Yueya

Hua Shan – Daoist Sacred Mountain

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I have an interesting book published as a limited edition in 1974 of an account with photographs of climbing Hua Shan in 1935. It is written by Hedda Morrison (a photographer and author of Vanishing World) and Wolfram Eberhard (scholar and author of Chinese Fairy Tales and Folk Tales, A History of Chinese, and Settlement and Social Changes in Asia.)

 

 

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Inside Cover

Hua Shan, or the Flowery Mountain, has the most beautiful and spectacular landscape of all the Nine Sacred Peaks of the Taoists and Buddhists. It is an outspur of the Tsinling Range which separates the Yellow and Yangtze River basins. At the foot of Hua Shan, the Yellow River, after flowing southwards for hundreds of miles, collects the waters of the Wei and its affluents which drain the Shensi plain. It then turns abruptly at a right-angle eastwards and flows through the historic Tungkuan Gate, the dragon rapids of Lungmen and Sanmen. It waters Honan Province and the great North China plain, which it fertilizes and often floods, and where occasionally it runs dry.

 

From the earliest times the peasants on the plain have held in deep veneration the cloud-gathering mountains and propitiated their gods with seasonable offerings. On Hua Shan, monks founded monasteries to receive pilgrims and set up altars to Sheng Mu, the Divine Mother, who, like Astarte in the West, is the great Goddess of Fertility. People come to her to burn incense, kowtow, hear her oracles and invoke her blessings for she gives children to the barren and bounteous crops to their fields. There is only one path to the top of Hua Shan and it is very steep and dangerous. North Peak Ridge is 4,000 feet above the plain and 2,000 feet higher is the plateau with Central, East, South and West Peaks with monasteries, hermitages, monks and pupils.

 

Hedda Morrison and Wolfram Eberhard visited Hua Shan in 1935. While Hedda took the photographs, Eberhard talked with the monks, gathered the Taoist folklore of the holy mountain, studied the graffiti and the local gazetteers. Their combined efforts convey in photographs and Taoist musings the extraordinary atmosphere of rest, peace and beauty of this mountain sanctuary, so remote from the crowded cities on the plain.

               

 

Over the next few weeks I’ll post some extracts from the book here.

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Forward  by Wolfram Eberhard

 

Speaking of the religious life of the Chinese, people often make contradictory statements: that they have no religion and are basically irreligious; that they have three religions, Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism; or that they are deeply religious. All depends on our approach to the subject. In most situations, the educated Chinese is agnostic, though occasionally he may read a Buddhist text about the rewards and punishment of good and wicked deeds, or study the Taoist philosophers on the perfections of life. It is otherwise with the ordinary man, plagued with daily worries – his children are sick, his wife has a difficult labour, business is bad, he has trouble with his neighbours or the officials. Harassed with such problems, he goes to a nearby temple to burn incense and consult the oracles.

 

In former days throughout China there were temples and they are still to be seen in Taiwan and Hong Kong, well kept and restored. New ones are also being built, bigger and more splendid than ever. The figures of the deities, male and female, young and old, look like dignified civil officials and their wives, or fierce military men overwhelming in grandeur. These are the gods of the folk religion which we call Taoist. Many of the legends and concepts about these gods go back to the Taoist philosophers, Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu, who lived three or four centuries before Christ.

 

The lives of these gods were not unlike ours save that they live on in the memory of the people. Like us they came into the world, some unheralded; they grew up, achieved fame and were honoured in their day – others faded away and were forgotten. Many Taoist deities were once well known historical personages. Their heroic deeds were remembered and after their death, their protection solicited. The more often these heroes granted the supplications of their humble worshippers the more famous they became. The people subscribed money to build them temples and palaces, with shaded courtyards, which they adorned with images and ex votos. In due course the people petitioned the emperor to 'imperialize' the cult, that is to say confer on the popular gods posthumous titles and thus immortalize them with state honours.

 

(to be continued)

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continued….

 

The temples are of all sorts. In every quarter of the city and in every village there are little temples – simple one-room huts, housing one or several deities; they are usually the god and goddess of the soil, She-chi; the god of good luck, Fu-shen; the goddess who sends children to barren women, Sung-tzu niang-niang, etc. In the district cities are larger temples, well built and beautifully decorated in gay colours and filled with images, in front of which continuously burn coils or sticks of incense lit by the faithful. A temple may be the home of a great and important god whose image in the front is surrounded by the smaller statues of his acolytes. It is usually dedicated to some particular deity, for instance, to Tien-hou, who protects fishermen and sailors; to Lu-pan, the patron of carpenters; to Ts'ai-shen, the giver of wealth honoured by merchant guilds, and so forth. It may be Ch'eng-huang, the city god himself, who settles law suits and guards the city against pestilences and natural calamities.

 

Outside the city and villages, temples were built on hillsides and in sacred groves, where trees were protected, because every piece of wood in China is needed for fuel, buildings and coffins. The people often felt the urge to escape from the bustling towns and villages and from their homes which in China are always very noisy, and seek quiet and rest in these countryside temples. For security and economic reasons they often preferred to go in a group. To this effect they would organize a 'temple club' to collect money, manage the pilgrimage and visit the temple on the anniversary of the god or during the festive seasons of the year. The officials often sought to discourage this as superstitious and wasteful, but without much success. For not only did the pilgrim set out to visit the temple and burn incense (shao-hsiang,) to its deity, but also to meet friends, make new acquaintances and possibly see some beautiful women during the long climb into the hills. The latter might be barren women who hoped they would come home from their pilgrimage with a god-given child.

