monks and disciples follow a unique practice among Buddhists in that
they greet each other using only their right hand. This greeting is a
tradition which dates back to Da Mo and his disciple, Hui Ke.
In 495 AD, the Indian monk Ba Tuo, or Buddhabhadra, came to China
teaching a form of Buddhism known as Xiao Sheng Buddhism. He was given
land at the foot of Shaoshi mountain by Emperor Shao Wen and founded the
Shaolin Temple on this land.
Around the time that Ba Tuo was
founding the Shaolin Temple there was an Indian prince named
Bodhidharma. Bodhidharma was very intelligent and was the favorite son
of the king of a region that is now part of southern India. Bodhidharma
had two older brothers who feared that their father, the king, would
pass them over and bequeath the kingship to Bodhidharma. In their
jealousy, the two older brothers often disparaged Bodhidharma while
talking with their father, hoping to turn him against their younger
brother. The older brothers also attempted to assassinate Bodhidharma
but Bodhidharma had very good karma and so the attempts were not
successful. Despite being the favorite son of the king, Bodhidharma
realized that he was not interested in a life of politics. He chose
instead to study with the famous Buddhist master Prajnatara and become a
Bodhidharma trained with his master for many
years. One day he asked his master, "Master, when you pass away, where
should I go? What should I do?" His master replied that he should go to
Zhen Dan, which was the name for China at that time. Years later,
Bodhidharma's master passed away and Bodhidharma prepared to leave for
During the many years that Bodhidharma had studied as a
monk, one of his older brothers had become king of India and that older
brother's son had become king after him. The king of India was very fond
of his uncle and wanted to make amends for the actions which
Bodhidharma's older brothers had taken against him. He asked Bodhidharma
to stay near the capital, where he could protect and care for him, but
Bodhidharma knew that he must go to China as his master had said.
Seeing that Bodhidharma would not remain, the king of India ordered
that carrier pigeons be sent to China with messages asking the people of
China to take care of Bodhidharma. These messages made Bodhidharma
famous among many Chinese who wondered what was so special about this
particular Buddhist monk that the king of India would make such a
In 527 AD, 32 years after Ba Tuo's founding of the
Shaolin temple, Bodhidharma crossed through Guangdong province into
China. In China, he was known as Da Mo. Da Mo arrived in China
practicing Da Sheng (Mahayana) Buddhism. When Da Mo arrived, he was
greeted by a large crowd of people who had heard of the famous Buddhist
master and wished to hear him speak. Rather than speak, Da Mo sat down
and began meditating. He meditated for many hours. Upon completing his
meditation, Da Mo rose and walked away, saying nothing.
actions had a profound effect upon his audience. Some people laughed,
some cried, some were angry and some nodded their heads in
understanding. Regardless of the emotion, everyone in the crowd had a
This incident made Da Mo even more famous, so famous
that Emperor Wu heard of him. Emperor Wu, who ruled over the southern
kingdom of China, invited Da Mo to come to his palace. When Da Mo
arrived, Emperor Wu talked with Da Mo about Buddhism. The emperor had
erected many statues and temples devoted to Buddhism. He had given much
wealth to Buddhist temples. In talking of his accomplishments, Emperor
Wu asked Da Mo if his actions were good. Da Mo replied that they were
not. This response surprised Emperor Wu, but they continued talking and
eventually Emperor Wu asked Da Mo if there was Buddha in this world. Da
Mo replied that there was not.
Da Mo's replies were a
reflection of Emperor Wu. By asking if his actions were good, Emperor Wu
was searching for compliments and affirmation from Da Mo. Da Mo denied
that Emperor Wu's actions were good because it is the duty of the
emperor to care for his people. Rather than seeking compliments, Emperor
Wu should have been content to help his people through Buddha.
Similarly, if one asks if there is Buddha in the world, then one has
already answered the question: Buddha is a matter of faith, you either
believe in your heart or you do not. In questioning the existence of
Buddha, Emperor Wu had demonstrated a lack of faith.
answers enraged Emperor Wu and he ordered Da Mo to leave his palace and
never return. Da Mo simply smiled, turned and left.
continued his journey, heading north, when he reached the city of
Nanjing. In the city of Nanjing, there was a famous place called the
Flower Rain Pavillion where many people gathered to speak and relax.
There was a large crowd of people gathered in the Flower Rain Pavillion
around a Buddhist monk, who was lecturing. This Buddhist monk was named
Shen Guang had at one time been a famous general.
He had killed many people in battle but one day realized that the people
he had been killing had family and friends and that one day someone
might come and kill him. This changed him and he decided to train as a
Buddhist monk. Eventually, Shen Guang became a great speaker on
Buddhism. As Da Mo neared the crowd, he listened to Shen Guang's speech.
