Tracing the footsteps of Liao Ran and Liao Kong

The below text is a translation of a post of Dr. Zhang Qingsong on his International Society of Chinese Wisdom blog (国际中华智慧学会的博客 guoji zhonghua zhihui xuehui de boke). It was published earlier in the eJournal Patriarchs Vision, Vol. 1 nr. 12

In his search for authentic instruction in the profound methods of Daoist Self-Cultivation, in 1895 Zhao Bichen met the two eminent Ch’an Buddhist monks Liao Ran and Liao Kong at Golden Mountain (Jinshan 金山) temple. These two monks, also masters in the Daoist Longmen (Dragon Gate) school, later turned out to be pivotal teachers in the formation of the Daoist Qianfeng school of Self-Cultivation. This blog post is a narration of Dr. Zhang Qingsong visiting Golden Mountain temple, to try to find out more about these two masters of Buddhist and Daoist Self-Cultivation. Translation by Tianma (天马).

International Society of Chinese Wisdom

Zhao Bichen Life Wisdom Study Communication,

document number ZHZH-ZBCTX13010, 3 December 2013

Zhao Bichen Daoist Longmen Qianfeng school origin research

 Zhenjiang Golden Mountain temple inquiry about the footsteps of the two eminent Ch’an Buddhist monks Liao Ran and Liao Kong

Golden Mountain temple, one of the many Ch’an Buddhist temples that exist in the area south of the Yangtze river, is an ancient monastery with more than 1.500 years of history. The beautiful scenery and a lot of folklore, like the Legend of the White Snake around Golden Mountain, the life and story of Su Dongpo and famous Ch’an masters makes one want to linger and stay around and forget about returning home. However in the late Qing dynasty a significant event occurred that is still unknown to many people.

In 1895 Zhao Bichen, a famous martial arts master and practitioner of Daoist Self-Cultivation (dan dao), visited Guazhou Golden Mountain temple. In the temple he met two Ch’an Buddhist masters Liao Ran and Liao Kong. When Zhao Bichen saw them, he knew right away by the look in their eyes, that these two monks were of great acomplishment. Thereupon he prostrated himself before their feet and requested them to accept him as their disciple. It turned out that besides being accomplished Ch’an masters, Liao Ran and Liao Kong were both 10th generation lineage masters in the Daoist Longmen school of Self-Cultivation. They accepted Zhao Bichen as their disciple and consequently taught him in 3 days and 3 nights inside the temple the essence of the Daoist Method of Internal Self-Cultivation. Eventually this would lead to the development of a great and much respected next generation Daoist Master. Later Zhao Bichen, upon request of his Masters, was going to break with the tradition of passing on behind closed doors the methods of Daoist Internal Self-Cultivation (Daojia neidan gongfa). He did this by writing openly about his 16 step Daoist Qianfeng Method of Internal Self-Cultivation in the book ‘Xingming Fajue Mingzhi’ (translated into English by Charles Luk, known in the West under the title Taoist Yoga) and teaching more than 2.000 people, during the period of the Republic of China (1912-1949). Furthermore he established the Qianfeng school, as an offshoot of the Daoist Longmen school.

Coincidentally, I’m originally from Guazhou county in Jiuquan, Gansu. In my childhood I often looked from a distance to the glorious sight of Golden Mountain temple, always feeling a kind of power emanating from there, that touched and uplifted me. Looking at Zhao Bichen’s ‘Xingming Fajue Mingzhi’ and the relation to the two Masters, it came to my mind to pay a visit to Golden Mountain temple so as to inquire about the footsteps of Liao Ran and Liao Kong there. This is a case of the Zhao Bichen Life Wisdom Research. Over the past year I was frequently searching the Internet, looking for data about Golden Mountain temple. I hope that I can find out a little more about these two Ch’an Buddhist Masters footsteps in the past. A few days ago, in Jiangsu at the opening of the fifth Chinese Wisdom study conference, I passed through Zhenjiang and in having some spare time, decided to buy myself an entrance ticket at the door of the temple and to pay a visit.

Dr. Zang Qingsong in front of Golden Mountain temple

Dr. Zang Qingsong in front of Golden Mountain temple

Having entered Golden Mountain temple park (gongyuan, a public recreational area), I discovered a big change in appearance. It was the first time I visited since 30 years ago; they were just starting to reconstruct the temple back then. Now the reconstruction of Golden Mountain temple is finished, which gave the temple a very good look. Surely the venerable compassionate and gentle monks who carried out this hard work for several decades deserve great credit for this.

Going in the temple, firstly going to the ‘Golden Mountain Culture Study Area’ (jinshan wenhua bolan yuan), there inside I couldn’t find any clues about Liao Ran and Liao Kong. Coming out later, I found the Head of the temple management. She said, concerning the past circumstances of the two venerable monks, to go to the temple shrine office and ask there. Thereupon I went straight to the main hall of the temple. In a side room where visitors are received, I saw two young monks. Both monks said, to get historical data about former times, it’s best to go to the Zhenjiang Buddhist Society temple to ask. Just then I remembered that earlier on I looked at a doorway, which was marked with a sign that read ‘Zhenjiang Buddhist Society’. Then I turned around and proceeded to inquire there. Finally I arrived at the doorway, but upon entering an elderly man yelled from inside “do not come in, there’s nobody here!”. For lack of a better option I turned around and went back to the Main Hall of Golden Mountain temple.

On the terrace outside of the palace hall (dian), I looked at a venerable monk, who was talking with a guest. I took the opportunity to go stand beside them. The monk looked back and asked in a kind way: ”What is on your mind?”. I asked: “Excuse me, here at Golden Mountain temple how old is the oldest monk?”. The monk replied: “The oldest monk is 87 years old.” I asked: “Has he already been long here at Golden Mountain temple residing as a monk?” This was the case, after which I introduced the purpose of my visit. The venerable monk said: “The elderly monk is inside the Main Hall, you can now go in and ask him.”

I went into the Main Hall and as expected saw an elderly monk, stationed besides the Incense Burner table (xiangan). I stepped forward and greeted him and explained the purpose of my visit. The elderly monk’s eyes could not see so well anymore, but his hearing was still very sharp. His appearance was extraordinarily kind and friendly.

Dr. Zhang Qingsong and master Lin Xiang

Dr. Zhang Qingsong and master Lin Xiang

The old monk was called master Lin Xiang. He was born in 1926 and originally from Xinghua county in Jiangsu province. He officially left home to become a monk at Su Bei temple and at the age of 20 (in 1946) went to Golden Mountain temple. He didn’t have any news about Liao Ran and Liao Kong. This is not entirely surprising, because Zhao Bichen met Liao Ran and Liao Kong much earlier at Golden Mountain temple, in 1895. Currently it is not known how long both monks were residing at Golden Mountain temple.

The old monk said: “Golden Mountain temple originally had a ‘yearbook’ (wannian bu)”, in which can be found all the names of the monks who registered at the temple. If it would have been preserved, the names of the monks could have been looked up. Unfortunately this book got lost during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76).

I asked: ”Does the Golden Mountain temple has a Pagoda? Can we find inside them maybe a few records written by the two venerable monks?” (I originally planned to go alone inside to search for them). The venerable monk answered, the Pagoda of Golden Mountain temple falls under control of Shaolong temple. Inside the temple shrine only high ranking monks like the abbot or head monk, have enough capacity for founding a pagoda. Furthermore Shaolong temple is quite some distance away from Golden Mountain temple, therefore I was unable to go there a that moment.

Soon afterwards, inside the Main Hall the morning service was starting and the venerable old monk bowed. Because my schedule was tight, I had to say goodby and came out of the temple in a rush to go to the train station. There I had to wait for the town bus and a question came to my mind. It happened that at that moment by my side were standing two monks, whom I asked: “Golden Mountain temple is a small town temple with precious things that must have been conserved despite the fact it must have suffered from numerous fires. These important historical temple documents like the yearbook shouldn’t have been destroyed but those treasures all ought to be conserved?” The two monks replied: “We don’t know this, only an accomplished (with a clear heartmind) Dharma master could know.” I thought, that’s right, only the abbot comprehends the highest secrets of the temple shrine. I said: “This is true, I ought to ask an accomplished Dharma master.

This first inquiry into the history of Liao Ran and Liao Kong at Golden Mountain temple was not entirely effective. However, two things are worthy to be continued to investigate. One is the yearbook and the second is the Pagoda of Shaolong temple. Even though it is uncertain that clues are going to be found, still I hope that through the publication of this article, perhaps someone can provide some additional information.

3 December 2013

e-mail dr. Zhang Qingsong:

Original Chinese Blog Post December 3, 2013

际 中 华 智 慧 学 会

赵避尘生命智慧学研究通讯      文件号ZHZH-ZBCTX13010      2013年12月3日


镇江金山寺 探访了然、了空禅师的史迹













第一次探访,没有结果。但两个信息值得继续追寻,一是万年簿,二是绍隆寺塔林。尽管找到线索的希望渺茫,但希望通过这篇文章的发表,也许会有人提供信息。(文 张庆松)