New Temple Opening Ceremony
In 1992, a 34th generation Shaolin warrior monk named Shi Yan Ming came to America with the dream of building a new Shaolin Temple in order to share the temple’s 1500 year old traditions and philosophy with the entire world. Two years later, he opened the USA Shaolin temple above a restaurant on the Bowery in Manhattan, in a space with no electricity, heat, or hot water. Classes were lit by flashlights taped to the walls.
Over the years, the temple grew. More and more people began training with Shifu. Celebrities started training too. One of them grew so close with Shifu that he chose to become his disciple. A few years later, Shifu began openly taking more disciples. Some of those disciples opened new temples in other countries. South Africa, Austria, Mexico, Trinidad. The temple found a bigger space, on Broadway.
In 2004, one of those disciples and her spouse began a Capital Campaign to formally raise funds and look for land to build the temple of Shifu’s dreams. A temple in the mountains, just like the one in China, where people could live and train all the time. A place where the roots of Chan philosophy could deeply grow and thrive. Where the traditional training of the Shaolin Temple that Shifu grew up in could be fully experienced, with no separation between the physical and spiritual.
In 2009, the temple found its most promising prospect for land yet. It was an 80-acre property in the village of Fleischmanns that used to be a summer camp, with about a dozen buildings already existing on it. But it was too expensive, so they had to wait. But by September 2010, it was time. Shifu signed the deed for the land, and a blessing ceremony was held. The temple community got ready to train, kung-struction style.
Over the next year and a half, the temple community spent countless hours cleaning, painting, demolishing, building, insulating, wiring, sheet rocking, painting, trimming, and cleaning the buildings and the land. The property was transformed from a dilapidated old camp to a beautiful temple.
On the weekend of May 5th, 2012, Shifu’s dream was fully realized. The Temple held its official Opening Ceremony.
In Chan philosophy, we say “mind to mind, heart to heart”. There is little reliance on words. And there are no words that can fully describe the experience of that day.
The previous Thursday, over 40 students from the various Austrian branches arrived at the new temple, ready to give a final push to prepare for the ceremony. Although some of them had never met each other, each hailing from different temples in the cities of Vienna, Graz, or Steyr, building and training together quickly solidified deep bonds between the entire group.
On Friday night, students from the Zen Dragon School of Martial Arts arrived, led by Heng Ji, who had become a disciple the previous year at the new temple. Students from the temple began appearing car by car as well, and that evening, 3 buses came with more students, including 18 from the temple branch in Mexico City, led by Heng Yi.
The day of the ceremony began with a beautiful event – a kung fu class with students from the Austrian, Mexican, and US branches, as well as the students of the Zen Dragon School, all training together for the first time. The Shaolin Temple in China became especially famous after Fu Yu, an abbot of the Temple during the Song Dynasty, invited all of the greatest martial arts in China to the temple for 9 years to learn from each other and share their training and philosophy. That Saturday morning class was the beginning of the continuation of that tradition.
The day went on and final preparations were made. At 3:00, it was finally time for the ceremony to begin. Shifu gathered the crowd, made up of hundreds of students, disciples, and friends of the temple, as well as guests from the local community, around the newly completed Buddha Pavilion, and gave some welcoming words. He was joined by Heng Chan – more commonly known as the RZA – that first disciple he took after coming to the US, as well as Heng Zhi, who had overseen the entire temple construction process. Heng Chan then shared short and direct words – thought precedes action, the thought comes first, but it is the action that is seen. The results of Shifu’s actions could finally be seen on this day.
Heng Chan passed the mic to Heng Zhi, who gave words of thanks to those disciples and students who had made the day possible, starting with Heng Ruo and her husband, who started the capital campaign years ago. Also honored for their contributions were those who had given so much of their time to build the temple, as well as those who help spread the Dharma in other ways, including Heng Chan, Heng Yi from Mexico, and Heng Jie, who, as Zhi said, “makes the temple run on Google”. Each person honored received a key to the Disciples’ House.
