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What is Shaolin?

Photograph by Ren Hongbing. All rights reserved. Copyright reserved.

A Historic Temple

The original Shaolin Temple, Songshan Shaolin Temple, was built in Henan, China in 495 AD to host the Indian monk Batuo at the request of Emperor Xiaowen during the Northern Wei Dynasty. It would become the center of Chan Buddhism in China after the arrival of another Indian monk, Bodhidharma, and would survive dynastic changes, raiding bandits, invading armies, government bans, and the Cultural Revolution over its 1500 year history. In 2010, it was recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a World Cultural Heritage site.

To this day, it is renowned as both the birthplace of Chan Buddhism and the cradle of Shaolin Kung Fu.


Current Abbot

Shi Yongxin

The Venerable Abbot Shi Yongxin, current abbot of Shaolin, was born in the Anhui province of China in 1965 and arrived at the Shaolin Temple at the age of 17. In 1981 he became an apprentice monk under the discipleship of the former Abbot Shi Xingzheng. After Xingzheng passed away in 1987, Yongxing took over the position of Director of the Shaolin Temple Management Committee where he oversaw all of the temple's affairs in the interim. In March of 1998, he was selected deputy of the ninth National People's Congress and served in that position for the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth as well. In July of that same year, he was selected as President of the Buddhist Association of Henan Province and President of the Buddhist Association of China in 2002. He officially became the thirtieth Abbot of Shaolin in 1999. 

Since taking over as the abbot of Shaolin, Yongxin has contributed greatly to the development and expansion of the Shaolin Temple and Shaolin culture. He has overseen renovations of the temple, conducted cultural exchanges around the world, and built the Shaolin Kung Monk Corps, the Shaolin Philanthropic Foundation, and Dew of Chan Journal, along with many other accomplishments.


A Distinct Culture

Shaolin is more than just a place. Over the years, the monks there developed a unique culture and spiritual practice that has spread beyond the temple walls and around the world. Shaolin culture encompasses not only Chan Buddhism, but also the study of holistic medicine, the practice of Shaolin Kung Fu, and the fine arts. 


Photograph by Ren Hongning. All rights reserved. Copyright reserved.


Chan Buddhism

Better known in the West by it's Japanese name, Zen, the Chinese words "chan" means meditation. Chan Buddhism is believed to have been founded by Bodhidharma during his time at Shaolin. Legend says he meditated in a cave on nearby Wuru Peak for nine years before he was admitted into the temple. Chan Buddhism focuses on obtaining enlightenment, or the Buddha nature, through mediation on the true nature of your self, reality, and of all things. The monks of Shaolin began to practice chan in every part of their lives, even when they were working on the farm, preparing tea, or practicing the daily exercises. Bodhidharma also believed the best way for knowledge and teachings to be passed on was directly from master to student in a mind-to-mind and heart-to-heart fashion. This is a different approach than traditional Buddhist schools from India, but Chan is considered a beautiful mixture of these two great ancient cultures. 

Buddha Statues Carved into Mountainside

Shaolin Medicine

Shaolin monks incorporate the study of the human body and physical health into their practices, developing several unique forms of holistic medicine. Chan and meditation are prominent practices, but they also combine the spiritual healing with other practices like massage, acupuncture, and physical exercise in the form of Daoyin ( similar to yoga), Tai Chi/Qi Gong, or Kung Fu. The Shaolin Pharmacy Bureau has existed for more than 800 years, and holds the secrets to a number of healing techniques and herbal recipes which are rarely shared outside of the Shaolin Temple.


Photographer unknown. Image used with permission. All rights reserved. Copyright reserved.

Kung Fu

Shaolin Kung Fu

Like Chan Buddhism, Shaolin Kung Fu began with the Indian monk Bodhidharma. After being allowed into the temple, he began to teach the monks a set of exercises to improve their physical health. His techniques were used to build strength as well as to improve balance, resparation, and blood circulation. Over the years, these techniques were refined and combined with Chinese martial arts (for practical self-defense), and the study of Chan and the human body. Shaolin monks were said to have achieved superhuman abilities through their practice of Chan and Kung Fu.

Kung Fu is the Western term, but in China it is called gong fu. Gong fu translates to "effort" and to have good gong fu means you have made great achievements through great effort. Shaolin Kung Fu takes great effort, but yields great rewards. Martial artists from around the world flock to Shaolin to train with the monks of the temple, and several modern styles of modern martial arts--like Karate, Wing Chun, and Kempo--can trace their roots to Shaolin Kung Fu. Today, it is considered one of the top Chinese martial art forms, and it is recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage.


Photograph by Ren Hongbing. All rights reserved. Copyright reserved.


Chan Art

As with everything at Shaolin, even the practicing of fine arts is considered a form of meditation. Chan art, however, focuses more on the representation of the object's true nature or that of the artist. It can take many forms--such as painting, calligraphy, music, tea preparation or gardening-- and is considered an important part of one's spiritual growth and development. Chan artwork is created intuitively and spontaneously during reflective meditation, and therefor believed to be a direct expression of true nature.  


Photographer unknown. All rights reserved. Copyright reserved.

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By donating to Red Mountain Shaolin Temple, you can help us provide greater accessibility to the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual benefits of Shaolin culture in North America.

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