On October 9, 2021, the Historical Venerable Abbot Shi Yan Fan of the Shaolin Temple of Los Angeles hosted what proved to be a momentous cultural event, gloriously meshing traditional Chinese entertainments with a martial arts exhibition, a special ceremony of discipleship, a heart-felt and brilliant speech, and a birthday celebration to synthesize a rousing and spiritually uplifting occasion.
Upon arriving at the temple, I was greeted with the soothing and emotionally uplifting tones of the Guzheng, expertly played by the remarkable musical artist Qingege Zheng. This deeply expressive 21 string, five tone instrument, with its more than two thousand year history, has been a traditional and much beloved favorite of the Chinese people. Its stirringly beautiful melodies account for its psychological, philosophical, and historical influences, and provided a perfect introduction to and background for this day of celebration at the temple.
As the afternoon progressed, the many gathered guests were treated to a Lion Dance by the Immortals, a renowned dance group established nearly 60 years ago in Los Angeles; special Kung Fu performances by the Abbot’s highly skilled disciples Natalie Von Kirk and Thomas Testini; traditional Chinese opera consummately performed by the Los Angeles Yue Opera Troupe; and a most special spiritually-arousing greeting from international designer Sue Wong.
In addition to these entertaining and culturally enriching presentations, new acolytes to the temple participated in a traditional Shaolin discipleship ceremony and received Dharma names authorized by the Venerable Grand Abbot Shi Yongxin of Song Shan Shaolin Temple in Hernan, China. The initiates are Leslie Bamou, Lesley Ortiz, and Leon Wu.
Culminating the day’s activities was the joyous celebration of the Venerable Abbot’s birthday.
“The Shaolin Temple Los Angeles is the only place that you can experience these types of festivities. I am very proud to share Shaolin and Chinese culture with the community,” extolled the Abbot of Los Angeles, who founded the temple in 2008 as a direct descendent of the legendary Shaolin Temple in China.
Operated by the Yanfan Foundation, the Los Angeles temple has a mission to awaken and educate the western world regarding Shaolin philosophy and practice and bring world cultures together. As part of this mission, the temple offers classes in meditation and qigong, a multi-purpose system of movements which promotes health, spirituality, and skill in the martial arts. The Historical Abbot Shi Yan Fan will often engage in discussions with the participants in these classes. As he says, “Talking is important. When people come to see me and they say they have problems, the first thing we do is sit down and talk!”
Needless to say, the Abbot has much to offer, both in a spiritual and worldly context. Franco Testini in Sicily, Italy, he has had a long and challenging journey to become the first
westerner to be ordained into the elite ranks of the Shaolin Temple. Against all odds, he convincingly displayed his spiritual and physical dedication to Shaolin principles, becoming an ordained Shaolin Warrior Monk and disciple of Venerable Grand Abbot Shi Yongxin in China. His subsequent selection to be the ambassador of the Shaolin Temple to the western world was a momentous honor and he proceeded to open the Los Angeles temple. In the course of his truly harrowing journey to enlightenment, he survived both an assassination attempt and a debilitating injury through the strength of his Shaolin training and moved forward toward his goals. Having overcome a multitude of hardships in his life, he remarkably maintains his affability, optimism, faith in mankind, and compassion.
Shi Yan Fan and designer Sue Wong are great friends and have collaborated on many cultural endeavors. The two have journeyed to Hernan, China where the Abbot introduced Ms. Wong to his mentor, the Grand Abbot of the Song Shan Shaolin Temple. Ms. Wong held an Oscar viewing party last year and disciples from the Shaolin Temple Los Angeles performed for the guests.
Sue Wong is an icon herself, having been in business for over fifty years as a highly successful fashion designer. She has won over 100 awards in her career, both for her designs and her educational and spiritual contributions to society. Her creations are worn by the likes of Taylor Swift, Ann Hathaway, Tyra Banks, and Jessica Biel. Ms. Wong’s fashion shows over the years have been truly epic artistic presentations massively attended and supremely appreciated by both the fashion world and the general public. Indeed, three of Ms. Wong’s beautiful and graceful supermodels who have been an integral part of such extravaganzas were in attendance for the events at the temple: Jazzika Kyle, Dustin Quick, and Anna Gupta. Sue Wong has recently launched another career, happily creating unique custom homes featuring expert and exotic craftsmanship and unmatched classical beauty.
As part of the temple celebration, Ms. Wong delivered a highly emotional and deeply touching speech on the sacred path of the warrior which set the tone for the day.
I found two of the passages from her speech to be of such great personal inspiration that I have included them here:
“What is the meaning of true spiritual warrior-ship ? Through enlightened choice, we can choose the sacred path of the warrior. When we connect to our fearless warrior spirit thoughtfully, we encounter truth, clarity, courage, focus, and determination. We can then in turn become the authentic warriors of our own time. This is the sacred path of the Warrior.
“The true warrior views every life obstacle as an evolutionary
opportunity, and is not afraid to pursue a resolution to its true higher purpose. To be a warrior of light and truth, one must learn to be authentic in every conscious and waking moment of one’s life. One must embrace every aspect of life: the bitter and the sweet and the agony and the ecstasy. That is the very essence of true warrior spirit.”
