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Gate of the Shaolin Temples, Henan Province, China.

The Shaolin temples (Template:Zh-cp) are a group of Chinese Buddhist monasteries famed for their long association with Chn (Japanese Zen) Buddhism and martial arts. They are perhaps the Buddhist monasteries most familiar in the West. The name "Shaolin" means "Young Forest".

The original Shaolin temple is situated at one of China's five holy peaks, Songshan in Henan province. It was founded during the Northern Wei dynasty in approximately 497AD, was subsequently destroyed and rebuilt several times, and remains one of China's oldest Buddhist temples (however, many question whether it is truly Shaolin that is practiced today). It was said to have been used as a home by the Indian monk Batuo during the thirty years he spent preaching Nikaya Buddhism in China.

Perhaps the most famous name associated with Shaolin is that of Bodhidharma or Tamo (pinyin: Dm). He is said to have been an Indian monk who travelled to China in 5th century to teach Buddhism. A story relates that Bodhidharma was initially refused entry to the Shaolin Temple, and was admitted only after sitting in meditation facing a wall in a nearby cave for nine years. Bodhidharma's ministry at Shaolin formed the basis for what would later be called the Zen or, in China, Chn (both terms derive from the Sanskrit term Dhyana, which means meditation) school of Buddhism.

After entering Shaolin, it is said that Bodhidharma found the monks out of shape from a lifetime spent only in study and scholasticism, so he introduced a regimen of martial exercises which later developed into kung fu. Traditionally, the Shaolin monks developed their martial arts expertise as a defense against aggressors' attacks, as a means to promote health, and as a mental and physical discipline.

The temple's military fame began during the early Tang Dynasty (618 - 907). Records describe Shaolin fighting monks saving the life of the future emperor Li Shimin (in this record, it says that the monks were in and out of the fort before anyone could even raise the alarm) and assisting in his fight against renegade forces. Once enthroned, the gratified emperor enlarged their compound and gave permission for some monks to continue their military training. Shaolin kung fu reached its peak during the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644), when several hundred Shaolin monks were given military status and personally led campaigns against rebels and Japanese bandits. By this time, the Shaolin had developed their own unique style of martial arts, known as Shaolinquan.

The original temple survived being sacked and rebuilt many times. The Manchus destroyed its compound in 1647 and massacred almost the entire population of monks. Shaolin was not rebuilt until around 1800. A large fire set by warlord Shi Yousan in 1928 destroyed many priceless manuscripts of the temple library, and the cultural revolution purged all monks and buddhist materials from within its walls, leaving the temple barren for years. It was subsequently rebuilt, repopulated and designated an offical tourist site by the Chinese government after the overwhelming success of the Jet Li movie "Shaolin Temple" in 1982.

Through the centuries, several Shaolin branches, including a famous one in Fukien which is known as the "Southern Shaolin", have been built in different parts of China. In modern times, thousands of secular branches dedicated solely to the teaching of martial arts have also been built in China and throughout the world. Several modern writers have attempted to discredit Shaolin Temple as the birthplace of Shaolinquan. However, others have criticized their attempts as relying upon specious textual criticism and avoiding Buddhist primary sources.

See also

fr:Shaolin nl:Shaolin pl:Shaolin pt:Shaolin th:เส้าหลิน zh-cn:少林寺


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