 

Besides all these diversions there was beauty in the countryside, stately shade trees, fragrant flowers, titbits of food and the matshed tea-houses, ch’a-p'eng, where the gossip of the road enlivened the company. In the temple the pilgrim spreads his bedding, among dozens of strangers, and – who knows – receives in his sleep a revelation which quiets the anxieties of his heart. After lighting a bundle of incense sticks, the pilgrim kneels in front of the deity; he tosses the joss-sticks in their bamboo holder and picks up the first to fall out. This oracular reply is deciphered by the attendant priest and explains how to avoid some impending fate and obtain one's heart's desire.

 

This is what folk religion or popular Taoism is to the ordinary Chinese, who, alone or in company, goes on pilgrimage to visit a temple or group of temples on famous mountain heights –among which Hua Shan – and there receives enlightenment and renews his soul.

 

Wolfram Eberhard

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Hedda Morrison writes……..

 

China is famous for its sacred mountains held in deep veneration by Taoists, Buddhists and the common people. Of the nine sacred mountains Hua Shan the Flowery, in West China, has the most beautiful and spectacular landscape. It has been a pilgrimage centre for centuries and is probably the loneliest and most difficult to climb. It is not far from where the provincial borders of Shensi, Honan and Shansi meet, and a little south of where the Wei flows into the Yellow River. It rises almost vertically some 7,000 feet above the plain which is near sea level. One wonders by what geological process its magnificent cliffs and jagged scenery came to be formed. They are separated from the main Tsinling Range by tremendous precipices and culminate in a magnificent massif topped by peaks, occupying in all about nine square miles.

 

The first mention of Hua Shan is found in the Shu Ching, a collection of historical memorials compiled in the days of Confucius. It tells how the semi-legendary Emperor Shun (c. 2250 B.C.), on a tour of inspection, came to Hua Shan in the west to make a holocaust or burnt offering to Heaven. The other three mountains which Shun visited were T'ai Shan the Great in the east (Shantung), Heng Shan the Barrier in the south (Hunan) and Heng Shan the Constant in the north (Shansi). These ancient Taoist centres of nature worship were later shared with the Buddhists. Only Hua Shan has remained an entirely Taoist sanctuary to which pilgrims come from all over China, particularly Taoist priests in search of peace of mind on its peaks, above the dusty, mundane plain, ch'en. This veneration is so marked in Chinese folklore that the ideographic character hsien for the 'genii' of immortality is written with the elements of people jen and mountain shan.

 

When I set out from Peking for Hua Shan I had heard of its beauty and fantastic scenery and was keen to photograph it. I was told to get off at a tiny railway station called Hua-yin Hsien, where the local people would take me in hand. I travelled light, with a change of clothing, sleeping bag and climbing shoes, besides my photographic equipment of two cameras, tripod, films, etc. The train arrived hours late at Hua-yin where it stopped briefly and moved off. In the distance the sacred mountain stood out in the evening light. At first I found conversation with the villagers difficult as the local dialect differs from the northern Mandarin which I knew. I gathered that at the foot of the mountains there was a monastery called the Jade Spring Temple where visitors were welcome. An hour's rickshaw ride took me there. The place was charming and the monks courteous and friendly. I felt welcome and, in their enlightened company, all the troubles of the outer world seemed to vanish. I had a small room to myself and for bed a Chinese k'ang, a brick platform heated by flues during the cold season. Nearby there was a pool of clear mountain water where I bathed. Later I was invited to dinner at which only vegetarian food, prepared by one of the priests, was served.

 

 

 

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The Hua Shan massif seen from the north. The road enters the valley to the right, above the rickshaw. The massif in the centre masks the Sacred Mountain, save West Peak, Hsi Feng, which stands out against the skyline. 

Edited by Yueya
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Like all mountains wonderful! Thanks for opening this topic. :)

 

 

Here are some more images of this amazing mountain:

 

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Hushan's trail is possibly the most fascinating mountain trail in the world. Not even a Himalayan peak contains the sheer amount of depth and verticality that that trail does.

 

Can't wait for the day I'll see both the sunset and the sunrise from the North Peak in meditation.

 

 


 

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Hedda Morrison writes continued……

 

Next morning I was given a guide, who carried my rucksack and strung over his shoulder the tripod and camera bag. We left shortly after dawn, following a path leading upstream. There had been a heavy rain the night before and we frequently waded across the stream which here and there almost took up the whole width of the narrow valley.

 

Right and left rockwalls rose hundreds of feet-and shut out the sun. We clambered over boulders which blocked the narrow, winding path. Wild flowers grew in profusion wherever there was some earth, while pines which had found a foothold reached up to the light and sun. At hourly intervals we passed small temples with a solitary priest and acolyte for guardians. They invariably offered us hot, fragrant tea and asked us the same questions they asked all other pilgrims and wanderers of the Way - Where are you from, what is your country? Are you married, have you children and how many? Would you like some food?

 

At midday we came to the end of the valley and to another small temple, where the real climb began. Looking up, the sky seemed infinitely far away. We were almost entirely shut in by the rockwall; the only opening was further up the stream we had left. For three hours in company with other pilgrims we toiled up and up, slowly and steadily. Steps had been hewn into the rock in the narrow crevices. In some places iron chains had been set up by the pious to help the pilgrims to keep balance and pull themselves up. Often they were in bad condition and more of a danger than a help. At one or two rest places there were rustic benches where we met other wanderers. When climbing we had to call out continuously to warn people coming down to stop where there was room to pass. Suddenly we emerged on a ridge leading to the Temple of the North Peak, Pei Feng Miao. This ridge was so narrow that the path went through the temple; on both sides the drop into nothing was frightening.

 

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A matshed, ch’a-p’eng, on the steep climb from Jade Spring Temple. Three travellers sip tea; porters rest their bags of flour on the low benches, the easier to pick them up.

