Master Zhao Ming Wang (b. 1966) – Family Inheritor of the Qianfeng Daoist Tradition
(Interview, Research & Translation by Adrian Chan-Wyles)
(Translator’s Note: This article has been published in the Winter Edition 2013/2014 of Qi: The Journal of Traditional Eastern Health and Fitness (Vol. 23 – No. 4). Daoist Master Zhao Ming Wang (赵明旺) [b. 1966] is a contemporary neidan practitioner living and teaching in Beijing, China. His system of qi cultivation has evolved from the Quanzhen (Complete Reality) School of Daoism, through its Longmen (Dragon Gate) branch. Grand Master Zhao Bichen (1860-1942) was a student of many eminent Daoist masters, (which included a number of Buddhists and Confucians) and amassed an impressive body of spiritual developmental material. This knowledge and wisdom formed the theoretical foundation of Zhao Bichen’s school known as the Qianfeng Xiantian Pai (千峰先天派). This is the Daoist School that the modern-day Master Zhao Ming Wang has inherited and continues to teach to anyone with a sincere wish to learn. The following interview is the culmination of a process that has lasted several months. During that time many pages of notes have been accumulated, and thousands of Chinese words translated. Master Zhao’s explanations are always very clear and concise. Where required, I have supplemented Master Zhao’s answers with indepth background research.)ACW: Master Zhao Ming Wang, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed for Qi – The Journal of Traditional Eastern Health & Fitness.Master Zhao Ming Wang: It is important for the survival of Daoism that a worldwide recognition and understanding is cultivated of authentic Daoist teaching both inside and outside of China, and that practitioners and translators are able to correctly convey spiritual and developmental concepts from one language (i.e. Chinese) into another (i.e. English). I am aware of your articles in English about my great grandfather Zhao Bichen (赵避尘) [1860-1942] and his key student Niu Jin Bao (牛金宝 [1915-1988]. This interview is an important step in this process and I would like to thank the Qi Journal for presenting this valuable opportunity.ACW: Where are you from? Where is the Qianfeng tradition based in modern China?Master Zhao: The Zhao family is from Yang Fang village, situated in Changping District, which is roughly 50 km north of the city of Beijing. The Qianfeng School of Daoist cultivation has been based in Beijingsince the days of my great grandfather Zhao Bichen. Beijing has not only been the capital of China for centuries, but also of many progressive developmental schools.ACW: Can you explain your Daoist lineage? It is my understanding that you hold two important Daoist lineages and that it is your lifelong task to preserve these practices and teach them throughout the world.
Master Zhao Ming Wang: I have inherited the body of knowledge that comprises the Zhao family neidan tradition, (or those cultivational practices passed on from one generation to next), and I am also the lineage holder of the Qianfeng ascetic Daoist tradition, which I have inherited from my great grandfather Zhao Bichen. To be specific, my great grandfather Zhao Bichen was the 11th generation descendent of the Longmen (龙门 – Dragon Gate) School of Daoism, as well as being the founder of the Qianfeng (Thousand Peaks) school. I am the 14th generation inheritor of the Longmen School and my lineage name is Fu Ming. I am also the 3rd generation inheritor of the Qianfeng Xiantian School (千峰先天派), or ‘Thousand Peaks Earlier Divine Sky School’,which passes on the Daoist method of Xingming Shuangxiu (性命双修). In the old days Beijing was the centre of much cultural exchange and progressive thinking, and the Grand Master Zhao Bichen was very much a part of this developmental process. The family tradition and the ascetic Daoist tradition are distinct but related lineages.
Coupled with transmission I received from Master Niu Sheng Xian – this how I became the 3rd generation inheritor of the Qianfeng School of Daoist cultivation as founded by Grand Master Zhao Bichen and passed on within the Zhao family.ACW: When it comes time to transmit the Qianfeng Daoist lineage to the next generation of the Zhao family, how will the process be carried-out?Master Zhao Ming Wang: It is my intention to follow the traditional practice of requesting a qualified disciple (external to the Zhao family), to formally transmit the Qianfeng Daoist Schoollineage to the next generation of the Zhao family. This course of action maintains the Qianfeng rules as passed on by Master Liao Kong to Master Zhao Bichen, whilst also preserving the progressive and advanced thinking of Zhao Bichen and his vision of transmitting neidan teachings without restriction to the people of the world. This is a matter of traditional procedure adapted to the needs of a modern world.ACW: When the Daoist lineages are transmitted, and permission to teach formally granted, what is the nature of the spiritual transmission? In other words, what is the vehicle of transmission?
