Shaolin Temple
Shaolin Temple

Batuo was the first abbot of the Shaolin Monastery; he arrived from India in 480 AD, preaching Buddhist principles for thirty years. He believed that Buddhist principles were best taught through teachers rather than texts. At the request and financing of Emperor Xiaowen, Batuo built the Shaolin Monastery in Dengfeng City, Henan Province. The word Shaolin is derived from the word Shao, in reference to mount Shaoshin and lin comes from the word grove.

The Shaolin monks combine Chan Buddhist principles along with martial arts. Monks practicing Chan Buddhism believe that reality is an illusion, and that each thought, whether good or bad, has some bearing on the future, leading to karma. The temple includes dormitories for monks, a bell tower, scripture rooms, chanting rooms and various halls.

Each monk learns the use of 36 weapons and learns two animal movements for self-defense. Some of the weapons incorporated into their training include the short stick, spear, Shaolin Tiger fork, rope dart, double axe and double hammer. It should be emphasized that the monks’ lives revolve around spirituality not the combat training of gong fu. Their simple diets of rice, vegetables and fruit help them to maintain an ascetic lifestyle.

The Shaolin Monastery has an orphanage that has taken in 50 children from the Henan Province. The orphan program is officially called “Helping 1000 Orphans.” In addition, the Shaolin Temple allows foreigners to study along with the monks, practicing martial arts, Buddhist prayer, calligraphy, qigong, and traditional Chinese medicine.

During the Tang Dynasty, there was another Shaolin monastery built in the southern province of Fujian to combat pirates. Other branches of Shaolin temples were supposed to have existed during this time, however, there is little hard evidence to support these claims but the stories pervade in myths and legends.

A famous movie titled the 36th Chamber of Shaolin follows the life of San Te, a highly regarded Shaolin monk. The movie is considered one of the best kung fu flicks of all time. His name San Te literally translates to “Three Virtues” and he lived during the 18th century. The film’s star is Gordon Liu.

Branches of Shaolin temples exist in New York City, Mexico, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, Argentina and India.