 

 

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The rockwall across the valley seen from a higher rest point. One traveller has a long-stem pipe with a tiny bowl – a one-puff one-smoke pipe.

 

 

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Funnel leading to North Peak ridge. The steps three feet high are cut at a sharp angle in the stone slab. On the right is an inscription deeply cut into the rockwall.

Edited by Yueya
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Continued…..

 

From the peak looking west we had a superb view of the Tsinling Range to where it abuts the Yellow River. Across the river to the north were the Phoenix Mountains, and on the plain 5,000 feet beneath us, near the confluence of the Wei with the Yellow River, we saw the railway line to Sianfu and the tiny station of Hua-yin Hsien, 'District town under the shadow of Hua Shan'. In the clear air details of this vast landscape were easily recognized.

 

I spent two nights at the Pei Feng Temple and then Wolfram Eberhard caught up with me. He was fascinated by the countless inscriptions cut in the live rock, praising the beauty of the sacred mountain, invoking the help of the mountain spirits and returning thanks for favours received. His inquisitive mind discovered charming poems of the Taoist Way, many of which he gives here. He easily made friends with the priests and visitors, and when they saw how keen he was and how well he spoke their language they told him all they knew in long conversations, in part reported below. How grateful I was to him for my better understanding of the sacred mountain and its story.

 

The Pei Feng Temple was looked after by five priests. With them was a young lad from Shanghai; being of delicate health his parents had sent him to Hua Shan to live and study. Every day in this ideal setting he was taught by the priests, mainly calligraphy and painting. Steep mountains and drifting mists – Shan shui as the Chinese call landscapes, with lonely and gnarled trees – are the very elements of Chinese painting. The atmosphere of the temple was pleasant and dignified. Many pilgrims left gifts in token of their gratitude to the gods and their servants, such as paintings, embroideries, wood-carvings, urns and candle sticks.

 

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North Peak Ridge. The saddle, on which the funnel (rockwall with chains shown above) debouches, lies in the dip between the near temples clinging to the rockwall and the main monastery straddling the narrow ridge, further off. In the distance the northern plain under the “Shadow of Hua Shan”, Hua-yin hsien, as the country is called. The Yellow River flowing east is faintly seen.

 

 

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The Shanghai lad on his way to North Peak Temple. He carries the abbot’s staff of office and emblematic Taoist flywhisk, “cloudsweeper” yun-chou, a yaks’s tail.

 

 

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North Peak main monastery. The path to the peak above passes through the buildings. The stone arch says Pei Feng Ting, North Peak Top.

 

 

 

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Above North Peak Monastery two monks with flywhisks face the western sun. The trail leading to the plateau 2000 feet higher up skirts the great crater dominated by Fairy Palm Cliff.   

Edited by Yueya
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Continued……

 

Hua Shan has altogether five peaks. Pei Feng, the North Peak, is the first to be reached for it is the lowest, about 5,000 feet high. From it a path takes one along a razor-edge cat-walk to Hsi Feng, the West Peak. It is difficult going so it is safer to wear rope sandals or soft rubber-soled shoes, as leather and nails give no grip on the smooth and foot-polished rock. One looks down thousands of feet on either side and yet one must not feel dizzy. We quietly set off with the good wishes of the priests. In places the ledge was only wide enough to let one person pass. The stone parapets set up long ago were now so weathered and rickety that it was wise not to seek their support. At one point a short, perpendicular ladder – the sky-ladder – took one over the ledge to a higher rock. Here many a pilgrim gave up and turned back, among others was the great Yang statesman, philosopher and poet Han Yu (A.D. 768-824). At a small temple on the higher ledge we called on the priest and had tea with him. Among his temple treasures there was a small brooch-head which I much admired and to my surprise he at once gave it to me. I accepted with pleasure and by way of return left on the altar an offering of silver pieces. The small Yang head of Kuan-yin Pusa is still with me after these many years.

 

On the peaks the view often changes within a few minutes. The most fascinating rockwall was the West Peak's, with so sheer a drop that it looked as though it were floating in the void. At times the sun's rays glistened on the rocks and clouds came gently sailing through the blue sky. Minutes later banks of drifting mist rose rapidly out of the abysses and enveloped us and the West Peak in their ethereal world. Then sharp winds blew and rent the clouds apart, revealing for a moment the rock slope with pine trees, single or in clumps, dark and finely cut out in the blanketing mists. Unforgettable views of drifting and dispersing vapours, a most exciting play of nature! I was torn between enjoying the spectacle or taking pictures of the bewitching, fleeting scene.

 

The West Peak Temple lay in a sheltered corner with ample space around it. Through a grove of fragrant pine trees, a gentle path led to the temple. The mist had lifted and the sun was shining brightly. On arrival at the temple we were invited to join the meal which was being served. The admirable skill of the cook made one dish look and taste like fish, another like meat, though the food was entirely vegetarian according to Taoist rule, mainly soybean curds and sauce for protein, mushrooms and various herbs for flavour.

 

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North Peak Ridge and monastery, seen from East Peak.

 

 

 

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A monastery in the wood on West Peak Ridge.

 

 

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Fairy Palm Cliff

 

 

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East Peak Monastery in a grove with a distant view of the plain

 

 

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A smaller temple to the right of East Peak Monastery

Edited by Yueya
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Nice historic images. Thanks for uploading all this info.

 

I just borrowed Blofeld's book My Journey in Mystic China from a Bagua brother and was wondering if you mind me uploading just a few pages of the first chapter which are quite related to this whole thread. Related to the pre-communist revolution era of China, one that possibly no longer exists, how unfortunate! :(

Edited by Gerard

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I just borrowed Blofeld's book My Journey in Mystic China from a Bagua brother and was wondering if you mind me uploading just a few pages of the first chapter which are quite related to this whole thread. Related to the pre-communist revolution era of China, one that possibly no longer exists, how unfortunate! :(

 

Yes, excellent. Please do. Related posts are most welcome. 

