The Songshan Shaolin Temple is a holy place of Buddhism in China and renowned in the world for its important position in Buddhist Chan Sect and its Shaolin Boxing. It is composed of the Yard for Permanent Residence, the Forest of Pagodas,the Ancestor's House,Dharma Cave and etc.
Yard for Permanent Residence
The Yard for Permanent Residence is also called the Shaolin Temple usually.It is located on the west slope of the Songshan Mountain,13kms from Denfeng City,with Taishi Mountain in front and Wuru Peaks behind. It was named for it was built in the forest of the Shaoshi Mountain.
Buddhism got properous in the Southern and Northern Dynasties in China. In493AD, Emperor Xiaowen removed his capital to Luoyang and a lot of Buddhist temples were built around the capital.In 495AD,Emperor Xiaowen ordered to build Shaolin Temple to settle down an Indian monk named Bartuo.In527AD,another Indian monk named Dharma,a disciple of the28th generation from Buddha Kasgapa came to Shaolin Temple from India.He taught many disciples Chan Sect of Buddhism.Afterwards,the Temple was enlarged step by step and the number of diseiples increased day by day. The Shaolin Temple became very famous as the original place of Chan Sect and Dharma was regarded as the ancestor of Chan Sect in China.According to Chan Sect, one must sit facing a wall(meditation)to cultivate himself.Monks of the Temple used to practise Wushu to relax themselves when they woke up from the long time of meditation.In history monks of the Temple learnt different martial arts and made Shaolin Gongfu as a school containing a great deal of forms and patterns.In573A.D,Emperor Wudi decreed to forbid Buddhism and Daoism.Monks and nuns were sent home,temples and monasteries were abandoned.Not long before,Emperor Jingdi decreed to resume Buddhism and renamed the Shaolin Temple into the Zhigu Temple. Later in Sui Dynasty,Emperor Wendi returned the name of the temple into the Shaolin Temple and gave the monks of the temple 666 hectares of farmland for living.In the beginning of Tang Dynasty,thirteen Shaolin monks who were Huiyang,Tanzong,Zhijian and others,helped prince Li Shimin greatly in a war against Wang Shichong and were praised highly by Li Shimin.The Shaolin Temple developed into a big one with the support of the Tang government and was honoured the first temple under the heaven.In the Song Dynasty,the Shaolin Temple got further development and there were more than 2000 monks in it.The Shaolin Temple got most prosperous in Ming Dynasty.In March,1928,a warlord named Shi Yousan put a fire in the temple and that was the third also the worst fire disaster in its history.The fire burnt for forty days.Some buildings and treasured books were burnt out.
After Liberation,the Shaolin Temple were renovated many times and has got a new look.Now most of the buildings were built in Ming and Qing Dynasties and some were rebuilt after liberation.
The Mountain Gate is the entrance of the Shaolin Temple.It was built in1735A.D and renovated in 1974.The three Chinese characters少林寺above the gate were inscribed by Emperor Kangxi in Qing Dynasty.On both sides along the road behind the gate are standing some tablets.People call here forest of tablets.
The Heavenly Guardians Hall is the second gate on the axis.It was burnt by Shi Yousan in 1928 and rebuilt in 1982. Two statues of Vajra called generals "Heng"and"Ha" are standing before the gate and four statues of Heavenly Guardians are standing behind the gate.
The Drum Tower is on the east side to the Main Hall.It was burnt in 1928 and rebuilt in 1994.It is 34 meters high with a bronze bell of 6500kgs hung inside and an iron figure of Ksitigarbha of more than 5000 kgs weight casted in Ming Dynasty inside too.
The Kinaro Hall is on the east side to the Main Hall.It was burnt in 1928 and rebuilt in 1983.Three statues of Kinaro are worshiped inside.
The Drum Tower was originally built in Yuan Dynasty,burnt in1928 and rebuilt in1996.It is34 meters high with the biggest drum of China inside.
The Six Ancestors'Hall is on the west side. It was burnt in 1928 and rebuilt in1982.Inside it,are the statues of the six ancestors worshipping Guanyin (Goddess of Mercy).From left to right on the middle are Badhisattvas Dashizhi,Wenshu,Guanyin,Puxian and Dizang.On the wall behind them is a picture showing "Dharma going west with one shoe" .The man on a horse walking on the mountain path is Songyun,an envoy of Wei Dynasty,who was coming back from west and met Dharma on the way.
The Main Hall is the largest one of the temple.It was originally built in Jin Dynasty,rebuilt in Emperor Yongzheng's 13th year of Qing Dynasty, burnt out in 1928 and rebuilt again in 1986.Statues of Buddhas of the three worlds are worshipped inside.This hall is the main place for Buddhist activities.
The Guest Room is on the west side behind the Main Hall.It is a place for greeting guests and discussing temple affairs. It was rebuilt in 1984.
