Be a Shaolin Monk

Shaolin Kung Fu is one of the most respected and revered martial arts traditions in the world. The practitioners of Shaolin Kung Fu, Shaolin Monks, are esteemed as some of the most committed warriors, too. However, Shaolin Kung Fu is much more than just a martial art. It is part of a complete spirituality that is grounded in Buddhism. The path of a Shaolin Monk, if you choose to follow it, will require you to completely change your life. Shaolin Monks give up much, restrain themselves from typical pleasures that we take for granted, and have lives completely dedicated to their faith.


Educating Yourself About Being a Shaolin Monk

  1. Educate yourself about what it means to be a Shaolin Monk. Before you do anything, you need to read extensively about what it actually means to be a Shaolin Monk. This includes the duties, responsibilities, requirements, and other qualifications that Shaolin Monks must have. Kung Fu is studied, not to teach fighting, but to discipline the body and for the beauty of emulating the movements of the animals, which brings you into harmony with nature. There are many books you can read that will teach you about the philosophy, about Buddhism and about meditation.
    • Understand the history of Shaolin Kung Fu, and its 1500 years of development.
    • Know that not all Shaolin monks are the greatest warriors. They are essentially Buddhist monks who have studied the technique of Shaolin.
    • Understand the strict requirements that Shaolin Monks are held to today.
    • Understand the philosophy and spiritual aspects of Shaolin Kung Fu.[1]
  2. Understand that Shaolin Kung Fu is not just about fighting. Shaolin is a complete worldview and lifestyle geared toward creating a balanced and strong individual who is at ease with his or her world. The martial arts aspects of Kung Fu are just physical manifestations of a complete spirituality that you will need to learn and live by as a Shaolin Monk.
    • Shaolin Kung Fu is an outcropping of Buddhism.
    • Shaolin Kung Fu requires intense training, self-control, and self-reflection.
    • Shaolin Monks must possess a complete and utter dedication to their way of life.[2]
  3. Learn about Buddhism. Buddhism is the basic foundation of Shaolin spirituality. In order to truly understand what it means to be a Shaolin monk, you need to also understand what it means to live as a Buddhist. Before you continue on your path to become a Shaolin Monk, you should dedicate yourself to learning about Buddhism. If the idea of being a Buddhist excites you, continue on your path. [3]

Embracing Shaolin Buddhism

  1. Commit yourself to Buddhism. Now that you’ve learned the basics and understand what it means to be a Shaolin Monk and what it means to be a Buddhist, you need to make the life choice to commit yourself to living as a Buddhist. This is your first real step in your journey toward becoming a Shaolin Monk. As a Buddhist, you will have to life by “The Four Noble Truths.”
    • Suffering is a part of life.
    • Desire for physical positions and pleasures is one of the greatest causes of suffering.
    • We can escape suffering by rejecting desire.
    • We can find happiness or “Nirvana” by following a specific path in our daily life (the 8-Fold Path).[4]
  2. Follow the 8-Fold Path on a daily basis. The 8-Fold Path is really the nuts and bolts of Buddhist and Shaolin daily existence. The path is intended to overhaul how you live and how you see the world. It will change your interactions with your friends, family, and with strangers. For more information, visit:
  3. Alter your diet. You need to embrace a diet that is in line with Buddhism and Shaolin Kung Fu. These dietary requirements are part of both Buddhist belief and Shaolin commitment to self-control and self-restraint. They might be very challenging for many people.
    • Reduce how much you eat. Avoid overeating at all costs.
    • Eliminate meat completely from your diet.
    • Cut out simple carbohydrates.
    • Consume raw food. While some monks do this for every meal, you should begin with one meal.[5]

Becoming a Shaolin Monk

  1. Locate Shaolin teachers or monks in your area. Depending on where you are, there might be practitioners of Shaolin Kung Fu in your area. These teachers will be your best resource for learning more about Shaolin Kung Fu and the steps you will need to take to get on the path toward being a Shaolin Monk. For those in the United States, there are a number of Shaolin temples and organizations that will be helpful. It is highly recommended that you talk to one of these teachers or monks before you continue your path to becoming a monk yourself. Consider:
    • The USA Shaolin Temple in New York City.
    • Other regional Kung Fu Centers.
    • If you don’t have a practitioner in your area, you might have to travel.
  2. Try to enroll as a disciple at a temple in your area. After your preliminary education, visiting a shaolin temple will be your next step on the path to becoming a Shaolin monk. Here, you will meet individuals who have trained as disciples of Shaolin. The masters at many temples in the United States received their training at the principle Shaolin in China. However, training at a temple in the United States will probably not be as immersive and complete as training in China.[6]
  3. Consider traveling to China to study at a Shaolin Temple. If you don’t want to train at a temple in your home country, you can travel to China. China is the home of Shaolin Kung Fu, and as a result there are many Shaolin Temples there that take in students. Learning in China can be the best way to move toward becoming a Shaolin Monk. But consider the following:
    • Training is full time. You won’t be able to work, socialize outside the Temple, or spend much time doing much else. Your life will be devoted to training.
    • It could be costly to travel and train at a temple.
    • There are a wide range of Shaolin Temples in China, varying on quality, so do your homework before you decide to make the trip.[7]
  4. Gain acceptance as a disciple at a Shaolin Temple. The most important part of becoming a monk is gaining acceptance into a training program at a temple. If you can meet up to the rigorous requirements of the program, you’ll eventually be graduated as a Shaolin Monk. After you’ve been graduated, you’ll find a place as one of many types of monk. Types of monk include:
    • Clerical monks. These are monks that perform the day to day religious rites.
    • Scholarly monks. These are monks who commit themselves to knowledge and scholarship.
    • Warrior monks. These are monks who focus on the martial arts aspect of Shaolin.[8]
  5. Adhere to the strict requirements of Buddhism. After you’ve graduated as a monk, you’re going to have to adhere to strict requirements of Buddhism. Your life will completely change. There are a lot of things you’ll have to give up and a lot of things you won’t be able to do anymore. Consider:
    • Shaolin Monks commit to a life of celibacy.
    • Shaolin Monks can’t consume animal meat.
    • Shaolin Monks don’t drink or smoke cigarettes.
    • Shaolin Monks reject a life based on material possessions, conspicuous consumption, and consumer culture.[9]
  6. Think about taking the path of a Lay Monk. There are some Shaolin monks who have been trained as monks but do not adhere to the strict requirements of Buddhism—these are lay monks. Being a Shaolin Lay Monk might be right for you if you can’t commit your entire life to such requirements.
    • Lay Monks can marry and hold down an outside job.
    • Lay Monks may smoke or drink cigarettes sometimes.
    • Lay Monks might even eat meat.[10]

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Sources and Citations

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