"What are the rules that monks live by?"

Well, I'm the last guy to ask about "living right". It's one of those amazing things in life that I've survived as I have for this long. And the only advice that I should really give you is, don't take any from me. So, when this issue came up, I decided to ask Shi Xing Xue and Björn Javefors, of the Shaolin Temple school in Scandinavia. Here's what they said. And it's good stuff. Better than anything I could come up with.

A Shaolin monk follows many rules (far too many to mention right now, even if I knew them all). The most important rules as a Shaolin monk according to Shi Xing Xue are the first three and the second five.

 The first three are to:

    * 1. Take refuge in Buddha ("Fo")
    * 2. Take refuge in the teachings of Buddha ("Fa", or "Dharma")
    * 3. Take refuge in the shelter of one's monk order ("Sangha" in Sanskrit, can't remember the Chinese word)

 The second five are (in no special order):

    * 1. Not to kill.
    * 2. Not to have intimate relations.
    * 3. Not to eat meat.
    * 4. Not to drink intoxicants.
    * 5. Not to take part in gossip.

But Shi Xing Xue also says that these five rules are not always rigid, some can be bent at times. For example: The Shaolin monks kill in battle. They do this to "send the souls of their enemies to heaven" that is, to kill them before they do evil to others and corrupt themselves. One must chose between the lesser of two evils. You are also responsible for what you don't do. That is, if you don't try to stop a bad thing from occurring you are also responsible for it's consequences.

Li Shi Min also said that the monks could eat meat and drink wine. As he was the emperor they had to appreciate what he said, but that didn't mean that the monks started feasting on meat and getting drunk! There is however a saying (as also portrayed in the film "The Shaolin Temple"): "With Buddha truly in your heart guilt will not touch you". This was in the film translated to "Meat and wine don't matter, with Buddha in your heart!". So, yes even the monks eat meat and drink wine. I know however that Shi Xing Xue prefers tofu when he can get his hands on it.

 There are also rules for how much the rules can be bent. A Shaolin monk may not eat the meat from an animal that:

    * 1. He has seen the death of.
    * 2. Has been slaughtered for him.
    * 3. And of course he may not slaughter an animal to eat.
    * 4. It is also prohibited (to my knowledge) to eat meat on the temple grounds.

An important point is that the temple's rules are are used to help people evolve, not to punish people. So even if a monk does bend the rules too much, he is not "thrown out", he is helped to get "back on the wagon" so to speak.

I find this interesting, not that I didn't expect it, but that it clarifies something which I personally find to be terribly wrong with our approach to the martial arts. "They do this to "send the souls of their enemies to heaven" that is, to kill them before they do evil to others..." in my mind, has a much deeper meaning than what one sees on the surface. One of the things that I noticed on my trips to the Temple, and from the behavior of many of the monks that I met, is that there is not an offensive aspect to Shaolin gong fu; gong fu is learned purely as a tradition, and as a defensive martial arts form. This makes the whole issue of understanding the symbiosis found at the Shaolin Temple between the passive, ethical, and moral Buddhist beliefs, and the usually thought of offensive nature of Shaolin gong fu, a little more clear.

Shi Xing Xue and Björn Javefors further make this issue more understandable, upon review of their school's guidelines:

Our association also has certain (non Buddhist) rules for all it's members to follow, to ensure that the training that takes place does so in the true spirit of Shaolin.

    * 1. A member of the Shaolin Si Wushu Guan shall obey the laws of the country as well as the rules of the association. Instructors and fellow trainees must be treated with respect.
    * 2. One who practices Shaolin Wushu must be a calm and stable person, who strives to become strong and healthy.
    * 3. A member of the Shaolin Si Wushu Guan shall not use what has been learnt as means to attack, nor to oppress others. Instead, a member must be tolerant, flexible and non-discriminating towards fellow human beings.
    * 4. One who practices Shaolin Wushu shall have patience with their training, and strive to develop their knowledge in the best possible way. As a member of the association you shall have a kind and non-discriminating attitude towards those who practice other forms of training.
    * 5. As a member of the Shaolin Si Wushu Guan you shall be modest and truthful, and act calmly and steadily. You must be considerate and care for fellow human beings.
    * 6. Violations of these rules may lead to exclusion from the association.

Again, the whole nature of gong fu being defensive and peace oriented, as opposed to offensive. And, a demonstration of respect for other arts. Again, another key point that I picked up at the Temple: no ego problems, no "mine's better than yours", and no "I can kick your ass" attitudes.

It's advice that could do us all a lot of good.