The Depositary of Buddhist Texts is a place for grand masters to deliver Buddhist lectures.Here used to be 5480 classical books of Buddhism and many other books of Wushu ,Dharma's Picture Stone used to be deposited here too. Most of those were burnt in1928.The Depositary was rebuilt in 1993.Now some Buddhist books with a volume presented from Taiwan and a large white jade Buddha statue presented from Burma are kept inside it.
The Abbot's Room is a place for the Abbot,the first leading monk, to live in and manage temple affairs.It was rebuilt in Qing Dynasty.The Abbot's room is called "Fangzhang" in Chinese and means a small room.Fangzhang also means the first leading monk.In 1750,Emperor Qianlong Lived in the room when he visited the Shaolin Temple and so it is called the Dragon's Room too.
The Pavilion Amidst Snow is also called Dharma pavilion.According to the legend it is a place where Huike stood in snow and cut off his arm for learning Chan spirit from Dharma.Statues of Dharma and his disciples are worshipped inside,A couplet beside the door reads as that "Ancestor of Chan Sect came from India, successor cutting off his arm stood in the snow."
The White Garment Hall is also called Chuipu Hall, It was built in the Qing Dynasty and Bodhisattiva (Goddess of Mercy)
in white garment was worshipped inside.Fresco painted in Qing Dynasty on its walls shows people: Shaolin Boxing Patterns,Thireen Monks Rescuing the Prince, Kinaro against the Peasant Uprising and Bodhisattivas Wenshu and Puxian.
The Pilu Hall is also called Thousand Buddhas Hall.It was built in 1588.In its middle is the Buddha.On it walls are frescoes showing "500 Arhats worshipping the Buddha" Pits of feet prints left by monks when practising Gongfu can be seen on the floor.
The Ksitigarbha Hall is facing the White Garment Hall. It was rebuilt in 1975. Ksitigarbha and his disciples are worshipped inside. The ten kings of the hell were painted on walls on both sides.Twenty four pictures of filial stories were painted on the back wall.
The Forest of Pagodas is located 300 meters west of the temple, pagoda means the tomb of monks. After a monk's death,he was buried here and a pagoda was built on the tomb in his name according to his position and knowledge.The story of his life was inscibed on a stone on the pagoda.Now there are more than 240 pagodas built during different periods from Tang, Song, Jin, Yuan, Ming to Qing Dynasties.Here is the largest group of ancient pagodas in China and has great value for research.
The Sweet Rain Platform is in the west of the Shaolin Temple. It is said that Dharma translated Buddhist scriptures here and the God was moved so deeply as to make sweet rain. A palace was built here in Ming Dynasty but now only the platform is left.
The Ancestor's House is on the north-west slope one km away from the temple.It is a little temple built in 1125 to commemorate Dharma. Swimming dragons, flying phoenixes, warriors, Buddhas, lotuses and peonies, etc. engraved on the pillars, cornerstones and the Buddha seat are very beautiful. It is the oldest building with wooden structure in Henan Province.
The Dharma Cave is a natural cave of 7 meters long and 3 meters wide on the peak behind the Ancestor's House. It is said that Dharma meditated in the cave for nine years from 527 to536 A.D and he left his image on the rock. That piece of rock was dug off and the low-lying area can be seen now.In front of the cave is the stone memorial gate built in 1604.
The Second Ancestor's House is on the top of the Boyu Peak 4 kms south-west away from the Shaolin Temple. It is said that Huike, ancestor of the second generation, recuperated himself here after his arm was cut. The house was built by his disciples to commemorate him .There are four wells with water of different tastes and several ancient tablets in the yard.
The Meditation Abode is on the opposite side of the temple.It was built in 1512 and rebuilt in 1993.There are 500 Arhat statues inside. Here is a place for monks from all directions to visit the temple and worship the Buddha.
The Songyang Cable-way was built in 1992 west of the Forest of Pagodas.It is 1300 meters long and carries people to the top of the Boyu Peak in 16 minutes.It can carry 320 people one time. Sightseeing on the cable-way is really wonderful.
Dharma Crossing the River on a Single Reed tells us a legend. Dharma was the third son of the king of Tianzhu kingdom and became a disciple in his childhood of Banodoulo who was a master of the 27th generation from the Buddha. One day, Dharma asked his master,"Where shall I go after I get the Buddhist spirit？" His master said''You can go to China.But you should not stay in the south because the emperor there has a fondness for the grandiose and can not understand the true spirit". Exhorted by his master, Dharma had a preparation,
crossed the ocean in three years and got to China at last. The mayor of Guangzhou heard of that and reported it immediately to the emperor in Nanjing. The emperor sent an envoy to invite Dharma from Guangzhou to Nangjing.The emperor took Dharma as his honored guest, for he was a Buddhist disciple too. However they couldn't agree with each other while talking. The emperor advocated ''helping oneself by oneself''(Hinayana). Dharma advocated ''saving all sentient beings from the suffering sea''(Mahayana).Knowing Nanjing not a good place for him Dharma said good-bye and left here for the north.
