Ch'an (Zen)

Ch'an (Zen in Japan) is often overlooked by many when one talks about Shaolin. Usually, Kung fu is the only thing that comes to mind when Shaolin is mentioned. Ch'an is a significant part to the Shaolin culture. It was first introduced early 6th century in Southern China by Bodhidharma. Bodhidharma was a Buddhist monk from South India and is known as the founder of Zen.

The basis of Ch'an is Bodhidarma's few scriptures that outline basic principles of Buddhism. His principles are called "The Dharma." Although accounts of Bodhidharma are few, his legacy was passed down through oral and written history. Ch'an is a complex mixture of Taoism and Buddhism. Ch'an integrates Buddhism's Eight-Fold Path and the Four Noble Truths, but is interpreted slightly differently. Bodhidarma's teachings were simplistic and less restricting compared to the more "pure" forms of Buddhism.

The following are teachings from Bodhidharma himself:


"There are many roads that lead to the Way, but these contain but two common features: recognition and practice. By recognition is meant that meditation reveals the truth that all living things share a common nature, a nature concealed by the veils of illusion."

"Those who shun illusion for reality, who meditate on walls and the loss of self and other, on the unity of mortal and sage, and are undeterred by written holy words are in accord with the faculty of reason. Lacking motion and effort, they embrace reason."

"By practice it is meant the participation and acceptance of the Four Noble Truths: suffering, adapting, non-attachment, and practicing the Dharma. First comes suffering. When followers of the Way suffer, they should recall that in the countless previous incarnations they have been deterred from the path, sometimes becoming trivial and angry even without cause. The suffering in this life is a punishment, but also an opportunity to exercise what I have learned from past lives. Men and gods are equally unable to see where a seed may bear fruit. I accept this suffering as a challenge and with an open heart. In recognizing suffering, you enter onto the path to the Way."

"Second, adapt to your conditions. Mortals are ruled by their surroundings, not by themselves. All we experience depends upon surroundings. If we reap a reward or great boon, it is the fruit of a seed we planted long ago. Eventually, it will end. Do not delight in these boons, for what is the point? In a mind unmoved by reward and setback, the journey on the path continues."

"Third, seek no attachments. Mortals delude themselves. They seek to possess things, always searching for something. But enlightened ones wake up and choose reason over habit. They focus on the Way and their bodies follow them through each season. The world offers only emptiness, with nothing worth desiring. Disaster and Prosperity constantly trade places. To live in the three realms is to stay in a house on fire. To have a body is to experience suffering. Does any body have peace? Those who see past illusion are detached, and neither imagine nor seek. The sutras2 teach that to seek is to suffer, to seek not is to have bliss. In not seeking, you follow the path."

"Fourth, practice the Dharma, the reality teaching all spirits are pure. All illusion is dropped. Duality does not exist. Subject and object do not exist. The sacred texts say the Dharma has no being because it is free from the attachment to being; the Dharma has no self because it is free from the attachment to self. Those who understand this truth wisely practice the path. They know that the things that are real do not include greed and envy, and give themselves with their bodies, minds, and spirits. They share material things in charity, with gladness, with no vanity or thought of giver or taker of the gift. In this way they teach others without becoming attached. This allows them to help others see and enjoy the path to enlightenment."1


"shaolin overview @" Shaolin Gung Fu (kung fu) Institute @ 1997. Shaolin Gung Fu (kung fu) Institute. 18 Jul 2007 <>.