It was a great honor and privilege to climb Mount Wudang Shan last week, one of China’s most sacred mountains, for the Lunar 9th month 9th Day festival (Oct. 24-25 this year). 9/9 is the birthday of “Bei Di,” 北帝 the North Pole spirit, who resided on the mountain top.

Little did I realize that 10,000+ people would choose to visit on the same day I did. Guests from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and southeast Asia joined pilgrims from local villages, and from all over China, to climb Wudang Shan’s “golden peak” summit, and celebrate Bei Di (also called “Xuan Tian Shang Di” 玄天上帝)’s birthday.

Xuan Tian Shang Di lives in the Pole Star in the Northern heavens, where he protects China’s emperors, and is patron of martial arts. He is also enshrined above the North Gate of Beijing’s “Forbidden City” Imperial palace. Emperors of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) considered Xuan Tian Shang Di to be their own very special patron. The beautiful temple complexes atop Wudang Shan were commissioned by the second Ming emperor, Yong Le, who ordered 300,000 people to go there between 1420-1428, and build what he hoped would be China’s most spectacular sacred temple area, just as he ordered Beijing to be built as the world’s most spectacular imperial palace.

The Manchu emperors of the Qing dynasty (1644-1912) were not as enthusiastic about maintaining Daoist mountain top temples. The KMT government was even less concerned, allowing the summit to be neglected, without government funding or notice. Zhou Enlai, one of China’s wisest modern prime ministers, forbade the Red Guard to destroy any of the buildings and statues on the summit, as he did for other cultural heritages of China as well. A handful of ancient Daoists survived the Cultural Revolution, keeping the traditions of inner cultivation, and spiritual presence, alive and well on the mountaintop.
Governmental neglect was a blessing in disguise for the Daoist monks and nuns, who stayed in the shrines, temples, and caves, that bless the 72 peaks of the Wudang Mountain complex. After 1980, Wudang Shan’s ancient customs were revived. The government soon noticed that thousands of pilgrims came each year to the mountain to “burn incense,” offer “spirit-paper money,” (a symbol of offering one’s own good deeds) at the many shrines atop Wudang Shan. Buses were provided to carry pilgrims from the foot of the mountain to hilltop lodgings, for a nominal fee. For those who cannot manage the grueling 3 hour uphill walk, a cable car provides a 40 minute ride from Zhongguan bus stop to the summit.

The monks and nuns of Wudang Shan (Mt. Wudang) belong to the Dragon Gate (Longmen) branch of Quanzhen monastic Daoism (龙门全真), which is also popular in Hong Kong’s “Green Pine Monastery” (Qing Song Guan青松观) and many temples throughout China. People come from all over China and the overseas diaspora each year to pay respects to Bei Di, Patron Spirit the Big Dipper as well as the North Pole star, at his mountaintop temple.

Climbing the summit is a very moving experience. Children, parents, grandparents, rich and poor alike, line up from early morning until late at night, waiting their turn to climb up the 1000 steps to the summit, and wish “happy birthday” to Bei Di. The Big Dipper, Bei Di reminds us, points to the North Pole Star 24 hours a day, as it circles through the heavens. Christian, Islamic, Judaic, Buddhist, and Daoist visitors are reminded to be always aware of “Transcendent” Dao, (God, Allah) within us, symbolized in art, for all who visit the shrine.
Michael Saso Wudang Shan, Nov. 21-31, 2009[singlepic id=1 w=320 h=240 float=]

Posted on February 3, 2010

Daoist Ordination Manual,  “龙虎山师传法派“ 1868, Library of the 61st Celestial Master

15 folio pages;  pg. 1  the 40 character poem that identifies a Daoist master of the “3 mountain Drop of Blood Alliance,”  三山滴血派 i.e., Mao Shan, Gezao Shan, and Longhu Shan; Wugang Shan Daoists add 10 more characters to the poem. One character is advanced for every generation that the ordination titles are transmitted; at present, the 29th and 30th characters “Da 大,” and “Luo 羅” are in use. The manual is preserved at Longhu Shan, Mao Shan, Wudangshan, and Baiyun Guan in Beijing .

Pg. 2. (Folio 32b and Folio 33a), the registers or “Lu”籙 transmitted by the 3 mountains;

Pg 3. (Folio 33b) the rules for transmission; immoral behavior (Fangzhong) and bad tempered disciples may not go higher than Grade 6, “xian guan” 仙官。

Pg. 4-8, samples of titles given to Daoists in the past, who came for ordination.

