How Old Is This Shaolin Monastery ?

The first Shaolin Monastery abbot was Batuo, also called Fotuo or Bhadra (the Chinese translation for Buddha), an Indian dhyana master who came to China from India in AD 464 to spread Buddhist teachings.

According to the Continued Biographies of Eminent Monks (AD 645) by Dàoxuān, the Shaolin Monastery was built on the north side of Shaoshi, the western peak of Mount Song, one of the four Sacred Mountains of China, (Zhongshan, from Zhong in Mandarin and Cantonese meaning middle and the name for China, and Shan meaning mountain ), by Emperor Xiaowen of the Northern Wei Dynasty in AD 477. Yang Xuanzhi, in the Record of the Buddhist Monasteries of Luoyang (AD 547), and Li Xian, in the Ming Yitongzhi (AD 1461), concur with Daoxuan's location and attribution. The Jiaqing Chongxiu Yitongzhi (AD 1843) specifies that this monastery, located in the province of Henan, was built in the 20th year of theTàihé era of the Northern Wei Dynasty, that is, the monastery was built in AD 497.

Kangxi, the second Qing emperor, was a supporter of the Shaolin temple in Henan and he wrote the calligraphic inscriptions that, to this day, hang over the Heavenly King Hall and the Buddha Hall.

 

The monastery has been destroyed and rebuilt many times. In 1641 the troops of anti-Ming rebel Li Zicheng sacked the monastery due to the monks' support of the Ming and the possible threat they posed to the rebels. This effectively destroyed the temple's fighting force.

Perhaps the best-known story of the Temple's destruction is that it was destroyed by the Qing government for supposed anti-Qing activities. Variously said to have taken place in 1647 under the Shunzhi Emperor, in 1674 under the Kangxi Emperor, or in 1732 under the Yongzheng Emperor, this destruction is also supposed to have helped spread Shaolin martial arts through China by means of the five fugitive monks Ng Mui, Jee Shin Shim Shee, Fung Doe Duk, Miu Hin and Bak Mei. Some accounts claim that a supposed southern Shaolin Temple was destroyed instead of, or in addition to, the temple in Henan: Ju Ke, in the Qing bai lei chao (1917), locates this temple in Fujian Province. These stories commonly appear in martial arts history, fiction, and cinema.

While these latter accounts are common among martial artists, and often serve as origin stories for various martial arts styles, their accuracy is questionable. The accounts are known through often inconsistent 19th-century secret society histories and popular literature, and also appear to draw on both Fujianese folklore and popular narratives such as the Water Margin. Modern scholarly attention to the tales is mainly concerned with their role as folklore, or as clues to the history of secret societies or possible southern Shaolin temples.

 

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