In Memory of My Father Niu Jin Bao (牛金宝) By Niu Sheng Xian (牛胜先)
[This article has been published in Qi: The Journal of Traditional Eastern Health & Fitness, Summer 2013, Volume 23, No. 2, Pages 44-49.]
Grandmaster Zhao Bi Chen (1860-1942)
Master Niu Jin Bao (1915-1988)
Master Niu Shang Xian b. 1938 (Author)
(Translator’s Note: Transformation and renewal has always been an important component of Daoist thought, and runs through the centre of virtually all Daoist texts. Folklore often conveys stories of men and women who have retired from the world of ordinary affairs and attained a physical immortality whilst living amongst the clouds on remote mountains tops. This is an ancient and popular theme within Chinese culture that has given rise to a vivid and unique artistic imagery. However, this is not the only expression of Daoism that exists in China. Daoism is a historically developed body of specialised spiritual knowledge, assembled by ordinary people living within every day society. Not only is this the case, but it is also true that distinctly ‘Daoist’ ideas (and approaches to life) have permeated their way into the spiritual conventions of both Chinese Buddhism and Confucianism. Such is the power of Daoism that it can not be ignored as its essence is the very air that humanity breaths.
Grandmaster Zhao Bi Chen (1860-1942) understood this all-permeating reality of the Dao. He saw that the realisation of the Dao is the perception of the essence of nature realised within the mind (and through the body), manifest as an all-embracing, invigorating, and healing bright light. The refinement of qi through Daoist cultivation not only purifies the mind and body, but also removes pollution from the physical environment. Such knowledge and ability, once personally experienced and attained, allows for the manifestation of certain powers that although seeming extraordinary, are really only the perfect functioning of the Dao of nature through the human body and mind. The text presented below is a very important document from modern China as it conveys the survival of a Daoist tradition within an ordinary family lineage. It is an English translation of the original Chinese text entitled ‘In Memory of My Father Niu Jin Bao’ (怀念我的父亲牛金宝’), written by master Niu Sheng Xian (b. 1938) in 2010. Niu Sheng Xian is famous in China for two reasons. Firstly his father –master Niu Jin Bao (1915-1988) – was a personal student of Grandmaster Zhao Bi Chen and inherited the Qian Feng lineage directly from him. Secondly, Niu Sheng Xian is well known in his own right as a very capable martial arts master specialising in the teachings of Taijiquan, Bagua and Xingyi, as well as other styles. In 1983 he became the Chinese national champion in Push-hands and Taijiquan form proficiency – a victory he dedicates to his famous martial arts teacher Li Tian Ji.
As the eldest son in the family, Niu Sheng Xian inherited the Daoist lineage of Zhao Bi Chen from his father – Niu Jin Bao – in 1988, and as a consequence is recognised as the head of the Qian Feng lineage in China today. At that time Niu Jin Bao handed his son the book that he had compiled over his life time entitled ‘Essential Nature and Eternal Life Mind body Cultivation Life Skill Law’ (性命双修养生功法) – this book carefully clarifies and explains the teachings of Zhao Bi Chen in a manner that is considered more accessible than many similar texts. After Niu Jin Bao had made sure that the prominent Daoist leaders of his time all agreed and understood the transmission to his son Niu Sheng Xian, he decided that it was time to give up his physical body. The ritual known as ‘Seated Transformation’ (Zuo Hua) is described vividly in the text and adds a layer of practicality often lacking in presentations of Daoist texts that ignore the ordinary or the every day.)
On the 11th day of the 6th lunar month of this year (2010), it was the 22nd anniversary of the passing of my father – Niu Jin Bao. My father was born in 1915 and this year is the 95th anniversary of this event. He attained to immortality (坐化 – Zuo Hua) and passed away in the early hours of the 11th day of the 6th lunar month in 1988, whilst in Beijing. My father, whilst utilising the excellent Daoist method of ‘Letting Go and Shutting off the Breath’ (撒手闭气 – Sa Shou Bi Qi), left me forever. When my father lived in the world, he composed two poems which read:
“A life born must return to death, As qi departs, flesh is reduced to dust. Live by letting go and roaming free, Have no care for or against the world.”
“Six decades roaming a mysterious land, Leaves drop and return to their root. Do not strive for the illustrious light, The pure possession of the ancestors.
Qi lives on through descendents, Leave no hatred for others. Let go and roam freely, The 9th level Divine Sky is attained.”
