The Shaolin Monastery is a Chan Buddhist temple in Dengfeng county, Zhengzhou, Henan province, China. The surrounding forests of Mount Shaoshi, one of the seven peaks of the Song mountain range, gave it its name. It was established 495 AD at the order of Emperor Xiaowen of the Northern Wei dynasty, and accommodated Indian Monk Batuo, the first abbot of the Shaolin Temple. Batuo, or Buddhabhadra, dedicated his life to translating Buddhist scriptures and teaching buddhism to his followers. Around 40 years later, Bodhidharma, another Buddhist monk from India arrived. Legend says that he sat meditating in a cave behind the Temple for 9 years, facing a wall. He is regarded as the initiator of the Shaolin Chan tradition at the Temple and was honored as the first Patriarch of Chan Buddhism. It is also said that Bodhidharma found the monks at the Temple to be weak and unhealthy due to excessive sitting in meditation and lack of physical exercise. So he developed a martial arts system to strengthen them. These exercises formed the basis of Shaolin Kungfu.
Over the course of its turbulent history, the Temple fell into the hands of numerous war lords, emperors and generals, and was partially destroyed and rebuilt many times. Defending the Temple during the warring periods was a necessity for the temple's and the Shaolin monk's survival. Historical details are mostly obscure, but one of the more prominent legends tells a story of 13 Shaolin Monks saving Tang Dynasty future emperor Li Shimin. In return, Li rewarded the temple with wealth and favors, enabling it to prosper as a Chan Buddhist and Martial Arts Center in China. It flourished during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and was home to as many as 3000 monks in its peak time. It began to decline in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The most recent and devastating destruction occurred in 1928 at the command of warlord Shi Yousan who laid fire to the temple. The monastery burned for more than 40 days turning most of the buildings and written records to ash.
Since then rebuilding efforts of various scales, with strong setbacks during the Cultural Revolution between 1966 and 1976, have led to restoration and revival of the Shaolin Temple. With the release of Hong Kong director Chang Hsin Yen's film “The Shaolin Temple” starring Jet Li in 1982, this revival reached epic proportions. It turned the monastery and its monks into an "overnight" sensation with a Chinese audience eager to close a darker chapter of its history and move forward with pride and hope into a new modern era.
A year before the movie was released, in 1981, Shi YongXin, the current abbot of the Shaolin Temple arrived at the monastery as a young monk. He turned out to be the other main driving force for the accelerated recovery and renovation of the temple, helping to establish its world-wide recognition.
Under his guidance and efforts, the Shaolin Temple was added to UNESCO's World Cultural & Natural Heritage List in 2010.
Abbot Shi YongXin
Abbot Shi YongXin joined the Shaolin Temple in 1981. After the passing of his Master, then abbot XingZheng, he became the administrative lead of the temple in 1987. The official title of Abbot was bestowed on him in 1999. He has since then been a strong advocate of Shaolin Culture, ensuring maintenance of Shaolin legacy and promoting its principles around the world. His sole resolve is to carry on Shaolin lineage ancestor's wisdom and tradition. Each generation of disciples receives and continues the cumulative wisdom and teachings from many previous generations. He regards himself as well as any Shaolin monk merely a paving stone in the development of the history of the Shaolin Temple. In his own words "The Shaolin Temple is a big family, and my current role is the 'patriarch' of this big family." In his view, the Shaolin Temple could not develop into what it is today by the work of a single person. It results from the collective resolve of all the monks.
In pursuit of his goals to carry on Shaolin legacy and introduce Shaolin Culture to broader audiences globally, the abbot started to take Shaolin monks overseas in 1990. Nowadays, official Shaolin Cultural Centers led by acknowledged monks from the Shaolin Temple are established in various countries of the world. To this day, the abbot travels internationally with a team of selected Warrior Monks to showcase the Shaolin Arts and teach Shaolin Chan. Other official delegates, such as Master Shi Yanti, travel individually within China and abroad to support the same goal of carrying on Shaolin heritage.
The most unique aspect of Shaolin culture is the combination of Shaolin Kungfu and Chan Buddhism. The Shaolin Temple follows the practice of Mahayana Buddhism, a reformed northern form of buddhism infused with Confucianism and Taoism. Mahayana Buddhism (unlike southern Buddhism whose practitioners are expected to live on alms) allows the practice of manual labor and agriculture. This enables the Shaolin Temple to be more self-sufficient and productive.
Chan meditation practice is to this day the focal point in the lives of the monks. It is considered the real kung fu in Shaolin Culture. The level of a disciple's insight into kung fu is measured by the disciple's level of cultivation in meditation. Shaolin Kung Fu is inseparable from Shaolin Chan. This concept is the foundation of Shaolin Culture.
"Move the body, not the mind." This is the fundamental principle of all Shaolin Martial Arts. Shaolin Kung Fu was born out of stillness, a state of meditation, not out of movement or fighting. It follows the concept of "Wu Chan" or "Chan Wu", an indivisible blend of mind cultivation (Chan) and physical moves (Kung Fu). Mastering kung fu requires persistent practice of routine moves and skills. Only orderly repeat practice will lead to movements flowing freely and allow unhindered applications of the skills. Progress to higher levels is rooted in mastering basic levels first. Similarly, only persistent contemplation through meditation will lead to full perception of the nature of one's mind, and consequently to achievement and perfection of the kung fu.
Shaolin monks practice kung fu for self-defense, not for attack. Shaolin Kung Fu is characterized by swift movements, speed, and a focus on internal force. It is a complex system of various techniques used in several hundreds of Shaolin kung fu routines. All of them are based on the concept of 'Shaolin Liu He', or 'The six alignments' with one set for internal, and the other set for external coordinations. The external coordinations are "Hand with Foot" (shou yu zu he), "Shoulders with Hips" (jian yu kua he) and "Elbow with Knee" (zhou yu xi he). The internal coordinations are "Mind with Intent" (xin yu yi he), "Intent with Breath" (yi yu qi he) and "Breath with Power" (qi yu li he). These rules apply to the practice of all Shaolin Kung Fu forms.