Now a Chinese famous monk named Shenguang from northern China was talking on Buddhism on a platform called Yuhuatai in Nanjing. The Local people said that Shenguang's speech was so vivid that golden flowers appeared from the ground and even stones nodded with happiness. Dharma pushed his way in the crowd and listened for a while when he was passing by the platform. He nodded in approval sometimes and shook his head in disapproval other times.Seeing that and thinking Dharma not respecting him, Shenguang asked Dharma,"Why did you shake your head"？Because of their different explanation of Buddhism,Dharma made a concession and left Yuhuatai for the north of the Yangtze River.
Some people of the audience told Shenguang after Dharma's leaving,"Do you know him? He is grand master Dharma from India. He has profound knowledge of Buddhism". Shenguang regretted and felt ashamed for his impoliteness so that he decided to chase after him and apologize. When Dharma got to the bank of the Yangtze River, he found no bridge, no boat and was very anxious. Suddenly he saw an old lady sitting near the bank with a bundle of reeds beside her. Dharma went up to her and asked her for help politely,"Excuse me, but would you please give me a reed to help me to cross the river? "
The old lady raised up her head, looked at Dharma and found him a polite and handsome man. She nodded in satisfaction and pulled out a reed for Dharma .Dharma took the reed with his two hands and said thanks to her. Then he put the reed on the river, one flower with five leaves floating on the water. He jumped on the reed and crossed the river.
Shenguang got to the bank of the river now and saw Dharma crossing the river on a single reed. He took away the whole bundle of reeds from the old lady in a hurry, put it on the river and jumped on the bundle. However, the bundle sank down and Shenguang climbed up to the bank and asked the lady angrily , "He can cross the river on a single reed. I was almost drowned with the whole bundle of reeds. Why are you so unfair?"
The old lady answered," He asked me for the reed politely. You robbed my reeds. Can you expect the same affect?" She disappeared suddenly having said so. Shenguang regretted very much for his rudeness and stood alone on the bank.
Having crossed the rvier, Dharma got to the Shaolin Temple in 527A.D. He found the temple in the thick green forest with mountains around, really a good place for Buddhism. He collected disciples widely and taught them Chan Buddhism. He was the first one to preach Chan Sect in China and was regarded as the ancestor of Chan Sect. The Shaolin Temple has always been regarded as the ancestor's house and the original place of Chan Sect. Now a tablet with a picture of Dharma crossing the river on a single reed is still standing in the temple.
Dharma Facing the Wall. On the top of the middle one among the Five-breast Peaks, there is a natural cave of 3 meters wide and 7 meters long. The cave is facing south. It is cool in summer and warm in winter in the cave. Before the cave there is a little lawn. Big trees cover the cave as umbrellas.. Fresh air fills into the cave. It is really a good place without hot summer but singing birds. Dharma took the cave as a place for him to meditate. It is said that Dharma sat in meditation facing the wall in the cave all day long without talking. He made his efforts to clear up his mind and learn the true nature of the world. He drove out all devils from the deep of his thought.
He concentrated his mind so much that he didn't konw birds had made a nest on his shoulder.When he woke up from meditation,he would do some exercises to refresh himself, and then sat facing the wall again. His daily life was meditation, doing exercises and taking meals when hungry. He did so for nine years from 527 to 536 A、D. and left a nice topic in history.
Dharma sat facing the wall in the cave for nine years and left his image like an ink picture on the rock wall. People call that piece of rock Dharma's Picture Stone and the cave Dharma's Meditation Cave. The historical site can be seen now.
The story of Dharma facing the wall for nine years has been admired in history. Monks of the temple dug off that piece of the rock and placed it in the temple for people to worship. In Ming Dynasty ,a stone memorial gate was built before the Cave .In its front, there are three Chinese charactors engraved meaning
"the place for meditation", in its back,four Chinese charactors meaning"starting place in the east".
