SHAOLIN TEMPLE CULTURE
A LEGACY 1,500 YEARS IN THE MAKING
ZEN / CHAN ORIGINS OF SHAOLIN TEMPLE
Shaolin Temple was established in 495 A.D. during the Northern Wei Dynasty of China. The Wei Emperor Xiaowen built the temple on Songshan Mountain of Henan Province to host the Indian high monk Batuo. In 517 A.D., South Indian Buddhist monk Bodhidharma landed in Shaolin Temple. He spent nine years meditating in a cave on Mount Wuru behind the temple and founded the Chan School of Buddhism. For physical fitness between his long meditation sessions, Bodhidharma created a series of exercises to stretch his limbs and strengthen his body. These exercises were taught to Shaolin monks to improve their health and thus began tradition of Shaolin Kung Fu and Shaolin Kung Fu monks. Shaolin Temple is credited and revered as the birth place of Chan Buddhism, known to the Western world as Zen (Japanese name for Chan), and the cradle of Shaolin Kung Fu.
Chan is also thought to have developed as an amalgam of various currents in Mahayana Buddhist thought and of local traditions in China. As the center of Chan Buddhism, the Shaolin Temple attracted many emperors’ attention in China’s history. The Empress Wu Zetian (武则天；625-705) paid several visits to the Shaolin Temple discussing Chan philosophy with high monk Tan Zong (昙宗和尚); the founder of Yuan Dynasty, Kublai Khan (忽必烈；1215-1294) ordered all Buddhist temples in China to be led by the Shaolin Temple; there were eight Princes during Ming Dynasty turned themselves into Shaolin monks.
Shaolin Kung Fu and its relationship to Shaolin Chan
For 1,500 years, Shaolin Temple developed and passed down a unique cultural and spiritual system manifested in the form of martial arts. Shaolin Kung Fu embodies not only the essence of Chinese martial arts but also the wisdom of Chan Buddhism. It is a treasured child of the cultural exchange between ancient China and India — two great ancient civilizations of the world. It is a unique cultural phenomenon founded on Buddhist teachings of “no self” and “inconstancy.”
The wisdom and courage inhabited in Shaolin Kung Fu is widely understood and respected by people of different cultures all over the world. Shaolin Kung Fu has become an integral part of mankind's spiritual civilization and is recognized as a world intangible cultural heritage by UNESECO. Shaolin Temple monks emphasize that Chan and Kung Fu are the two integral aspects of their Buddhist regimen: Chan meditation leads to spiritual enlightenment, while Kung Fu maintains physical health for the pursuit of Chan. They call their training “Shaolin Kung Fu Chan” and in this aspect they are like two wheels of a cart that cannot be separated.
WHAT IS KUNG FU?
Kung fu or gongfu or gung fu (功夫) is a Chinese term often used by speakers of the English language to refer to Chinese martial arts. However in its original meaning, kung fu can refer to any skill. Gōngfu (功夫) is a compound of two words, combining 功 (gōng) meaning "achievement" or "merit", and 夫 (fū) which translates into "man", so that a literal rendering would be "human achievement." Its connotation is that of an accomplishment arrived at by great effort. The Chinese equivalent of "martial art" would be read as 武術 wushù which is currently a sport form of martial arts in China which is closer to dance and gymnastics in its method of practice.
Originally, to practice kung fu did not just mean to practice martial arts. Instead, it referred to the process of one's training - the strengthening of the body and the mind, the learning and the perfection of one's skills - rather than to what was being trained. It refers to excellence achieved through long practice in any endeavor. You can say that a person's kung fu is good in cooking, or that someone has kung fu in calligraphy; saying that a person possesses kung fu in an area implies skill in that area, which they have worked hard to develop. Someone with "bad kung fu" simply has not put enough time and effort into training, or seems to lack the motivation to do so.
What is Shaolin Kung Fu?
The manifestation of Shaolin Kungfu comes from over 1,500 years of continual refinement and development by the Monks of the Songshan Shaolin Temple, generals, warriors and disciples alike. Shaolin Kungfu based on the special combination of three unique characteristics Chan, Wu, Yi or the study of Zen, Martial Arts and Medicine.
Shaolin Kungfu is considered one of the top Chinese martial art styles because of its long history and it is fully developed practices. According to the records handed down in the Shaolin Monastery, there are 708 Shaolin Kungfu sets in existence, out of which, 552 sets are designed for fist methods and various weapons techniques. The remaining 156 sets cover 72 secret techniques and training methods for grappling, free fighting, joint locking, attacking pressure points and Qigong (Internal energy Practice)
The physical manifestation of Shaolin Kungfu centers on utilizing ones natural weapons in combat situations. Each set contains a series of movements which are based on the human anatomy and harmonizing natural movements of the body. The movements within each set emphasize the mixing of action and stillness, balancing of Yin and Yang energies, combining soft and hard movements, and exhibiting one’s spirit of vitality in the postures.