Pgs 9-15, the ordination titles, Tan altar, Gongcao 攻曹 Patron messenger spirit for each ordained Daoist, according to the year, month, day and hour in a 60 year Jia Zi 甲子 cycle; the “talisman” at the foot of each title is drawn with the tip of the tongue on the hard palate, beyond the upper teeth, and saliva “swallowed”, in order to summon the Jiazi Gongcao spirit.

This mijue 秘诀 manual may not be sold, used for profit, or ritual-meditative purposes, unless taught by and licensed from a recognized Daoist master.


Posted on November 23, 2009

Daoism, as taught by Daoists in China

(taken from MYSTIC, SHAMAN, ORACLE, PRIEST, “MYSHOP,” CH. 3. Oracle Bones Press, copyright, Michael Saso, 2009)

Wisdom is like water. It resides in the lower meditation field, the belly. The head is for thinking; the heart for willing and desiring. The belly is the place for wisdom and contemplation. We “return” to Dao’s gestating presence, from this ‘inner womb’ of intuitive awareness. (Daoist Master Chuang, 3rd edition, 2009).

The history of Daoism in China is divided into four parts, or “four seasons,” spring (3000-221 BCE), summer (221 BCE – 906), autumn (906-1644) , and winter (1640-..until today).

During the “spring” of Daoist history, what we call “Daoism” (Daojiao 道教)was seven separate streams of spiritual practice,  called Daojia, 到家 (school Daoisms) which later developed into a powerful “river” (Daojiao) of inner cultivation during the summer of Daoist history. The seven separate movements of “spring” period (3000 BCE to 221 BCE) are:

“Spring,” 3000 BC to 221 BC, before the forming of Daojiao 道教源流:

1. Apophatic or Wu-wei 无为meditation, based on the books of Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu.

2. Yinyang Five Element cosmology,  阴阳五行的人生观, a Yu-wei “visible Dao”

有为 (kataphatic), image filled system describing cyclical change in nature.

3. Neidan, 内丹inner alchemy, or meditation, uniting seasonal changes, colors, and

unseen forces as visualized spirits within the interior organs of the meditator’s body.

4. Li Yi, 礼仪Ritual meditation, used to celebrate “Rites of Passage” and annual

change in nature. The founder of Celestial Master Daoism, Zhang Daoling, (ca. 145 CE),

based early Daoist rituals on the Monthly Commands (Yueling月令) chapter of the Confucian

Book of Rites (Li Ji 礼记), and the ancient “weft” (古纬书)tradition.

5. Fangshi方士, the ancient healers and ritual experts of the “fang” or rural

villages, and cities. Fangshi became Daoshi 道士or Daoists in the Han Dynasty.

6. Wushu, 武术 Martial Arts; origin of Taiping (太平Great Peace) Martial Arts

Daoism, preserved on  Mt. Wudang 武当山and wlsewhere, until today.

7. Yijing, 已经the Book of Changes, the earliest source of apophatic and

kataphatic prayer images, used in all later Daoist rituals and meditations.

These many sources became a great river called “Daoism” (Daojiao道教) of inner cultivation and rites of passage, during the summer of Daoism, from the Later Han through the Tang dynasties (145-906 CE), proliferated during the “Autumn” — Song through Ming dynasties (960-1640 CE), and continues in the “Winter” of Daoism, 1640 until today.

“Summer,” Han dynasty to the end of the Tang dynasty, 145-906 CE.

“Autumn,” Song thru the Ming dynasties, 906-1644 CE;

“Winter,” Qing dynasty, and modern times, 1644 until today.

Posted on August 4, 2009 First published by Yale Press, 1978

“The Teachings of Taoist Master Chuang” (Daoist Master Zhuang); a brand new edition of the original 1978 verbatim account of a Daoist Master’s oral teachings, is in preparation. The “3rd edition” contains new materials, in Chinese, from Master Zhuang Chen Deng Yun’s mijue 秘诀 private, hand written holdings. Teachings brought to Taiwan from Longhu San, Mao Shan, and Wudangshan, listed under the collective title “Sanshan dixue pai” 三山滴血派,(“Three Mountain Drop of Blood Alliance”), are in the 3rd edition. The full Chinese texts, published under the title “Daojiao Mijue Jicheng”(道教秘诀集成)  can also be ordered through this website.

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