After the honors were given, it was time for the largest performance the Temple has ever given. The students from Mexico began by performing a traditional Chinese lion dance routine, as well as kung fu forms including straight sword and Eagle Claw. Next, the entire Austrian group began their performance, involving countless forms and beautiful choreography. During the middle of the Austrian performance, the US team came out to represent, performing leopard and tiger claws, broadsword, staff, and 9-section-whip forms. After their performance,a special guest made his US debut – Heng Zhan, a young monk from China, had just arrived the previous wednesday, and displayed amazing feats such as backflips, sacrifices, and an extremely acrobatic tiger claw form. The Austrians then returned to the stage with a comedic fight routine involving the traditional Austrian dance Schuhplattler and traditional Austrian costume. Finally, the Austrian and US teams combined to perform one final form together, and the performance ended with the teams of all three temples bowing to Shifu three times.
Shifu then began the ceremony. He kept it short and sweet, beginning with a reminder for everyone to keep believing what they believe – “Nobody changes you, nothing changes you, you change yourself. Whatever you believe, continue to believe. Jesus, God, Muhammad, Allah, Buddha, all of them teach people to be good people, to do good, not do bad, to help others. We love and respect them all.” He then continued by paying respects to Shakyamuni Buddha, Amita Buddha, Guan Yin, Bodhidharma, all of the great Shaolin ancestors, and his own master, Shi Yong Qian. And with that, it was time to celebrate.
A few minutes later, the Austrians presented several special gifts to Shifu, including a hand-drawn family tree of all of the temple branches, and a beautiful comic depicting the stories of Ba Tuo – the founder of the Shaolin Temple, Bodhidharma – the founder of Chan Buddhism, and Shifu himself. They also presented two bottles of special water and a picture of an Austrian Shaolin monk standing in the mountains wearing orange robes with a long white beard, pipe, and traditional Austrian hat. The biggest gift was a huge check, signed by Heng Xin, the master of the temple in Vienna, and the other Austrian students, for $10,000. “We are going to build a training hall, and bring authentic Shaolin Chan philosophy or martial arts into the 21st Century!” Shifu proudly proclaimed.
Next, it was time for cake! A special cake had been made by Palermo’s Bakery in Ridgefield Park, New Jersey, that was an exact replica of the Buddha Pavilion, standing atop a Dharma wheel. Heng Cheng created a miniature Buddha Statue to complete the replica. Shifu was presented with a hunting knife, and after performing several twists of the wrist, he threw the knife into the lowest layer of the cake, where it landed perfectly. Several disciples helped cut and hand out the rest of the cake, after Shifu took the first bite.
While all of this was going on, others worked in the background to set up the stage for the night’s musical performances, and a soccer game began. It was more beautiful training with the students of all 4 temples. Becca Schack was scheduled to go first, but as a nice surprise, Heng Chan warmed up the stage with some freestyle piano beats followed by a Shaolin freestyle rap. “Sifu Shi Yan Ming…he makes the clouds sing…with the joy that he brings…Shaolin…Shaolin”. The vibe was so chill that those playing soccer just kept training!
As the music started, so did the dancing. The many students and disciples who had built the temple had been looking forward to relaxing and releasing all of the energy building up to the day. Becca Schack, Jeremy Blackman, and Loveskills ft. Phase Future all gave amazing performances. Late in the evening, Heng Fo, a spoken word artist and poet from Chicago took to the stage and improvised a rhyme about the day and Shaolin training. He led the crowd with encouragements to stay in mabu – horse stance – for as long as they could, and the crowd happily obliged by staying in the stance as they continued to dance. Even RZA, who was keeping the beat on piano while Fo rocked the mic, stayed low in his stance while he played.
The full moon shone brightly over the temple grounds as the community continued celebrating and dancing through the night. It had been a day 20, or rather 1500, years in the making. The USA Shaolin Temple is here to bring authentic Shaolin Chan philosophy or action meditation into the 21st century and beyond.
For more pictures of the ceremony, visit our facebook page.