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Nice historic images. Thanks for uploading all this info.

 

I just borrowed Blofeld's book My Journey in Mystic China from a Bagua brother and was wondering if you mind me uploading just a few pages of the first chapter which are quite related to this whole thread. Related to the pre-communist revolution era of China, one that possibly no longer exists, how unfortunate! :(

Fantastic book Gerard. I read it a few years ago.

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Hedda Morrison writes, continued……

 

In China there is always a well-functioning information service; wherever we arrived news of our coming had travelled ahead. We found ourselves a centre of interest, for according to the priests, foreigners seldom ventured here and it was long ago that they had last seen Europeans. To my great surprise among the guests I found an old friend, a priest from the Pai-yun Kuan, the 'White Cloud Temple' outside the south-west Gate of Peking, which he had helped me to photograph. He too had come on pilgrimage to Hua Shan, walking all the way round about by Sianfu, the capital of Shensi Province, and through the famous pass of T'ung Kuan. Great distances indeed!

 

The nights on Hua Shan were bitterly cold, though it was August and the hottest season of the year. The brick bed was heated for our comfort and we slept well. Next morning the sun was up early on the peak and while Wolfram was conversing with the priests I watched the fairylike processions of small clouds as they rose from the plain, warmed up by the sun. After the midday meal we made for the southern end of the massif where great precipices cleave it from the lower slopes of the Tsinling Range. This part of Hua Shan is characterized by many curiously shaped, vertical butts which from the distance look like medieval castles perched on commanding hill-tops.

 

Nan Feng, the South Peak, is not really a peak but a gentle slope, less exposed to the violent winds and thus warmer. Vegetables are grown there and trees and other plants are plentiful; it was probably the first settlement of the hermits of Hua Shan. The temple is now the largest and wealthiest in endowments, treasures and material comforts.

 

 

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The monk from White Cloud Temple inserts an incense stick in the porcelain urn decorated with dragons in blue under-glaze, flanked by two candlesticks. South Peak Monastery.

 

 

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Mountain butts that look like official caps and are thus called Kuan-mao, seen from a point on West Ridge.

 

 

 

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South Peak shrine of Jade Fertility Well, Tse-liu yu-ching, according to the lintel inscription. The pair of cast-iron cranes symbolize longevity. The inscriptions on the two boards at the entrance say only vegetarians and teetotallers may enter. On the door posts are two tablets which read:

 

Wan-ku chen-yuan Kao Pai-ti        “From of old the Yellow River rises in the land of the Great White God

His-feng yuan-chi ya Huang Ho             here its waters are controlled by the spirit of West Peak”

 

When the snow melts the flood waters of the River Ho are laden with yellow loess. At Hua Shan they are deflected east and rush through Dragon Gate, Lung Men, into the great North China plain. As the mountain deity regulates the flow of waters, it was propitiated regularly with imperial sacrifices.

 

 

 

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A shrine on East Peak. A monk is seated on a bench and another stands in the doorway, behind a cast-iron bell and dew-collecting stone cup.

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Thanks. Here is the file:

 

My Passion for Sojourns in Mountain Monasteries (John Blofeld, My Journey in Mystic China, 1990, pp. 30-34)

 

Enjoy! :)

 

Thanks Gerald. I particularly like these paragraphs……

 

 

One old Taoist hermit [in the Lo Fu Mountains] told me that the most important point of all is to always maintain a completely carefree state of mind. The old Taoist said that he had begun of to study the Tao when he was fourteen years old. His master taught him to pay close attention to all natural phenomena, such as floating clouds, The reflection of the moon in a pond, flowing water, birds, and so forth, and to take these as models for his own behaviour. With the sole exception of the human species, no other species of life on earth ever violates the principles of Heaven. Birds and beasts, flowers and trees, all conform to the primordial principle of "flowing with the wind," and they all follow their destinies as decreed by Heaven. Those species never wonder why stormy winds arise; instead they simply delight in the natural world created by Heaven, without wasting an iota of energy trying to change it. For example, if a tree is growing in a heavily shaded spot, it naturally extends its branches and stretches its boughs to reach for sunlight. In order to enjoy the incomparable joy of such a carefree state, humans should take flowers and trees, birds and beasts, as their teachers.

 

Recently I came across an old poem by Wang Yang-ming, in which he writes,

 

An old monk lives below the cliff,

His hut surrounded by pine and bamboo.

At dawn he hears the birds’ spring song;

At night he sleeps with the mountain tiger.

 

The moment I read these lines, I immediately thought of that wise old Taoist in the Lo Fu Mountains.

I once read a popular poem in which I found the following lines -

 

Entering an ancient temple at dawn,

The morning sun shines high in the forest.

A path winds through hidden grottos,

Birds frolic joyfully on the mountain,

A lake reflects the shadow of an empty mind,

The night is still and silent

 

This poem conveys the ambience of a mountain monastery quite well, but unfortunately it's still impossible to describe it fully in words. I lived in China in many years, and from beginning to end I always loved to stay in monasteries located deep in the mountains. According to my own experience, spending a few days in a mountain monastery not only delighted the heart and pleased the eye  with scenic beauty, it also provided the spirit all sorts of inspirations and insights, offered

precious opportunities to cultivate nature and seek truth, and proved interesting in countless other ways as well.

