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Shaolin Traditional Culture
Amituofo represents the Chinese translation of the Sanskrit word Amitābha Buddha.
Disclaimer: Shaolin Traditional Culture (Buddhism) is part of the training at the Temple. There are two Buddhist ceremonies daily which are optional and periodic Temple events which are compulsory. Buddhism culture is part of the daily conduct at the Temple. Shifu Shi Yanjun does weekly meetings with the students. If you follow a particular religion and you wish to share your special requirements, please contact us directly.
Amituofo represents the Chinese translation of the Sanskrit word Amitābha Buddha. Amituofo (āmítuófó 阿弥陀佛) is a phrase and a greeting used in Chinese Chan Buddhist traditions and Shaolin, no matter monastic or lay disciples. The Fo (佛) character represents a Buddha. Amitābha means “infinite or boundless light.” Therefore, Amitabha Buddha or Amituofo is the Buddha of Infinite Light.
Chanting Amituofo is an essential part of Shaolin’s practice used to greet, please, thank you, sorry, and great job, before and after training sessions to start and end a routine or taolu (tàolù 套路). Amituofo chanting acts as a reminder that there is something beyond the daily understanding of life. Amituofo is a wake-up call not to live this life in vain, and not to engage in the useless practice. Amituofo is chanting with the mind, invoking. Shaolin Kung Fu is chanting or invoking with the body. Namo Amituofo translates as “to return to the boundless light of awareness.”
The Meaning of Chan
Chan originates from a radical break from the academic approach. Authentic Buddhist teachings are not found in books or memorised liturgies but in face-to-face experiences with the Buddhist masters and their disciples. The Sanskrit “dhyāna” or "meditation" translates in Chinese as Chan (禪/Chán). Although Chan means meditation in Chinese Buddhism, it is associated with the narrative language of the Buddha's enlightenment and blends with the traditional Chinese culture. Chan's practice was not recommended as equivalent to enlightenment but as a way of demonstrating it. All beings have the Nature of Buddha (佛性/Fú xìng). Enlightenment is a destination one seeks and one day might arrive at, but our true nature must be considered. However, this path cannot be achieved by studying canonical texts and commentaries. On the contrary, Buddha said, "The wise do not hang onto anything, anywhere" and "Do not enter into the mud of conceptual thinking" (Sabhiya Sutta, Sutta Nipāta III.6). Chan says that we cannot read or reason our way out of conflict, trouble, and suffering. Chan also denies the merit of seeking help from celestial sources. Eliminating ignorance of the Nature of Buddha does not involve cultivating something or acquiring anything. It does not require implementing or eliminating ways of thinking, or unique or exhausting training. It can be accomplished here and now, during our own daily lives. It is crucial to ending the relational paralysis that prevents us from conducting ourselves as enlightening beings.
An Indian monk Bodhidharma or Damo, arrived in southeast China by sea and made his way to north China, offering his teaching to his four closest disciples. Bodhidharma claimed that there were two entry points to Buddhism:
Reason and truth (理/Lǐ)
Conduct and behaviour (行/Xíng)
Entry by reason and truth consists of understanding that all beings have a similar true nature or reason. Entry by conduct and behavior consists in making good when previously done wrong. Buddhist truth and Nature are an achievement, not a practice. Bodhidharma said that this achievement is attainable anywhere, whether walking, lying down, sitting, or standing. A successful Buddhist practice is independent of being in some specific place or posture. Neither is it dependent on the scripture study.
Whoever obtains understanding through reading will have weak vital energy (氣/Qì). To have the Qi needed to follow the Buddhist path, one must understand the circumstances and events by never losing mindfulness anywhere.
Bodhidharma In China
Bodhidharma (菩提达摩/ Pútídámó), an Indian monk, is considered the first patriarch of Chinese Buddhism. Bodhidharma was the son of King Sugundha (苏甘达/ Sūgāndá) of India. He had two older brothers who envied his remarkable intelligence. They were afraid that their father would give the kingship to Bodhidharma. They often spoke poorly of Bodhidharma. Even one of his brothers attempted to assassinate him. These actions were unsuccessful. However, they changed Bodhidharma’s view of life. He was not interested in a life of politics, so he chooses to devote himself to Buddha, learning Buddhism with a famous master, Prajnatara (般若多罗/ Bānruòduōluó). Bodhidharma asked his Master what he must do when the Master passed away. The Master replied that he must go to China. Bodhidharma’s purpose was to spread peace and harmony by doing good deeds.
