Shaolin Monastery

Country: China Category: Religion By: absurdzen
Shaolin Monastery
The Shaolin Monastery is a Chan Buddhist temple at Song Shan in the Henan province of what is now the Peoples Republic of China. The monastery was built by the Emporer Hsiao-Wen in 496 CE, and the first abbot of Shaolin was Batuo, also known as Bhadra, an Indian dhyana master who came to China in CE 464 to spread Buddhist teachings. Long famous for its association with Chinese martial arts, it is perhaps the best known Buddhist monastery to the Western world.

According to the Continued Biographies of Eminent Monks (AD 645) by Daoxuan, the Shaolin Monastery was built on the north side of Shaoshi, the western peak of Mount Song, one of the Sacred Mountains of China, by Emperor Xiaowen of the Northern Wei Dynasty. Yang Xuanzhi, in the Record of the Buddhist Monasteries of Luoyang (AD 547), and Li Xian, in the Ming Yitongzhi (AD 1461), concur with Daoxuan's location and attribution. The Jiaqing Chongxiu Yitongzhi (AD 1843) specifies that this monastery, located in the province of Henan, was built in the 20th year of the Taihe era of the Northern Wei Dynasty, circa 497 CE. Kangxi, the second Qing emperor, was a supporter of the Shaolin temple in Henan and he wrote the calligraphic inscription that, to this day, hangs over the main temple gate.

Although the introduction of fighting skills at the Shaolin Monastery has been attributed to the Indian monk Bodhidharma, or Ta-Mo, who came to the monastery in 527, this is, in fact, not the case. The martial disciplines that have become a signature of the Temple were not introduced until some 700 years after Bodhidharma's tenure. While Bodhidharma, as a member of the Brahmin class in India would likely be versed in both Yoga and the East Indian martial art of Kalarippayattu, he did not "invent" kung fu, as legend has it. What he did find upon his arrival at the temple was that most of the monks were suffering from poor health, and in devoting themselves exclusively to their academic work, were unable to maintain the physical rigors of contemplative practice.

The monastery has been destroyed and rebuilt many times. Perhaps the best-known story of the Temple's destruction is that it was destroyed in 1732 by the Qing government for supposed anti-Qing activities; this destruction is also supposed to have helped spread Shaolin martial arts through China by means of fugitive monks. But some martial arts historians, such as Tang Hao and Stanley Henning, believe that the story is likely fictional, appearing only at the very end of the Qing period in novels and sensational literature. In 1928, the warlord Shi Yousan set fire to the monastery, burning it for over 40 days, destroying ninty percent of the buildings including many manuscripts of the temple library.

The Cultural Revolution launched in 1966 targeted religious orders including the Monastery. The five monks who were present at the Monastery when the Red Guard attacked were shackled and made to wear placards declaring the crimes charged against them. The monks were jailed after being flogged publicly and parading through the street as people threw rubbish at them. The government purged Buddhist materials from within the Monastery walls, leaving it barren for years.

In recent days, martial arts groups from all over the world have made donations for the upkeep of the temple and grounds, and are subsequently honored with carved stones near the entrance of the temple.

In the past, many people have tried to capitalize on the Shaolin Monastery by building their own schools on Mount Song. However, the Chinese government eventually outlawed this, and so the schools all moved to the nearby towns.

The Shaolin monastery is the only temple in China that combines martial arts and Chan Buddhism. As such, monks at the monastery may be martial monks, scholarly or clerical monks, or both. However, even the martial monks also practice Chan Buddhism. It is said that Chan Buddhism allows you to store and build up chi, while martial arts is the act of releasing chi; therefore, the two complement and complete each other. Because of this dual focus, there is an abbot of the Shaolin Temple itself, and a martial abbot of the Shaolin Temple Da Mo Martial Arts Academy, where the monks train. The current martial abbot is Shi De Li, considered by the temple as the thirty-first direct successor after Bodhidharma, or Da Mo.

As martial abbot, the primary job is to train monks in shaolin wushu (often called shaolin kung fu). The monks have a very regimented schedule for training. For example, before even having breakfast, the trainees must wake up at 4 AM to run for an hour, to meditate for another hour, and train martial arts for a third hour. The monks do not get very much of a break; their only vacation is ten days near the Chinese New Year to see their parents. It must be noted, however, that this reflects the current schedule at Shaolin temple, and may not reflect the historical focus or schedule of Shaolin prior to its most recent reconstruction.

Shaolin has taken on a second life in the modern day. Since the 1970's, it's been featured in countless films, TV shows, video games, cartoons, and other other media. While much of this is a commercialized aspect of Shaolin, it is also widely credited as keeping the 1500 year old temple in the consciousness of the world, and from vanishing into obscurity like many other ancient traditions.

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Page Posts: 3



I might be beantig a dead horse, but thank you for posting this!
December 05, 2016



I was seuoirsly at DefCon 5 until I saw this post.
December 05, 2016



That old Shaolin kung fu' moniker again.In point of hiirotscal fact, no one knows what form of gong fu/wu shu was practiced at the original Shaolin temple. It was burned down and no records survived, if any were actually ever kept.What passes for Shaolin gong fu these days is the stripped down amalgamation that began to take place after the nationalists took power. Around seventy percent of Shaolin gong fu' is from the impractical northern style of Chang chuan.The stripping down, and making useless of Chinese gong fu/wu shu in the mainland is hiirotscal documented fact. There is no Shaolin gong fu', despite the fact many, including myself, might want there to be. There are some styles that took up residence so to speak in the Shaolin temple over the years mind you. But that doesn't equal Shaolin gong fu unfortunately.
November 06, 2014
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