The Shaolin Monastery or Shaolin Temple (Chinese: 少林寺; pinyin: Shàolín Sì) is a Chan Buddhist temple in Dengfeng county,Zhengzhou, Henan province, China.
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The name refers to the forests (林; lín) of Shaoshi (少室; Shǎo Shì) mountain, one of the seven peaks of Song mountains (嵩山; Sōng Shān). Dating back 1,500 years, Shaolin Temple is the main temple of the Shaolin school of Buddhism to this day.
Shaolin Monastery and its Pagoda Forest were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010 as part of the “Historic Monuments of Dengfeng.”
The first Shaolin Monastery abbot was Batuo (also called Fotuo or Buddhabhadra) a dhyana master who came to China from India or from Greco-Buddhist Central Asia in 464 AD to spread Buddhist teachings.
According to the Continued Biographies of Eminent Monks (645 AD) by Daoxuan, Shaolin Monastery was built on the north side of Shaoshi, the central peak of Mount Song, one of the Sacred Mountains of China, by Emperor Xiaowen of the Northern Wei Dynasty in 477 AD. Yang Xuanzhi, in the Record of the Buddhist Monasteries of Luoyang (547 AD), and Li Xian, in the Ming Yitongzhi (1461), concur with Daoxuan’s location and attribution. The Jiaqing Chongxiu Yitongzhi (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, that is, the monastery was built in 495 AD.
The Kangxi Emperor of the Qing Dynasty was a supporter of Shaolin Temple, and he wrote the calligraphic inscriptions that still hang over the Heavenly King Hall and the Buddha Hall today.
Traditionally Bodhidharma is credited as founder of the martial arts at the Shaolin Temple. However, martial arts historians have shown this legend stems from a 17th-century qigong manual known as the Yijin Jing.
The authenticity of the Yi Jin Jing has been discredited by some historians including Tang Hao, Xu Zhen and Matsuda Ryuchi. This argument is summarized by modern historian Lin Boyuan in his Zhongguo wushu shi:
As for the “Yi Jin Jing” (Muscle Change Classic), a spurious text attributed to Bodhidharma and included in the legend of his transmitting martial arts at the temple, it was written in the Ming dynasty, in 1624, by the Daoist priest Zining of Mt. Tiantai, and falsely attributed to Bodhidharma. Forged prefaces, attributed to the Tang general Li Jing and the Southern Song general Niu Gao were written. They say that, after Bodhidharma faced the wall for nine years at Shaolin temple, he left behind an iron chest; when the monks opened this chest they found the two books “Xi Sui Jing” (Marrow Washing Classic) and “Yi Jin Jing” within. The first book was taken by his disciple Huike, and disappeared; as for the second, “the monks selfishly coveted it, practicing the skills therein, falling into heterodox ways, and losing the correct purpose of cultivating the Real. The Shaolin monks have made some fame for themselves through their fighting skill; this is all due to having obtained this manuscript.” Based on this, Bodhidharma was claimed to be the ancestor of Shaolin martial arts. This manuscript is full of errors, absurdities and fantastic claims; it cannot be taken as a legitimate source.
The oldest available copy was published in 1827. The composition of the text itself has been dated to 1624. Even then, the association of Bodhidharma with martial arts only became widespread as a result of the 1904–1907 serialization of the novel The Travels of Lao Ts’an in Illustrated Fiction Magazine:
One of the most recently invented and familiar of the Shaolin historical narratives is a story that claims that the Indian monk Bodhidharma, the supposed founder of Chinese Chan (Zen) Buddhism, introduced boxing into the monastery as a form of exercise around a.d. 525. This story first appeared in a popular novel, The Travels of Lao T’san, published as a series in a literary magazine in 1907. This story was quickly picked up by others and spread rapidly through publication in a popular contemporary boxing manual, Secrets of Shaolin Boxing Methods, and the first Chinese physical culture history published in 1919. As a result, it has enjoyed vast oral circulation and is one of the most “sacred” of the narratives shared within Chinese and Chinese-derived martial arts. That this story is clearly a twentieth-century invention is confirmed by writings going back at least 250 years earlier, which mention both Bodhidharma and martial arts but make no connection between the two.
Other scholars see an earlier connection between Da Mo and the Shaolin Monastery. Scholars generally accept the historicity of Da Mo ( Bodhidharma) who arrived in China around 480. Da Mo (Bodhidharma) and his disciples are said to have lived a spot about a mile from the Shaolin Temple that is now a small nunnery. In the 6th century, around 547, The Record of the Buddhist Monasteries says Da Mo visited the area near Mount Song.
In 645 The Continuation of the Biographies of Eminent Monks describes him as being active in the Mount Song region. Around 710 Da Mo is identified specifically with the Shaolin Temple (Precious Record of Dharma’s Transmission or Chuanfa Baoji) and writes of his sitting facing a wall in meditation for many years. It also speaks of Huikes many trials in his efforts to receive instruction from Da Mo. In the 11th century a (1004) work embellishes Da Mo legends with great detail.
A stele inscription at the Shaolin Monastery dated 728 reveals Da Mo residing on Mount Song. Another stele in 798 speaks of Huike seeking instruction from Da Mo. Another engraving dated 1209 depicts the barefoot saint holding a shoe according to the ancient legend of Da Mo. A plethora of 13th- and 14th-century steles feature Da Mo in Various roles. One 13th-century image shows him riding a fragile stalk across the Yangtze River. In 1125 a special temple was constructed in his honor at the Shaolin Monastery.