The origin of the Shaolin tradition came from Chinese Buddhism. Since the arrival of Ch’an Buddhism in China in the 6th Century CE, it has profoundly influenced its culture. On a broader scale, Buddhism is a major religious tradition across the world and it appears in many forms.
Ch’an originated in China sometime around the 6th Century CE. This denomination of Buddhism was brought to China from India by the monk Bodhidharma, or Damo in Chinese. Bodhidharma arrived at the Shaolin Temple and taught a new form of Buddhism. The Shaolin Temple’s present form of Buddhism at that time focused mainly on the translation and transliteration of Indian Buddhist scriptures in to Chinese. Bodhidharma’s teachings focused on the practice of meditation to achieve enlightenment.
The purpose of Ch’an, and indeed most forms of Buddhism, is to realise our true nature. This nature is free from the influences of destructive forces such as greed, selfishness and attachment. Ch’an also teaches that we should live in harmony with the world we inhabit and with all beings that share it. This is because we are indistinguishable from every thing else including beings and non-beings. Ch’an champions meditation as the primary way to finding our true nature.
In addition, being a form of Mahayana Buddhism, Ch’an has many bodhisattva figures who chose to postpone their ascension to nirvana to help others achieve the same state. For this reason, Bodhisattva’s are popular figures of worship and admiration in China’s popular culture.