Batuo – the foundation of the Shaolin Temple

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Twilight descended. An old monk Batuo (跋陀) in a purple Buddhist cassock, with a rosary in his hand, accompanied by two disciples, arrived at the western foot of Mount Songshan, 嵩山.

He stopped on the north side of Shao-shi mountain near the creek and looked around. Suddenly, a vision of the capital city flashed before his eyes. As soon as it disappeared, the monk rubbed his eyes vigorously, nodded his head with satisfaction, then smiled with joyful satisfaction.

The great teacher Batuo, who came from India

During the Northern Wei period, an Indian monk named Batuo arrived in China. Emperor Wen-di (Xiaowen-di, 孝文帝) welcomed him with a lavish ceremony, invited him to live in his palace chambers, and hosted daily feasts.

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In 494 AD. In the 8th month of the lunar calendar on the 15th day in the evening, Wen-di arranged a special reception of the “Wrapping Dragon” and invited Batuo to the imperial pavilion to admire the moon and have a quiet talk.

While walking, Batuo fell to his knees, appealing to the mercy of the ruler, and said: “A humble monk would like to go to a secluded area, for it is so difficult to maintain peace of mind in the capital!”

Wen-di was surprised at first, but then he agreed with Batuo, saying: “Have it your way!” Batuo folded his palms and bowed his head, saying only, “Amitofo!

Wen-di turned around and went back to the pavilion of the throne. Batuo said: “The penniless monk is thinking of developing his teachings, worshipping the mountains, and wishing your majesty dragon health!” Wen-di smiled slightly and replied, “I no longer hold you, I command you to find a place for a monastery for your activities. As you find a place of fine appearance, let me know, and for you I will build a temple, quiet and comfortable…”

Batuo fell three times to his knees for the emperor’s kindness.

Batuo had a dream

That same night Batuo had a dream. He saw himself in a ravine surrounded by a chain of mountains, the abode of wolves and tigers, where the man was freezing to the skin. Nevertheless, Batuo bravely sat down near the stream and began to recite sutras. Soon many sparrows and various mountain insects appeared. One sparrow, seeing that Batuo was reading with his eyes closed, asked in amazement: “Master, why are your eyes squeezed shut?” Batuo paused for a moment and, without opening his eyes, said: “He who closes his eyes concentrates the consciousness-spirit, subtly feels, the mind is filled with sincerity!” The sparrow didn’t quite understand him, but he nodded his head…

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Since then, Batuo and the sparrow became friends, met often, and strengthened their relationship. A few days later, Batuo was sitting by the river in thoughtfulness, his face expressed sadness and anxiety. A sparrow flew in, sat opposite, on top of a rock, asked sympathetically: “Master, why are you frowning?” With a deep sigh, Batuo said: “There is no happiness for the poor monk on this earth!” “Do you need help?” – The sparrow asked seriously, flying even closer. Batuo looked at the sparrow kindly and said: “I would like to use this land to train the body and cultivate character, passing down the great dharma of the Buddha through the ages…”

The sparrow listened to these words and with straightforwardness let out three playful exclamations. Batuo stood up and, folding his palms, looked at the sparrow with surprise and hope. The sparrow flew up on Batuo shoulder and said: “It is not easy to build a house, but since you and I are friends, we must help each other. If so, I will grant your wish this night.

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Then Batuo, pointing in the direction of two huge cypress trees, said excitedly: “This place is coveted by the poor monk, so show mercy, heavenly bird!” The sparrow nodded three times and flew away.

Soon large flocks of monkeys and sparrows arrived, and they took out their sticks and whips and began to mow the grass. Not two hours later, the two halves of the thatched hut came down to the ground and joined together. Batuo approached excitedly and, kneeling down, joined his palms together, saying: “All of you…”

“Master Batuo, hurry up and wake up…!” – A servant entered the room and woke the monk. Batuo straightened up and replied, “Nothing, nothing, I was just sleeping…” “Did you have a nightmare?” – the servant cautiously asked. Batuo nodded his head and said nothing more.

On the second day in the morning, the servant told the emperor what had happened. Wen-di asked Batuo what kind of dream he had yesterday, but Batuo was silent again; Wen-di persisted in asking him three times, and finally Batuo uttered through force: “Yesterday’s dream is, I hope, the mercy of heaven.” That afternoon, through the servants, Batuo said goodbye to Wen-di and left the capital in search of the ghostly mountains. The two men walked everywhere, remaining silent, each only guessing what was on his mind.

Batuo went to Luoyang

On the tenth month of the 23rd lunar month, Batuo reached Luoyang. While the servant was looking for a place to spend the night, Batuo went alone to wander around the center of the city. When he reached the western side of the heavenly street, he suddenly saw a boy tossing a shuttlecock with his foot on the edge of a well, he was very surprised. The boy was 12-13 years old, and he was hitting the shuttlecock 500 times without stopping. Batuo involuntarily burst out an exclamation of amazement.

