ever produced. In his explanation of Arahant Boxing, he states:
‘The head surges (up and down), forward and back (and turns left and right) like the swirling waves. Hands flash through the air like a meteor in the night sky. The body is strong and yet flexible like a willow, and the feet move in an unpredictable manner – like those of a drunkard. Following the Vinaya Discipline purified the mind and strengthens the empty spirit. This is how advanced martial performance is generated. Learn to appear and disappear – this is the interaction of form and void. This is all achieved only through practising regularly and following good instruction. This is exactly how universal mastery is achieved.’
He believed that virtue was better than physical force in the matter of influencing people. He also believed that defense was better than attack. This is because physical force is based on forcing people to comply against their will – whilst virtue works from the position that others are moved when a good example is set. If we attack others, then our qi (气) energy is dissipated and we are weakened, whilst if we remain calm when we defend ourselves from attack, then our qi energy remains gathered, focused and strong, and we can achieve any of our objectives. This is important – Miao Xing says – because if we allow rage into our mind and body, then the qi energy is scattered and we tire very easily. Never practice martial techniques whilst in a rage – if you do this you will be certainly defeated. Miao Xing taught that everything is about the preservation and strengthening of qi energy flowing through the mind, body and environment. If qi is wasted, then ill-health results, and everything becomes corrupted. This no good for the development of the mind or harmony in society.
How did Miao Xing teach the cultivation of qi energy – vital force? He stated that the preferred and central method is that of seated meditation, whereby the qi energy is gathered in the lower abdomen and raised up through the body to invigorate and nourish the entire system. Breathing deeply and fully whilst relaxing the body links seated meditation to the moving meditation of martial arts practice. Gathering the thoughts ‘stills’ the mind, and through an insight into emptiness, greed, hatred and delusion are transcended, and life and death are understood to be illusions. Self-cultivation gathers qi energy (vital force), which is used to refine and strengthen the essential nature (精 – Jing), for the realisation and development of the all-embracing empty-mind (神 – Shen). Therefore good qi energy flow is required if the practitioner wishes to realise ‘empty mind’ (shen), and if empty mind is realised, qi flows so strongly that the body is healthy and strong – essential essence (jing) is what connects qi energy to empty mind (shen). A person who has realised the empty mind are quiet and do not attract unnecessary attention to themselves. If the mind is calm, then, all circumstances that are encountered (whether negative or positive) are treated with indifference, in this way no unnecessary karma is produced that is not required. When the mind is immersed in true emptiness, nothing can dislodge it from its position of peace and tranquillity. When the mind is ‘still’ and ‘calm’, then the six senses are subdued and unmoved by desire. This means that greed, hatred and desire cannot be generated in the mind. This optimises qi energy flow and the higher stages of martial practice can be attained.
Due to the (1911) Revolution, much trouble and chaos was brought along the ancient road to Xiewan Village, Ruzhou City and the Dengfeng area of Henan. This often resulted in violence and warfare in the areas around the Shaolin Temple, and many innocent people were maimed or killed. Therefore, when the people saw that Miao Xing had successfully strengthened the temple, and had effectively projected that defensive power into the Dengfeng and surrounding areas, they flocked to support him. This even included his three brothers and sister. Later, after the death of Miao Xing, the Shaolin Temple was burned-down by warlord (军阀 – Jun Fa) Shi Yousan (石友三), and many people who had previously supported the Shaolin Temple, defected to the Nationalist cause and went back home. The nearby Xiewan Village (谢湾村) – which had housed hundreds of people living in the caves and ruins nearby the Shaolin Temple – was now completely deserted. To the southwest of Xiewan Village lies the ‘Wash Ear Aqueduct’ (洗耳渡槽 – Xi Er Du Cao), whilst to the east is the Luhan Reservoir (陆浑水库 – Lu Han Shui Ku) – the two main waterways of Ruzhou – and largest aqueduct in the region.