What do you think of when someone refers to the Shaolin Temple in Eastern China? Certainly the Shaolin Temple is one of best known temples in the world. It was founded in 495 A.D. by Ba Tuo, an Indian monk who traveled to China to teach the Buddhist religion.
At the heart of the Shaolin Temple philosophy is Zen Buddhism. The three principles practiced by Chinese Zen Buddhist monks are Zen meditation (chan), martial arts (kung fu), and herbal medicine.
Monks engage in difficult kung fu training, which helps them develop a disciplined and strong moral character. They strive to reach inner harmony by first learning how to breathe properly. This prepares the Buddhist acolyte to tap into his or her chi or life force.
Developing a powerful chi enables Buddhist monks and students to do amazing physical feats that astonish people throughout the world. Some of the feats include the ability to walk over burning coals, various acrobatic stunts, and extraordinary martial arts capabilities.
A trained Shaolin monk possesses contentment and enlightenment which many seeking happiness aspire to. The virtues of humility, patience, and tolerance are instilled with Shaolin training. Traditional Shaolin monks also display qualities of honor, morality, courage, and respect for others.
Imagine what it would be like if more students in Western countries would learn the basics of inner peace, enlightenment, and harmony with nature. All societies could benefit from some form of disciplined training designed to improve oneself.
Presently, many Shaolin monks are trying to protect the traditional aspects of their religion and martial arts training. For martial arts purists, it’s important that the integrity of the temple remains intact. Some monks capitalize on the past fame of the monastery by beginning commercial enterprises.
The Shaolin Temple is located in the Songshan Mountains of Henan province. Despite its wilderness location, tourism is well-established, and many thousands of people visit yearly. In 2010, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage site. Bus tours run from Dengfeng, a city approximately six miles from the temple site.
If the Shaolin monks have their way, their famous Shaolin Temple will maintain its proper cultural identity and keep commercial interests at an acceptable level. As we know, too much commercialization often corrupts things which should be honored and respected. It’s the same concept of respect we apply to historical sites and graveyards.
The Shaolin Temple is a great religious, educational, and martial arts institution. Let us hope and pray that it continues to promote its Buddhist principles and to improve the lives of its members along with people that recognize the valuable knowledge taught there.