Seven Taoist Masters

by Eva Wong

Lao TsuWinter passed, and it was spring. On the third day of the third month, Wang secretly left home and journeyed twenty miles to the bridge where he had bid farewell to the two immortals. He sat by the bridge and waited patiently; looking around from time to time to make sure he did not miss any traveler passing through the area. Suddenly he heard someone call his name; looking behind him, he saw his two old friends dressed in rags. They laughed and said, “Master Wang has not only kept his appointment but arrived early!” Gold-Is-Heavy and Empty-Mind Ch’ang walked toward the bridge. Wang immediately dropped to his knees before them and bowed many times. “Great Immortals, it is an honor to see you again. Forgive my stupidity and my inability to recognize who you were when we last met. Today I am fortunate to see you again, and I hope you will instruct me and lead me to the Tao.”

The two beggars laughed heartily. Wang could see an aura of light surrounding them. Their eyes shone brilliantly, and their look penetrated his entire being. Suddenly the two beggars were transformed into two men with striking appearances. One was dressed in a simple short tunic and pants. His tunic opened to reveal a tuft of hair on his chest. The hair on his head was neatly tied into two knots next to his ears. His beard was long and flowing. He held a goose-feather fan and carried a gourd on his back. This was none other than the immortal Chung-li Ch’uan. The other man was dressed in a long yellow Taoist robe. Around his topknot was tied a scarf. His face was rosy and shiny. His beard was long and jet black. His gaze was penetrating and his composure stately. Tied around his back was a long sword to cut through the illusions of ephemeral things. He was the Patriarch of Pure Yang, Immortal Lu Tung-pin. Wang immediately prostrated himself.

Immortal Li then imparted to Wang the principles and methods of internal alchemy: “The real is that which is true and not false. Every person has a true heart. If the true heart strays, however, then it becomes untrue to its own nature. Every person has a true intention. But if the true intention strays, it becomes untrue to its own nature. Every person has a true feeling. When the true feeling strays from the original nature, it becomes untrue. An intention that originates from the true heart is true intention. The intention that is calculating and scheming is untrue. A feeling that originates from the true heart is true feeling. Feeling that has self-importance in it is untrue. What is the true heart? The true heart is original nature. The true heart tends toward goodness. Feeling and intention originate from the heart. If the heart is true, the feeling and intention will be true. Cultivating the true heart is cultivating original nature. Original nature is the manifestation of the natural way of Heaven. Many who claim to cultivate the Tao still possess egotistical thoughts. Where there is ego, the true heart cannot emerge. It is only in stillness and the absence of craving that original nature can be cultivated. Those who seek the Tao must begin with knowing the difference between true and untrue feeling, true and untrue intention. If you know the difference, then you will know the true heart. Intention and feeling can be known by observing your behavior in daily life. If your actions are not sincere, then true feeling is absent. If your words are false, then true intention is absent. If you want to cultivate the Tao, you must eradicate attachments that lead true intention and true feeling astray. Let original nature rather than your ego guide your actions. Do not waver in your pursuit of goodness. Then, your true heart, true feeling, and true intention will emerge and you will not be far from the Tao. These are the teachings of the real truth.”

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Seven Taoist Masters is an ancient Chinese folk novel that imparts the wisdom of Taoist philosophy and practice in a very readable and entertaining format. In 1988, Eva Wong’s teacher Moy Lin-shin said to her, “You must translate the book called Seven Taoist Masters, for it is one of the best introductions to the teachings of Taoism.” The story chronicles the experiences of Master Wang Ch’ung-yang and his seven disciples.

Reprinted from Seven Taoist Masters: A Folk Novel of China, by Eva Wong. Copyright © 2004 by Eva Wong. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications.