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Has Shaolin Lost it's Way?

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The Shaolin Temple and its famous warrior monks have gone through a huge transformation in recent years. Under the current Abbot, and with the renewed backing of the Chinese government, the Shaolin Temple has turned itself into a global brand. The new outward looking Chinese government, seeking to improve China's image abroad, and to cash in on one of its most famous cultural icons, combined with the Abbots desire to promote Shaolin culture and Cha'an (Zen) Buddhism, have lead to a huge global explosion in all things Shaolin. The templ itself, along with the huge number of kung fu schools that have sprung up around it, has now become one of the biggest tourist attractions in modern China.

Of course this is in many ways a wonderful thing for us in the west, who can now enjoy unparalleled access to authentic shaolin teachings. But is the now common sight of travelling troups of performing monks, or the perennial carnival surrounding the temple itself, truly reconcilable with the spiritual heritage of the home of Zen Buddhism? I have no doubt that the Abbots motives are pure (although the degree to which he is in charge of this trend rather than communist party officials is debatable), but in seeking to extend the benefits of Shaolin so widely, is the Shaolin tradition itself being damaged?

Even apart from the philosophical considerations it is also the case that the commercialisation of Shaolin has lead to an increasing emphasis on traditional an antiquated training and techniques (consider 'authentic'). Any martial art, indeed any training system at all, needs to evolve and change to stay alive. There is a strong argument to suggest that shaolin kung fu (which has a long tradition of evolution and adaptation) is being prevented from doing this.

These are difficult questions with no clear answer, so it would be great to read a variety of opinions on the matter. If you have anything to say please let everyone know in the new Forum thread we have set up.

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