Master Zhao Ming Wang: Zhao Bichen was born and brought-up in Beijing, the capital of China. Many of the political, social, and cultural changes you describe as tumultuous, occurred first in Beijing. Even within the old imperial system, changes of emperor often led to changes of official policy that swept outward across the city and into the country. The people of Beijing have been used to change for many generations and this has created a great ability that simultaneously accepts change whilst facilitating adaptation to its presence. In a sense, the psychology of Beijing is one of a heightened state of prepared readiness to encounter the new. This is an important aspect of the Qianfeng tradition, which has enabled it as a Chinese tradition to appeal to those living outside of Chinain a meaningful way.This attitude stems from Zhao Bichen himself, who advocated the exploring and experiencing of new ideas before developing a judgement about them. It should be understood that my great grandfather Zhao Bichen only became a full-time Daoist practitioner in his 60’s – before that time, he lived in society as an ordinary being, who got married and had children. At this time he integrated his Daoist practice with everyday life which included working as a minor official in the salt administration, and later as a merchant. Although some Daoist traditions do not encourage marriage, one of Zhao Bichen’s teachers – Master Liao Kong – was of the opinion that to get married and produce sons was an important act of filial piety that could not be ignored. If the passing on of generational qi was not achieved, then Master Liao Kong believed that immortality could not be achieved – this is why Zhao Bichen got married, and aimed his teaching primarily towards the laity. However, he was not opposed to monastic practice, and saw the validity of both modes of development.Zhao Bichen was in many ways a traditionalist – as he respected the past – and although he did look toward the West for inspiration, he was also a patriot of China. He was fascinated with Western systems of logic that seek to order the thoughts in the mind toward a specific subject of enquiry. In this regard Zhao Bichen was particularly interested in Western science, medicine and anatomy, and made a thorough study of these subjects. This body of knowledge may well have influenced his formulation of Qianfeng as a distinct tradition, allowing for what was seen as a ‘foreign’ system of thinking at the time, to influence Chinese theorising and ultimately integrate with traditional Daoist thinking. However, it must be made clear that Zhao Bichen, although open minded, still believed that traditional Daoist mind and body cultivation techniques were very effective in their own right, and that they were based upon an ancient Chinese science that had developed separately from that found in the West. This reflects the traditional foundation of the Qianfeng School – with its roots deep in the soil of Chinese ingenuity, whilst its outer appearance adapts to prevailing circumstance. Even this ‘adaption’ finds its expression in old Chinese texts such as the Daodejing (道德經) and the Yijing (易經), amongst many others, and allows for the engagement of other cultures. Even Japanese scholars – such as Yokote Yutaka – have made a study of my great grandfather’s teachings. Zhao Bichen reached out to the West in many ways, and I think he had a profound interest in Western things. This is why the Qianfeng School encourages people from all over the world to study its teachings, thus preserving and perpetuating Zhao Bichen’s advanced and progressive attitudes.ACW: The Qianfeng neidan tradition has seated (meditational) practices, as well as various qigong and martial routines. It is an all round system of mind and body development. How has the Qianfeng tradition established such an all encompassing approach to self-cultivation?Master Zhao Ming Wang: People should understand that in China – even modern China – self-developmental techniques premised upon daily practice are part of the psychological fabric of the Chinese people. It is not unusual for people to practice an exercise that suits them on a daily basis as a means to retain psychological and physical health. From this perspective the Qianfeng tradition is a specific reflection of a broader Chinese cultural habit. Zhao Bichen was brought up in a village that was full of many different spiritual practices. This was a diverse psychological and physical environment that gave much scope and opportunity for training in various cultivational arts. When young, Zhao Bichen was often ill as a child, and when he was around 15 years old, it was his mother who took him to a village Daoist by the name of Liu Ming Ru – a very well respected and eminent neidan practitioner o the Quanzhen School. Master Liu cured him of his ailments and accepted him as a student. This was Zhao Bichen’s introduction into formal Daoist training. After this, he became a student of Liu Yun Pu (also in the village), who was himself a renowned martial artist and doctor. Liu Yun Pu taught his Daoist techniques openly and was well known for his generous nature. Village self-defence has been a Chinese tradition for thousands of years, but the fighting styles employed in this training, although designed to protect an individual from attack, have a much more profound and deeper meaning. Yes, on the surface the movements of these arts have an obvious martial application, blocking a kick or punch, tripping or throwing an opponent, punching an assailant, etc, but the physical movements have another function. Martial arts training strengthen and build strong muscles and bones. A healthy body is efficient in resisting an enemy attack. However, it must be understood that martial arts training in its basic form cultivates energy by taking the essential inner qi energy and directing it to the outside of the body – that is toward the external structures. This is why the Xingming Shuangxiu cultivation method of Qianfeng Daoism redresses these imbalances and re-directs the qi energy back into the interior of the body so that both inner and outer are developed equally. The refinement of essential qi energy is where both activities complement one another. The experience of this training process leads to self-healing, and often motivates practitioners to become doctors so that the suffering of others can be alleviated – this is the application of Daoist compassion toward the broader society and the world.ACW: Grand Master Zhao Bichen refers to his School as ‘Qianfeng’ (千峰), or ‘Thousand Peaks’. Why did he choose this name and what is its significance?