 

(John Blofeld - My Journey in Mystic China pp.33-34)

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Hedda Morrison writes, continued……

 

An easy path took us to Tung Feng, the East Peak, where to our great delight we witnessed an ancient Taoist dance. The gowns of the priests were of a bright russet colour, their cotton shoes black and their stockings purest white, as prescribed by ritual.

 

Our sojourn on Hua Shan was drawing to an end and the time had come to return to the mundane plain with all its worries from which, for a while, we had escaped. The descent to North Peak by the sky-ladder we found far more perilous than on our way up. We spent our last evening with the immortal spirits of the mountains, seated on the terrace of Pei Feng Temple with its community watching the evening shadows creep across the plain of the Yellow River. Suddenly the sun disappeared, twilight came and night followed. The air grew chilly and we went indoors. Then came to mind a short poem inscribed on a rock of South Peak about a hermit, of whom it was said:

 

The air was his food and the clouds his abode.

He rode the winds with the full moon lighting the Way.

Wealth and honours and all worldly inducements

He shunned and kept his heart pure and simple.

 

 

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The cosmic battle of Nature’s elements enacted by two monks, of thrust and parry, mao-tun, on the heights of East Peak against a drop curtain of billowing clouds.

 

 

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Another pose in the supreme art of T’ai-chi, or the battle of shadow and light yin-yang.

 

 

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Cage bed of blackwood inlaid with porcelain panels.

 

 

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The community kitchen of Jade Well Monastery, with two tiered steamers called cheng-lung for cooking rice or wheat loaves. Only vegetable food is cooked, without spices other than soy sauce.

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Looks like a great book!!!!!

 

 

I've been to Huashan many times, and it is truly a magical place. 

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1. I wanted to be a poet but inspiration never came. One day I set off from the east gate of the city and walked the three hundred miles to Hua Shan. Arriving late at night I lodged at its foot; the next morning when I saw the mountain for the first time I fell down in terror.

 

Disquieted and exultant, I was filled with sudden grief and ardent joy. I sought to chase the clouds and bathe in the Heavenly River [Milky Way], to go naked, unbraid my hair, sing dirges and creep cowardly away. When I recalled why I had come, I felt hot as an oven and cold as ice. Though the mountain's harmony offered me peace, my imbalance made me restless.

Three days and three nights I meditated on the mountain top. It then revealed its many wonderous forms and took me to its heart. (A free rendering of an essay in Hua-shan chih, Ch. 5, 40a)

 

2. In the far distance rises Hua Shan with its great precipices and awesome chasms. Out of a gorge rush waters of turquoise blue cascading over white stones. Perched on the cliffs are shrines to the mountain gods who send fertile rains to the people on the plains. In the temples Taoist monks read the sacred texts and burn incense on the altars. Their features are weather-lined and their gowns patchwork. For decades they seek the path of truth; they watch the drifting clouds, the fathomless depths, the passing of time. These followers of Lao-tzu know of the Great Ultimate; they peruse the sacred writings. Their minds are not bound to either master or book, but schooled by the mountain and enlightened by the Way of Nature.

 

Pilgrims endure the climb and rest in the sanctuaries. Their strength and courage is renewed by the telluric powers of the great heights. Some pilgrims kept diaries and others wrote poems and essays which have been handed down to us though written long ago. On doors and walls some scribbled their thoughts which have weathered away.

 

In our turn we climb the mountain in the tracks of those earlier pilgrims, recording what we heard of them and what they wrote. Some were great scholars but most were simple people. All bear witness to the beauty of the Mountain which filled their heart. (Paraphrased from Hua Shan Gazetteer, Hua-shan chih)

 

 

 

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Ch’i-ting, Chessboard Pavilion. This lonely temple, on a rockhead below East Peak, is inaccessible as the path has weathered away.

 

 

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The Chessboard Pavilion seen against the sky and ridges of the great Tsinling Range.

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post-56098-130587100263_thumb.jpg

 

This is a pic from my 2006 trip to Huashan during the descent from North Peak.

 

 

--not sure how to resize this, but if you click on the pic you get a larger version--

Edited by henro
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(Clicking on most of the images I’ve posted will also display larger versions.)

 

Book extracts continued….

 

3.            In my escape from the dusty world I find myself at Flowery Mountain and come to Green Branch Wall, away from wealth and honours on the Way of Truth in Holy Mother Hall. (Prose rendering of a wall poem at the inn, where the sedan-chairs stop)

 

4.            After breakfast we entered a canyon out of which rushes a torrent. It flows through the temple gardens and reappears in a grove of small trees. At the Jade Spring Temple the monks gave us tea and fruit. They warned us the climb ahead was dangerous and gave us walking sticks, saying "These will serve you as far as Green Branch Wall; then the trail becomes too steep even with a stick."  As our clothes were unsuitable for the climb we left hats, shoes and coats behind and ventured forth in pilgrim garb, with turban and straw sandals.

 

5.            At about ten o'clock we came to the gully leading to the ridge, straight up into the sky. We could not see the peaks but only a few weird, wind-bent trees clinging to the mountain side. Two rows of steps, cut barely two inches deep in the live rock and two iron chains gave us foothold and hand grasp. Our guides said that nearby higher up lived a hermit who never left his rocky cell and from time to time let down a rope to receive food from the temple monks. On the stone arch on the pass, we read the inscription "West Upper Gate". A Tang emperor erected the arch in commemoration of a daughter who died here and "mounted on a crane and disappeared into the skies". (Paraphrase of two essays by Wang Li, in Hua-shan chih, Ch. 6, p. I a)

 

6.            In front of us stood Flowery Mountain and its secret retreats. When we approached clouds veiled its summit. The vapours which covered the enclosing ring of mountains rose and the morning sun illumined their crowning peaks. Then beautiful cliffs appeared one after another and we heard the music of the wind howling against the rock walls. We were part of the living landscape. (From an essay by Wang Li, Hua-shan chih, Ch. 6, p. lb)

 

 

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For whom the bell tolls near Sky Ladder. On each side of the cast-iron bell is engraved one of the eight trigrams, pa-kua, used in telling the hour and direction of coming events. The trigram with a full bar under two broken bars is ch’en, of thunder or North East. The wooden beater is slotted in the cupola.

