Shaolin Temple, reputed to be “the Number One Temple under Heaven”, is situated at Shaoshi Mountain in the west of Songshan Mountain ranges, in Dengfeng City, Henan Province. It is the best known Mahayana Buddhist temple to the Western world and it is long famous for its association with Chinese martial arts and particularly with Shaolin Kungfu. Shaolin Temple has been recognized as the origin of Chan Buddhism and the cradle of Chinese Kungfu.
Shaolin Temple is called Shao Lin Si in Chinese. Shao refers to “Shaoshi Mountain”; lin means “forest” and Si “temple”; the name of Shaolin Temple literally means “temple in the forest of Shaoshi Mountain”. Against the backdrop of Wuru Peak of Shaoshi Mountain, it is surrounded with forests and hills as its natural defense. The ancient architectural complex of Shaolin Temple comprises of 7 main halls on its axis, flanked by several buildings on each side. It is 160 meters wide and over 360 meters long, covering an area of 57,600 square metes. The monastic live and deal with daily affairs in the temple.
The temple was constructed in 495 during the Northern Wei Dynasty to welcome the Indian master Batuo (Buddhabhadra). As the first Shaolin abbot, Buddhabhadra devoted himself to translating Buddhist scriptures and preaching doctrines to hundreds of his followers. Thirty-two years later, another Indian monk Bodhidharma arrived at Shaolin Temple. He spent nine years meditating in a cave of the Wuru Peak and initiated the Chinese Chan tradition at Shaolin Temple. At its heyday, the Shaolin Temple housed more than 3,000 monks and became a large Buddhist temple known at home and abroad.
Shaolin Temple features for the coexistence of Chan School and martial art. Martial art is developed from Shaolin Kungfu and Shaolin Kungfu is the best under heaven. At the beginning of the seventh century, a tiny army of 13 Shaolin monks were reputed to have saved future Tang Dynasty emperor Li Shimin. When he took power, Li showered favors, land and wealth on the temple. Soon the Shaolin martial art developed into its own system and became famous as the unique Shaolin School among Chinese martial circles. Shaolin martial art is famous for its power and energy, excellent skill and complicated systems at home and abroad. After a film named Shaolin Temple was on in 1982, Shaolin martial art has entered into a new state. Even exercisers of Shaolin martial art can be found in many foreign countries.
Shaolin Temple is now a major tourist area, as well as a place of pilgrimage for monks and lay Buddhists. Main scenic spots include Pagoda Forest (the biggest pagoda forest in China), First Patriarch Temple, Second Patriarch Temple. Bodhidharma Cave, Sweet Dew Terrace, Guanghui Temple, Ancestral Hall, and South Garden. A martial art training hall has been built next to the temple for the many foreign enthusiasts that come to study. Shaolin Temple is worthy of a visit. It will give you a better understanding of Chinese Buddhism and the Chinese martial arts.