The Shaolin Monks are some of the fiercest fighters and most compassionate people on the planet at the very same time. These people decided to give up all worldly belongings and attachments to study Shaolin and Kung Fu. It is, by any standard, a radical commitment. Yet somehow, through hardship, war, and multiple destructions of the temple, these radical warriors of compassion have endured for over 1600 years.
Grandmaster DeMasco is the International Ambassador of the Shaolin Temple, and he has studied and written extensively on the Shaolin Monks. One of the more radical concepts he reveals is the notion of “love without attachment.” The monks, he says, are capable of incredible kindness and generosity. They love without conditions or expectations. They are dedicated to improving the lives of all people everywhere, and they expect nothing in return.
Love without attachment
Love without attachment is a difficult concept for us in the West. In his book, The Shaolin Way, Grandmaster DeMasco talks about the dangers associated with such radical beliefs. “There are some hidden dangers associated with compassion, the largest of which, say the Buddhists, is making the mistake of intertwining it with attachment.” (136) We’re grateful to find someone to love, so long as they love us back. We meet someone we hope becomes a friend, and we expect them to reciprocate. More often than not, we feel hurt if things don’t work out the way we expect. We start out feeling hopeful but usually end up feeling hurt or angry.
Whether we want to admit it or not, we have a habit of “expecting” a thank you for the kind things we do. Consider this. Have you ever held a door for someone, only to watch them saunter through as if you weren’t there? Most of us feel annoyed, or angry. Sometimes we wait until they’re about 15 feet away and bark loudly, “You’re WELCOME!” as if that will somehow straighten out the ungrateful so-and-so. We like to do nice things for others because we want to think of ourselves as kind people. Without even realizing it, we attached an expectation to whatever nice thing we did.
“Buddhists would say that if a person is truly compassionate, he or she will treat his or her friends and enemies exactly the same because we all have the same basic rights as humans,” explains Grandmaster. (137) The more you think about that, the more radical that concept becomes. The monks know enough Kung Fu to topple an angry giant and stop the most dangerous fighter. But fighting isn’t their weapon of choice. Compassion is.
Gifts without expectations
Now we’re in the middle of the “holiday season,” so most of us are giving and receiving gifts. Kids and adults alike will spend millions of dollars to find the perfect item for the special people in our lives. We’ll lose sleep, stay up late wrapping, spend lots of money, hunt everywhere through manic shopping crowds, and we’ll do it because we think highly of the people in our lives. Generosity, kindness, and thoughtfulness are all positive traits.
But what happens if we give a gift and we don’t get a thank you? What if those beautiful shoes you bought your spouse ends up with your cousin, or worse yet, given to charity? What if you gave a monetary gift, but it ends up helping someone you never met? Will you feel hurt or angry?
Do what’s right, and forget the “stuff.”
“Buddhists, like Confucius, believe that what we do in this life carries on into eternity,” Grandmaster describes, “and having studied Shaolin for many years, I have come to believe the same.” (139). That’s a profound, almost spiritual way of seeing things. Can we give to others just because that’s the right thing to do? Are we ready to give something to someone else and pay absolutely no mind to how it is received or what happens after we give it?
Believe it or not, this is the most liberating way to give anything to anyone. Part of Shaolin Self Discipline is understanding that we’re doing what’s right, just because it is the right thing to do. Part of Shaolin Honesty is seeing our attachments and deciding to let them go. Part of Shaolin Respect is understanding that we’re just one small part in this big universe and it only makes sense to send goodness and compassion out into the world.
Be a radical this holiday season.
With each gift we give, we have a chance to be our own version of a Shaolin Monk. The “thing” you give someone is just a symbol for how you feel. It’s an expression of kindness, or generosity, or compassion, or love – whatever you decide it is. Whether the recipient says “thank you” is irrelevant. When you hold the door for someone or give them the better parking space, it doesn’t matter if they notice. What the Shaolin Monks learned 1600 years ago still holds today. We offer compassion because, quite simply, it’s what the world needs. And as Kung Fu warriors, we do what’s right no matter what.