- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Here is an introduction to the magical and mystical realm of Taoism through biographical and historical sketches of Taoist adepts over two thousand years. This panoramic view of the many faces of Taoism and its intimate connection with Chinese culture and society includes intriguing accounts of the Taoist secret societies that carried out mystical exercises and powerful consciousness-altering techniques, including sensory deprivation, ...
Here is an introduction to the magical and mystical realm of Taoism through biographical and historical sketches of Taoist adepts over two thousand years. This panoramic view of the many faces of Taoism and its intimate connection with Chinese culture and society includes intriguing accounts of the Taoist secret societies that carried out mystical exercises and powerful consciousness-altering techniques, including sensory deprivation, incantation, visualization, and concentration.
This collection of sketches, compiled by Zhang Tianyu, a Taoist priest in the fourteenth century, and translated by renowned translator Thomas Cleary, portrays more than one hundred remarkable individuals from the eleventh century B.C.E. to the thirteenth century C.E. It introduces us to a broad and fascinating range of personalities including philosophers and scholars, magicians and mediums, alchemists and physicians, seers and soothsayers, and artists and poets, among many others.
Cleary’s expert translation and informative footnotes make this collection a lively and accessible read.
From Chapter 9: Five Dynasties (907–960)
Zhang Jianming traveled north of the Yellow River for Confucian studies when he was young, then later left to become a Taoist priest. He mastered the doctrines of Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu.
Emperor Gaozu of the Jin dynasty [r. 936–942] summoned him for an audience and asked, “Can Taoism be used to govern a country?” He replied, “The Way is a word for the essence of all things; if you get the last word, the ultimate statement, you can rule the world while at leisure in your bedroom.” The emperor considered that advice great and invited him into the inner palace to lecture on the Tao Te Ching, honoring him as his teacher.
Hearing the drum announcing the hour in the palace, Jianming said, “Does Your Majesty hear the drum? It has only one note. None of the five notes and twelve semitones is in the drum, yet it is the drum that harmonizes them. Unity is the basis of myriad things; whoever can maintain unity can govern the world.” The emperor approved of him even more and gave him the title Maestro Penetrating Mysteries.
Zheng Ao was styled Yansou. He was a man of Huazhou.(1) He was clever at literature and rhetoric and was nominated for advance scholar during the reign of Emperor Zhaozong of the Tang dynasty [r. 889–904], but he didn’t pass the examination.
Seeing the world in chaos, he made a clean break and went away, going to Few Houses Mountain to become a Taoist priest. Hearing that on Huashan five globules of pine resin had seeped into the earth and over the course of a thousand years had turned into medicine that could eliminate the three parasites,(2) he moved his dwelling to Huayin to search for this.
He was good friends with the Taoist priests Li Daoyin and Luo Yinzhi. Ao planted fields, Yinzhi supported himself by selling herbs, and Daoyin had an art of fishing, hooking without baiting. He could also turn stones into gold; Ao once tested to see if that was true, but he didn’t ask for any. The world called them the Three Lofty Gentlemen.
The regional commander Liu Ning sent him valuable goods, but he accepted nothing. Emperor Mingzong of [Latter] Tang [r. 926–934] summoned him to be an aide for picking up slips, responsible for pointing out imperial errors, and Emperor Gaozong of Jin [r. 936–941] summoned him to be grand master of remonstrance, but he did not comply with either. He was given the honorific appellation Meandering Maestro.
He died in 939 at the age of seventy-four.
Ao enjoyed drinking wine and playing chess. The poetry and prose he composed, written on gauze silk, were passed down in the world as prized curios. Some drew pictures of him on the walls of their houses to honor him in effigy. However remote his tracks, the more prominent his name, unlike the man at Stone Gate and the bamboo carrier.(3)
Luqiu Fangyuan was styled Dafang. He was a man of Susong in Shuzhou.(4) As a boy he was intelligent and eloquent; he studied the I Ching with Chen Xuanwu of Mount Lu and inquired into the great meaning from Zuo Xuanze of Xianglin. Zuo considered him extraordinary.
Later he moved to the Peak of the Realized in Hiding on Immortals’ Capital Mountain, where he practiced transmundane arts following Liu Chujing (5) while not neglecting to read the many books of the philosophers and historians. He once said of himself, “Ge Hong and Tao Hongjing are my teachers and companions.”(6) He wrote an exposition of the Scripture on Great Peace in thirty chapters, thoroughly elucidating its key essentials.
In 893 Qian Liu visited him in Great Cleansing Cave in Yuhang(7) and built a structure to house him. Qian reported Fangyuan’s conduct and work to the emperor, and Zhaozong [r. 889–904] repeatedly tried to recruit him. Fangyuan figured from the signs of the heavens that China was going to be laid waste, the fortunes of the Tang dynasty were going to change, and even the likes of [ancient savants] Yuan and Qi(8) wouldn’t come out of the mountain forests, so he never rose to the imperial summons. The emperor then sent down a decree praising him as extraordinary and bestowed on him a robe of rank and the titles Great Teacher of Subtle Being and Maestro of Mystic Accord.
Henceforth stories of the miracles of the realized were openly heard in Wu and Chu, and Fangyuan’s disciples numbered more than two hundred. Cheng Zixiao of Guangping, who answered an invitation to the Qin palace; Nie Shidao of Xin-an, who carried on the teaching in the state of Wu; Hu Qianguang of Anding; and Kong Zonglu of the state of Lu all attained his mysteries.
On the fourteenth day of the second month of 902, he took a bath, then passed away sitting up straight. He was interred in the White Deer Grotto of Great Cleansing Mountain. King Xiao of Qianwu dreamed he visited, riding on a crane, to say farewell.
1. In Henan.
2. Taoist medical theory envisions causes of decay and death as parasites in the three energy fields in the body.
3. The man at Stone Gate and the bamboo carrier are references to two recluses encountered by Confucius’s disciple Zilu, as recorded in Lunyu 14:41 and 18:7, who are not otherwise named or identified.
4. In Anhui.
5. Liu Chujing was known for expertise in breathing exercises.
6. Ge Hong, compiler of Legends of Spiritual Immortals and author of The Simpleton, and Tao Hongjing the Recluse, master of Maoshan and compiler/author of Declarations of the Realized.
7. In Zhejiang.
8. Two of the oft-mentioned Four Elders.