Zhang Yuchu

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The Life of Zhang Yuchu

Zhang Yuchu ( 張宇初 Zhang Yuchu ) (1359-1410) was a famous Daoist of the Orthodox Oneness Tradition ( 正一道 Zhengyi Dao ) in the Ming Dynasty, who styled himself Zixuan, and was also called Qishan. As the eldest son of Zhang Zhengchang, Zhang Yuchu became the 43rd generation Celestial Master ( 天師 Tianshi ). Zhang loved reading since he was young, and was once taught Daoist skills by Liu Yuanran, Perfect Man Changchun. Later Zhang and Liu vilified each other, for they could not get along well with each other. In the 10th year of Hongwu of the Ming Dynasty (1377), Zhang Yuchu succeeded to the position of the Celestial Master of the 43th generation. In the 11th year of Hongwu (1378) he entered the imperial court, and in the 13th year of Hongwu (1380) he was granted the title 'Succeeding Great Perfect Man and Brilliant Exemplar of Orthodox Oneness Who Exemplifies the Ancestor by Non-Interference" ( 正一嗣教道合無為闡祖光范大真人 Zhengyi Cijiao Daohe Wuwei Chanzu Guangfan Da Zhenren ), in charge of Daoist affairs. In the 16th year of Hongwu (1383), he held Jade Register Great Ritual Offerings ( 玉籙大醮 Yulu Daijiao ) on Mt.Zijinshan on imperial order. In the 18th year of Hongwu (1385) he was ordered to pray for rain at the Divine Bliss Temple ( 神樂觀 Shenleguan ), and enjoyed a favourable response from Heaven, for there was an immediate rainfall. In the 22nd year of Hongwu (1389), his memorial to the throne was approved to order to reconstruct the Great Temple of the Highest Clarity ( 上清宮 Shangqing Gong ). In the 24th year of Hongwu (1391), he was given the 'Seal of the Orthodox Oneness Mystery Altar' ( 正一玄壇之印 Zhengyi Xuantan Zhi Yin ). During the years of Jianwen (1399~1402) when he was staying in the countryside, Zhang recklessly did something illegal. As a result, his imperial mandate was canceled. However, after ascending to the throne, Emperor Chengzu ordered Zhang to resume his post. In the first year of Yongle, the emperor ordered Zhang to accompany him to offer the sacrifice to Heaven at the Altar of Heaven ( 天壇 Tiantan ). In the 4th year of Yongle, the emperor ordered him to compile and write Daoist books for him. In the 5th year, the emperor ordered him to hold Jade Register Great Ritual Offerings at the Turning-to-Heaven Temple ( 朝天宮 Chaotian Gong ). After that, Zhang Yuchu went to look for Zhang Sanfeng several times on imperial order, but in vain.

The Confucian among the Immortals

Zhang Yuchu was quite learned and versatile, and good at writing poems and calligraphy. Therefore he was quite appreciated by scholars and officials. Su Boheng of the Ming Dynasty said that Zhang Yuchu was 'harsh but learned, with the changes and flying phantoms of nimble immortals and the gods confirming approval of the patters of his prayers. He was not only master of the classics of both Confucianism and Buddhism, but read extensively about the works of scholars of the pre-Qing and Han times as well'. Song Lian not only praised Zhang Yuchu as intelligent with literary gifts, but also regarded Zhang as a true Confucian scholar among the Immortals. In the early Qing Dynasty, Zhang Yuchu was the only Daoist well known to officials and scholars, while a number of Buddhist monks were well known. Famous Daoists were very rare after him.

His Thought and Works

Zhang Yuchu based his outlook on the world on the idea of the 'Unity between Heaven and Mankind' ( 天人一至 Tianren Yizhi ) by mastery of the doctrines of the three religions. His thought was characterized by harmonizing the concepts of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism. In his book Xian Stream Essays ( 峴泉集 Xianquan Ji ), his ideas were expressed by mixing Confucian thought with Daoist ideas. Essays such as the Explanation of the Supreme Ultimate ( 太極釋 Taiji Shi ), On the Diagram of Anterior Heaven ( 先天圖論 Xiantiantu Lun ), On the Origin of the River Chart ( 河圖原 Hetu Yuan ), Discussion on the Xunzi ( 辨旬子 Bian Xunzhi ), and Discussion of The Book of Secret Correspondences ( 辨陰符經 Bian Yinfu Jing ) were full of concepts common with Confucianism. The statements in the Questions on Divinities ( 問神 Wenshen ) were deeply influenced by the opinions of Cheng and Zhu. There are also ideas borrowed from Buddhism in his works. For example, in his Comprehensive Explanation of the Numinous Treasure's Refinement and Salvation

( 靈寶煉度普說 Lingbao Liandu Pushuo ), Zhang borrowed the Buddhist theores of Nirvana and Extrication (mukti or vimukta) in order to raise the soul of the dead from suffering in the next world. He widely adopted the essences of different traditions of cultivation in his methods of cultivation and refinement. He learned the Skills of Pure Brightness ( 淨明法 Jingming Fa ) from Liu Yuanran and Inner Alchemy ( 內丹 Neidan ) from the Elixir Cauldron Sect ( 丹鼎派 Danding Pai ), even though he was a master of the Skills of Talismans and Registers ( 符錄 Fulu ) and Fasts and Offerings ( 濟焦 Jijiao ) which had been handed down to him through the generations. In the Xian Stream Essays

, there are quite a number of poems and essays about Inner Alchemy. He built a hut on Mt. Longhu to cultivate and refine the Inner Elixir ( 內丹 Neidan ), and warned Daoist believers to attach more importance to cultivation and refinement of the Inner Elixir. Zhang thought Inner and Outer Alchemy ( 外丹 Waidan ) were the essence of Daoist immortalism, which must be studied. Therefore he perpetuated the Daoist doctrines of the new Talismans and Registers tradition of the Song and Yuan dynasties, introduced the arts of Inner Alchemy into the Talismans and Registers tradition, and combined Inner Alchemy with the incantations and skills of Talismans and Registers. Furthermore, he stressed that Inner Alchemy should play the main role in one's cultivation and refinement, while Talismans and Registers should play a supporting role.

His works are as follows

  1. Xian Stream Essays (12 volumes)
  2. Ten Daoist Commandments ( 道門十戒 Daomen Shijie ) (1 volume)
  3. Comprehensive Meaning of the Primordial, Lofty, and Sublime Book of the Limitless Salvation of Mankind ( 元始無量度人上品妙經通義 Yuanshi Wuliang Duren Shanpin Miaojing Tongyi ) (4 volumes)
  4. Quotations of the Perfect Sovereign of Emptiness and Tranquility, Celestial Master of the 30th Generation ( 三十代天師虛靖真君語錄 Sanshi Dai Tianshi Xujing Zhenjun Yulu ) (7 volumes)