The Great Life-Protecting Emperor
Origin of the Great Life-Protecting Emperor
Also known as the Daoist Elder ( 大道公 Dadao Gong ) or Perfect Sovereign Wu, the name of the Great Life Protecting Emperor ( 保生大帝 Baosheng Dadi ) was Wu Ben and his literary name Huaji. He came from Baijiao village of Tongan county in Quanzhou city, Fujian province, and also styled himself Yundong. His father was Wutong and his mother's surname Huang. Wu Ben was born on the fifteenth day of the third lunar month in the Song emperor Taizhong's fourth Taiping Xingguo year (979 AD). It is said that when he was born, his mother, then in oblivion, saw a kid accompanied by a spirit coming to her gate. The spirit told her: he is the Star of Purple Subtlety ( 紫微星 Ziwei Xing ). Even as a boy, Wu showed his extraordinary intelligence as well as an inborn aspiration for Dao. A few years later, he started to systematically study a variety of disciplines of knowledge, including astronomy, geography, and classics like the Book of Rites and the Book of Music. He was particularly good at medicine. When he was seventeen years old, he started to visit the sacred mountains. On the way, he met an extraordinary man who was rowing in a river. He invited Wu on board and then took him to Mt. Kunlun, where Wu was summoned by the Queen Mother of the West and given the Divine Prescription for Benefiting Mankind ( 濟世神方 Jishi Shenfang ) as well as the Arts of Exorcism ( 驅邪術 Quxie Shu ). After returning home, he started to cultivate Dao. He neither ate meat nor got married. Because of his good virtue, he was recommended to hold a position in government, and ultimately became Chief Royal Prosecutor. On the second day of the fifth month of the third Jingyou year (1036 AD), he died at White Reef, in the district of Zhang, and then rode on a crane upward into heaven. During the Shaoxing era of the Song emperor Gao, following and imperial decree, a temple dedicated to him was established at White Reef and Green Reef. He was also granted the title of Perfect Man of Great Dao" in the seventh Qiandao year of the Song Emperor Shao (1171 AD). During the first Ming emperor era, another title, Perfect Sovereign of Numinous Healing and Heavenly Chief Royal Prosecutor" ( 晸天御史醫靈真君 Haotian Yushi Yiling Zhenjun ) was conferred upon him. In the first Hongxi year of the Ming dynasty (1425 AD), he was further granted the titles of 'Perfect Sovereign of Sublime Dao and Healing Soul of Benevolent Salvation' ( 慈濟醫靈妙道真君 Ciji Yiling Miaodao Zhenjun ) and 'Great Life-Protecting Emperor of Infinity and Longevity" ( 萬壽無極保生大帝 Wanshou Wuji Baosheng Dadi ).
Impact on Folk Culture
The Great Life-Protecting Emperor had a deep understanding of the sublimity and mystery of Dao as well as of the Three-and-Five Flying Paces ( 三五飛步之法 Sanwu Feibu Zhifa ). He used to employ Jade Knife Talismanic Skills ( 刀圭符法 Daogui Fufa ) for salvation. During the Mingdao era of the Song dynasty empero Ren (1032-1033), the Zhang and Quan districts were struck by a severe drought, which resulted in a serious food shortage. The Great Life-Protecting Emperor employed his magical power to transport relief grains. In the next year, the area was afflicted by epidemics related to miasma and harmful demons. The Great Emperor immediately summoned his divine soldiers to resist. He employed both talismans and incantations to successfully protect the people. As a result, popular stories depict Wu Ben as a divine doctor who used to cure the sick by dispelling miasma and demons. The General History of Fujian ( 福建通志 Fujian Tongzhi ), which was published during the Tongzhi era of the Qing dynasty, said that Wu Ben saved many lives with his medical skill. He used different treatments and medicines to cure different diseases. So the effect was incredibly good. Sometimes, he emitted his breath onto water and gave it to patients to drink. All kinds of chronic diseases were eradicated in a short time. According to the Book of Ming, during the Yongle era of the Ming dynasty (1403-1424), Queen Wen suffered from a breast ache. She dreamed that a Daoist offered her a prescription, by which she wound her breast with red threads and treated it with acupuncture. Immediately, the breast ache disappeared. She sent envoys to investigate and found that it was Wu Ben who had cured her. So the emperor granted him a dragon robe as well as the title of 'Great Life-Protecting Emperor". After that, Wu lived as a hermit and doctor. His magical medical skill saved many patients suffering from chronic diseases. As a result, many temples dedicated to him were set up in the Quan district located in southern Fujian, in northern Taiwan, as well as some areas in southeast Asia where many people originally from the Quan district were living. Every year on the fifteenth day of the third lunar month, which is the Great Emperor's birthday, people from southern Fujian always hold memorial activities in honor of the Daoist Elder, praying for good health and a peaceful life.