Thursday, December 23, 2010

Some notes on the development of Taoist yoga in China

Recently I came across a book called 大道行, a biography of Taoist master Wang Liping (王力平) of Dragon Gate tradition (龍門派 same tradition as Master Liu Huayang, author of Hui Ming Jing), and claimed to be its 18th Patriarch. The book was published in China in 1990 and translated into English by Thomas Cleary in 1998 as "Opening the Dragon Gate: The Making of a Modern Taoist Wizard". Both English and Chinese versions can be read from the internet (copyright status unknown).

The book was written when chi-kung, with religious overtone, was flourishing in mainland China. The situation was like this, whereas religions were rigidly controlled and organized in China (then and now), but chi-kung as health practice was loosely watched over by the authority.

The very first chapter of the book reviewed clearly that this was not meant to be a "factual" biography of the Master (similarly, the Bible is not a "factual" biography of Jesus). The finding and enrolling of young Wang into the practice (and eventually became its leader) was everything mystical. Young Wang at age 13, a normal student from a poor family, was discovered by three elders who, according to the book, used 推背图 (Tui Bei Tu, Figuring the Backbone), and based on their tradition, figured out the whereabout of the coming new leader of their religious tradition.

A couple of mystical moves can be seen here. Firstly, the finding of a new leader as a young and yet-uninitiated boy was taken from the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism with the objective of give the whole process an mystical touch.

Secondly, the finding was motivated by the famous prophecy book Figuring the Backbone. This is a Chinese prophecy book from the 7th century Tang dynasty. The book is known for predicting the future of China, and is written by Li Chun-feng (李淳風) and Yuan Tian-gang (袁天罡). It has been compared to the works of famous western prophet Nostradamus. The intention is clear. The new leader was important enough to be included into the prophecy book of the future of China! The new leader must thus be a great man.

Thirdly, more technical, the age was below fifteen. According to the classics, young man before fifteen (i.e. before puberty) can be speedily trained to the highest enlightened level. Major Taoist leaders became enlightened usually at middle-age when after experiencing much of life's frustration (a note here: not today where many young people get their fair share of lives' frustration earlier on, but that will be another story). That means a leader trained before 15 must have great technical skills!

Therefore, the original intention was to make the book the "bible of Dragon Gate tradition". Needless to say, even without any political hindrance, other Taoists inside the tradition would likely to have different wishes.

As fate has decided. Another Buddhist/Taoist belief system, the more famous Falungong (法輪功) was cracked down by the authority in 1999, with much killing, torturing and jailing. The leader of Falungong fled to the US before the crackdown, and leaders of similar chi-kung-sects, including Master Wang, started playing a very low profile.

With an enemy to fight against, Falungong established operations worldwide. On the other hand our Master Wang had basically become a chi-kung master with occasional invitations from authority controlled Taoist organization as a show of respect. Sometimes we can read from the press the Master performed miraculous feats like use chi to attract a group of squirrels, cure diseases where western medical practice failed (including treating the Russian president!), and able to train a group of novice Germans to see mandala just a couple of days (!!!) using the method mentioned in the Secret of the Golden Flower. And I also came across a website by a lady student of the Master running elementary chi-kung courses in an European city.

Fate does count, even when one is a leading Taoist master who was said being able to look into the future.

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