A Monologue by Shaolin Monk

Shi Yanbin on the Way a City Looks When You Look Inside Yourself

Today, Afisha Daily presents a rather special report on Moscow in the Eyes of Foreigners. It is a monologue by Shaolin Master Shi Yanbin, who has found inner peace regardless of which city he is looking at.

Shi Yanbin, 47

Job: founder of Moscow Shaolin Qigong and Kung Fu School, Shaolin warrior monk

From: Liangshan, China

I first came to Moscow in 2006 – more than ten years ago. My mentor told me that in Russia, there were plenty of people who wanted to master kung fu, but had nobody to teach them, so I came. I didn’t know anything about Moscow. I heard that it was cold and that Russia bordered China. It was a worrying time because there was a lot of talk of terrorist attacks after the war in Chechnya. But I decided that if I must, I must. Monks do not think of difficulties or fear – we do not even have words for that. If there is a mess all around you and nothing is stable, you have to create peace in your mind. So, I just packed all the warm clothes I had, took my passport and flew to Moscow.

I do not care about cities. I like nature and I practically do not look at anything else. Yes, I have been to Red Square and noticed that you have good roads. There are more traffic jams than in China. There, only Beijing is at a permanent standstill and here it looks as if even small towns suffered from traffic congestion. You cannot solve this problem on your own. You can fight it and get angry – but it is only going to make things worse. This is not going to make traffic lights turn green – and you will still have to wait. Maybe, you should accept traffic jams as the time to breathe and meditate? Everyone gets angry, even Buddhist monks. You just have to learn to control your anger.

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In China, almost every city has two roads: a good toll road and a so-so free road. Near Moscow, roads are becoming better, too. I notice this because I go on workshops in the towns near Moscow – in Konakovo, near Tver, most often. There is a river, which is excellent for meditation. I always tell my students that nature is, first and foremost, in their minds: today and tomorrow, you feel very differently even in the same place.

I also really liked St. Petersburg and its wide river. I have been there about five times: my students and I sometimes go there during the White Nights season, at the end of May, and do workshops. In Tver, we performed for war veterans. I also visited Grozny – it is a very warm city; the buildings are very small, although many of them are new. The people there were kind: everybody smiled at me in the street and wanted to greet me.

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I try not to care too much about where I am: I see little of cities and seldom go to the city centre. I only walk from home to the school in Pravdy Street, where I teach qigong and kung fu. It is a ten-minute walk. I do not know my neighbours because I wake up early and come back home late. I think there are more people in the streets in China, but I get the same reaction everywhere: people look at my strange clothes and those who know me say, “Hello, Master”. I try to smile at everyone whose eye I meet. Also, the Chinese look happier than the Russians, although life is the same everywhere.

Every city is built of stone and its complicated energy has an influence on us all. Everyone is responsible for their own state of mind – and that is a different thing. If you are weak and do not want anything, life will be hard. If you are calm and help others, there is no time to feel sorry for yourself.

Snow in Moscow makes me think of children and happiness. In China, it melts right away, and here it keeps falling and falling. Sometimes there is so much snow that you get tired of it. Cloudy days sometimes make me sad because in Liangshan the sun shines every day and everybody is very tanned. In Moscow, people are very dependent on weather: you can see how happy every ray of sunshine makes them. Many disappointed people come to my classes: they complain about their lives and ask for advice. I try to be close to my students and help them in every way I can, although I do not like talking too much. In China, people ask me how to come to Russia, and in Moscow they generally talk about how hard their work is and how tired they get. And I tell them that you need silence inside – then your thoughts will be calm. And when your thoughts are calm, there is peace all around you.

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Sometimes I have Chinese students in Moscow – one or two people. Most of my students are Russian, of course, and they help me with everyday life. One day they brought me jusay, a special Chinese onion used in dim sum. I buy the rest of my food in a shop near my house. Nobody recognizes me because there are new sales assistants and cashiers every day. I never studied Russian – I just picked up words and phrases from my students and can now say certain things. I think Russians could be happier. In China, there is so little land and there are so many people, and your country is huge, with a lot of empty spaces. Why worry? In China, it is hard to be alone, and in Russia, if you feel sad, go to a field, dance and sing – there is nobody to hear you. Happiness is when you are surrounded by silence. I try to preserve this silence inside, and when I have pure calmness inside me, I see as if I did not see, hear as if I did not hear, and feel as if I did not feel.

Author: Marina Antsiperova

Photographer: Anastasia Andreeva