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Perhaps the Buddhist monasteries most familiar in the West are the Shaolin Temples (少林寺 in pinyin: shao4 lin2 xi4), because of their connection with martial arts. Its name means "Youthful Forest".

They practised Chan Buddhism, which led to Zen Buddhism in Japan. Their founder is known alternatively as Bodhidharma or Tamo. He was an Indian teacher of Buddhism around the 4th century. Although credited with being a teacher of Zen his contributions to the martial arts are in dispute; much of the spiritual content of the martial arts credited to him contain teachings more in line with the esoteric (Mi Tsung) and Yogacara (Wei Shih) Buddhist traditions.

Several modern writers have attempted to discredit the Shaolin as the birthplace of Shaolin Quan but their attempts have been criticized as relying upon specious textual criticism and an avoidance of Buddhist texts and manuscripts.

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