Even though it has been 22 years since his passing, when I read my father’s poem about life and death, I am stilled moved by his open-mindedness and tolerance. My father will always be a model for us to learn from, this is why we are very respectful and proud of him. My father – Niu Jin Bao – possessed the following spiritual names;
‘Cleanse Dust’ (涤尘 – Di Chen), ‘Bright Spring’ (阳春 - Yang Chun) - ‘Dragon Gate’ (龙门– Long Men) lineage ‘Master Profound Excellence’ (玄金子 - Xuan Jin Zi), - ‘Thousand Peak School’(千峰法 – Qian Feng Fa) ‘Universal Kindness Retired Scholar’ (普恩居士 – Pu En Ju Shi) ‘Drunken Plum’ (醉梅 - Zui Mei).
He came from Zhu Tang Kou Village, which is situated in the area of You Fang Town, Qinghe County, Hebei province, China. My father was born on the 6th day of the 2nd lunar month of 1915. His mother died at an early age, and so he was brought-up by his father. His elder brother – Niu Jin Mu –worked on the land to help the family survive. My father was very intelligent from an early age, and was privately schooled with his cousin Wang Qi Bin. By the age of 12 he could read the supernatural book entitled ‘Strange Tales of Liao Zhai’ (聊斋志异 – Liao Zhai Zhi Yi) to local people, and could explain the ghost stories in detail. He also studied the village martial arts under master Yang Zhong Yuan (杨忠元), from whom he learnt the styles;
‘Great Red Fist’ (大洪拳 – Da Hong Quan) ‘Small Red Fist’ (小洪拳- Xiao Hong Quan) ‘Western Ocean Palm’ (西洋掌– Xi Yang Zhang)
At the age of 14, in an attempt to change the fortunes of his father and family, he travelled to Beijing to learn the trade of working with leather and fur (this amounted to nothing more than actual child labour), as a result he suffered in the tough working conditions. Despite the difficult social conditions and abuse that existed at that time, Niu Jin Bao used to practice his martial arts by striking bags full of sand and pebbles, and was able to smash bricks with his bare hands. When other people saw this display they were intimated and left him alone. Whilst living in Beijing my father got to know many important people, including Zhang Yu Shan (张毓山)the disciple of the Patriarch Le Kong (了空祖师– Le Kong Zu Shi). In reality this made Zhang an 11th generation disciple of the ‘Complete Reality Dragon Gate’ (全真龙门 – Quan Zhen Long Men) lineage of Daoist cultivation. However, Zhang actually followed the ‘Thousand Peaks’ (千峰 – Qian Feng) lineage, of Patriarch Zhao (赵祖 – Zhao Zu) taking the Daoist name of ‘Profound Oneness’ (一玄– Yi Xuan). As a consequence his four sons Qing Yun (庆云), Qing Hua (庆华), Qing Xiang (庆祥), and Qing Chang (庆昌), all followed this lineage. The young Zhang Qing Yun was friends with Song Lan Lin (宋兰林). Their friendship was well known amongst the other workers (in the leather and fur industry), as they became brothers with different surnames. Zhang Qing Yun was also a committed disciple of the ‘Thousand Peaks’ (Qian Feng) lineage of Patriarch Zhao and was given the Daoist name of ‘Master Profound Blessing’ (玄庆子 - Xuan Qing Zi). Following Zhang Qing Yun’s death when visiting Xinjiang – he was given the Daoist name ‘Ascending Light Retired Scholar’ (翔光居士 – Xiang Guang Ju Shi). His friend, Song Lan Lin, after receiving insulting and abusive treatment during the Cultural Revolution, committed suicide. In addition to all this, my father – Niu Jin Bao – became best friends with Liu Xi Yuan (刘希元), who originated from the same hometown as him, and with the famous martial arts master Yang Feng Xiang (杨凤翔), also commonly known as ‘Iron Arm Yang Four’ (铁胳膊杨四 - Tie Ge Bo Yang Si). Liu Xi Yuan was also a follower of the ‘Thousand Peaks’ (千峰 - Qian Feng) lineage of Patriarch Zhao, who gave him the Daoist name ‘Master Profound Essence’ (玄元子– Xuan Yuan Zi).
