After 300 years, Shaolin Temple resumes a ritual

By Li Fangchao, China Daily, May 26, 2007

Beijing, China -- For the first time in 300 years, the renowned Shaolin Temple held a ritual on Thursday to initiate 600 believers into monkhood.

On that same day, millions of monks and believers nationwide observed the Buddha bath festival which usually includes the washing of all statues of the Buddha.

The ceremony used to be considered an official ritual to recognize a believer into true monkhood.

Shi Yongxin, leader of Shaolin Temple and vice- president of the Buddhist Association of China, said that Buddhism in China has embarked on a "golden era" of development with a rapidly increasing number of believers.

According to Shi, China has about 100 million registered religious believers, most of whom are Buddhists and Taoists. "They form an indispensable force to construct a harmonious society," he said.

Shi said the ritual was suspended for 300 years because the altar where the ritual was held was destroyed. The 26-meter-high three-storey alter was restored last year at the temple, located in Dengfeng, Central China's Henan Province.

The 600 Buddhists were selected out of 1,000 pious Buddhists nationwide.

Shi said that only Buddhists who have passed a long-term inspection and are believed to have a "pre-destined lot" with Buddhism will be allowed to take the ritual and admitted by the temple.

"Only Buddhists who practice Buddhism to a high level can be tonsured and allowed to take the ritual," Shi said.

The ritual will last 28 days during which time the 600 monks will listen to doctrines, learn Buddhism rituals and manners in the temple.

Both Buddhism and Taoism seem to be attractting more believers.

An international forum on the "Daode Jing", a classic of Taoism, was held last month and lured 300 Taoists from around the world who wanted to explore the true essence of the classic text.