Kou Qianzhi

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Life of Kou Qianzhi

Kou Qianzhi, a celebrated Daoist priest of the Northern Wei dynasty (AD 386-534) and a representative of the New Celestial Masters Tradition ( 新天師道 Xin Tianshi Dao ), was formerly called Qian and styled Fuzhen. He had his ancestral home at Changping, Shanggu, and claimed to be the 13th generation descendant of Kou Xun, marquis of Yongnu during the reign of emperor Guangwu of the Eastern Han dynasty (AD 25-220). Kou Qianzhi was always fond of Dao and sought to attain Immortality ( 仙 Xian ), and desired to hold himself aloof from the world. He practiced Zhang Lu's Daoist arts during his teens, and when he later encountered the Immortal Cheng Gongxing, he followed him onto Mt. Hua, where he gathered and ate medicinal herbs. Then he lived in seclusion on Mt. Song, where he practiced Dao for seven years and gradually became famous.


Accomplishments in the development of Daoism

  1. In the second year of Shenrui (A.D. 415), he declared that the Supreme Venerable Sovereign ( 太上老君 Tianshang Laojun ) had descended to Mt. Song and conferred on him the position of 'Celestial Master' ( 天師 Tianshi ), bestowed on him the Commandments of the New Ordinances from the Clouds ( 雲中音誦新科之誡 Yunzhon Yinsong Xinke Zhu Jie ) in twenty volumes, imparted to him the techniques of Gymnastics ( 導引 Daoyin ), Ingesting Vital Breath ( 服氣 Fuqi ), and Oral Formulas ( 口訣 Koujue ), and ordered him to rectify Daoism, abolish false Daoist techniques, attach the greatest importance to rituals and ordinances while following a Dietetic Regimen ( 服食 Fushi ) and practising Inner Refinement ( 閉煉 Bilian ). Kou Qianzhi followed the heavenly order and rectified Daoism.
  2. In the second year of Taichang, he declared again that Li Puwen, the great-great-grandson of Laozi, had descended to Mt. Song, granted to him the Perfect Book of Registers and Charts ( 錄圖真經 Lutu Zhenjing ) in more than 60 volumes, bestowed on him the secret Daoist techniques of summoning gods and interrogating ghosts, as well as Golden Alchemy ( 金丹 Jindan ), and exhorted him to assist the Perfect Sovereign of Supreme Peace ( 太平真君 Taiping Zhenjun ) in the north (i.e., Tuoba Tao, emperor Taiwu of the Northern Wei dynasty). So Kou Qianzhi went to Pingcheng, the capital of Wei, in person to present Daoist books to Emperor Taiwu and gained help from Cui Hao, an important official. Then, according to the new rules set by the New Celestial Masters Tradition, a sacred space with a five-story altar was established by imperial order in the southeast of Pingcheng. This Daoist tradition is called the Northern Celestial Masters Tradition ( 北天師道 Bei Tianshi Dao ) by later generations.
  3. In the last year of Taiyan (AD 440), following Kou Qianzhi's advice, Emperor Taiwu changed his reign title to 'Perfect Sovereign of Supreme Peace'. Later, he went to the Daoist altar to register himself, and conferred upon Kou Qianzhi the title of Master of the State ( 國師 Guoshi ). From this time on, the Northern Celestial Masters Tradition was fairly prosperous in the north.
  4. Kou Qianzhi reformed the hereditary system of Daoist official positions. He advocated ordaining only the worthy, observing the Five Eternal Virtues ( 五常 Wuchang ) (the father's righteousness, the mother's affection, the elder brother's friendliness, the younger brother's respect and the son's piety), following commandments and cultivating good behavior. Kou Qianzhi also paid considerable attention to the rituals of Daoist Fasts and Offerings. He revised and increased several fast rituals and rites, which laid the foundation for those of later ages. The Celestial Masters Tradition ( 天師道 Tianshu Dao ) reformed by Kou Qianzhi was called the New Celestial Masters Tradition, or the Northern Celestial Masters Tradition by later generations.


In AD 448, Kou Qianzhi died at age of 84, and was buried as a Daoist priest.