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The Shaolin Temple – The Mother of Zen

Chinese Zen Buddhism Painting

“Buddha is Sanskrit for what you call Miraculously Aware Nature. This Nature is the Mind. The Mind is the Buddha. The Buddha is the path. The path is Zen. Experiencing your Buddha Nature is Zen. Not experiencing your Buddha Nature is not Zen.”

Bodhidharma was the 28th Indian patriarch and the Chánshī (禅师; lit. "Dhyana Master" or "Zen Master"), the first patriarch of Chinese Ch'an Buddhism. He came from India as an early dhyāna master and a missionary or ācārya (preceptor or instructor) of the Dharma at the Shaolin Temple, which is the Mother of Zen.

Bodhidharma arrived at the Shaolin Temple in 527 AD (Traditional Chinese Kan-chih Calendar 3223 to 3224), 32 years after its founding. The Shaolin Temple was built to honor Buddhabhadra, who was the first Shaolin abbot. The Shaolin Temple was founded in 495 AD (Traditional Chinese Kan-chih Calendar 3191 to 3192), 427 years after the White Horse Temple, the first Buddhist Temple in China which was built in 68 AD (Traditional Chinese Kan-chih Calendar 2764 to 2765).

Zen (Traditional Chinese: 禪; pinyin: Chán) is a school of Mahayana Buddhism that developed in China. Its seeds were planted by Bodhidarma, who gave the term to the Shaolin monks and nuns, during the 5th or 6th century AD. Chinese Zen came to prominence during the Tang Dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 唐朝; pinyin: Tángcháo; 618–907 AD; Traditional Chinese Kan-chih Calendar 3314 to 3315 – 3603 to 3604). The Chinese Zen school was influenced by Taoism and evolved as a distinct branch of Chinese Buddhism.

A doctrinal dispute emerged during the 8th century AD between what was called the Northern School of Ch'an, which was said to have favored gradual enlightenment, and the Southern School of Ch'an, which promoted sudden enlightenment. Proponents of the Southern School of Ch'an eventually prevailed, though differences between the teachings of the two schools were minimal to nonexistent. From China, Ch'an Buddhism circulated south to Vietnam, northeast to Korea, and east to Japan, where it was called Japanese Zen.

Ch'an traces its roots to the Indian practice of meditation (Sanskrit: ध्यान; Romanised: Dhyāna). Zen stresses rigorous self-control, regular individual meditation practice, insight into Buddha-nature, and the application of said insight in everyday life for the benefit of oneself and others. It minimizes literary knowledge of sutras (canonical scriptures of the oral teachings of Buddha) and Buddhist doctrine, aiming for Enlightenment by direct intuition and self-realization through meditation.

Zen is a path towards peacefulness for oneself and humanity at large.


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