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Shaolin Monk Shi Dezun Gives Life Advice

By Christine S. An, Contributing Writer

In the first of a series of lectures dedicated to the memory of Ilya Chalik ’11, Shaolin Master Monk Shi Dezun presented on how to live a fulfilling life through zen, martial arts, and medicine.

Chalik, who passed away on Feb. 13, was the co-president of the Harvard Tai Chi Tiger Crane Club Shaolin Cultural Foundation, which is co-hosting the lecture series with Chalik’s Adams House and the Shaolin Center of Quincy.

In opening the lecture, both Tai Chi Club co-president Linfeng Yang ’11 and John G. “Sean” Palfrey ’67, Adams House Master and the faculty adviser for the club, noted Chalik’s genuine interest in learning about different faiths and belief systems.

Palfrey emphasized the importance of integrating cross-cultural beliefs in the development of areas such as medicine, athletics, and the arts.

“Because of [Chalik’s] experiences in these variety of cultures and religious beliefs, he was able to touch people with a common kind of humanity and love,” Palfrey said.

After a moment of silence held in memory of Chalik, Shi demonstrated kung fu moves, fluidly traversing the stage in Yenching Auditorium.

Shi, a 31st-generation monk of the Buddhist Shaolin Temple, then delivered a keynote address in Mandarin, with an English interpreter, focusing on zen, martial arts, and medicine.

Despite the difficulties of communicating zen through words, he said the understanding of zen is integral for comprehending eastern and Chinese cultures,

“Zen is a concept that can be intuitively understood, but not talked about,” Shi said.

He said zen, martial arts, and meditation are ways for people to fulfill and realize their own lives, describing meditation as a firewall or an anti-virus software that helps people detect and reject bad habits.

“It is through the pain, the suffering of self-cultivation that you make yourself independently perfect,” Shi said. “It has nothing to do with fighting someone.”

Following Shi’s presentation, Palfrey moderated a discussion panel on zen, martial arts, medicine, and the importance of pluralism.

In addition to Shi, Adams House graduate Brian S. Gillis ’08 and Sergeant Kevin P. Bryant, diversity and community liaison for the Harvard University Police Department, participated on the panel.

Bryant, a baptist minister and practitioner of martial arts for over 20 years, said that martial arts originated for him as a method of self-defense, but has become a way of life.

Gillis, a graduate student of interfaith relations and comparative religion at Columbia University, dedicated his final thoughts to Chalik’s openness to different faiths.

“One of the best memories we can say about him is that we can do the same,” Gillis said.

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