He reached China 32 years after the founding of the Shaolin Temple in Guandong Province by sea during the Wu Emperor of the Liang Dynasty (520-557). In China, he was known as “Damo” (达摩/ Dámó). Arriving in China, Damo sat down and started meditating for hours. Large crowds of people were asking questions but have yet to receive answers. When the meditation was over, Damo stood up and left without talking. This behaviour was confusing for the crowds, who did not know what to believe. Following this behaviour, out of curiosity, Wu Emperor invited Bodhidharma to the court in Nanjing.
The emperor asked: “Since my reign started, I built Buddhist temples, I have donated money to the Temples, I have erected many statues in the name of Buddha, have translated and copied sutras, and have persuaded many people to convert to Buddhism. How much karmic merit have I earned?” Bodhidharma answered in four words: “ There is no merit”. After hearing this, the emperor was slightly displeased and said bluntly: “Obviously, the merits are so great. Why does the master say that there is no merit Bodhidharma explained: “Although the merits that your majesty has done seem huge, they are all missing. Therefore, the blessings obtained are also missing. This is just a small fruit of human nature. Merit without substance is just a form of emptiness. ” Emperor Wu was puzzled and asked: “Then what kind of merit is the ultimate?
Bodhidharma said: “Don’t take the form of merit, purify one’s intentions, empty one’s body, don’t be greedy, and don’t seek from the world. Bodhidharma’s ancestor meant he wanted Emperor Wu not to be attached to his merits, so he said he had no merits. As the “Diamond Sutra” says: “All aspects are false. Then see Tathagata. “If you cling to the merits you have done, you will have greed and a heart of self-satisfaction. The Emperor Wu of Liang Dynasty at that time did not understand the master’s intentions and then thought that he was a majestic king of the great country and he could not lose his decentness. “Then he continued to ask: “What is the holiest in the sky and the earth?” “
Of course, Bodhidharma understood Emperor Wu’s state of mind, but he didn’t mean to compliment him. He told the truth: “There is no sage and nothing in the sky and the earth.” The implication is that there is no difference between the emperor and ordinary mortals because the master is the master. Monks naturally treat all people and things as equals without any discrimination. Unexpectedly, this sentence angered Emperor Wu of Liang Dynasty, and he asked angrily: “Do you know who I am?” Grandmaster Bodhidharma didn’t speculate when he saw this. Naturally, he didn’t have to say more. He smiled faintly, shook his head, and said, “No knowledge.”
In this way, this first meeting ended in such an “unpleasant” manner. Master Bodhidharma saw that the cause of the promotion of life is not mature, so he came to Shaolin Temple to face the wall for nine years. After that, Emperor Wu of Liang knew Master Bodhidharma was a real master. Taoists regret that they shouldn’t have too much “ego-attachment” at the time. Thus, they lost the cause and condition of Bodhidharma’s initiation and the opportunity to degenerate Chinese Buddhism. When they want to welcome the invitation again, they can’t catch it again.
Bodhidharma and Shaolin Temple
Shaolin Temple was built during the Northern Wei Dynasty under the Taihe Emperor (495 A.D.) for the prominent monk Ba Tuo (跋陀/ Bátuó) or Buddhabhadra (佛陀跋陀罗/ Fótuóbátuóluó) who taught Buddhism in China but not the elements of martial arts. The Buddhism taught was known as Xiao Cheng Buddhism.
