Tan Chuduan

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The Life of Tan Chuduan ( 譚處端 Tan Chuduan ) (1123-1185)

His original name was Yu, and he styled himself Boyu. Later he was styled Tongzheng, with the Daoist name Chuduan, and the alternate name "Changzhenzi". He was from Ninghai of Shandong. He read extensively about Confucian classics and history, and was good at Chinese calligraphy. He was generous, attaching importance to filial piety and personal loyalty. He suffered from wandering arthritis for a long time, which could not be cured with drugs or acupuncture. As he heard that Wang Chongyang had arrived in Shandong in the 7th year of the Jin Dynasty, he went to him on his stilts to seek a cure for his disease, but Wang Chongyang barred the door to him. Nevertheless he waited and waited until late in the evening, and suddenly the door opened by itself. Wang Chongyang thought it indicated that they had an 'Immortal Affinity' ( 仙綠 Xiangyuan ), so he invited Tan Chuduan to stay for the night with him, and the next morning his long bothered illness disappeared. Thus Tan begged to wait upon Wang for the rest of his life. After the burial of his guru at the founder's court of the Complete Perfection Tradition ( 全真道 Quanzhen Dao ), Tan left Shanxi for Luoyang with Liu Chuxuan. Confronted with colored decorations on the streets and surrounded by beautiful women and delicious foods, Tan refined his mind under such circumstances until he found he had no-mind in front of all temptations. Tan Chuduan became head of the Daoists of the Complete Perfection Tradition after Ma Yu, and passed away peacefully in the 25th year of the Dading. Emperor Shizhu of the Yuan Dynasty awarded him the title 'Perfect Man Changzhen of Cloud Water and Accumulated Virtues' ( 長真雲水蘊德真人 Chengzhen Yunshui Yunde Zhenren ) in the 6th year of Zhiyuan. He was one of the Seven Perfect Ones of the North ( 北七真 Beiqizhen ).

Tan's Thoughts

As a disciple of Wang Chongyang, Tan Chuduan called to pay his respect to Wang and consulted him both in the morning and afternoon, and he finally realized the obscure essence of Dao. Tan tried to dismiss the reflection of everything and reject the difference between the outside world and himself, apart from his bitter cultivation of Dao. At the same time he was concerned with Confucian ethics, and maintained that "loyalty, filial piety and benevolence ae superior to self-cultivation at the temple". He revised Ma Danyang's theory about self-cultivation at the temple, based on the idea that one could cultivate oneself while staying at home. Such a revision matched the need of the ordinary people, so that the Complete Perfection Tradition developed very rapidly ever since.


Tan instituted the Namo Sect ( 南無派 Nanwu Pai ) of the Complete Perfection Tradition, which had some influence until the end of the Ming Dynasty even if it was less influential than the Dragon Gate Sect ( 龍門派 Longmen Pai ). Among Tan's disciples were Wang Daoming and Dong Shangzhi.

Major works

Essays of Clouds and Water, which is kept in the Daoist Canon until today.

Classical Allusions

  1. Tan Chuduan was master of Daoist calligraphy, especially fond of writing the two Chinese characters 'tortoise' and 'snake'. He practiced writing them every day, so much so that the tortoise and snake on the paper seemed to be alive. So the Daoist believers enjoyed preserving his calligraphic works as treasures.
  2. Based on the Records of the Orthodox Sect of the Golden Lotus ( 金蓮正宗記 Jinlian Zhengzong Ji ), Tan Chuduan once passed by a Buddhist temple and asked a monk for some food. Unfortunately, he was beaten so bitterly by the extremely angry monk that two of his teeth were broken. Tan swallowed them together with his blood while bystanders were ready to argue for him. He nodded with a smile instead of getting annoyed. Since then he became very famous because of his graceful manner like that of a real gentleman.