Zhang Sanfeng

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The Life of Zhang Sanfeng

Zhang Sanfeng ( 張三丰 Zhang Sanfeng ) was a Daoist from Yizhou of Laodong (southwest of present-day Zhangwu in Liaoning province) in the Yuan and Ming Dynasties, whose name was Quanyi, whose other name was Junshi, and was also called Sanfeng. He lived from ca.1314~1320 to 1417.

Mysterious legends about the 'Secluded Immortal'

Zhang Sanfeng was called 'Sloppy Zhang' ( 張邋遢 Zhang Lata ) since he was careless about his appearance. It was said that Zhang Sanfeng was 'well built, with a tortoise-shaped figure and a crane-shaped back, big ears and round eyes, and a thick and long beard and whiskers. He always wore a Daoist cassock with a palm-bark rain cape. When he had a meal, he could eat a lot, but sometimes he ate only once every few days, or ate nothing for a few months. He was very learned, capable of remembering whatever books he read, and of writing poems and essays. He was very casual and free from restraint, with the manner of immortals. There were quite a few legends about his life experience and his background. One of them said that he was born in the Jin Dynasty. There was a story which said that at the end of the Song Dynasty, there was a rebellion, so Emperor Huizong called on him, and Zhang Sanfeng once beat or killed one hundred rebels with one of his fists. Another story said that he could survive by abstaining from grains, move as fast as immortals, and come back to life after death. All his life he was immune to reputation and wealth, and fond of pure cultivation in seclusion. According to his testimony, he was once a county magistrate, quit his position and left his family some time later, and then became a Daoist of the Complete Perfection Tradition ( 全真道 Quanzhen Dao ). Once he ran into the Perfect Man of the Fire Dragon ( 火龍真人 Huolong Zhenren ), who offered him an elixir formula. Wandering to Mt. Wudang with his disciples, Zhang built a cottage for cultivation of Dao after cutting down the bushes and disposing debris and rubble. He predicted: 'The mount will be flourishing some day" and told his disciples 'to carefully preserve the transmission of Dao carefully'. Soon he left Mt. Wudang and wandered to Sichuan to visit the Perfect Men and the historical sites of Mt.Qingcheng and Mt.Heming. He also authored a treatise on Taiji shadowboxing ( 太極拳 Taijiquan ) as a method to cultivate Dao and keep fit, which is still very popular even today.

Claim to be a Secluded Immortal

Zhang Sanfeng had been wandering all over the country in his life, often of uncertain whereabouts. He was famous for his 'seclusion' and claimed to be a 'secluded immortal" ( 隱仙 Yinxian ). In the 24th year of Hongwu (1391), the emperor Zhu Yuanzhang sent Zhang Yuchu to look for him everywhere, but in vain. During the years of Yongle (1403-1425), the emperor Chengzu of the Ming Dynasty sent some officials to look for him several times, but again found him nowhere. As a result, the emperor had Daoist temples constructed on Mt.Wudang on a large scale, so that Zhang's prophecy of the flourishing of Mt.Wudang could come true. In the 3rd year of Tianshun (1459), Emperor Yingzong conferred on him the title Perfect Manifestation of Pervasive Subtlety" ( 通微顯化真人 Tongwei Xianhua Zhenren ), and in the 22nd year of Chenghua (1486), the emperor Xianzong granted him the title 'Brilliant and Lofty Perfect Immortal' ( 韜光尚志真人 Taoguang Shangzhi ). In the 3rd year of Tianqi (1623) Emperor Xizong claimed that Zhang Sanfeng descended unto the altar by manifesting his spirit, and offered him the title Perfect Flying Dragon Sovereign Who Manifests Salvation, Promotes Benevolence, and Benefits the World" ( 飛龍顯化宏仁濟世真君 Feilong Xianhua Hongren Jishi Zhenjun ). With the admiration and confirmation of the emperors of the Ming Dynasty and the surge of Daoist believers, the legend of Zhang's immortality was told and renewed constantly. Until the Qing Dynasty were there still stories circulation about meeting Zhang Sanfeng and being taught Daoist skills.

Zhang's Thought and Works

Zhang Sanfeng's shared the same general ideas about Daoism as his contemporaries, i.e., that the three religions in China come from the same origin. Zhang maintained that the three religions of Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism had the same tendency to cultivate one's own moral character and benefit the people of the world in spite of their different founders. Therefore Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism all could be named Daoism. In his On the Great Dao ( 大道論 Dadao Lun ), Zhang said that Confucians tried to practice Dao and benefit the world, Buddhists preferred to realize Dao and awaken the world, while Daoist immortals would rather preserve Dao and save mankind. He insisted that cultivation of Dao meant the 'Cultivation Yin and Yang, Spiritual Nature ( 性 Xing ), and Bodily Life ( 命 Ming )"; 'The sages of the three religions established their doctrines based on this concept". Moreover, Zhang considered that 岞eritorious Virtue ( 功德 Gongde ) is the essence of Dao, while the Golden Elixir ( 金丹 Jindan ) is its application, allowing one to attain Immortality". Zhang Sanfeng left many works. Li Xiyue of the Qing Dynasty compiled the Complete Works of Gentleman Zhang Sanfeng ( 張三丰先生全集 Zhang Sanfeng Xiansheng Quanji ), which was preserved in the Selections of the Daoist Canon ( 道藏輯要 Daozang Jiyao ).