 

 

 

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Perpetual calendar carved on eight-sided slab. At the centre the sun and moon disks for brightness ming. In the first band are the twelve phases of the moon. In the next band are the corresponding hexagrams in the Book of Changes, Yi-ching. In the third band are the numeral designations of the twelve months, and in the fourth the twenty-four periods of the rural calendar. In the outermost band are the thirty days of the month.

 

 

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An artist monk of East Peak Temple decorates a dragon-headed board with an elaborate form of the character for longevity, shou.

Edited by Yueya
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Some of the monks living on Hua Shan in 1935........

 

 

 

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Thanks Gerald. Excellent! I've scanned and OCR'd those pages......

 

Taoist Hermits on Mount Heng Refining Themselves in Seclusion

 

On my way back to Szechuan, I had to pass again through southern Hunnan, so I took this opportunity to visit Mount Heng. Arriving in Hengyang one evening, I set out toward the foot of the mountain the next morning, and after a breakfast of some local tea and fried breadsticks at a roadside eatery, I slowly hiked up the mountain. The scenery on Mount Heng doesn't compare with Mount Hua and Mount Tai, but it still pleases the eye and inspires the heart. That day the mountain trail was crowded with all sorts of people— tourists, pilgrims, bearded Taoists in robes, soldiers, all were there. Taoist robes hadn't changed at all since the Han Dynasty, whereas Chinese military uniforms reflected the influence of the West, and placed side by side these two contrasting styles of clothing, with the famous mountain as a background, served as a suitable symbol for China at that time—on one side stood an ancient cultural tradition with a very long history, and on the other side stood startling social change.

 

I often noticed that among the Taoist adepts one encountered in the big cities of China, there were very few who actually cultivated their practice to a high degree of refinement. Some were just charlatans in robes who made a living cheating gullible men and women. But the Taoists one met in the mountain forests were mostly pure and diligent practitioners of the Way. That their hair tied up in topknots, their long beards, their ancient style robes, and their extremely courteous manners were matters of external appearance all goes without saying. But as genuine adepts who cultivated the deepest practices, their bright eyes sparkling with laughter, their spirit of self-presence and immutable sense of calm, their healthy and supple bodies, and their exemplary behavior, all provided ample proof of the efficacy of their "internal arts."

 

The goals of cultivating the internal arts were to prolong life, promote health, preserve youth, nurture vitality, and enhance awareness. Attaining all of these goals is not easy, but diligent practitioners are able to achieve most of them. Cultivating the internal arts has nothing to do with superstition, but rather involves yoga, meditation, and inner focus. Whenever I visited the famous mountains, I didn't like to stay at the well-known monasteries, but preferred instead to lodge at the most remotely isolated places. That's because Taoist adepts and Buddhist monks who are truly devoted to self-cultivation always avoid places frequented by crowds of visitors.

 

The day I climbed up to the Southern Peak of the mountain, I found a small hermitage located far from the mountain trail to spend the night. Among the three or four hermits living there, only one came out to greet me. The others were secluded in retreat fora few days, sitting in silent meditation from morning till night. The one who greeted in, was a friendly middle-aged adept, and the two of us stayed up talking till dawn for two nights in a row. I asked him to explain the basic foundation of Taoist teachings, and he wrote down for me a few lines from the Tao Teh Ching: "'Nonexistence' is the origin of Heaven and Earth. `Existence' is the mother of all phenomena. These two have the same source but different names." After writing this down, he explained the meaning with great clarity. To this day I still recall the joyful expression on his face as he spoke, and the gaze of deep compassion in his eyes.

 

As I recall it, this is the basic meaning of what he said: 'Nonexistence' refers to the intrinsically formless essence of the nature of Tao. 'Existence' refers to the form of the myriad phenomena in the manifest universe. Heaven and Earth arise from the formless essence of Tao nature, which has no beginning and no end. Although all forms are impermanent, their basic essence is nevertheless indestructible. Superficially, these two aspects seem to be opposites, but fundamentally there is not the slightest difference between them. Therefore, all forms are essentially inseparable from the formless nature of Tao, human beings are inseparable from Tao, and Tao is inseparable from human beings. The great Tao is infinite, and nothing obstructs or limits it. All living things share the essential nature of Tao, so how could they have any limitations? Adepts who have realized the Tao understand this truth and have no fear when death approaches. Taoist adepts clearly know that the essential nature of Self is identical with the essential nature of Tao, that they are one and the same, and that the real Self is thus immortal. The only thing that dies is the physical form of this body. In reality, the physical body is just like a little ripple rising on the surface of a lake, appearing for a brief moment then disappearing again. Why should anyone wish to cling to such an ephemeral phenomenon? While we are still alive in this world, we should spend our time and energy cultivating Self-Presence. As death approaches, we should maintain our Self-Presence, and remain fully conscious of the fact that the physical body is not worth clinging to and that we should therefore let it go.

 

Our Self nature is inseparable from Tao nature and can therefore never be destroyed. All men and women who have attained this realization may be regarded as enlightened sages. Whenever they encounter pleasurable things, although they clearly understand that they are only ephemeral illusions, they may still enjoy them fully in the moment, then let them pass. Similarly, when they encounter calamities, they recognize them as no different from dreams, and therefore face them without concern. The ability to maintain stable peace of mind on the basis of this viewpoint may be regarded as the attainment of the first stage of Taoist self-cultivation.

