Shaolin Temple

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The Shaolin Temple is a Ch'an Buddhist temple at Song Shan in the Henan province of what is now the Peoples Republic of China. The monastery was built by the Emperor Hsiao-Wen in 496 CE, and the first abbot of Shaolin was Batuo (also, Fotuo or Bhadra (the Chinese transposition of Buddha)).[1] Batuo was an Indian dhyana master who came to China in CE 464 to spread Buddhist teachings. [2] Long famous for its association with Chinese martial arts, it is the Mahayana Buddhist monastery perhaps best known to Western culture. [3]

Early history

According to the Continued Biographies of Eminent Monks (AD 645) by Dàoxuān, 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 Tàihé era of the Northern Wei Dynasty, that is, the monastery was built in 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.

The role of Bodhidharma

Although the introduction of fighting skills at the Shaolin Monastery has been attributed to the Indian monk Bodhidharma (C., 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 have been versed in both Yoga and the Southern Indian martial art of Kalarippayattu, he did not "invent" kung fu, as legend has it.[2] 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. Thereupon, he introduced them to the eighteen hands of the Buddha, which is foundation practice of the northern Vadakkan Kalarippayattu system.


  1. Chan Insights and Oversights An Epistemological Critique of the Chan Tradition by Bernard Faure
  2. 2.0 2.1 Order of the Shaolin Ch'an (2004, 2006). The Shaolin Grandmaster's Text: History, Philosophy, and Gung Fu of Shaolin Ch'an. Oregon.
  3. Shahar, Meir (December 2001). "Ming-Period Evidence of Shaolin Martial Practice". Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 61 (2): 359-413. ISSN 0073-0548.