The Shaolin Monastery or Shaolin Temple, is a Chan Buddhist temple at Song Shan in Henan Province of what is now the People's Republic of China. The monastery was built by the Emperor Hsiao-Wen in AD 477, and the first abbot of Shaolin was Batuo, (also, Fotuo or Bhadra (the Chinese transposition of Buddha), an Indian dhyana master who came to China in AD 464 to spread Buddhist teachings. Long famous for its association with Chinese martial arts and particularly with Shaolin Kung Fu, it is the Mahayana Buddhist monastery perhaps best known to the Western world.
The Shao in "Shaolin" refers to "Mount Shaoshi", a mountain in the Songshan mountain range. The lin in "Shaolin" means "forest". Literally, the name means "Monastery in the woods of Mount Shaoshi".
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 Tàihé era of the Northern Wei Dynasty, that is, the monastery was built in AD 497.
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.
Bodhidharma is said by the Shaolin monks to have introduced the sect of Chan (Zen) Buddhism to them at Shaolin Temple in Henan, China during the 6th century. Bodhidharma was also given the opportunity to teach what the monks called “18 Hands of the Lohan,” (non-combative healthful exercises).
Various styles of Chinese martial arts are said in some sources to have been practiced even before the Xia dynasty (founded in 2205 BC), styles such as Jiao Di, the precursor of Shuai Jiao. Not to mention Shou Bo kung fu practiced during the Shang dynasty (2,000 years before the Shaolin Temple's construction), and Xiang Bo (similar to Sanda) from the 600s BC, along with the hundreds of other systems of Chinese martial arts that have persisted from ancient times to the present day. There is a story that Huiguang and Sengchou were martial artists before the arrival of Bodhidharma, when they became two of the very first Shaolin monks.
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 1644 by the Qing government for supposed anti-Qing activities (giving birth to the famous slogan "Destroy the Qing, restore the Ming!"); this destruction is also supposed to have helped spread Shaolin martial arts through China by means of the 5 fugitive monks Ng Mui, Jee Shin Shim Shee, Fung Doe Duk, Miu Hin and Bak Mei. This story commonly appears in martial arts history, fiction, and cinema.
However, accounts of the Qing Dynasty destroying the Shaolin temple may refer to a southern Shaolin temple, which Ju Ke, in the Qing bai lei chao (1917), located in Fujian Province. Additionally, 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.
There is evidence of Shaolin martial arts techniques being exported to Japan in the 18th and 19th centuries. Okinawan Shōrin-ryū karate, for example, has a name meaning "Small lin". Other similarities can be seen in centuries-old Chinese and Japanese martial arts manuals.
In 1928, the warlord Shi Yousan set fire to the monastery, burning it for over 40 days, destroying 90% 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.
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.
A Dharma gathering was held between August 19 and 20, 1999, in the Shaolin Monastery, Songshan, China, for Buddhist Master Shi Yong Xin to take office as abbot. He is the thirteenth successor after Buddhist abbot Xue Ting Fu Yu. In March 2006 Vladimir Putin of Russia became the first foreign leader to visit the monastery.
Two luxury bathrooms were recently added to the temple for use by monks and tourists. The new bathrooms reportedly cost three million yuan.
The Pagoda Forest
With a history of more than 1,000 years from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the Pagoda Forest has more than 230 pagodas for Buddhist abbots, and is the largest one in China that has survived till now. Despite the difficulty, the temple has been making active moves to safeguard its intellectual property rights. The forest is a treasure house for the study of the ancient Chinese brick structure and sculpture art.