Sometimes Shen Guang would speak and Da Mo would nod his head, as if in
agreement. Sometimes Shen Guang would speak and Da Mo would shake his
head, as if in disagreement. As this continued, Shen Guang became very
angry at the strange foreign monk who dared to disagree with him in
front of this crowd. In anger, Shen Guang took the Buddhist beads from
around his neck and flicked them at Da Mo. The beads struck Da Mo in his
face, knocking out two of his front teeth. Da Mo immediately began
bleeding. Shen Guang expected a confrontation; instead, Da Mo smiled,
turned and walked away.
This reaction astounded Shen Guang, who began following after Da Mo.
Da Mo continued north until he reached the Yangzi river. Seated by the
river there was an old woman with a large bundle of reeds next to her.
Da Mo walked up to the old woman and asked her if he might have a reed.
She replied that he might. Da Mo took a single reed, placed it upon the
surface of the Yangzi river and stepped onto the reed. He was carried
across the Yangzi river by the force of his chi. Seeing this, Shen Guang
ran up to where the old woman sat and grabbed a handful of reeds
without asking. He threw the reeds onto the Yangzi river and stepped
onto them. The reeds sank beneath him and Shen Guang began drowning. The
old woman saw his plight and took pity on Shen Guang, pulling him from
the river. As Shen Guang lay on the ground coughing up river water, the
old woman admonished him. She said that by not asking for her reeds
before taking them, he had shown her disrespect and that by
disrespecting her, Shen Guang had disrespected himself. The old woman
also told Shen Guang that he had been searching for a master and that Da
Mo, the man he was following, was that master. As she said this, the
reeds which had sunk beneath Shen Guang rose again to the surface of the
river and Shen Guang found himself on the reeds being carried across
the Yangzi river. He reached the other side and continued following
after Da Mo.
There are many people who believe that the old
woman by the river was a Boddhisatva who was helping Shen Guang to end
the cycle of his samsara.
At this point, Da Mo was nearing the
location of the Shaolin Temple. The Shaolin monks had heard of his
approach and were gathered to meet him. When Da Mo arrived, the Shaolin
monks greeted him and invited him to come stay at the temple. Da Mo did
not reply but he went to a cave on a mountain behind the Shaolin Temple,
sat down, and began meditating. In front of the Shaolin Temple, there
are five mountains: Bell Mountain, Drum Mountain, Sword Mountain, Stamp
Mountain and Flag Mountain. These mountains are named after the objects
which their shape resembles. Behind the Shaolin Temple there are five
"Breast Mountains" which are shaped like breasts. The cave in which Da
Mo chose to meditate was on one of the Breast Mountains.
Mo sat facing a wall in the cave and meditated for nine years. During
these nine years, Shen Guang stayed outside Da Mo's cave and acted as a
bodyguard for Da Mo, ensuring that no harm came to Da Mo. Periodically
Shen Guang would ask Da Mo to teach him, but Da Mo never responded to
Shen Guang's requests. During these nine years the Shaolin monks would
also periodically invite Da Mo to come down to the Temple, where he
would be much more comfortable, but Da Mo never responded. After some
time, Da Mo's concentration became so intense that his image was
engraved into the stone of the wall before him.
Towards the end
of the nine years, the Shaolin monks decided that they must do
something more for Da Mo and so they made a special room for him. They
called this room the Da Mo Ting. When this room was completed at the end
of the nine years, the Shaolin monks invited Da Mo to come stay in the
room. Da Mo did not respond but he stood up, walked down to the room,
sat down, and immediately began meditating. Shen Guang followed Da Mo to
the Shaolin temple and stood guard outside Da Mo's room. Da Mo
meditated in his room for another four years. Shen Guang would
occasionally ask Da Mo to teach him, but Da Mo never responded.
At the end of the four-year period Shen Guang had been following Da Mo
for thirteen years, but Da Mo had never said anything to Shen Guang. It
was winter when the four-year period was ending and Shen Guang was
standing in the snow outside the window to Da Mo's room. He was cold and
became very angry. He picked up a large block of snow and ice and
hurled it into Da Mo's room. The snow and ice made a loud noise as it
broke inside Da Mo's room. This noise awoke Da Mo from his meditation
and he looked at Shen Guang. In anger and frustration Shen Guang
demanded to know when Da Mo would teach him.
Da Mo responded that he would teach Shen Guang when red snow fell from the sky.
Hearing this, something inside Shen Guang's heart changed and he took
the sword he carried from his belt and cut off his left arm. He held the
severed arm above his head and whirled it around. The blood from the
arm froze in the cold air and fell like red snow. Seeing this, Da Mo
agreed to teach Shen Guang.