I encourage the reader to scroll down to the end of this article and read the speech in its entirety.
My day at the Shaolin Temple of Los Angeles celebration was truly an education, an inspiration, and a joy. What an experience at every level of my being! Thank you, Historical Venerable Abbot Shi Yan Fan!!
THE SACRED PATH OF THE WARRIOR
Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen,
My name is SUE WONG, and I am a friend of Shaolin Buddhism as well as a friend of the Venerable Abbot of the Los Angeles Shaolin Temple, the Honorable SHI YAN FAN.
SHIFU is a powerful and a huge amazing force in my life and I am so very honored and blessed to know him. May he celebrate 10,000 more birthdays and beyond—extending beyond this mortal lifetime!
HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY, SHIFU! The Universe was quite serendipitous and auspicious when it conspired our meeting. We are both spiritual warriors of a sort, but you certainly are the MASTER and I am but a mere student. You are an amazing special soul and a wonderful spiritual teacher. What a treasure trove of precious memories we have shared together!
The most momentous, indelible experience of a lifetime was being accompanied by you in October of 2019 to visit the 1500-year-old sacred UNESCO protected landmark, the Shaolin Temple on Songshan Mountain in north central China, where I met your Shifu, the GRAND ABBOT himself, SHI YONGXIN.
Your Master, The honorable SHI YONGXIN gifted us with a special audience. It was the experience of a lifetime, and one that I shall never forget, akin to meeting the Pope of China. I greet his SUPREME HOLINESS, the Venerable Grand Abbot of the Shaolin Temple, SHI YONXIN and humbly offer my sincere good wishes with blessings for his continuous good health and happiness always.
I am here today to speak on…
THE SACRED PATH OF THE WARRIOR
What is the meaning of true spiritual warrior-ship ? Through enlightened choice, we can choose the sacred path of the warrior. When we connect to our fearless warrior spirit thoughtfully, we encounter truth, clarity, courage, focus and determination. We can then in turn become the authentic warriors of our own time. This is the sacred path of the Warrior.
The true warrior views every life obstacle as an evolutionary opportunity, and is not afraid to pursue a resolution to its true higher purpose. To be a warrior of light and truth, one must learn to be authentic in every conscious and awake moment of one’s life. One must embrace every aspect of life—to embrace the bitter and the sweet; to embrace both the agony and the ecstasy. That is the very essence of true warrior spirit.
A warrior knows that the road to strength is paved with struggle and challenges. A warrior is molded in struggle. Through struggle, warriors transcend their old selves, shedding their skin to emerge and to reborn anew.
A warrior lives by discipline. A warrior knows that their heart is their greatest weapon, for within the heart lies the warrior spirit. A warrior is their own greatest competition. The true warrior understands and seizes the moment of any situation and give an effort so intense and so intuitive that its authenticity can only emanate from the chakra of the heart. As the great Buddhist monk teacher, Chogyam Trungpa once said:
“To be a spiritual warrior, one must have a broken heart; without a broken heart and a sense of tenderness and vulnerability, your warrior-ship is untrustworthy.”
What separates the warrior from the rest is their heart and their ability to give all of themselves in moments that matter. A warrior is certain of their heart, mind, body, and soul. A warrior knows they can go beyond their own limitations because they are directly connected to their spirit, and the spirit is free and immortal. A warrior lives with an open heart, mind, body, and spirit.
Wherever there is freedom, there is a warrior. A warrior lives in freedom, even when they are bound, because their spirit is expansive and can never be contained. You cannot cage what is free.
A warrior knows action and work are the ways to manifest and create their reality. A warrior knows the work isn’t easy, but is able to push through no matter what. A warrior rises to accept every challenge, no matter how difficult. A warrior knows even in death they cannot be stopped, they are eternal. Death is merely a transition for the warrior to continue their mission of evolution.
A warrior knows the essence of their character. A warrior’s nature is hardness, tenderness, and softness. Warriors know keeping high standards for themselves and others is a sign of respect, love, and evolution.
Warriors are their own harshest critic, as they expect the highest character out of themselves. A warrior is curious and open to learning. A warrior knows their emotions are temporary. A warrior is both a lifelong student and practitioner.
A warrior knows their place. A warrior wills. A warrior believes. A warrior works. A warrior lives. A warrior loves. Never underestimate the warrior as an empowered empath. A warrior’s kindness and compassion is too often mistaken for weakness or naivety, while he is in fact a highly calibrated, fearless warrior for truth and justice.
To receive, you must be active. Keep in mind your purpose. You will receive in direct proportion to your clarity of vision, your definiteness of purpose, the steadiness of your faith, and the depth of your gratitude. One has to beckon the spiritual warrior inside oneself whenever it is deemed necessary for the task at hand. Courage is the fuel. Healing is the direction. Forgiveness is the balm, and Love is the ultimate truth. Love is a light as it is a flame. And the loving heart of the warrior is the truest and purest wisdom.
Thank you….and Blessings to all…