In 1933, my father and Ma Hong Tai (马洪太), his elder spiritual brother, travelled to 88 Stone Prince Avenue (石驸马大街 – Shi Fu Ma Da Jie), in the Xidan (西单) area of Beijing. This was the address of the Old Benevolent Hall (老善堂 - Lao Shan Tang), and it was here that my father paid his respects to old master Zhao Bi Chen (赵壁尘), confirming his adherence to the ‘Thousand Peaks’ (千峰 - Qian Feng) lineage. They studied Qiu Dragon Gate Style (邱龙门派 – Qiu Long Men Pai) martial art, and other qi developmental exercises such as ‘Essential Nature and Eternal Life Mind body cultivation’ (性命双修- Xing Ming Shuang Xiu), and ‘Cultivating Life Skill Law’ (养生功法 – Yang Sheng Gong Fa). Master Zhao Bi Chen bestowed the name of ‘Master Profound Excellence’ (玄金子 - Xuan Jin Zi) on my father, and confirmed him to be a 1st generation disciple of the ‘Thousand Peaks’ (千峰- Qian Feng) linage. My father made the greatest of efforts in his self-cultivation, and gained a considerable understanding of these Daoist practices. Such was his dedication that he achieved the ‘Golden Light of Profound Oneness’(金光一现 – Jin Guang Yi Xian), and being favoured by Zhao Bi Chen, was given permission to teach the ‘Thousand Peaks’ (千峰 - Qian Feng) lineage to others. My father was personally taught by Zhao Bi Chen for 5 years becoming thoroughly familiar with all aspects of the ‘Thousand Peaks’ (千峰 - Qian Feng) teaching. He trained at the same time as Zhang Qing Yun, and was present when Zhao Bi Chen granted (Zhang) the Daoist name of ‘Master Profound Blessing’ (玄庆子- Xuan Qing Zi). Zhao Bi Chen also gave both disciples a copy of the book entitled ‘Divine Life Law Volume’ (天命法卷 – Tian Ming Fa Juan).
In 1938, my father received instructions from master Zhao Bi Chen that advised him to return to his home town and get married. As he was preparing to depart, master Zhao Bi Chen granted him the ‘Dragon Gate’ (龙门– Long Men) lineage name of ‘Bright Spring’ (阳春- Yang Chun), and the further name of ‘Universal Kindness Retired Scholar’ (普恩居士 – Pu En Ju Shi). In the process he was confirmed as the 12th generation disciple (and inheritor) of the ‘Complete Reality Dragon Gate’ (全真龙门 – Quan Zhen Long Men) lineage of Daoist cultivation, and simultaneously given the responsibility of protecting and passing on the great Daoist teachings of the ‘Thousand Peaks’ (千峰 – Qian Feng) lineage – which he also inherited. My father returned to his life in his native village (Zhu Tang Kou), and married Li Qing Xi (李清喜). They were married in Li Family East Street (李家东街 - Li Jia Dong Jie), You Fang Town. They had three sons together. The eldest son was called ‘Accomplish Immortality’ (成仙 – Cheng Xian), the second son was called ‘Accomplish Truth’ (成真- Cheng Zhen), and the third son was called ‘Accomplish Dao’ (成道 – Cheng Dao). Unfortunately, the second son – Cheng Zhen – died whilst young.
In 1945 there was a great famine in Hebei, which was made worse still by the invading presence of the rampaging Japanese devils (日本鬼子 – Ri Ben Gui Zi). My grandfather and mother passed away due to poverty and sickness at this time, so my father and two remaining sons moved to You Fang Town. From 1938 – 1945 my father had over 200 Daoist students, all of whom were received into the lineage of Zhao Bi Chen’s ‘Thousand Peaks’ (Qian Feng) teaching, in the name of my father’s elder spiritual brother Zhang Qing Yun (Xuan Qing Zi). In 1946 my father returned to Beijing with the intention of assisting in the revival of the ‘Thousand Peaks’ (Qian Feng) lineage, following the death of its Patriarch Zhao Bi Chen who had attained to immortality (坐化 – Zuo Hua) in 1942. My father was accompanied by his elder spiritual brother Zhang Qing Yun (Xuan Qing Zi), together with fellow clansman Xuan Yuan Zi. They attempted to re-establish the ‘Thousand Peaks’ (Qian Feng) training halls for self-cultivation, but due to the unstable political situation their efforts did not bear fruit. In 1948 my father rode a bicycle all the way back to his home town in Hebei. In 1949 he was introduced to a local woman called Zhang Feng Ying (张凤英) who came from Nan ShaoVillage, also situated near You Fang Town. They were married and later that year, he, his wife and eldest son (Cheng Xian) moved to live in the south-west area of Beijing. Their front door was situated at ’34 Incense Factory Road’(34 香厂路 – 34 Xiang Chang Lu), in the centre of the ‘Hu Tong’ (胡同)or ‘alley’ area known as ‘La Zhu’ (腊竹). In 1950, his second wife Zhang Feng Ying gave birth to their eldest daughter called ‘Joyful Peace’ (燕平 – Yan Ping), and his third (living) son named ‘Joyful Obedience’ (燕顺 – Yan Shun). (Yan Shun’s full family name was ‘Niu Sheng Li’ (牛胜利), and he carried the Daoist name of ‘Master Excellent Truth’ (妙真子 – Miao Zhen Zi). Unfortunately, he was murdered by criminals in 2004.) In 1954 Zhang Feng Ying gave birth to another daughter named ‘Joyful Zither’ (燕琴– Yan Qin), but Yan Qin passed away whilst still young.
