Monday, September 5, 2011

Shaolin Temple Secret: Dragon Herbs

Ron Teaguarden (, Wisdom Quarterly edit

American herbalist Ron Teaguarden and Buddhist monks strolling at the Shaolin Temple.

Inside the Shaolin Temple’s Herbal Tradition
Last summer (2010) master herbalist Ron Teaguarden spent some quality time in China. He took this trip to identify, qualify, and purchase herbs in person for our "Dragon Herbs" products. We meet up with growers, collectors, processors, scientists, teachers, masters, and experts that make tonic herbalism so remarkably great.

He also got to meet up with the great China crew. These are things done every year. But this trip had a wonderful, special bonus. I took a truly exotic excursion to the mystical Song Shan Mountains, Henan Provence, China’s heartland, and visited the world famous, 1,500-year-old Shaolin Temple.
Monk Wang Hui and Ron at the Reishi mural in the Shaolin Temple inner sanctum

Many people know that the Shaolin Temple is the iconic birthplace and incubator of kung fu. Shaolin kung fu is extreme, extraordinary, and steeped in spiritual practices.

Indeed, kung fu is a fundamental part of the Buddhist monks’ daily routine. It is a path to enlightenment. As a result, the Shaolin monks who practice kung fu are known as “warrior monks.”

There are also monks at the Shaolin Temple who do not practice kung fu. They focus on Buddhist meditation or the healing arts.

They are therefore known as “meditating monks” and “healing monks.” As awesome and popular as this kung fu legacy is, the Shaolin Temple has an even greater historic legacy: It is the temple where Zen Buddhism was first conceived and where it developed into one of the most famous and important spiritual practices in the world.

A Shaolin monk meditates

These days, in the west in particular, people think of Zen as a Japanese path. But the Japanese were not the originators of Zen. For centuries before Zen was adapted into Japanese Zen Buddhism, it was practiced and developed in China.

In China, the practice is “Chan” (禪). Zen is simply the Japanese pronunciation of the foreign Chinese word Chan. [The original Indian-Buddhist word is jhana, from the ancient Sanskrit word dhyana.] Actually, Chan Buddhism spread first from China to Vietnam (Thien), then to Korea (Seon), and then on to Japan (Zen). From Japan, it has spread throughout the world. More