Cutting off an Arm Amidst Snow is another legend. After Dharma crossed the Yangtze River, Shenguang,the monk who talked on Buddhism in Nanjing, overcame many difficulties and crossed the river at last. He got to the Shaolin Temple after Dharma and was going to learn Chan spirit from Dharma. Thinking of his conceit in Nanjing,Dharma doubted his honesty of learning and refused him, Shenguang did not lose his heart and insisted on doing everything as Dharma did. When Dharma
sat in meditation in the cave, Shenguang stood with his palms together behind him and took care of him. Through nine years living together with Dharma, Shenguang was genuinely convinced. Now Dharma left the cave and got back to the temple. One day in winter, Dharma sat in meditation in a pavilion. Shenguang stood with palms together outside the pavilion. It began to snow at dusk and snowed the whole night. Shenguang didn't move and was buried with snow up to his knees. At dawn when Dharma woke up from meditation and saw that, he asked Shenguang,"Why have you been standing in the snow？" Shenguang answered, "Beg you to teach me the spirit of Chan". Dharma said after a while of thinking, "Never unless it drops red snow". Hearing of that, Shenguang pulled out his sword and cut off his left arm. A frozen arm fell on the ground, the blood dyed the snow. Shenguang picked up the broken arm from the ground, walked around the pavilion, and his blood dropped and dropped on the snow. The Buddha in the west was moved by Shenguang and let the rising sun of morning make the whole sky and falling snow red. Surely Dharma was moved too and had known Shenguang's honesty. He accepted Shenguang as his disciple and gave Shenguang a Buddhist name"Huike". Huike was regarded as the ancestor of the second generation of Chan Sect.In order to commemorate Huike, the Dharma Pavilion is also called the Pavilion amidst Snow. When Emperor Qionlong visited the temple and heard the story, he wrote four Chinese charactors雪印心珠 on a board. The board is hung above the niche in the pavilion now, it tells people that it is not easy to learn Buddhism.
Wells Dug with Walking Stick. One km southwest from the ShaolinTemple, there is a half-ball shaped peak like a bowl covering the ground. People call it Boyu(bowl)Peak by its shape. The top of the peak is a plain scenic spot.Huike realized his wish to be a disciple of Buddhist Chan Sect after cutting off his arm. But his bad wound made him not be able to sleep and to learn anything. In order to recover him as soon, Dharma let him cure his wound on the Boyu Peak and chose two monks to serve him there. On the top of the peak, there was a large boulder with a plain surface of several square meters like a big table. Huike sat on the boulder in meditation to cure his wound. Flowers blossomed for him and birds sang around him.Dharma often visited him from the temple and asked him about his livings. When Dharma know that the two servants fetched water from the foot of the hill every day , he asked Huike,"Why don't you fetch water on the peak's top?" Huike ansnered,"No fountains here. How nice it would be if there was a well here".Dharma stabbed the grownd on four places with his walking stick.It was wonderful！The four holes turned into four wells with clear water in them. Therefore, the four wells were named Walking-stick Wells. In order to commemorate Huike, the ancestor of the second generation, monks of the temple built a small monastery here with the four wells in its yard. People found that water in the different well tastes differently: bitter,peppery, sour and sweet. It tells people that Huike gained his sweet result after having suffered all kinds of hardships. His spirit was admired by poets in later dynasties.
Going Back to the West with One Shoe is also a legend,Having chosen Huike as his successor and passed on temple affairs to Huike, Dharma left the Shaolin temple for Yumen in Luoyang. He lived in the Qiansheng Temple and died several years later. He was buried in Xionger Mountain and a pagoda was built for him in the Dinglin Temple of Shanxian County of Henan Province. Dharma was the most important master and his death was an enormous loss of Buddhism. Dharma's death brought all people, not only monks but also the emperor and officials of the Northern Wei Dynasty , into deep mourning . However, an official named Songyun know nothing about that, because he was far in the west as an envoy. Two years later after Dharma's death, Songyun came back from the west . On the halfway of his backing , he met Dharma walking
bare-footedly from the east to the west with one shoe in his hand . Songyun asked,"Where are you going , Master?" Dharma said,"I'm going to the western paradise." He continued again ,"You should never say that you have seen me , otherwise you will have misfortunes." Songyun took what Dharma told him as a joke and did not keep it in mind . When he got to Luoyang, he reported his official business to the emperor . And then he told the emperor that he met Dharma going to the west on the way . The emperor got angry at once ,"How dare you deceive me ? Everybody knows that the great master Dharma has died and was buried in Xionger Mountain . You say you see him on the way . It's clear that you are fooling me."Songyun was put into prison by the emperor. Several days later , the emperor tried the case of Songyun . He asked Songyun,"Why do you deceive me? Why did you say that you had seen Dharma on the way?""Your Majesty", Songyun said,"I really saw the great master Dharma on the way. He was going west bear-footedly with one shoe in his hand and a walking-stick in his another hand. He told me not to tell anybody about that, or I would have misfartune. I thought it a joke so that I told you. I never dare to deceive you. Every word I said is true". Now it was difficult for the emperor to judge whether it was true or not. Some officials said,"Dharma has died already. It's clear that Songyun is telling a lie. He must be punished." Some of the other officials said:"We don't think that Songyun still dares to tell a lie in the prison. Why do we not open the coffin and see it ?"
The emperor adopted the second suggestion and ordered to dig the tomb and open Dharma's coffin. When the coffin was opened, nothing was found but a single shoe left in the empty coffin.Songyun's grievance was redressed .
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