Wake-up call by the drums sounding in the main temple. There are specific requirements for speed, rhythm, number of strikes and there is even a mantra that is simultaneously recited while hitting the drum. Students in the Five Immortals Temple are taking turns for this duty. It is a welcoming challenge to do it this in pitch darkness is especially when music abilities are limited and Chinese language skills not yet proficient.
Students line up after having made their bed, washed their faces, rushed to the toilet to run 300 steps up the mountain to the summit where the Jade Palace of Zhen Wu is situated and back down. The reason being is to move Qi and Blood in the morning. This is followed by morning Qi Gong exercises, standing meditation and longevity movements from the sunrise onwards. As the Yang Qi of the day increases, the Qi Gong is tailored to take in the universe’s, the heaven’s , the earth’s and the sun’s qi to replenish one’s owns deficit. A student even sings the Mysterious Gate Morning Scripture which is sung in all Daoist temples across China in the two hour slot from 0500-0700. There is very very few foreigners who have ever achieved this feat as it is chanted entirely in Chinese with complicated and varying rhythms, melodies and rituals.
Morning chores are taken care of such as cleaning the temple, flushing the toilet, sweeping the courtyards and emptying trash which due to the large number of students only takes a maximum of fifteen minutes. This is important as Five Immortals Temple is a Daoist energetic space enabling worshippers to get in touch with the higher realms and wisdoms.
The morning ‘form and structure’ tai ji class is facilitated by senior students and supervised by Li Shi.
Training consist of stretching, basic kicking drills, straight punches, shoulder relaxation exercises, the Taiji form, holding postures and tons of sweat. Li Shi Fu frequently stresses that time plus sweat equals gong. He meticulously corrects stances as without having met the proper standard there is no way of progressing to the more advanced and ferocious fire Taiji. Moreover stances can easily lose their purpose and fighting application. He often explains Taiji principles during the class such as that Qi and blood cannot flow freely to the palm if the shoulders or elbows are tight and stiff and secrets how to recognize whether a Taiji practitioner had a qualified master or not. He also elaborates on why a slight correction of posture can increase your power by 50 pounds and more. It is hard to imagine the circumstances back in the days when people apart from the time spent on eating and sleeping practiced Taiji for the entire day, up to 16 hours.
The hour before lunch is usually spent stretching, lifting weights, pull ups, studying Chinese, reading, playing the Gu Zheng- the Chinese zither, and sometimes crazy students run down the entire mountain for an extra training session to push their limits.
Lunch consisting of a vegetarian diet just like all meal in the temple as one of the basic five precepts in the Complete Reality School is not to harm or kill any life form, instead show respect and compassion to all living entities and all existences of life. Before every meal a short mantra is recited as a prayer to express one’s gratitude for the food that is particularly hard to obtain on the mountain as every grain of rice needs to be hauled up expending physical strength.
Resting and recovery time: Most students make use of this time for recovery of sore muscles, tendons and re-charge their batteries via taking a short nap.
This window is dynamic and a variety of task is accomplished:
Students split into groups one day. While some went on an expedition to cut bamboo and bind them up into brooms, others cleaned and re-painted the rusty barrels to store water for washing clothes. Another group split wood and to make a shelf for our vegetables.
Helping around the temple is a big aspect of the training here, as we all strive to make our living space better. Li Shifu upon arrival told students that they now have a second home, relatives, new brothers and sisters.
On other days students give the workers a hand with renovations, carrying bricks from A to B. Every student had to carry 80 bricks, which eventually escalated into a contest who could carry the most bricks at once, until the muscles gave in and the winner was determined. Li Shifu stressed that even this type of work is not simply a task but students must contemplate how to achieve gong during these everyday chores. Therefore he demonstrated ways of carrying the bricks for optimum training effect.
On a different day students got to carve their own wooden square piece for a Daoist headband. In a ceremony Li Shifu cast hexagrams by tossing two Daoist ritual instruments made of bamboo root, referred to s horns, on the altar. Depending on which side is facing upwards, they determine whether it is a yin broken line or a yang solid line.
Later Li Shifu explained the hexagrams meaning according to the I Ching and the path that lies ahead of each student and what to be aware of. The hexagrams are not applicable for an entire lifetime, as the heavenly bodies revolve and change, so does our path.
Once students picked up shovels, pitchforks, scythes, and headed to the water supply to clean the tank and lift a concrete block onto it to protect it from mud, leaves and insects.
The evenings are sitting meditation time either collectively or individually. Li Shifu told us it is important to wait until it is this late in the evening before meditating for two reasons:
(1) to let our food digest
(2) to let the Yin energy from the Moon get stronger.
During collective meditations students are able to practice their forbearance and tolerance as other participants might move around due to numbness and pain, cough or make noise. It is the time to steel your ‘self’ and to elevate together. Students are always encouraged to share their meditation experiences and voice any concerns immediately to Li Shifu so he can guide them at that given moment. He says longevity meditation does not require the guidance of a teacher, whereas the higher cultivation forms of sitting meditation make it absolutely necessary to have an experienced to teacher in order not avoid getting trapped in false appearances and illusions.