 

Many years ago, when I was together with elder brother Yuan-ruo, I heard him explain the Buddhist teaching that "all sentient beings are of a single Mind" (or "one basic nature"), and the meaning of this idea is exactly the same as the Taoist precept.

Edited by Yueya
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Lastly, two more passages of John Blofeld's book. The last one being particularly significant since the author was particularly lucky enough to have met someone who finished the journey to the Source. Certainly, the chances of encountering such an individual would be 1/1000000.

 

The Mysterious Phenomenon of the Bodhisattva Lights

The Clairvoyant Immortal

 

A highly recommended book for any serious follower of The Way. :)

Edited by Gerard
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Thanks again Gerald for the extracts from John Blofeld’s,  My Journey in Mystic China.

I agree with you  – ‘The Clairvoyant Immortal’  is a must read for all Daoists.

 

The Clairvoyant Immortal

 

During those two years that I returned to live in Peking, my life was so replete with peace and happiness that I rarely thought about the political situation in China. At that time, Peking had not yet recovered its prewar grandeur, and the vestiges of the Japanese military occupation still remained. The furnishings in most residential houses and government buildings were dilapidated, and all items of value had been stolen by the enemy and their Chinese collaborators, or else sold off by their owners. The restaurants, shops, teahouses, and other structures were all old and ramshackle. Nevertheless, Peking still had infinite charm and beauty, and in my mind no place else on earth could compare with it. Despite the adverse conditions, the city's ancient flavor still delighted my heart.

 

At that time I never dreamed that soon I would be compelled to leave the adopted homeland that I loved so deeply; on the contrary, I was very eager to find a long-term residence there. Oh, alas! Before long I began to hear frequent reports of relentless attacks on central government forces by the Red Army. Although the newspapers usually reported Red Army victories as "defeats," everyone knew that the Power of the Communist Party was growing, and that the situation was becoming more critical by the day. Even I, as a foreigner, could no longer close my eyes to this predicament for it was clear that the crisis was pressing close.

 

In those years, my own life in Peking was very interesting. My work a teacher at the university was pleasant and satisfying. At the same time, my research work also provided me with deep fulfillment, and was beginning to show success. My translations of two important volumes of Buddhist teachings by Tang Dynasty Zen masters were in the midst of being printed by  a publisher in England. One was The Zen Teaching of Huang Po and the other was the Zen master Hui Hai's The Teaching of Hui Hai: On Sudden Illumination. In addition, in my spare time I also translated Lao She's novel Illumination of Cat City into English. (I don't know why,   but those two Tang Dynasty works proved to have broad popular appeal and were continuously reprinted, and they still remain in print to this day. But that short novel by Lao She, with all its heartrending sarcasm, was turned down by several English publishers.)

 

In 1948, on the night before the Lantern Festival,1 I unexpectedly encountered a peculiar event. That day I had heard about a 'living immortal' who was staying in the western quarter of the city, and this came as strange news to me. Although I was not certain that there existed such a thing, I really wanted to go meet this so-called immortal. Because I'd heard that this living immortal would soon be going to the south and I might therefore miss my opportunity, I decided then and there to immediately pay him a visit. My servant Old Dzan called a motor car, and as the weather was extremely cold, the open car had a quilt inside to block the wind. The passenger rode as though tucked inside of a Mongolian tent, but the stench was really hard to bear.

 

It took over an hour to reach the immortal's residence. A note on the gate informed visitors that the immortal was in the midst of meditation and no one was permitted to enter. I was freezing to death, and needed to warm myself by a fire. Using this as an excuse, I mustered my courage and went resolutely inside. The gatekeeper told me that it was forbidden to enter, but he didn't dare raise his arm to block me and just stood there agitated, so he did not stop me from walking up to the front door and knocking. A servant opened the door and led me to the parlor to warm myself by the fire. And there before my eyes sat the immortal. He was sitting cross-legged on a mat, meditating. He sat with his back to the door and did not notice that someone had entered the room, and for a long time he just sat there like a lifeless statue.

 

When he finally stood up, turned around, and noticed me, he did not seem the least bit surprised, and said casually, "Good, good! Mr. Pu, you have arrived." Struck with wonder and curiosity by his prescience, I asked myself how he could possibly know that my name was Pu. Until the moment that I told my servant to find me a cab, even I did not know that today I would be going to visit this complete stranger. After arriving at his residence, I hadn't mentioned my name to anyone there. So the moment I heard him address me as "Mr. Pu," I stood there wide-eyed and slack-jawed with wonder, and felt very astonished.

 

He called for tea, and invited me to sit down. We sat facing one another, with a small tea table between us. I bowed to pay my respects, then said politely, "It's a great honor to meet you, esteemed immortal, and please forgive me for disturbing you. Do you have a few minutes to spare? Otherwise, I could .... "

 

It was obvious that he was not pleased to hear me address him as "immortal," and so he riposted with the question, "Is it possible that there exists such a thing as an immortal in this world? And if indeed there really are such strange creatures, by no means should you mistake me as one of them. In my humble opinion, immortals are characters fabricated by human beings. Regrettably, my humble self is sometimes praised by others as being an immortal. How on earth could there possibly be such a thing? Please, sir, address me as Taoist Dzeng." This white-haired Taoist wasn't wearing Taoist robes. He wore a long padded tunic of blue satin and felt boots. His hair was cut short, like most elderly men in contemporary China. It was clear that he felt great disdain for charlatans posing as immortals. I said, "Although the venerable Mr. Dzeng is not an immortal, you certainly are endowed with great spiritual power. Otherwise, how could you foretell that my name n Pu?" He poured me a cup of tea before replying, "My humble self may perhaps have a small measure of obscure clairvoyant ability. That's a very common result of practicing meditation."

