David Carradine/Kwai Chang Caine Gone/The Legend Continues

June 10, 2009 by  

To see one needs more than eyes.

To see one needs more than eyes.

 Master Po demonstrated that THE WAY functions beyond the limitations of our physical senses.


"Looked for he cannot be seen."

"Looked for he cannot be seen."



Most people knew nothing about Shaolin Monks until David Carradine played the role of Kwai Chang Caine. Set in the old West and China, the Kung Fu series allowed westerners to peer into the distinctive culture of the exotic East and enjoy the rough adventures of the developing West on the same show. Half-European and half-Asian, the character Kwai Chang Caine reflected the very nature of The Tao, itself, the bringing of harmony between diverse forces... balance. Nowhere is that power more needed than in ourselves. When I learned that David Carradine, the actor who brought the Shaolin to life, died in Bangkok, the news struck me personally for several reasons.


My own contemplative way of life bore fruit that expressed itself more freely through what others call Martial arts. In the seventies, I was, perhaps, more of an enigma to my peers then than I am now. Kung Fu, the television series spoke to the same feelings I often expressed . The words of Kwai Chang Caine were poetry and a healing balm to me. My friends saw the similarity and treated me with both greater respect. They needed a frame, a reference point to view me from. The Shaolin, as played by Carradine provided a bridge for them and others. In many ways the series opened a greater dialogue between the East and The West so that water cooler conversations were now possible regarding the teachings of The Tao Te Ching and its place in a Judeo-Christian society. I was grateful for that. Television has a way of substituting itself for the real, so it was not long before David Carradine was Kwai Chang Caine. Even I did not want to miss a single episode of the show. Carradine was showing us Tao (The Way), not as just words but as living action.


Years passed. The Kung Fu series was off the air. My book, Kung Fu: The Master was out and I went to the ABA (American Booksellers Association Book Fair to promote it. At that time I was also an active free-lance writer so I kept myself mindful of possibilities for a story. The news was that David Carradine was giving a press conference. I decided to attend with the idea of getting an interview. There were hundreds of reporters crowding the room. Since  my satori I did not act in the same way. I would not yell above the crowd. I left the room and walked through Jacob Javits Center. Suddenly a woman in a green dress bumped into me. “Oh! I 'm sorry, “ she exclaimed. Then she pointed to the book in my hand and asked to see it. It was a copy of Kung Fu: The Master.

“My husband should meet you,” she said.

“Who is your husband?” I asked.

“David Carradine.” The woman was Gail Jensen, David Carradine's third wife.

One again I was being shown how smoothly The Way of The Spirit moves. A few hours later, David and I were face to face, two authors with a love of The Way and a common thread. We  both loved and lost our fathers but David's wounds were more recent and he showed me his tears. They were the links to brotherhood. As we sat on the raised platform above the convention floor, we were beyond interference. Even Gail  left us alone to talk, and no one seemed to notice the famous star while we chatted about our fathers and the Martial way. Then he told me something exciting. He was doing an updated version of Kung Fu. It was to be called, Kung Fu: The Legend Continues. At that moment he promised me an exclusive interview. I had just the magazine in mind, Body, Mind and Spirit. He gave me his phone number and the plan was set. I learned from David, himself, that he knew nothing about Kung Fu when the original series started. “I am a dancer and I know how to use my body. That helped,” he explainedn  He learned movements for each fighting scene, first by working with stunt men and later under the guidance of David Chow, the Judo master and Kam Yuen, the Kung Fu master who became the fight choreographer of the show.


David ended the original Kung Fu series for two reasons. He felt the quality of the show was going down and the character of Kwai Chang Caine had too strong a hold on him. I learned that he was very sensitive, perhaps, even delicate. His mind was a fine tool for reflecting characters but that same mind could reflect darker forces, left unchecked.


The new series, The Legend of Kung Fu, catapulted David to the future as his own grandson, who is also steeped in the ways of the Shaolin. The younger Caine does not fit into the present world. His soul is ancient. At the time of this writing there are two reports of how Carradine died. One story says he died of natural causes at age 72. The other said he was found hanged, the possibilty of foul play was being suggested. He was working on a movie and apparently in a good place. Would he have killed himself, intentionally.  By now most of you have heard the stories of what might have happened in those last moments of Carradine's life. If we linger there our minds become dark and gloomy. I prefer to remember what he gave us. I prefer to remember how his depiction  a Shaolin monk introduced the spiritual element  back into  the way of  the warrior more effectively than anyone had done in modern times. The role he made famous paved the way or opened doors for others with that understanding to speak and act more boldly, including  the new breed of Shaolin. Of course, Carradine was an actor but this character touched him more deeply than others.  In some ways, Kwa Chang Caine took over. The spirit properly nourished is stronger than mind. Kwai Chaing Caine will always be the  Eurasian Shaoline. You see, a Shaolin monk can walk through walls. Looked for, he cannot be seen. Reached for, he cannot be grasped. ,A  Shaolin monk is a virtual spirit, and spirits cannot die but at at some point in time and space we must all make an exit. David Carradine left his birth suit on the rack, leaving us to contemplate why...a mystery...a koan...foul play or just a twist in the plotline of the play of life?


On the day we met I was pushing my book, Kung Fu: The Master. David was promoting his book, Endless Highway. We shared that vision of an endless path. By this time, David had become a genuine student of Master Kam Yuen, s I was talking to a man who had really taken a drink from the “West River.” People like to put halos on others and act disappointed when they slip or crash broken to the ground. No human being is worthy of a halo. When Jesus Christ was called "Good master," he denied the truth of the accolade, "Know ye not that only your Father which is in heaven is good," he admonished the speaker. We may do good work, we may serve well. If we are wearing flesh, blood and bones in this world we are prone to error and the displeasure of others. In pleasing ourselves, whether in private or public in some way, we will earn the distance of others. We cannot please two masters, whether the master is  the public and ourselves or God and mankind. Sometimes we opt for higher ground but just as often we choose what others decry as beneath us. There is no one worthy to judge since the very reliance on a judgmental attitude towards others  is to admit our duality  of mind and to fall further from the grace of liberation ourselves. Our true and orginal face lies beyond the designation good and evil, it is awakening on ones own hidden soul, not a licence to point the fingers at someone else.  And so it is, that the final scene of this real-life drama is not a happening ending as we would hope. It is, higher, a reminder that we must always be vigilance. The enemy does not always come from outside, he is proficient at using the mind, the very mind we call pur own, against us. Pay attention!


As the songwriter wrote, “Life is a highway, I'm going to ride it all night long. Just between us the division between day and night, life and death is just a blink. Focus on the life current, AKA, The Holy Spirit, and the distinctions fade. .David Carradine, the person, I can say he was easy to love.  That he was flawed is obvious. That I am flawed is obvious to me, are you so aware?  The best we can be is the instrument that serves in the hand or under the spirit of the master.  Christ say that there is  no good thing in the flesh. Life is spirit. Celebrate the triumps and forgive the failings. Forgive us our debts.  The secret of the Shaolin was that they did not rely on their ego selves to do great things. They surrendered to Tao, what Christians call to The Spirit of The  Lord. The grace of The Lord, the virtue of The Lord is the light of the master, herein lies his humility. He is but a vessel of The Good, not the good. I will remember the spirit of David, the one who cried about his father's death before me. The star who chatted with me as a friend. I will remember Kwai Chang Caine.


Comments are closed.