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Chronicles of Tao: The Secret Life of a Taoist Master


Chronicles of Tao: The Secret Life of a Taoist Master Cover




Chapter One

The Taishan Festival

In 1929, Kwan Saihung accompanied his family on a pilgrimage up the steep slopes of Taishan. They were traveling to the Emerald Cloud Temple at the mountain's summit for the Festival of the Jade Emperor. This religious event combined weeks of ritual and devotion with a carnival-like atmosphere in the temple courtyard. The Guan family, members of an immensely wealthy warrior clan, were devout patrons of Taoism who were completing a long and arduous pilgrimage of over five hundred miles from their home in Shaanxi Province to Shandong Province. They would be guests of the temple for a month.

The final ascent of Taishan, by means of sedan chairs, was slow. Taishan's towering precipices could not be scaled in a day. But the gradual climb, divided by overnight lodging in rustic inns situated in pine groves, provided an opportunity for final ablutions. All the inns served only vegetarian foods. Cleansing the taint of animal flesh and contemplation quieted the pilgrims' minds.

The mountain itself made complete their otherworldly state of mind. Taishan was the foremost of the Five Sacred Mountains of China. It rose steeply above Shandong Province's vast expanse, disdaining all the other mountain ranges. It had a heavenly magnitude, an air of Imperial seclusion. Humanity was invisible from its summit. In the cool and rarifed air surrounding its high cliffs of rock, Taishan was the perfect place of solitude for the Jade Emperor.

An emperor, whether celestial or mortal, was a personage never to be seen by common people. He was a mystery, a force, an inaccessible but dominating power. But on the annual occasion of the festival, the Jade Emperor granted one exception to that rule and descended to his earthly abode to accept the supplications of his subjects.

Saihung, an energetic, mischievous, and curious nine-year-old boy, was less interested in the religious significance of the event than he was in simply having fun. His grandfather Guan Jiuyin, his grandmother Ma Sixing, and his aunt Guan Meihong understood this. They did not want to force things on Saihung but nevertheless felt that it was time for him to experience his first pilgrimage. It was with that in mind that the family faced the final approach to Taishan, the Eighteen-Twist Path.

The path was a narrow ribbon of seven thousand stone steps that followed the twisted crags of a huge cleft. Compared to the rugged granite cliffs, netted with tenacious shrubs and trees, the pathway seemed positively fragile. It was a man-made object, insignificant compared to nature. The adults were carried up in their sedan chairs, but Saihung, though he had the option of being carried on the back of a manservant, bounded up the stairs in excitement.

The early morning air was thin and cold, and Saihung was warmly dressed in a high-collared, fur-lined coat of mountain-lion skin over a suit of heavy maroon cotton. Knicker pants buttoned at the knee over white leggings, and both his shoes and money pouch were intricately embroidered silk. The shoes were felt-soled, with blue and white clouds decorating the sides and gaily colored appliqued lion heads at the toes. His money pouch, barely visible at the hem of his coat, had a design of a frolicking lion. For good measure he wore a tiger's tooth around his neck as a talisman. All of Saihung's clothing was designed to ward off evil.

Two other items of clothing completed this outfit, and Saihung hated them both. He first pulled off his hat. It also was of mountain-lion skin, with flaps that covered the ears and two decorative lion's ears that stuck up at the crown. These protrusions were the one detail Saihung most disliked, and he took the opportunity to fling the cap away. He also removed the second item he hated, his mittens. These were, to his chagrin, impossible to dispose of. They had been securely sewn with silken cords to his coat sleeves. Still, with the hat gone and the mittens dangling, he finally felt free of encumbrance as he ran up the steps. His bobbing head, completely shaven except for a square patch of hair at the forehead, could be glimpsed as he darted among the other pilgrims.

The steps seemed endless. Saihung had stopped to rest at the side when his family's entourage caught up with him. The lead sedan chair, with its latticework windows, reduced his grandfather to a silhouetted presence. Evidently, however, his grandfather could see him perfectly well, for his deep voice soon came booming out from behind the grill.

"Saihung! Where is your hat?"

Saihung looked up innocently. "I must have left it at the inn, Grandfather."

There was a patient sigh from within the chair. One of the servants brought the hat out. Saihung grimaced at him and was preparing to kick the man's shins when his grandfather called sharply to him. With a pout, Saihung put on the hat.

Once again running ahead of the procession, however, Saihung grinned. He knew he was his grandfather's favorite, and he knew that his grandfather, though firm, was also indulgent and forgiving.

When the Family reached the temple gates, the abbot personally came out to meet them. An old friend, he had prepared one of the temple's pavilions for the Guan family's living quarters during their stay.

Guan Jiuyin was the first to descend from his chair. Already in his mid-seventies, he was nevertheless impressively large and muscular. More than six feet in height, his size alone would have set him apart from others. The richness of his dress and his obvious charisma completed his unusual image. His fur-lined burgundy tunic and pants, black brocade vest, black cap with its piece of apple-green jade, snow-white beard, and braided hair fittingly accentuated the placid but alert expression of a warrior.

Ma Sixing, a year younger and only a few inches shorter than her husband, was the next to greet the abbot. In spite of bound feet, she walked unaided. Her slender figure was covered by expensive brocades. Over her own fur-lined tunic and trousers, she wore a long apron and a cowl, both of which were hand-embroidered in a palette of bright colors and metallic thread.

The foregoing is excerpted from Chronicles of Tao by Ming-Dao Deng. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022

Product Details

Deng, Ming Dao
Ming-Dao, Deng
by Ming-Dao Deng
Deng, Ming-DAO
Deng, Ming-DAO
Ming-Dao, Deng
San Francisco :
Religious biography
Taoists -- China -- Biography.
Kwan, Saihung
Philosophy : General
Edition Description:
Trade PB
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
9.24x6.14x1.28 in. 1.20 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Biography » General
Humanities » Philosophy » General
Religion » Eastern Religions » Chinese Religion and Literature
Religion » Eastern Religions » Taoism

Chronicles of Tao: The Secret Life of a Taoist Master Used Trade Paper
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Product details 496 pages HarperSanFrancisco - English 9780062502193 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , An introduction to Taoism as chronicled in the secret life of a Taoist master. This book gathers Deng Ming-Dao's three-volume biography and history of China in the 20th century.
"Synopsis" by , A guide to freeing ourselves from the inappropriate and crippling behaviors that sabotage our success.
"Synopsis" by , For the first time in one volume--the odyssey of the secret life of a Taoist master.
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