The Spread of Mind-Body Disciplines
through Buddhism

by Megan Brooker, Alison Smith, Kim Stevens and Samantha Warner (Bangor High School 2001) (revised 2004, R.Bradeen)

The Silk Road era was a period of great cultural movement and exchange. The transfer and growth of yoga into martial arts can be traced to the Silk Road era. This exchange involved ideas and beliefs in addition to goods, such as silks, pottery and gems. Mind-body disciplines like yoga and the martial arts were also transferred between cultures as a result of a common link, BUDDHISM.

During the Silk Road era, Buddhist monks traveling back and forth across the Silk Road. Many, like Xuanzang and Fa Xian, traveled from China to India in order to receive more accurate teachings about Buddhism from Buddhist monks and Buddhist scriptures in India, the birthplace of Buddhism. Others, like the Indian monk Bodhidharma, traveled to China and elsewhere all over Asia along the Silk Road, spreading the Buddhist word wherever they traveled.

Most Buddhist pilgrims were more like Ennin, a Japanese monk who traveled to China. Most monks traveled short links of the Silk Road, rather than traversing its entire length. Ennin's motives were similar to those of Xuanzang, but instead of traveling all the way to India, he went to the Buddhist temples of China. These temples were closer to the sources of Buddhism in India and monka there had been practicing Buddhism much longer than Japanese. Therefore, the Chinese temples were considered by Ennin to possess more accurate teachings than those that he could find in Japan.

The effect of these many monks and Buddhist practioners traveling across the Silk Road was a steady transmission of ideas, like the mind-body disciplines that we today know as yoga and martial arts, to peoples all along the Silk Road. We can trace the development of karate in Japan and kung fu in China to these earlier travelers on the Silk Road.

Our path will follow Bodhidharma, the Buddhist monk attributed with bringing both Zen Buddhism and martial arts to China. For information about the other Buddhist travelers mentioned above, follow the links below. But for our main story of the transmission of mind-body disciplines across the Silk Road, follow us.

Other Buddhist travelers:

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