Vinaya-Lineage of Shaolin Monks

Warm greetings,
since I personally may have to interact in the nearer future with some shaolin monks I wonder (but also in general) what their vinaya-lineage is. Perhaps Dharmaguptaka? Do you have any knowledge about this theme?

Thank you so much!


It probably is Dharmaguptaka.
The Shaolin comes from Chan (i.e. Zen) Buddhism.


Thank you very much! I just wondered if they had to be regarded technically as monks or rather lay people …

Depends on if they are monks or martial arts trainers. When the Chinese government realized how profitable the Wu Shu film industry was they saw an opening for tourists. I didn’t know there were any Shaolin temples left that weren’t teaching martial arts and Daoism.

It’s wonderful to hear that there may have been a more legitimate survival!

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Most of the major monasteries in China had their monks dispersed and relocated to correctional camps during the Cultural Revolution.

It seems Shaolin is still an active branch of Chinese Buddhism, after some more research. Fascinating. I wonder what their revolution stories are.

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I met some Shaolin monks about ten years ago when I was at Santi. They seemed to be good monks, but they confirmed that most of what is known as “Shaolin” these days is really just about tourism and making money.

I didn’t ask about their Vinaya practices, but I assume that like other Chinese monks they would be Dharmaguptaka.

The mainline Shaolin temple is pressing ahead with a plan for a $380 million complex south of Sydney in Shoalhaven. This has been “scaled back” from their original 2008 proposal, which was twice as expensive(!) In March 2015 it was reported that the project was moving ahead:

But six months later, oops:

The People’s Daily of China made their attitude to the deal pretty clear.

So the Chinese destroy real Buddhism, then forcibly corrupt it into a tourism trap, and then make fun of the monks that they installed for doing the job they made them do. There’s an elegant balance to the cycle.


The first Shaolin Monastery abbot was Buddhabhadra , a dhyāna master who came to China from India or from Greco-Buddhist Central Asia in 464 AD to spread Buddhist teachings . Actually , many seems not familiar that the Shaolin Temple was Vinaya emphasized in the beginning . Chan came in after sometimes .

Below is the Shaolin Temple 2013
Higher Ordination (Upasampada) ceremony .

Their vinaya lineage is belongs to Dharmaguptaka.


Whats the vinaya stance on all that fighting training?

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I don’t think the Vinaya has much to say about it, to be honest. Obviously striking or hitting someone out of anger is an offence, but I don’t think that applies. It would probably come under exercise training generally, which is allowed.


One further question: Would you consider them as of equal or similar technical standing to a Theravāda bhikkhu, with all the implications it would have? I have read very little about the bhikkhunī ordination controversy but remember that Chinese bhikkhunīs were participating, so they were regarded then presumably as of equal standing in respect to the Theravāda vinaya.

I personally would be perhaps allowed to stay in some forest hut in a shaolin temple in Europe but I wonder if I should do so when they paid for the costs themselves (I don’t know yet if they did), something I would not do in the case of Theravāda monks (nissaggiya pācittiya). Any suggestions or guidelines to follow here? Thank you!


If they are Dharmaguptaka monks, then yes, their ordination is essentially the same as that of Theravadins, including the rules about money. And the same as Theravada, only a minority of monastics follow those rules. Those who break them fall into a wide spectrum, from a monk who uses a few baht to catch a bus to visit the doctor, to one who amasses a private fleet of antique Mercedes.

Personally, I’m not so strict when it comes to saying in a place run by monks who use money. So long as I can keep my own Vinaya, I don’t make a fuss. However, this has only ever come up for short visits, overnight stays and the like, so spending a long period on retreat would be a different matter. I’m not sure what I’d do.


Maybe some thinking in terms of morality will be helpful. Good decisions will almost always be arrived at by compromise: how bad is the use of money as mentioned above, how much will I be influenced-stained by this practice, how much will I influence them or condone them by staying there, how much do I intend to gain in terms of my goals by staying there, how much will others genuinely gain if I stay there, etc. what’s the bigger picture, how do I feel about it, what does it say about me, what are my true intentions (am I fooling myself), etc.

