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Shaolin Temple

The sumeru pedestal of the divine platform in the main hall is covered with designs of mountains, trees, a temple, a pagoda, crop fields, a tiny bridge over a stream, wandering monks, a farmer with his donkey, and people waiting to be ferried across a river.

The luxuriant cypress in front of the main hall is four meters around. It is said that Hui Neng, the sixth abbot of the Shaolin Temple, took a cypress sapling in his alms bowl from Guangdong Province and planted it in front of the main hall of the Temple of the Founder of Chan when he returned to the Shaolin Temple to pay homage to Buddha. The tree is over 1,200 years old.

Bodhidharma was the first to practice what is now known as Shaolin martial arts. His limbs had become stiff from the long periods of sitting still and facing the cave wall, and he felt great discomfort. He also noticed that the monks were falling asleep during meditation and that their health was deteriorating, so he invented an exercise of eighteen movements, now known as the Eighteen Routines of Shaolin Martial Arts, imitating the pounce of the tiger, the climb of the monkey, and the jump of the leopard.

He also taught the monks the regimen of limbering up and cleaning the bone marrow and internal organs. Limbering up consists of stretching the muscles through exercise and improving circulation. Cleaning the bone morrow and internal organs consists of removing internal stagnant substances through deep breathing exercise.

The regimen, also called wushuchan (martial arts and meditation), combines movement with stillness and meditation with martial arts. Later, monks at the temple enriched and improved Shaolin martial arts by drawing on the strong points of the martial-arts traditions.

There is a mural entitled Thirteen Shaolin Cudgeling Monks Rescue the Emperor of the Tang Dynasty on the walls of Baiyi Hall. It depicts the fight for power toward the end of Sui Dynasty between Prince Qin (599-649) and General Wang Shichong (?-621). At the crucial moment, monks from the Shaolin Temple came to help Prince Qin attack Wang Shichong's army from behind and win victory. When Prince Qin came to power as Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty, he conferred titles on the monks, granted land to the Shaolin Temple, and issued a special edict that allowed the monks to eat meat and drink wine.

Later, the Shaolin Temple was made an imperial temple governing other Buddhist temples in the area. To defend the temple, the imperial court gave permission to the Shaolin Temple to organize a troop of monk-soldiers and sent army officers highly skilled in military arts to teach them how to use the broad sword, the spear, the two-edged sword, and other weapons, thus forming the complete system of Shaolin martial arts. In return, the monk-soldiers performed meritorious deeds in defense of the royal court.

About 300 meters west of the Shaolin Temple is the Pagoda Forest. In accordance with the Buddhist system, pagodas were built there to keep the¡¡About 300 meters west of the Shaolin Temple is the Pagoda Forest. In accordance with the Buddhist system, pagodas were built there to keep the¡¡remains of the deceased abbots and other eminent monks, and stone table inscribed with the merits and virtues of the dead were erected.

The Pagoda Forest has 231 pagodas built during the 1,200 years after 791, the eleventh year of the reign (780-805) of Emperor Dezong of the Tang Dynasty. The form and size of the pagodas bear the influences of the times and show the ranks of the dead during their lifetimes and the economic situation at the temple. The pagodas vary in appearance and are from one to seven stories high, the highest being 15 meters. Some of them have closely-placed eaves, some look like pavilions, and some have a sumeru pedestal. The pagoda foundations are square, rectangular, hexagonal, octagonal, or round.

Most of the pagodas are carved with inscriptions of the occupants' ranks, religious names, and meritorious services. The inscriptions are useful materials for the examination of the history, religious practices, and economy of the Shaolin Temple and a treasure house for the study of the pagoda architecture, calligraphy, and sculpture of ancient times.


Editor: Chen Yanqiu, Wang Moyan



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