Training involves not only the training of one’ state of mind, but also one’s whole body, which covers the hands, eyes, body, footwork, and martial applications so that they will act as one, naturally and effortlessly.
The Shaolin branch of medicine is a healing system with more than one thousand years' of practice and integration. It was developed within the larger sect of Mahāyāna Buddhist Traditions and serves as a culmination of Indian and Traditional Chinese Medicine culture. In modern application, Shaolin medicine
takes "meditation" as its fundamental healing method, but also uses doctrines of respiration, acupuncture massage, Daoyin (a natural movement system), Qixue (energy flow) and diet therapy to help regulate meridians and the operation of internal organs. It is believed that the wisdom of Chan is administered to address afflictions of the mind which is seen as a gateway to physical illness, while adversely, the physical body is given massage, qigong or kung fu to heal the body which is also seen as a gateway to the mind.
An Overview of Shaolin Medicine
During the Yuan Dynasty, a famous historian named Yuan Haowen, wrote that the Shaolin Pharmacy Bureau started during the Jin Dynasty (1217), and thus has a history of more than 800 years. The Pharmacy Bureau at that time was primarily used for treating the traumatic injuries and other diseases of Shaolin monks, while a few decades later, the Pharmacy began treating the local people and various travelers from foreign provinces who made the journey to be treated at Shaolin Temple. During this time, the treatment and medicines provided by Shaolin were free and following traditional custom, the patients would typically make a donation after the curing of a disease.
Throughout its history, the Shaolin Pharmacy Bureau developed various unique systems to cure illness or keep fit, such as the famous Bone Marrow Cleanse, Muscle/ Tendon change and various Shaolin Internal skills. There are also many secret herbal recipes handed by eminent monks of each generation to heal various ailments or promote health and longevity. By the modern establishment of the Republic of China (1912), Shaolin Medicine has documented it's system with a vast number of written works documented with millions of Chinese characters covering thousands of prescriptions. This knowledge is seldom transmitted to outsiders due to Buddhist precepts and is a treasure of Shaolin Temple.
Shaolin Art is the study of expressing the Chan mind (also known as Zen mind) into art forms such as painting, poetry, sculpting, calligraphy, tea ceremony, music etc. The expression, itself, is considered a form of meditation, one of sophisticated simplicity - straightforward yet illuminating. In practicing Chan art, we reveal the essence of the mind or a subjects inner nature often times in a spontaneous method, valuing spiritual expression over technical mastery. This often neglected branch is considered a core component of the Shaolin Culture and integral for a students personal development.
Shi Yongxin, originally named Liu Yingcheng, was born into a Buddhist family in Yingshang, Anhui Province in 1965. At the age of seventeen, he made his way to Songshan Shaolin Temple, and in 1981 he became an apprentice monk receiving the Dharma name Yongxin under the discipleship of Former Abbot Xingzheng.
For the next three years, he cultivated himself by studying in other Buddhist monasteries, returning to Shaolin in 1984 to assist the elders of Shaolin with the Temple's daily operation. In September of that year, he became a fully ordained Monk in Pu Zhao Monastery, Jiangxi Province.
Following the passing of former Abbot Xingzheng in 1987. Shi Yong Xin received the ceremonial alms-bowl and robes (a symbol for the Dharma transmission) and began serving as head of the Shaolin Temple Management Committee to oversee the monastery.
In March 1993, Shi Yong Xin was elected to the Henan Province Political Consultative Committee and in October of that year, he was also 'appointed Director of the Buddhist Association of China. In 1997, he was re-appointed to his position as director of Shaolin Temple Management Committee presiding over Shaolin Temple and in 1998, he was elected a representative of the Ninth National People’s Congress and Chairman of the Henan Province Buddhist Association that July.
Master Shi Yong Xin was elected to the position of Shaolin Abbot during an Inaugural ceremony held in August, 1999. In September 2002, he was elected Vice Chairman of the Buddhist Association of China, in March 2003 and 2008 respectively, he was elected representative of the Tenth National People’s Congress and representative of the Eleventh National People’s Congress and in February 2010 Ven. Yongxin was elected Director of the Buddhist Association of China Overseas Communication Committee.
Ven. Abbot Yongxin has made it his mission to tirelessly protect and revive the tangible and intangible heritage of Shaolin Temple. He has done a great deal of work for the Temple, such as renovating ancient architectures and compiling and organizing the classic books of Shaolin Temple, such as The Secret Book of Shaolin Kung Fu and Medicine and authoring books on Shaolin Culture such as Shaolin Kung Fu, The Dew of Chan and Shaolin in my Heart. Master Shi Yong Xin is also passionate about spreading Shaolin culture worldwide and has engaged in a large number of domestic and foreign cultural exchanges and Buddhist events to see the mission come to life.
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