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Myths and Facts about Shaolin Monks

As the voice of word monks enters the ear, a picture of superheroes wearing a unique orange dress and having the world’s best martial art techniques emerges in our mind. Moreover, we think about Buddhist isolation. They are called Shaolin monks. Shaolin temple is their prestigious school in which they go through very tough training. Shaolin Temple was established in the 5th century in the Province of Henan in China.

shaolin monastery

The Shaolin Monastery is an icon of martial arts. Hardly anyone knows the great martial artist Bruce Lee is the product of the Shaolin monastery. Buddhist philosophy also reached and spread in the West thanks to the Shaolin monastery. Due to their services, the Shaolin monastery is now an integral part of Chinese culture, but only a few people know much about this monastery and the Shaolin Monks. The most shocking fact for the people regarding the Shaolin monastery is perhaps its founder's origin that is not China. We will discuss the origin of the Monastery in the coming sections.

students in shaolin monastery

Photo Courtesy: Manuela Seulean

The stories related to the Chinese Shaolin monastery are worth hearing. There are many fascinating myths and facts about Shaolin monks. There is an inherent story of Warrior Buddhists and the great history of the Chinese army that makes it more relatable and compelling at the same time.


shaolin monk in monastery

There are various enthralling myths and facts about the Shaolin Monks (Picture credit: seemallorca.com)

Facts and Myths Regarding the Shaolin Monks

Origin of Shaolin Monastery Is India- A Fact

Well, this is a very shocking fact even for the Chinese people, let alone for the other parts of the world. The founder of the Shaolin monastery was not Chinese; he was an Indian. He belonged to India and came to the Empire of Northern Wei about A.D. 464. He called as Batuo or Buddhabhadra. He laid the foundation of the Shaolin monastery that later on became the most important part of Chinese culture.

Buddhabhadra the indian shaolin monk

Photo Courtesy: David Cong

The Shaolin Monastery was initially built by the emperor Xiaowen on Mount Song. Before this, Buddhabhadra preached there for many years. He was chosen as the first Abbot of the Shaolin Monastery by the emperor. The monks followed the Hinayana School of Buddhism; Buddhabhadra was their leader. As this School of Buddhism was too hard to follow hence was replaced by Chen Buddhism. Monks follow it since then to the present.

Combat Techniques were derived from Animals- A Myth

It's speculated that a man reached near the temple Shaolin and practiced the fighting techniques. It's believed that he derived these fighting techniques from the actions of animals. Some people have a different point of view.

shaolin monks in army

Photo Credit: hannahspanna

According to them, Shaolin monks were the private army of some unknown person and then taken the religious touch. The combating techniques were derived from within the group and then practiced.

Thirteen Monks Saved a Whole Emperor- A Fact?

 A very fascinating event reported by historians, in which just thirteen Shaolin monks saved an Emperor. Emperor Tang Taizong was surrounding a rebel city and suddenly another enemy army came in front. There were about 300,000 combats in the army.

Li Shimin as the Emperor Taizong

Source: Wikipedia

Emperor Tang Taizong was worried and asked for help from the Shaolin monks. The thirteen monks planned to attack when the battle was at full swing. They saved their army from the enemy army’s attack and thus saved the kingdom. It is not easy to believe that thirteen warriors beat the army of about 3 lac combats. It seems a story of cartoon shows but it happened in real, as said by some historians.


The Training Trap Maze- A Myth

There are many myths and stories about the training of monks throughout history. The final training of monks is said to be so hard that some equate it with going to hell and coming back. The myth is that there is a wooden maze in the temple which has dummies.

wooden maze

Source: Wikipedia

These dummies are of different sizes and loaded with very sharp, strong blades. Every monk taking part in the final exam has to cross these deadly poles which are 36 in number. Due to different lengths and heights, the monk has to use several techniques to complete the exam and also to save his life. However, there is no proof of any such training in the Shaolin monastery.

