How To Be Your Own Light

On my daily run, I pass a church which has a notice on the wall : Everything We Do Is A Prayer. Even though this is a Christian church, for me this is a very Zen statement and it reminds me to come back to myself. We tend to put our life into boxes; this is my meditation practice, this is my work, this is my workout... but really it is all the same. It is all an expression of Zen.

It can be hard to keep this awareness. And sometimes people believe that if only they could have a great master who would show them the way, or if only they could go and train in a temple, then they could find true peace and everything would be alright. But this is a fantasy which has nothing to do with Zen. A temple is an organization like any other and it has its own problems. You only have to read the Hui Neng Sutra to understand this. The Buddha said: Don't rely on others. Be your own lamp.

As a young boy at the temple, I soon understood that whatever teaching or philosophy I followed could only work if I put in the work. The teacher gives us the seed and shows us what our potential is but it's only us that can nurture it on a daily basis. We have to find the temple within us and learn how to be our own lamp.

When I teach, I give a minimal amount of instruction - just as my masters gave to me - because I want you to taste the real experience. I don't want to put ideas into your head because then your ego would interfere and get in the way. The ego can be very demanding. It  wants to have an experience in Qigong, it wants to have a beautiful body, it wants to be powerful or win a fight. But this isn't a true or lasting experience therefore it can't lead to true happiness.

The great Japanese swordsman Yagyi Tajima said:

Turn yourself into a doll made of wood; it has no ego, it thinks nothing. Let the body work itself with the discipline it has undergone. This is the way to win.

If we could get out of our own way then we would find that our bodies are naturally wise, we would find that we already have the mind of the Buddha or the Universe and ironically we would then have more chance of gaining the things our ego demands. If we turn everything we do into a prayer then this is one of the ways we can light our own lamp and be a lamp to others.

Shifu Yan Lei teaches a graded path of Shaolin Qigong & Kung Fu. For more information please visit his website:

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