Master Zhao Ming Wang: Master Liu Ming Ru built a temple named Tao Yuan Guan (桃园观), or ‘Peach Garden Temple’, situated on the Qianfeng Mountain (千峰山), Changping County, in 1868. The other name for this temple is Ga La (旮旯), or ‘Out of the Way Corner’. When Zhao Bichen was a boy he was taken to this place to train with Master Liu Ming Ru – this is where his illnesses were cured through the practice of Xingming Shuangxiu (Combined Mind-Body Essential Cultivation). Zhao Bichen, despite training with many other masters, never forgot the remote beauty of this place. When he received Quanzhen (Longmen) School lineage transmission from Master Liao Kong in 1920, Zhao Bichen named his school after the Qianfeng Mountain area due to his innate connection with this sacred place. This explanation may be added to the fact that Zhao Bichen wanted to teach everyone neidan techniques and the ‘thousand peaks’ represent the multitude of the people.
ACW: The practice of ‘neidan’ (內丹) is central to Daoist cultivation and practice. Can you explain its origin and purpose?
Zhao Ming Wang: Neidan are a set of exercises that vary from one Daoist tradition to the next, that are designed to work through the cultivation of inner (內- Nei), developmental medicine (丹 -Dan). This internal medicine cultivation makes use of the Three Treasures (三寶 – San Bao), which are Jing (精), Qi (氣), and Shen (神). From a historical point of view, these practices are believed to date back to the time of the Yellow Emperor (2697-2597BCE), and are represented in the various Daoyin (導引) and Qigong (氣功) exercises. In the Qianfeng tradition, for example, neidan can be practiced in such away so that the mind (shen) is calmed through seated meditation, whilst regulating the breath (qi), and settling the body (jing). Qi circulation is enhanced by removing physical and psychological blockages in the mind and body, so that qi can flow to the centre of every inner organ without hindrance. The mind, of course, is linked to the nervous system (which are both included in shen), so that by calming the mind, qi can be directed by the will, with ease throughout the system. By building concentration and relaxation, the mind and physical structures are strengthened by a stronger (and greatly refined) circulation of qi within (and around) the living organism. Neidan builds awareness and sensitivity so that an ever deepening level of insight is developed within the practitioner. This culminates in universal awareness and a unification of jing, qi, and shen. Neidan is essentially the cultivation of qi –this is the doorway to all advanced development. Zhao Bichen was taught by Master Liao Kong that at the highest level of neidan attainment, the practitioner realises a ‘return to nothingness’, so that an all-embracing presence is achieved within and throughout empty space. The mind becomes still and all movement ceases – this is called ‘hibernating dragon’. All previous manifestations and transformations (such as riding dragons and storks, walking on the sun, or playing with the moon) return to this emptiness. Qi is no longer wasted and shen (mind) and body/environment (jing) are in perpetual harmony. There is a complete serenity of being which must be maintained until the falling away of the body (at death). This is the practice of longeivity and the attainment of immortality.
ACW: What is the relationship between Chinese Buddhism and Daoism? Although there have been incidences throughout Chinese history of different emperors preferring one religion over the other, and acknowledging that sometimes Daoist and Buddhist schools are openly antagonistic to one another’s teachings, how does the Qianfeng tradition approach this subject?
Master Zhao Ming Wang: The Qianfeng tradition has always maintained a good relationship with Chinese Buddhism in general, particularly the Ch’an tradition. Charles Luk – who translated Zhao Bichen’s neidan text – was himself a prominent and well known Ch’an Buddhist and disciple of Xu Yun (1840-1959). Master Liao Kong – whom I mentioned earlier – was a Buddhist master and Daoist practitioner in the Quanzhen School. Zhao Bichen respected him very much. This attitude of respect toward Buddhism may be taken as the official Qianfeng policy on this matter, and I shall explain why. Buddhism and Daoism are interlinked. Buddhist teaching is designed to acquire a very advanced state of mind and body – this is enlightenment. Within the Daoist School much effort is needed to cultivate qi (energy) and refine the mind and body. Both systems rely on a great self-effort to achieve transformation and acquire a healthy mind and body. The important thing to remember is that throughout China’s history, there has been Buddhists (both lay and monastic) who have simultaneously practiced Buddhist meditation and Daoist cultivation techniques without any contradiction or conflict. Whatever method one employs for self-development, it is important to remember that it is the same qi (energy) that is being cultivated. At one time (in 1895), Zhao Bichen spent time at the Jin Shan Ch’an Buddhist Temple (金山禅寺) situated in Jiangsu province (where he originally met Master Liao Kong), so you can see the close relationship between Buddhism and Qianfeng Daoism.
ACW: It is obvious that in modern China the Qianfeng tradition is open to anyone who wants to train in effective Daoist cultivational techniques. This broad and welcoming approach to the spread of authentic Daoist technique has its roots in the system established by Zhao Bichen. In other words, it appears to very much reflect his character. What can you say about the type of people Zhao Bichen attracted and accepted as students and disciples?
Master Zhao Ming Wang: In the post-1911 Republican era it was very much a case of modernisation across the board. Many of the old ways regarding secret societies, oaths, instruction by disembodied spirits, an emphasis only on monastic training, clannishness, and gender bias, etc, were all viewed as out of date by Zhao Bichen. He felt that the more appropriate way to guarantee the survival of authentic Daoist neidan techniques was by throwing the doors of the training hall wide open and thereby increasing the numbers of people receiving instruction in the school. This is exactly what he did. He had disciples from all walks of life, including couples, women, businessmen, merchants, soldiers, and even opera singers. Zhao Bichen encouraged anyone to train in Qianfeng Daoism – even the elderly. He believed that practitioners should spend more time on specific self-cultivation training, and less time pursuing superstitious ritual and practices designed to produce positive merit. Although Zhao Bichen encouraged a broad appeal for Qianfeng teachings amongst the people, it should be remembered the higher teachings of the Qianfeng tradition involve retiring to a quiet place and engaging in intensive meditation – usually assisted by a dedicated attendant. Zhao Bichen certainly popularised Daoist cultivation techniques, that is true, but at no time did he water-down the teachings, far from it. He possessed the ability to explain complex terminology in a manner that ordinary people could understand and apply to their self-cultivation practice, this why his students came from a very broad cross-section of society.
ACW: Master Zhao, do you have any experience, or can you give an example of how Daoist cultivation techniques have been used effectively within the context of the modern world?
Master Zhao Ming Wang: Certainly, I can. From 1998 – 2001, I worked as the Drug Ward Director of the Beijing Drug Rehabilitation Centre. During this time I used traditional Daoist self-cultivation techniques, coupled with traditional Chinese medicine, as a form of all round therapy and treatment. This worked very well and assisted many people to cure themselves from the habit of drug addiction. This is a practical demonstration of how ancient Daoist techniques can be of specific use even in the most modern of societies, to assist the established medical profession to treat and cure patients. It is a matter of adapting to new circumstances, coupled with the ability to integrate old wisdom with new knowledge. Today, many people practice qi refinement and cultivation exercises (炼功 – Lian Gong), and refrain from eating grain (辟谷 – Bi Gu) for 10 days at a time as a means to develop the mind and body, but in reality it is the long term practice of the authentic Daoist practice of Xingming Shuangxiu that is required to improve all round health in the practitioner. It is important to remember that each individual must spend a lifetime dedicated to training in Daoist qi cultivational techniques if true development is to occur. This training requires a respectful state of mind that is thankful toward the true masters of the past, and which carefully studies, practices, and passes on the authentic Daoist developmental techniques in modern times. If a practitioner does not have a sincere mind and heart, and does not seek the advice of a genuine master, how can the true teaching be transmitted? Everyone who practices the Xingming Shuangxiu method of the Qianfeng School must first cultivate the mind toward good and virtuous thoughts and intentions. In reality, those who have realised enlightenment live and die according to the Dao (道) without any deviation from the correct path. Regardless of one’s circumstance in the world, if a genuine and sincere mind is cultivated, then the true Daoist path will be discovered.
(中国传统道家养生的博)Master Zhao Ming Wang’s Email: firstname.lastname@example.org©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2013.