Shaolin Temple

Shaolin Temple

Nora Zheng
626 Words/3 Minutes, By Nora Zheng, Updated February 04, 2023

Songshan Shaolin Temple faces Mt. Shaoshi and leaning against Wuru Peak. As recorded in the annals of history, a Hinayanistic monk named Batuo as the first abbot of Shaolin Temple. In the 20th year during the reign of Emperor Xiaowen of the Northern Wei Dynasty (496 AD), he came all the way from India to China and was revered by Emperor Xiaowen, a devout follower of Buddhism. Since he preferred a reclusive life in a tranquil place, Emperor Xiaowen gave an order to build a temple in the middle of the forest at the bottom of Mt. Shaoshi for him, and entitled it Songshan Shaolin Temple. There, he took hundreds of monks as his disciples and translated the Buddhist sutras he brought into China. Following his parinirvana, his disciples scattered around the country to preach Buddhist sutras since he made no rules regarding the succession of his position. Decades later, Songshan Shaolin Temple became the base of Mahayana Buddhism.

In the late Southern Dynasty, Bodhidharma finally embarked on the land of Chinese territory to promote Mahayana Buddhism after three years’ drifting at sea. He initially preached in Guangxiao Temple of Guangzhou, and was later welcomed to Nanjing and received by Emperor Wudi in the Liang Dynasty. Emperor Wudi had long been dedicated to making policies of creating Buddhist temples, compiling Buddhist sutras and sculpting Buddhist statues, he therefore naturally believed himself as a benevolent emperor. However, Bodhidharma argued that Emperor Wudi was far from as benevolent as what he had done due to hidden motives. Since they failed to get along, Bodhidharma crossed the river on a reed-made boat to the Wei Dynasty. Subsequently, he arrived at Songshan Shaolin Temple and established Zen Buddhism. He did not promote abstruse theories but advocated meditation which included, face the wall and meditate. This way, you could be enlightened on Zen by removing all his desires.

This kind of self-cultivation was simpler and more convenient for practice, thus could be easier promoted. Consequently, Zen Buddhism evolved into a major school of Chinese Buddhism while Bodhidharma was hailed as the father of Chinese Zen. Later, Emperor Daizong of the Tang Dynasty granted him the posthumous title “Master Yuanjue of Zen Buddhism.” There was an intense conflict between the old and newly-established schools of Buddhism as Bodhidharma’s promotion of Mahayana Buddhism was an innovation on the practice of Zen that prevailed in China.

After Bodhidharma came to his demise, his disciples split into two schools, namely the Southern School led by Huineng and the Northern School headed by Chanxiu. The two schools did not differ a lot in doctrines but disaccorded with each other. The Northern School upheld that one shall be enlightened over longtime meditation; whereas, the Southern School contended that one should be enlightened at one point of his life, and that a butcher would become a Buddha the moment he dropped his cleaver. The Northern School superseded the Northern School during the reign of Emperor Dezong of the Tang Dynasty after more than 10 year contention. Since then, Songshan Shaolin Temple has long been the place where followers of the Northern School preached their Buddhist sutras. The Southern School later further split into five schools such as Caodong, Linji, Yunmen, Fayan and Weiyin, among which the former two were most influential. Since the early Yuan Dynasty, Caodong has been officially enshrined as the school dominating Songshan Shaolin Temple, which remains true today.

Nora Zheng

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