…and finally what percentage (%) would I favour staying there: 0-100

with metta


thank you for the considerations and informations, definitely helpful.

Usually I also do not mind too much as long as I could keep my vinaya and if it would be perhaps not too long. In this case I would rarely ever see them, just using their forest and maybe their hut. The thing is that if they have bought it with their own hands I would by just staying there have already blemished my vinaya upkeep, or am I mistaken here?


It’s a somewhat difficult topic, as the rules on money are really quite brief, and much must be inferred. Perhaps @Brahmali would know better than I. But as I understand it, it is usually considered in strict Vinaya circles that a monastic shouldn’t use things that were bought by other monastics with their money. As to whether this is fully justified by the Vinaya, I am not sure.

Another issue to bear in mind is the distinction, based on the commentary, between money spent for personal needs and that spent on an institutional basis. So far as I know, the Vinaya rules only really consider personal funds.

If money is kept in a monastery fund and then used for the monastery by the monks, this may be considered a different category. In our tradition, however, we typically avoid such usage as well, requiring all funds to be handled by a lay committee. Nevertheless, even though this is only a commentarial principle—and if I recall correctly, not all that firmly established in the commentary—perhaps it would serve as a precedent to cover such cases.

From an ethical point of view, we can see a distinction between Sangha using funds for a monastery, and individual monks using money for their own personal needs. Not to say that either case is free from potential abuse, but the purpose is quite different. Unfortunately this distinction is not traceable to the Vinaya itself.


Then there is the distinction of when the money was used I suppose. Are we living on land and wealth sized from other lands, for example and at what point does it stop being ‘stolen property’? Or is it forever stolen? Or perhaps these questions are ultimately unsolvable as they breakdown under scrutiny- sorry for the diversion.

with metta

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I’m not sure how that’s relevant? If the monastics steal the land, they are parajika and no longer monastics. If lay people have stolen it and gifted it to the Sangha, there is no Vinaya offense in receiving stolen goods. I mean, it’s not a good idea and may be against the law, but it’s not covered in Vinaya.

It sounds like an outrageous case, but in places where there is often unclear title over land, this kind of situation comes up a lot. Typically some unused land is set up as a monastery on an informal basis by the village. Later the village expands and the monastery grounds become valuable property. There may be encroachment, and often boundaries are not clearly defined. Legal cases like this are very sticky and can go on for a long time.

I was thinking of when money was used to buy something but the beneficiary that came later wasn’t the person who used the money. I was using ‘stealing’ as an analogy in this case, for using money which is not in line with the Vinaya, and not saying that it was actually stealing.

With metta

From a canonical perspective there seems to be no problem with this. It is only with the commentaries that this would be problematic. Some monastics insist on following the commentaries quite strictly, while I prefer a more nuanced approach.

I do not see any great problem with using requisites bought by monastics who use money, especially if you are not aware how the requisites where acquired. Gross and habitual practices of this kind, however, are probably not good, especially if you are effectively using other monastics to get you things with their money. There are a lot of grey zones here, and I normally tend to default to a non-confrontational and compassionate approach. I remind myself that most monastics who use money are not bad people, and often they have just learnt their bad habits from their teachers. Once they get used to it, it may even be hard for them to see a way out.

I do not normally ask other monastics about their practices in this area. It is only if it becomes obvious what is going on that I may take issue. In this way I minimise potential conflict, which also tends to maximise the chances of getting them to change their practices for the better. I also think kindness is generally much more important for progress in one’s own practice than being overly concerned about Vinaya interpretations found in the commentaries.


I remember seeing in the Vinaya somewhere that if all other options such as running away are exhausted one may strike to get away from an attacker. Sorry, I’m not sure where exactly where I saw this, might be in the Nun’s Vinaya.

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thank you for the many informations. I think especially in the case of Mahāyāna monks we can be quite sure that they use money for practically everything, essentially with no distinction to a lay person in these instances … Might it be problematic for a bhikkhu to use an object which actually had to be forfeited? I can imagine the commentaries based their explanations on such premises …

Sounds wise …

Yes, very important point I think, some wonderful mellow characters among bhikkhus who use money – good people, less good monks, I think … :slight_smile:


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