Friday, August 29, 2008

Temple balances Buddhism and Business

Modern times at the ancient Shaolin Temple, birthplace of Kung Fu

SHAOLIN TEMPLE, China (CBS, 8/22/08) -- It's an ancient temple tucked in China's mountains. But there's nothing old-fashioned about the birthplace of kung fu.

Money-Making Monks: Shaolin Temple Buddhist monks are unlike what you may think. They are peaceful but also disciplined in the art of finance. Barry Petersen reports.

The mountains echo with the prayers of Shaolin Temple's Buddhist monks. It's a place not as obscure as you might think, because it is where Kung Fu was invented, CBS News correspondent Barry Petersen reports.

The world's first live action heroes came from right there, 15 centuries ago. But temples can't live off the past. They need money for today. "To survive," says Abbot Shi Yongxin through a translator, "we seek help from all walks of society." In China, they call Abbot Yongxin the CEO of Shaolin. His days can start at his laptop, and end with a plane flight -- all about raising money for his temple.
There are some who criticize mixing Buddhism and business but these monks have something to sell to keep their temple prosperous. In this day and age, there are a lot of new ways of selling it. Like the temple's TV show, or its Web site and gift shop hawking Shaolin Temple products -- all this helping to attract some three million paying tourists a year.

Most of us know kung fu from watching stars like Bruce Lee, David Carradine and Jackie Chan, each bringing his own moves to the movies.

"When you study martial arts, you learn discipline," said Jackie Chan. But 50,000 students a year come to schools here from around the world to learn the original style and study this martial art as a kind of meditation.

Marketing his monks has made the abbot so famous in China that he gets a rock star's welcome when he walks the temple grounds. And the monks chat into cell phones, or hit the computer, as the abbot's influence brings his rank and file smack into the 21st century.

"I am a spiritual leader," he says, "who also faces the outside world." It's a brave new world where even a chopstick-fighting panda is a summer hit. We'd like to think those monks from 1,500 years ago would approve. How many art forms have lasted so long, and with a bit of savvy selling, the world will keep coming here to get a kick out of Kung Fu.

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