God Vajrapni Hates Bullying- Myth

A Hindu war god named Vajrapni was incorporated in Shaolin worship histories back. It is a pretty old story that there was a monk named Shengchou who was used as a living punching bag. He asked for help from Vajrapni for about a week and Vajrapni agreed to help him.


Source: Wikipedia

He came and forced the Shengchou to eat the meat because he hated the vegetables. But eating meat was not allowed to any monk at any cost. From there, the story becomes more interesting when Shengchou expresses his strengths and techniques to his former opponents. The opponents of Shengchou begged for mercy to him. It may be a myth but a great inspiration for the Shaolin monks.


Shaolin Monks go through very tough training (Picture credit: lolwot.com)

Ji Nau Lou’s Exploit- A Fact

During the 6th century, the Shaolin priests were fighting against an uprising by a group of people called the Red Turbans. At a certain point during the fight, the main group of monks had been summoned from their temple. Later on, the same temple was attacked by a small number of less-known personnel. Among the group was a cook known as Ji Nau Lou, who had been learning the Shaolin strategies secretly. His way to deal with the danger was to use a big blazing log from the fire and utilize the staff methods to drive the adversary away. There is a mystery involving in the story as some variants of the story believed turning him into a goliath size warrior, which of course is an exaggeration to the actual story.

The Unusual Way to Join- The Fact

Another legend of the 6th century, named Bodhidharma, an Indian Prince (now known as Damo), traveled to China. After seeing the condition of the Shaolin Temple, he became quite unhappy. After scuffling with everyone due to his remarks, he left the temple and went to a close-by cave for long meditation. The period of his meditation is controversial, according to some, he meditated for 9 lunar cycles, and to the other 9 years.

tricks of shaolin monks

Some Tricks of Shaolin Monks Are Simply Unbelievable (Picture Credit: Lolwot.Com)

Whatever the period was, it was enough to impress the management of the monastery. He was not only allowed to enter the monastery again but was given a separate room. This unusual way to join the Shaolin monastery from scuffling in the monastery to caves and then rejoining is impressive to many.


Escape with Style- A Myth?

During the sixteenth century, when the attacks from Pirates on mainland China were rampant, the same monastery was called to defend the land. The monastery sent 120 monks to defeat the pirates. There fought in four wars against the pirates but defeated in the end. Though, the first three wars were less damaging in which only four monks were killed, on average.

brave shaolin monks

However, in the 4th and final battle, almost all monks were killed, except three. According to historians, the defeat in wars was due to poor leadership under which the monks were fighting. Coming back to the story of the three monks left alive during the 4th and final battle, they took the extreme step to survive. They buried themselves for a night and then ran away the next day. The story seems unrealistic, but for some, it'is right to believe.

The Dashanmen- A Fact

Saying goodbye to the monastery on good standing was, for evident reasons, a difficult task. Indeed, a framework was designed that fundamentally represent how those leaving had surprisingly superior battle strategies. To test their superior fighting methods, three monks would assemble, face the fight against eighteen trained monks.

The Dashanmen

You, like any other person, would never be in favor of this type of fighting in which three monks are outnumbered by a margin of 6 to 1. And most of us would bet for those 18 fighters to win all the time. However, this type of fighting happened frequently in the past, and those three monks defeat the 18 on numerous occasions. It repeated for every monk who wanted to leave the monastery on honorable terms.

Origin of Tea Bushes- A Myth

It's told that an Indian prince decided to spend nine years in a cave to go through medication to find out the weaknesses of the Shaolin monks. As he was going through these tough years, however, something unwanted happened during the 7th year of meditation. He slept unacceptably against his wishes. As a punishment, he sliced his eyelid off to prevent this to happen in the rest of his medication.

Origin of tea bushes

Photo Credit:Emma and Kunley   

But, there is a twist to the story: as soon as his eyelid touched the ground it changed into the tea bushes. It is taken as the honor by the mother nature for extreme sacrifice to his cause. This story was fabricated to motivate the monks to consume less amount of tea learning from this legend prince.

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