Bodhidharma arrived at the Shaolin Temple. The monks gathered to invite Bodhidharma to the Temple, but instead, he went behind the Temple, on the mountain Five Breast Peak (五乳峰/Wǔrǔfēng), in a cave at the top of the mountain. He sat down facing a wall and meditated for nine years. Shenguang waited outside the cave all these years, offering protection against the elements and wild animals. Occasionally, he asked Bodhidharma to teach him, but he never got an answer. The monks would also try to invite Bodhidharma to the Temple, but they never got an answer. Bodhidharma’s shadow is imprinted on the rock on the cave wall. Today, this rock is displayed in the Shaolin Temple.
During the meditation years, the Shaolin monks built the Bodhidharma Pavilion (达摩亭/Dámótíng) inside the Temple. Towards the end of the nine years, Bodhidharma meditated inside the Bodhidharma Pavilion. Shenguang followed Bodhidharma to the pavilion and stood guard at the door. The meditation continued for another four years. During this time, Shenguang was still asking Bodhidharma to teach him. During these thirteen years, Bodhidharma never spoke to Shenguang. One winter, Shenguang was guarding Bodhidharma’s pavilion. The snow and ice were covering the ground, and were bitterly cold. Out of despair at Bodhidharma’s silence, Shenguang threw a piece of snow mixed with ice into Bodhidharma’s pavilion. The noise awakened Bodhidharma from meditation. Shenguang asked: “Why would you not teach me?” Bodhidharma answered: “I will teach you when red snow falls from the sky.” Shenguang took out his sword, cut off his left arm, and moved it around so the blood from the wound would mix with the snow, making it like red snow was falling from the sky. Following this act, Bodhidharma agreed to accept Shenguang as his disciple.
Shenguang asked: “The seals of all Buddhas, can you smell them?” Bodhidharma answered: “The seals of all Buddhas, you get them from people.” Shenguang was confused. Bodhidharma asked: “What is that you want from me?” Shenguang answered: ” I want you to pacify my heart.” Bodhidharma said: “Hand me your heart so that I can pacify it”. Shenguang answered: ” I cannot find my heart.” Finding the heart is impossible. Bodhidharma said: “You cannot find your heart because I have already pacified it.” Shenguang listened to Bodhidharma’s answer and immediately enthusiastically realised it. It turned out that there was no real heart to get, no real uneasiness to be secure, and peace and uneasiness were all delusions.
Shenguang (487-593) is the second Patriarch of Chinese Buddhism and the first disciple of Bodhidharma. He received the Dharma name of Huike (慧可/Huìkě) and became the Abbot of the Shaolin Temple after Bodhidharma. As a reminiscence of Huike’s sacrifice, Shaolin disciples use a single hand bow.
For students who cannot attend live classes at the Temple, we offer the option to learn Buddhism Online as part of the Apprenticeship Program.
Genuine Shaolin Quan includes both internal and external exercises. They are rigorous, hard-hitting, quick, and fierce, going by “hard boxing.” Shaolin Quan accentuates soft tactics, combining both “hard” and “soft”: “In defence, like a lamb; in attack, like a tiger.”
The practice of Shaolin Quan is not subject to the size of the court. It can demonstrate its power within a few steps. As the saying goes: “Room enough for an ox to lie down will suffice.” All movements—up and down, forward and backwards, withdrawing and advancing and sidestepping— proceed straightly. It is, therefore, both highly defensive and offensive, and from a pure Kung Fu standpoint, both practical and straightforward.
The essential elements of Shaolin Quan involve the hand, eye, body, and foot. Hand movement should be neither crooked nor straight but must be flexible. The eyes should be fixed on the enemy, observing his intentions. The body should be pliant and well-balanced. In footwork, maintain a low posture in advance and a high posture in retreat. When kicking out, the foot should be as light as a bird or as heavy as a falling tripod. Every movement contains either attack or defence, or both. Feinting or real, it changes all the time and is highly unpredictable.
The current view of Chinese Kung Fu circles is that the “strong point of the Southern Shaolin Temple lies in the use of the fist, while that of the Northern Shaolin Temple is footwork.” Nevertheless, Shaolin is an exception. Though belonging to the Northern Shaolin Temple, Shaolin Quan is by no means inferior to the Southern Shaolin, while in footwork, it is number one.
Written with Qi by Shifu Shi Yanjun
Shaolin Warrior Monks Head Coach