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The Sheikah Monks are Sheikah in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. They reside in Shrines throughout Hyrule, waiting for the chosen hero, and they will give Link a Spirit Orb upon the completion of each of their trials. Interestingly, they are among the first true male Sheikah to appear in the canon series.

Appearance

The Sheikah Monks appear as old, thin and frail men with the Sheikah crest tattooed on their foreheads. According to Paya the chest on her, Impa, and the Sheikah Monks' foreheads is a talisman of the Sheikah meant to ward off evil which is customarily tattooed to the skin of those with long Sheikah lineage in order to honor their past. They are adorned with gold jewelry, wear tattered brown pants, and some sport face veils with the Sheikah emblem. Each Sheikah Monk has his proper praying hands position, some of them have a drapery with the Sheikah emblem in front of their face. The monks appear to be in suspended animation, though it is unclear if they are alive, mummified, or spirits. After Link obtains a spirit orb, the Sheikah Monk having fulfilled their purpose their body dissipates into petal-like dust or energy, implying they have died or passed on after their purpose is fulfilled.

Background

Spoiler warning: Plot or ending details follow.

The Sheikah Monks are devoted followers of the Goddess Hylia who have been blessed by Hylia herself. As these monks have the Sheikah crest tattooed to their forehead, it is implied that they all come from long Sheikah lineages as it is customary for Sheikah with such lineages to have the crest tattooed on their forehead according to Paya. Though it is unclear when, the Monks enshrined themselves in Shrines built using Sheikah technology and are known to have existed long before the Great Calamity. It is implied that they may have been the among ancient Sheikah responsible for the creation of the Divine Beasts, Guardians, Sheikah Towers, and Sheikah Slate (as it is later revealed that the Sheikah Slate was intended to be used by the chosen Hero, thus explaining why Princess Zelda was unable to use it to activate the Sheikah Towers or Shrines) 10,000 years before the events of Breath of the Wild. Presumably they were enshrined at some point after Calamity Ganon was defeated 10,000 years ago, likely after the Sheikah fell out of favor with the people of Hyrule and the Royal Family. Presumably the Sheikah Monks chose to be buried with their people's technology to test and aid future incarnations of the hero, possibility under the guidance of Hylia herself who blessed each of them with a Spirit Orb which the Monks were to give to the hero once he had proven himself by completing each Sheikah Monks' trial or simply by reaching their Shrine. Ultimately, 120 Sheikah Monks where enshrined in Shrines throughout the land of Hyrule. Additionally the Sheikah Monks also created the Cap of the Wild, Tunic of the Wild, and Trousers of the Wild a Hero's Clothes Armor set intended to be a final gift to the hero for finding and completing all the 120 monks' trials in each of their shrines.

Before the Great Calamity, Princess Zelda tried to access the Shrines but failed as it was later discovered that the Sheikah Slate could only activate the Shrines and Towers when used by the Goddess's hero chosen by the Master Sword, which Zelda and Link were unaware at the time. As a result, Link was unable to take on the monks trials and receive their Spirit Orbs which would have allowed him to become stronger through the Heart Containers and Stamina Vessels obtained by exchanging them along with the training, experience, and runes he would receive through these trials. This likely contributed to Link being overwhelmed by the Calamity Ganon possessed the Guardians, despite wielding the Master Sword as he lacked the greater amount of health, stamina, runes, and experience he would have had were he been able to go through the trials.

After Link awakens from the Slumber of Restoration in the Shrine of Resurrection, he is directed by the voice of Zelda to the buried Great Plateau Tower, which Link activates using the Sheikah Slate causing the Shrines and Towers across Hyrule to raise and/or become active. The Old Man asks Link to retrieve a treasure located in the Oman Au Shrine (however Link can choose to take on Ja Baij Shrine or Owa Daim Shrine if he finds them) for him in exchange for the Paraglider which Link needs to leave the Great Plateau. In the shrine, Link is informed of the trial by the Shrine's monk and must complete it by reaching monk who rewards Link with a Spirit Orb. After Link completes his first Shrine, the Old Man approaches him and tells him there are three other Shrines located on the Plateau and that he must obtain the Spirit Orbs from them as well before he will give Link the Paraglider. Each of these shrines contains a Rune for Link's Sheikah Slate each of which will prove valuable during Link's quest. After completing the other three Shrines on the Plateau, Link is informed by the Old Man to meet him at the location where the Shrines intersect which turns out to be the Temple of Time, which the Old Man reveals himself to be the spirit of Rhoam Bosphoramus Hyrule, the Last King of Hyrule. After explaining the events of the Great Calamity and revealing Link to be the Hylian Champion and Zelda's personal knight, the King of Hyrule directs Link to save his daughter and defeat Ganon, before giving him the Paraglider. He allows Link to keep the Spirit Orbs as retrieving them was simply his way of testing and training Link to prepare him for the challenges ahead.