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The boy noticed this, jumped down from the well, raised his head and looked at Batuo in disbelief. Batuo realized that he had disturbed the boy by his exclamation, silently folded his hands and, without blinking, gazed intently and expressively at such a talented child and then said: “you’re such a great shuttlecock tosser, you opened my eyes today and everything fell into place.” The boy, without expressing any emotion, answered: “The teacher exaggerates. But Batuo asked excitedly: “Who is your shifu?”

“Ha-ha-ha…” – on hearing this, the boy laughed with a laugh as silvery as the ringing of bells. Seeing that Batuo was puzzled, he explained, “Truly, amazing abilities! To toss a shuttlecock like that, and over 500 times, great, great!” The boy stared at Batuo in amazement.

Бато, взглянув на небо, увидел, что уже поздно, спросил мальчика о имени и добавил: «Завтра в это же время я еще приду сюда, так что увидимся, маленький благодетель.» Мальчик ответил: «Меня звать Цзи Гуан. Завтра в это время обязательно увидимся, почтенный…». Бато сложил ладони в прощании и тихо удалился.

The next day, as the time came, the servant accompanied Batuo to the well; the clever Ji Guang came even earlier. Batuo watched with admiration as Ji Guang kicked the shuttlecock, saying in extraordinary enthusiasm: “Don’t you want to become a monk? I am a monk myself, coming from India, I travel in search of the mountains that I have dreamed of.”

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Ji Guang saw that Batuo was not speaking in vain, and so he replied, “That’s wonderful, just dreaming of bowing to his teacher!” – Having said this, he bowed down in an earthly bow. Batuo was very pleased and lifted Ji Guan off the ground. The boy straightened up and turned to Batuo with the words, “Your student will always follow his teacher, protect him, and tend him…!” “Amitofo!” – With his eyelids closed, Batuo replied. From then on, Batuo had another companion; and they all bowed together to the mountains in search of a place for the monastery.

Batuo on the approach to Songshan

In 495 AD. On the 15th day of the 1st lunar month Batuo and two disciples arrived at the western foot of Shao-shi Songshan. Looking at the chain of mountains and the landscape, exactly the same as in the dream, at first amazed then laughed. Batuo exclaimed in excitement: “These are the ghost mountains! The dream in the imperial gazebo is coming true!” Ji Guang jumped up in joy, and the servant accompanying them suddenly fell to his knees with the words, “Master, please accept me as a disciple as well!” Batuo replied, “Truly the desires of the hearts meet.

The three of them reached the river, and as they surveyed their surroundings, they noticed with surprise, “The forest…, there’s just the right two trees!” They jumped to the other side of the stream and saw two dark green cypress trees standing exactly where they should. “Dreams are coming true, and Ji Guang has become a disciple!” – Batuo said to himself. The servant approached Batuo with the words, “I am going back to the capital to inform the emperor.” Batuo smiled slightly and remained silent.

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A few days later, Batuo ordered Ji Guan to cut the grass to buy a house. With the help of the men who arrived, a thatched hut with three rooms was quickly built, and an earthen statue of Shakyamuni Buddha was placed inside. Paired inscriptions were hung on the entrance: on the top was “Buddha Hall for regular accommodation,” on the bottom “A place for perfection and purification,” and on the horizontals was inscribed, “Room for monks.

Days passed, the servant led people to the mountain Shao-shi to build the monastery; in the same year, on the 19th day of the 2nd lunar month (~ March 31, 495) all the work was completed, one could see the solemn halls, porches, buildings and pagodas. On the same day Emperor Wen-di arrived.

Why is the temple called Shaolin?

Batuo fell to his knees and said: “The temple has already been built, I beg Your Majesty to bestow upon it the name. Wen-di replied: “The gate of the temple is located near two trees, two trees can be considered a forest. The monastery stands at the foot of a mountain, the mountain is called Shao-shi; let us call the temple ‘Shaolin’, what is it?” Batuo and all present rejoiced exceedingly.

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Wen-di led a sacrificial ceremony before the gates of the temple that lasted three days. For three days the people rejoiced, incense was kindled in honor of the Buddha, and sparkling fireworks were set off. Leaving Shaolin Temple, Wen-di said: “Every year the 19th of the second month will be celebrated as Shaolin Monastery Day!”

Thus, Batuo settled in Shaolin. He explained the reading of the Buddhist sutras and had a very wide influence, with the number of monks reaching more than 1,600. Batuo was the head of the monastery and became the first abbot in Shaolin history.

Batuo Leaves Shaolin

Two years later, after Batuo became abbot, one afternoon he called Ji Guang to him and said: “Guru needs to leave Shaolin, you can stay to watch over order, to spread the Great Dharma of the Buddha!”

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Ji Guang replied: “The disciple understood everything, but still asks you – do not go! Batuo just once looked at Ji Guang, said nothing more, stood up, took the patro and the cup and went out the gate…

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