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21st Century Monks: Shaolin Temple Masters Go Where No Monks Have Gone Before

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They are monks -- but they're also scholars, academics and even geeks.

Shaolin Temple in Central China's Henan province encourages its monks to leave the monastery and study at universities around the world to further their expertise and education.

"The era of sitting in meditation by the light of an oil lamp has gone. We need to keep pace with the times," Master Yanzheng, a 27-year-old, told China Daily. "If we are not well educated and do not know what's going on in the world, how can we preach to our followers?"

Twenty-nine-year-old Master Yanpei is a computer science graduate from Chongqing university and says experiencing a university life has only helped him to give back to the community: "I learned knowledge from college and gained an understanding of life from the Buddhist academy. The combination creates wisdom."

And 28-year-old monk, Master Yanti studied at Nanjing University and Buddhist College Singapore hwere he merged his understanding of Buddhism with his studies of calligraphy and sociology.

"Overseas study allows me to teach the essence of Chinese Buddhism to our western trainees," he told China Daily.

Today the temple has over 40 cultural centers around the world where monks can learn various languages, religious theories or simply study whatever field they seek to better understand. One of these centers is in Mobile, Ala.

Shaolin Institute Summer Training Camp has been a part of the Mobile community since 1988 when the University of Mobile started a summer training program that included self-defense activities.

“Having self-control of our body builds confidence, and we help each other empower good health with a healthy mind and body to find the greatest potential within them,” Grand Master Shi DeRu, known as “Shifu” to his students told Al.com.

These practices allow the monks to develop the Shaolin spirit and live their lives in service to others and to the spirit within, DeRu said.

“The Shaolin spirit is to train with integrity, character and be respectful to people. We must be professional and carry that dignity as a human being and the tradition of Shaolin.”

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