Brief Shao Lin Monk History Essay

1306 words - 6 pages


A Short History of Shao Lin Monks and their Martial Arts
     The original Shao Lin temple was built in 495 A.D. by the ruling Bei Wei emperor for an Indian monk who came to China to preach Buddhism. The name Shao Lin derived from the fact that its original temple was located within a small forest on Shao Shi mountain. Shao came from the name of the mountain and Lin comes from the Chinese character that stands for forest. The origin of Shao Lin being its own sect of Buddhism dates back to 540 A.D. when and Indian Buddhist named Bodhidharma, Tamo in Chinese, traveled to China to see the ruling Bei Wei Emperor. At that time, the Emperor had started local Buddhist ...view middle of the document...

Tamo then incorporated by teaching them moving exercises designed to both enhance the flow of ch’i and build strength. These sets, modified from Indian yoga’s such as hatha and raja and were based on the movements of the 18 main animals in Indo-Chinese wilderness, were the beginning of Shao Lin martial arts known as gung fu. The Shao Lin temple was in a very secluded area where bandits traveled and wild animals were an occasional problem, so the martial side of the temple probably started out to fulfill self-defense needs. After a while, these movements were codified into a system of self-defense.
     As time went on, this Buddhist sect became more and more distinct because of the martial arts being studied. This is not saying that Tamo invented martial arts, but just that he developed and codified them in such a way that it became so different from the norm at the time that it became known as distinctly Shao Lin. A problem faced by many western historians and students of religion, is the contradiction of Buddhist principles of non-violence coupled with Shao Lin’s legendary martial arts skills. In fact, the Shao Lin practitioner is never an attacker, nor does he dispatch the most devastating defenses in any situation. Rather, the study of gung fu leads to better understanding of violence, and consequently how to avoid conflict. Failing that, a Buddhist refuses to accept an offering of violence (i.e., an attack) and merely returns it to the sender. Initially, the gung fu expert may choose to parry an attack, but if the attacker is both very skilled and determined to cause harm, a more definitive and concluding solution may be required, anything from a joint-lock to death. The more sophisticated and violent an assault, the more devastating the return of the attack to the attacker. Therefore, Buddhists are not hurting anyone, they are just refusing to allow delivery of intended harm.
     The Shao Lin philosophy is one that started from Buddhism and later adopted many Taoist principles to become a new sect. Therefore, even if a temple was originally Buddhist or Taoist, once it became Shao Lin, it was a member of a new order. Other temples sprang from the original. This is because the original temple would suffer repeated attacks and periods of inactivity as the reigning Imperial and regional leaders feared the legendary martial powers of the not-always unaligned monks. Refugee Shao Lin practitioners would leave the temple to teach privately or at other Buddhist and Taoist temples to ensure the continuance of the sect. Politically and militarily involved Shao Lin monks, such as the legendary White Eyebrow and Hung Tze Kwan, would be a perpetual source of trouble for the generally neutral and likeable...

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