 

"May I inquire, sir, what business brings you here, that you would risk the cold to come to my residence?" At this moment, Taoist Dzeng's expression seemed to carry a tinge of sarcasm. With a straight face I replied, "My humble self has fora long time wished to meet a Taoist adept who is highly accomplished in the mystical arts, and to ask him for guidance regarding which type of practices are most effective for restoring youth and prolonging life." The venerable old Dzeng smiled and said, "'If you don't believe in the teaching, you cannot obtain its benefits.” How can I possibly explain this in words? Ha-ha, Mr. Pu has climbed famous mountains, and has received teachings from many great Buddhist monks and Taoist adepts, so why would you find it worthwhile to ask for guidance from my humble self? I daresay, sir, that you must be familiar with some words of advice from the Tao Teh Ching. The general meaning of this advice is that visiting famous mountains and traveling afar to seek teachings about the Tao is not nearly as useful as staying home, shutting the door, and examining your own mind." When he finished speaking, he gazed steadily into my eyes, as though concentrating the full power of his attention on making me understand.

 

At that moment, a very peculiar sensation suddenly arose within me. All of a sudden, he, I, and everything in the space between us, while still retaining their external appearance, seemed to condense into an inseparable singularity, as though we had suddenly dissolved into one amorphous entity. This dimension of existence gave me a feeling a great joy. For a short while, my mind was mesmerized and my spirit was lost, but at the same time, I knew that this condition was definitely not a distorted fantasy. The strange thing was that although I felt very happy and at ease in that state, I also felt that I could not withstand this man's spiritual power much longer, and that if I did not soon break free of his gaze, I might never return to the normal world, and so I quickly lowered my eyes and terminated that mysterious sensation.

 

Just then, a group of visitors arrived to see him. They seemed to have come by previous appointment. Therefore, I did not wish to disturb him any longer, bade him farewell, and took my leave. A few days later I heard that the venerable Dzeng had already departed by train for the south. I had missed the opportunity to inquire in detail about several strange matters. For example, how had he known my surname? How had he known that I visited many famous mountains, and that I'd sought teachings about Buddhist doctrine and Taoist mysteries from numerous renowned masters? Relatively speaking, these few matters were not very important. Before we'd met, it was possible that the old man had casually heard that there was a Westerner named Pu living in Peking who had a strong interest in Taoism, and possibly he'd heard people discussing my appearance and other things about me. Although this was only a slight possibility, it was also not impossible. But Old Dzeng had definitely caused me to experience the phenomenon known as "myriad objects uniting into one whole," and for a very short time I had entered into this mysterious dimension.

 

I'd like to discuss in more detail the meaning of this so-called “uniting as one whole" phenomenon, both from the perspective of Taoist reaching as well as modern science. When Old Dzeng fixed his penetrating gaze on me, I definitely and very clearly perceived the inseparable and boundless nature of all phenomena. That is to say, my perception at the time was that even though all objects had their own separate relative identity, at the same rime they were also all completely unified as one primordial entity. That of course defies logic, and is a principle that lies beyond rational debate. I had long ago learned from my Buddhist and Taoist studies about the relative nature of reality, and that only through a higher level of wisdom could one really understand the true nature of phenomena. And yet, in only a few fleeting moments, Old Dzeng had given me a direct experiential perception of the fundamental nature of reality.

 

Regarding this matter, there is a passage in the Tao Teh Ching that states:

 

We look but we don't see it

and call it indistinct

We listen but don’t hear it

And call it faint

We reach but don't grasp it

and call it ethereal

Three failed means of knowledge

I weave into one

with no light above

with no shade below

too fine to be named

returning to nothing....

and discover the ancient maiden

This is the thread of the Way 2

 

The words "weave into one" in this passage refer to the essential, indivisible unity of all phenomena. The last sentence states that we must clearly understand that all phenomena arise from the same formless, invisible source, the infinite ocean of primordial energy, which Lao-tze refers to here as "the ancient maiden," the "mother of all things."

 

Modern science can now provide evidence for this idea of the primordial unity of all manifest form throughout the universe. It has been demonstrated by science that matter (form) and energy (formless) am interchangeable and that they both share the same essential vibrational nature. Einstein's famous equation E = mc2 defined the dynamic commutability between these two dimensions of existence. Furthermore the advanced science of quantum physics now agrees with the fundamental hypothesis of ancient Eastern cosmology that the entire manifest universe is formed and shaped by consciousness, and that nothing whatsoever exists beyond the infinite luminous field of primordial awareness. After my meeting with the old Taoist Dzeng, I never again had the opportunity to communicate with another genuine Taoist master in China. That was the last time I received the benefit of direct personal guidance from a traditional Chinese master regarding the ancient teachings of the Great Tao.

 

       1.    The fifteenth day of the first month in the traditional Chinese New Year, based on the old lunar                 calendar. It celebrates the first full moon of the New Year and usually falls in

              late February or early March.

 

        2.   Translation by Red Pine, (Bill Porter) in Lao Tze's Taoteching  1996.

 

(from John Blofeld’s,  My Journey in Mystic China,  pp 231-7)

Edited by Yueya
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Yes, you can never judge a book by its cover. Wearing robes or adopting a certain lifestyle in order to impress others doesn't make one a saint. :)

 

What that Daoist atttained is beyond the grasp of most people. Truly incredible, I can feel what John felt when he met Daoist Dzeng. Pity he didn't provide more details about where this extraordinary individual spent his life in cultivation prior to moving to Peking and what exactly was his main method practice aside from seated meditation which is a core practice in any tradition.

 

Best. :)

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