Quite likely the most well known Buddhist Monastery on the planet, the mere mention of the Shaolin Temple conjures images of ancient Kung Fu warriors soaring through forests and battling armies of ill-prepared enemy soldiers. An amazing and illustrious part of the Temple's history, no doubt, but the noble abbey's origins come from a far more tranquil resplendency.
Built in the midst of the turbulent 5th century Northern Wei Dynasty, the legendary Buddhist master, Dharma, arrived at the Shaolin Temple in 527 AD.This Indian guru came to China on a mission to spread the wisdom of Buddhism to the Chinese people. As an observance of stillness and meditation, Dharma's practice favored a locale marked by quiet elegance. With its circling springs, flourishing forests, and rolling hillsides, the Temple and its surroundings provided the ideal atmosphere to establish this new Zen monastery. Thus Dharma's influence began the ever-expanding interest and influence of Zen Buddhism in Chinese culture. The Shaolin Temple is now regarded as the birthplace of Zen Buddhism, while Dharma is considered its founder.
From these contemplative practices, Shaolin martial arts humbly arose as a practical solution to an unintended side effect of the monastic life. Because adherence to Zen requires countless hours of sitting at a wall in complete stillness, practitioners inevitably began to succumb to weariness and physical deterioration. The first iteration of Kung Fu was merely a form of calisthenics to refresh the bodies and minds of the Shaolin monks. It was perhaps the pervasive influence of their devotion to Zen that transformed these simple exercises into one of the most formidable martial arts the world has ever seen.
Today, martial arts aficionados and interested observers visit the Shaolin Temple to admire its abundant natural beauty, appreciate the depth of Zen practice and, of course, to be dazzled by the astonishing feats of Shaolin's martial monks.
Just south of the majestic Songshan Mountain Range, the Shaolin Temple lies at the foot of its namesake, the Shaoshi Mountain. Covering over 30,000 square meters, the Temple grounds consist primarily of the Changzhu Yard, which is the Temple's main building. Here the Temple monks and deacons reside and carry out their practices. Built adjacent to the mountain, the Changzhu Yard consists of seven main buildings. The major structures are featured along the middle line with several ancillaries along their wings. Within these halls, visitors find a wealth of selected antiques and historic sites, including sculptures, frescos, steles, and pagodas. Among the more renowned sites are the Progenitor Hut, the Forest of Steles, Daxiong Hall, the Hall of One Thousand Buddhas, the Pagoda Forest, Yugong Pagoda, and Dharma Cave.