Shaolin Head Branding Jièbā

Shaolin enthusiasts may recognize the symmetrically arranged round scars on the heads of Shaolin monks as portrayed in films, whose plots were set during the Míng dynasty (明 朝) or Qīng dynasty (清 朝). However, the monastic ritual of burning scars on the head occurred early as the Táng dynasty (唐 朝). Historically, it has been a controversial practice and a source of great contention among Buddhists themselves. While the practice does exist today, the application of ordination scars is not a mandatory ritual of monastic ordination. Not only is it a personal decision, the practice is subject to certain restrictions.

Jièbā (戒疤) is an extremely painful ritual. Typically, nine sticks of incense are affixed to the head with paste and set a flame. The incense smolders for approximately five minutes. The final two minutes are the most excruciating as the incense burns down to the scalp. Each of the resulting marks represents one of the fundamental Buddhist precepts or rules of conduct.

At times this practice was more popular than at other periods in history. The ritual was frequently outlawed in China (Zhōngguó 中国), most recently during the Qīng dynasty (清 朝). In 2007, that ban was partially lifted by the Chinese government and the ancient ceremony was performed at Shaolin Monastery for the first time in approximately 300 years.

Of approximately 800 candidates originally invited to participate in the month long ceremony, only 100 monks were scheduled to receive jièbā. However, 57 of these monks eventually elected to forego the ritual. In the end, 43 monks chose to participate in the ceremony.

Yánfan receiving jièbā at Shaolin Monastery 2007
Shi Yánfan was chosen by the abbot to be the first monk branded in the ceremony. Not only was he the first to be branded in 300 years, but he was the first non-Asian to receive this honor at Shaolin Monastery. In doing so, Abbot Shì Yǒngxìn (释永信) opened Shaolin's gates to the world as an example that race should not be a consideration and that Shaolin culture should be available to all.

MORE TO FOLLOW: Presently, we're in the process of translating a great deal of additional information.

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