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Overview – Shaolin Temple
The Shaolin Monastery, also known as the Shaolin Temple, is a Chan (“Zen”) Buddhist temple on Mount Songshan in Dengfeng County, Henan Province, China. Believed to have been founded in the fifth century, the Shaolin Temple is the main temple of the Shaolin school of Buddhism to this day.
The name refers to the woods of Shaoshi mountain, one of the seven peaks of the Song mountains. The first Shaolin Monastery abbot was Batuo (also called Fotuo or Buddhabhadra), a dhyāna master who came to ancient China from ancient India or from 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, to accommodate the Indian master beside the capital Luoyang city.
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.
As the center of Chan Buddhism, the Shaolin Temple attracted many emperors’ attention in China’s history. During the Tang dynasty 618–907 AD Empress Wu Zetian (AD 625–705) paid several visits to the Shaolin Temple discussing Chan philosophy with high monk Tan Zong. The founder of the Yuan dynasty, Kublai Khan (AD 1215–1294) ordered all Buddhist temples in China to be led by the Shaolin Temple; eight princes during the Ming dynasty converted to Shaolin.
Located 90 kilometers (56 miles) west of the city of Zhengzhou, the Shaolin Monastery and its Pagoda Forest were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010 as part of the “Historic Monuments of Dengfeng”.
Mount Songshan is considered to be the central sacred mountain of China. At the foot of this 1500 meter high mountain, close to the city of Dengfeng in Henan province and spread over a 40 square-kilometer circle, stand eight clusters of buildings and sites, including three Han Que gates – remains of the oldest religious edifices in China -, temples, the Zhougong Sundial Platform and the Dengfeng Observatory.
Constructed over the course of nine dynasties, these buildings are reflections of different ways of perceiving the center of heaven and earth and the power of the mountain as a center for religious devotion. The historical monuments of Dengfeng include some of the best examples of ancient Chinese buildings devoted to ritual, science, technology, and education.UNESCO
Shaolin Temple is famous for its kungfu art. Shaolin Kungfu refers to the traditional cultural system that has formed in the particular Buddhist cultural environment in Shaolin Temple of Songshan Mountain over long history. It is based on a belief in the supernatural power of Buddhism and fully reflects the wisdom of Chan Buddhism. The martial arts practiced by monks in the Shaolin Temple are its major form of expression.
Shaolin Kungfu encompasses a complete technical and theoretical system, with martial arts and techniques as its major form of expression, and Buddhism belief and Chan wisdom as the cultural connotation.
Shaolin Kungfu is a huge and well-developed technical system as opposed to the many “schools” or “Quan styles” of other martial arts. Chinese martial arts are complicated in structure and abundant in school. According to historical records, Shaolin Kungfu is the one school among a myriad of Chinese martial arts schools, which boasts a long history, a complete system and the highest level of skills.
Those Quan guidebooks handed down over many generations in Shaolin Temple show that there are as many as several hundred series of Shaolin Kungfu skills of which several dozen are widely known and practiced. There are 72 unique sets of skills and all kinds of special bodies of Kungfu techniques such as Qi Gong, grappling, wrestling, disjointing, attacking a vital point of the body, etc. This wide body of skills and knowledge constitutes a huge and orderly technical system organized according to special categories and levels of difficulty.