Damo Cave at Shaolin Temple – Location and Origin

damo cave at shaolin temple

Damo Cave (达摩洞), located beneath the central peak of Wuru Peaks behind the Chuzu Temple at Shaolin Temple, is a natural limestone cave. It extends approximately 7 meters deep with a height and width of over 3 meters. Outside the cave stands a stone archway, while inside, traces of stone carvings measuring over 1 meter in height and about 60 centimeters in width remain, believed to be marks left from the excavation of the stone for Bodhidharma (Damo)’s wall-facing meditation. The cave houses three stone-carved Buddha statues, with Bodhidharma seated in the center and his disciples on either side.

Atop the Wuru Peak, overlooking Damo Cave, stands a magnificent 12-meter-high and 32-square-meter Bodhidharma statue crafted from white jade blocks. This statue was funded by hundreds of devotees from Shenyang in 1995. Two commemorative monuments erected in 1995 stand before the white jade Bodhidharma statue. About 50 meters west of the statue, there is also the “Xi Yuan Pavilion,” constructed in 1984 by the Songshan Management Bureau.

Origin of Damo Cave

Before the arrival of Bodhidharma, the predominant teaching at the Shaolin Temple was the Hinayana Buddhism propagated by the first patriarch, Batuo. This tradition did not readily embrace the Zen teachings brought by Bodhidharma. Facing the language barrier and unable to communicate his teachings effectively, Bodhidharma retreated to a natural limestone cave beneath the Wuru Peak of Mount Songshan.

In this secluded cave, Bodhidharma engaged in an intensive practice of wall-facing meditation, a method known as “wall contemplation” or “wall-gazing” (壁观 bìguān). Sitting in meditation, he faced a stone wall, crossed his legs, folded his hands in meditation posture (mudra), lowered his gaze, and maintained a calm and focused mind, attaining deep states of concentration and insight.

Every day, after his meditation sessions, Bodhidharma would rise from his seat and perform various physical exercises to stretch his muscles and promote physical well-being. These exercises eventually evolved into the renowned “Damo’s Muscle Change Classic” (达摩易筋经 Dámó Yìjīnjīng), which are still practiced today for health and vitality.

For nine years, Bodhidharma persisted in his solitary meditation practice, deepening his understanding of Zen and Mahayana Buddhism. Throughout this period, he gradually gained recognition and acceptance among the monks and local people, who were inspired by his teachings and exemplary conduct.

As the years passed, Bodhidharma’s image became etched into the stone wall of the cave where he practiced meditation. Even the folds of his robes were faintly visible, creating a natural likeness resembling a delicate ink painting. This stone, known as the “Damo Wall-Imprint Stone,” and the cave where Bodhidharma practiced meditation came to be revered as sacred relics.

In later years, the stone bearing Bodhidharma’s imprint was removed and preserved in the Chuzu Temple at Shaolin. Unfortunately, during the turmoil of warfare in 1928, Shaolin Temple faced devastation at the hands of military forces. The temple’s buildings, including the repository where the stone was kept, were destroyed in the fire set by the invading troops, along with the entirety of the temple’s scriptures and relics.

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