Da Mo took a monk's spade and went
with Shen Guang to the Drum Mountain in front of Shaolin Temple. The
Drum Mountain is so called because it is very flat on top. Da Mo's
unspoken message to Shen Guang was that Shen Guang should flatten his
heart, just like the surface of the Drum Mountain. On this Drum Mountain
Da Mo dug a well. The water of this well was bitter. Da Mo then left
Shen Guang on the Drum Mountain. For an entire year, Shen Guang used the
bitter water of the well to take care of all of his needs. He used it
to cook, to clean, to bathe, to do everything. At the end of the first
year, Shen Guang went down to Da Mo and again asked Da Mo to teach him.
Da Mo returned with Shen Guang to the Drum Mountain and dug a second
well. The water of this well was spicy. For an entire year, Shen Guang
used the spicy water for all of his needs. At the end of the second
year, Shen Guang went back down to Da Mo and asked again to be taught.
Da Mo dug a third well on the Drum Mountain. The water of this third
well was sour. For the third year, Shen Guang used the sour water for
all of his needs. At the end of the third year, Shen Guang returned to
Da Mo and agains asked to be taught. Da Mo returned to the Drum Mountain
and dug a fourth and final well. The water of this well was sweet. At
this point, Shen Guang realized that the four wells represented his
life. Like the wells, his life would sometimes be bitter, sometimes
sour, sometimes spicy and sometimes sweet. Each of these phases in his
life was equally beautiful and necessary, just as each of the four
seasons of the year is beautiful and necessary in its own way. Without
really saying many words to Shen Guang, Da Mo had taught Shen Guang the
most important of lessons in a mind-to-mind, heart-to-heart fashion.
This mind-to- mind, heart-to-heart communication is called "action
language" and is the foundation of the Chan Buddhism which Da Mo began
at the Shaolin Temple.
After his realization, Shen Guang was given the name Hui Ke and he became abbot of the Shaolin temple after Da Mo.
To pay respect for the sacrifice which Hui Ke made, disciples and monks
of the Shaolin Temple greet each other using only their right hand.
Before I was born, who was I?
After I am born, who am I?
Respect yourself, and everyone will respect you.
Understand yourself, and everyone will understand you.
There are mirrors all around you:
Strive to see and understand yourself.
Strive to have the heart of a Buddha.
Stop doing bad things, only do good.
Do whatever you can to help others.
In these ways you help yourself.
Help yourself, and you help the world.
Buddhism was born in Nepal about 2500 years ago. It spread to India
some 400 years later, and 1500 years ago, it appeared in China. Chan
Buddhism is said to have originated at Shaolin Temple, and its spiritual
founder was an Indian prince named Bodhidharma, or as he was known to
the Chinese, Da Mo. It is characterized by a rejection of much of the
protocol associated with other sects of Buddhism and is oriented around
the practice of meditation. In Chan, the Temple is everywhere, and one
can pray anywhere, meditate in any position, and it emphasizes the idea
of personal awakening and understanding. Chan is the spiritual parent of
Japanese Zen Buddhism.
What does "Amituofo" or "Amitabha" mean?
Amituofo means a multitude of things, depending on how it is used. It
can be a greeting, a salutation, a blessing, or it can mean "please" or
"I'm sorry." You can use it to express anything from your heart.
Literally, it is the name of a Buddha, the "Amita" Buddha ("fo" being
the Chinese word for Buddha). It is pronounced "Ah-mee-twoh-foh".
"Amituofo" is the Chinese transliteration of the Sanskrit "Amitabha".
Why do we say "Amituofo" 3 times at the beginning and end of every class?
The first is to pay respect to Buddha, "Fo".
The second is for dharma, "Fa" the way or the philosophy.
The third is for sangha "Seng", the monastic community or family, as well as one's master - even including mastering yourself.
What is "Action Meditation"?
Action meditation, or "dong chan" in Chinese, can be everything and
anything we do. Play some music, speak, eat, go swimming, go climb a
tree, go climb a mountain, walk upside-down, play basketball, make
dinner, make love - any action you can think of that you can express in
your beautiful life - that's action meditation. There are a million
different doors for a million different people to walk through in their
lives, and a million different ways for a million different people to
meditate in their lives.
Sitting meditation probably may not
be good for some people, just like everyone likes different food and has
different tastes. I can just sit there watching TV, and without warming
up kiss my foot. It feels so good, so fresh and so clean - that's my
action meditation. Maybe you'll never be able to do this kind of action
meditation, or maybe you can. That's why you have to be yourself. You
can't copy other people. You can borrow somebody else's philosophy to
use in your life, but you can't live completely like somebody else.
Even now, in the 21st century, there are many monks, masters, or
instructors who still just use one way to teach many people, to cross
their legs and sit in the lotus position doing sitting meditation. Not
everybody is flexible enough to put their legs together and sit there
like that. They sit there for 15-20 minutes and their joints begin to
ache, their knees, ankles, lower back, and neck get tired and
uncomfortable. Why do you want to do sitting meditation when you're
torturing yourself, creating a problem for your life?
extend your leg to meditate, you can do splits if you want to. You can
do Luohan Sleeping style to meditate, you can do headstands to meditate.
Try different ways. Find yourself.
What does it mean to be a monk?
This is the source of confusion for many people who have a distorted
view of what constitutes monkhood. In some types of Buddhism, there are
250 different rules for monks, 500 for those who wish to be nuns. One
may wear the robes, shave one's head, not speak a word, not look left or
right, eat a restricted diet, and follow all 250 rules. But anyone can
shave his head and wear the robes -- this does not make him a monk. Some
so-called monks might be strict in their practice but may be so for the
wrong reasons. These people are not honest with themselves.
The Chinese word for monk is "heshang" (huh-shahng). The character "he"
has the meaning here of the word "heqi" - friendly and amiable. The left
side of the character means harmony, life. The right side is a
pictograph of a mouth. Your mouth is not just only for eating good food,
drinking good drinks, and making love - You also need to use it to
speak with people and make wonderful relations between them. Use it to
give people the knowledge and philosophy to help themselves and help the
world. At the same time, the mouth can be used negatively to speak
horrible things that can destroy people. When you're healthy, it's from
what you eat and how you speak. When you're sick, it's from the same
things. You must know how to use your chi positively. Shang means
"gaoshang" - noble. It means a high level, different from others. To
become a heshang, it is not necessary to shave your head, not necessary
to wear the monk robes, and not necessary to live inside the monastery.
Everywhere is your home, everywhere is your temple. You are the temple.
If you shave your head and wear the monk robes, but do things like eat
meat, drink, be with women, underneath the table, out of sight, not
wanting people to see or know about it, you're cheating yourself. You're
not being honest with yourself. You're not being yourself. Why are you
doing that? If you do those things, but are open about it, honest with
yourself and others, that's beautiful. Express your beautiful life fully
Why are Shaolin Monks allowed to eat meat and drink wine?
Shaolin Monks have been highly respected in their exploits outside the
Temple, but no more so than at the end of the Sui Dynasty (581- 618),
when the king of the Qin State, Li Shimin, needed to protect himself
from the emperor of a rival state. Thirteen Shaolin monks rescued the
nephew of the Emperor Li, and in the process, obtained the seal of the
rival emperor. Later, Li became the first Emperor of the Tang Dynasty,
and in gratitude to Shaolin, he granted the monks there the privilege of
eating meat and drinking wine.
Shaolin Temple is unique among
Buddhist temples throughout the world. Shaolin Temple monks practice
physical as well as mental philosophy every day for many hours, and need
protein to maintain their strong minds and strong bodies. Everything
has life, everything has chi. In the last few hundred years, technology
has helped scientists, doctors, and professors find out many things,
what's real, and what isn't real. When you eat vegetables, you are also
taking life. When you drink water, you kill many lives just from one
sip. When you walk down the street, many little creatures walk all over
your body, upside-down or horizontally. You don't realize every day how
many lives you kill just from doing these simple things! If you have a
lovely heart and peaceful mind, you have to use them to help other
people, yourself, and the world. That's why I made the simple rules for
my followers now in the modern world - "Only do good things, don't do
bad. Do whatever you can to help others. In these ways, you help
yourself. Help yourself, and you help the world." Whatever you eat or
drink, it doesn't matter. Understand yourself.
Do I have to change religions to train?
You don't need to change anything. Stay believing whatever you believe,
whether it's in God, Jesus, Moses, Muhammad or anyone else. I believe
in them all. I believe in all of the religion's special leaders, they
all teach people to be good people, to only do good things, not to do
bad, and to help other people. All of them just have different names, I
believe in them all, love them all, and I believe they love us too. When
you come to the Temple, you don't need to change what you believe,
change religions, shave your head, or become a vegetarian. I do not
teach Chinese philosophy, I teach International philosophy. I encourage
my students, disciples, and followers to go to church, go to
monasteries, go to mosques, to open their minds and open their hearts.
Learn all of the philosophies and combine them together - that's your
philosophy. Just like in the martial arts world, there are many styles,
karate, tae kwon do, jiu jitsu, muay thai, and hundreds more. Whatever
style you practice, it doesn't matter - learn all of the styles, combine
them together, and that's your style. That way, you can get the
knowledge for yourself, and share it with other people.