Afterwards Link is guided by a mysterious voice to pray before the Goddess Statue inside the Temple of Time. As a prays before it, Hylia speak to Link and explains that for each 4 orbs he obtains, in recognition of his efforts she will reward him with the choice of either a Heart Container or Stamina Vessel. Besides these four Shrines, all other Shrines are completely optional, though it is necessary to complete at least a couple of them in order to obtain enough Spirit Orbs to trade for Heart Containers, as Link requires at least 13 hearts of health (as extra yellow hearts do not count) to remove the Master Sword from its pedestal in Korok Forest. After completing all 120 Shrines, the Monks' reward Link with the Hero's Clothes Armor set they created, which found at the foot of the giant Goddess Statue at the end of the Forgotten Temple. This is the only Hero Clothes Armor set that can be obtained through normal gameplay as part of Link's quest, as all the others can only be acquired randomly through the amiibo Rune.

Master Sword Monks

In addition to the 120 Monks found throughout Hyrule, it is revealed in "The Master Trials" DLC, that seven unnamed Sheikah Monks where tasked by Hylia with preparing the "EX Trial of the Sword" a trial which would allow the hero to fully awaken the true power of the Master Sword once completed. Link is later informed of this trial by a mysterious voice (either Hylia or the Sword Monks themselves) and is told to speak to the Great Deku Tree to learn more. The Great Deku Tree informs Link that the trial will test his abilities and that his current equipment will be sealed, forcing him to rely on his wits, skills, runes, and any items he can find during the trial. After completing the trial, the Monks allow him to reclaim the Master Sword with its true power fully awakened which causes the Master Sword to remain permanently in its "True" glowing state as Link has proven himself worth of wielding it.

Interestingly their are seven sword monks which may be a reference to the Seven Wise Men or Seven Sages both of which are depicted as holy men (and/or women in the case of the Seven Sages) have an association with the Master Sword. They may also be a reference to the Sages of the Master Sword as it is possible they pray to keep the power to repel evil inside the Master Sword.

Champions' Ballad

The special Monk Maz Koshia is a boss and the primary driving force of the main quest "EX Champions' Ballad", unlocked after installing the "Champions' Ballad" DLC pack. He is fought inside the unnamed Divine Beast during the Final Trial. Link has to defeat Monk Maz Koshia to obtain the Master Cycle Zero.

Spoiler warning: Spoilers end here.

List of Sheikah Monks

Central Hyrule

Great Plateau

Main Game
Champions' Ballad

Hyrule Field

Hyrule Ridge

Necluda

West Necluda

East Necluda

Mount Lanayru

Necluda Sea

Lanayru

Lanayru Wetlands

Main Game
Champions' Ballad

Faron

Faron Grasslands

Akkala

Akkala Highlands

Akkala Sea

Deep Akkala

Eldin

Great Hyrule Forest

Eldin Canyon

Eldin Mountains

Death Mountain

Main Game
Champions' Ballad

Gerudo

Gerudo Desert

Main Game
Champions' Ballad

Gerudo Highlands

Main Game
Champions' Ballad

Hebra

Hebra Mountains

Main Game
Champions' Ballad

Tabantha Frontier

Main Game
Champions' Ballad

Tabantha Tundra

Theories

Theory warning: This section contains theoretical information based on the research of one or several other users. It has not been officially verified by Nintendo and its factual accuracy is disputed.

Living or Dead?

It is unclear if the Sheikah Monks are still alive or are deceased as they appear mummified and most sit or stand in a single position as if locked in a state of rigor mortus. Additionally they seem to turn into ash-like flames (resembling the flame-like ectoplasm produced by Rhoam Bosphoramus Hyrule) after granting Link their Spirit Orbs indicating they have fulfilled their purpose and passed on to the afterlife. Alternatively they are alive and preserved in a deep state of religious meditation and/or by Sheikah technology until they pass on their Spirit Orbs allowing them to die and pass on to the afterlife once their sacred duty is fulfilled.

Presumably Monk Maz Koshia could be either be still alive preserved through Sheikah technology and/or his religious devotion to Hylia, or he is undead either a ghost or possibly a type of Gibdo/ReDead albeit achieved through holy, divine, and/or technological means.

Possible Inspiration

The mummified appearance of the Sheikah Monks resembles Sokushinbutsu the practice of Buddhist monks observing asceticism to the point of death and entering mummification. In medieval Japan, a mountain dwelling version of Buddhism called Shugendō even developed a process of Sokushinbutsu. Many Buddhist Sokushinbutsu mummies have been found in northern Japan and estimated to be centuries old, while texts suggest that hundreds of these cases are buried in the stupas and mountains of Japan. It should be noted there are at least 120 Sheikah Monks in Breath of the Wild not counting those featured as DLC. The practice of other forms of mummification is not unheard of in Hyrule as demonstrated by the undead Gibdo and in some cases ReDead. Gibdo are also found in the Bottom of the Well under Kakariko Village in coffins and wondering around indicating the Sheikah may have practiced other forms of mummification as Kakariko Village was originally a Sheikah village before being opened to the Hylian poor by Impa before the events of Ocarina of Time.

Theory warning: Theories end here.