After the establishment of New China (in 1949), everyone involved in traditional pursuits associated with the old (traditional) culture of China were questioned and had to ‘declare’ their past interests. This was done at what is now the Police Station, where everyone’s activities had to be registered. My father, in his capacity as a practitioner and teacher of the ‘Thousand Peaks’ (Qian Feng) Daoist lineage, had contacts with various groups and secret societies, (including the ‘One Penetrating Way’ or, ‘一贯道 – Yi Guan Dao’ movement), and had to register all these activities at the Police Station. Time and again he collaborated with repeated investigations, about his past life, continuously providing the same details. As he had not cheated or harmed anyone, he was able to preserve his own safety, but he was not able to openly practice or teach. After this his children had to start to work to support the family. These political changes placed the future of the country under a tremendous strain. This is why the past is often full of sorrow for our family, even though there was a mixture of good and bad times. These events are recorded here so that our descendents can know their history. Later, my father gave ‘Cheng Xuan’ - his eldest son – the name of ‘Victorious First’ (胜先 – Sheng Xian), and to his second son ‘Cheng Dao’ he gave the name ‘Victorious Field’ (胜田 – Sheng Tian).
Master Li Tian Ji (1914-1996)
Master Niu Sheng Xian b. 1938 (Author)
During the 5th lunar month of 1983, I participated in the Second National Wushu Sanshou Taiji Push-hands Tournament, held in Nanchang, Jiangxi. I came first in Push-hands (推手 – Tui Shou) competition, and the technical proficiency of the execution of my Taijiquan (太极拳 – Grand Ridge-pole Fist) form enabled me to attain the highest evaluation score. In 1984 I took the position of head coach for the practice of Taiji and Push-hands in Beijing.
Around this time my father perceived that the light of understanding was beginning to dawn in his eldest son. This insight coincided with things starting to improve in the country. The repression aimed at traditional thought and practice since 1949, started to be slowly relaxed. Since then my father was able to regularly travel south to visit his descendents who lived in the Lang Jia Yuan (郎家园) area of Beijing. Then one day in 1984, a journalist working for ‘Martial Spirit’ (武魂 – Wu Hun) magazine, named Shen Li Ran (沈礼然) came to interview me. This happened to be on the same day that my father was visiting. I introduced Shen Li Ran to my father and we discovered that he was very interested in learning authentic Qi Gong (气功), particularly in relation to the teachings dealing with ‘Essence-Energy-Spirit’(精气神 – Jing Qi Shen). He had tried to use the Kang Xi Dictionary (康熙辞典 – Kang Xi Ci Dian) to look-up the meanings of these three terms, but could not find the answer. I explained that my father could authentically explain these terms. Shen Li Ran then listened to my father with interest as he explained, in detail, the meaning of these three very important terms. So impressed was Shen Li Ran with my father’s wisdom that he suggested that it should be published as a series articles of in the ‘Wu Hun’ (武魂 – Martial Spirit) magazine. This was eventually achieved and as a result my father became very famous. He was asked to give many lectures and spread the teachings regarding the practice of ‘Essential Nature and Eternal Life Mind body cultivation’ (性命双修 - Xing Ming Shuang Xiu), as well as the method of ‘Good Health Extending Life’ (养生延寿– Yang Sheng Yan Shou). My father said that he was very grateful to my martial arts master Li Tian Ji (李天骥), because if he had not trained me so well, I would not have been successful in martial competition, and Shen Li Ran would never had interviewed me, or met my father by accident. My father never thought that the day would come in modern Chinawhere he could openly teach and spread the powerful teachings of the ‘Good Health Extending Life’ (养生延寿 – Yang Sheng Yan Shou) method.
Master Du Xin Wu (1869-1953)
The Daoist Grandmaster known as ‘Control Mind Five’ (杜心五师爷 – Du Xin Wu Shi Ye) was held in the greatest respect by my father. He and his elder spiritual brother Zhang Qing Yun had tried on seven different occasions to see him, but every time they visited the Yu Qian (榆钱) Hu Tong (胡同) area of Beijing, Du Xin Wu was nowhere to be found. In 1985, my father was contacted by ‘Master Control Study Follow’ (杜修嗣师 – Du Xiu Si Shi). Not only was Du Xiu Si a student of Du Xin Wu, he was also his eldest son, and for these reasons my father viewed him as a younger spiritual relative and referred to him as ‘young master’. All were members of the ‘Thousand Peaks’(Qian Feng) lineage of Zhao Bi Chen, and my father and Du Xiu Si thereafter kept a regular correspondence. In 1986 and 1987, my father travelled twice to meet with young master Du Xiu Si in Changsha, (Hunan province), to discuss the matter of transmitting the lineage of Zhao Bi Chen. My father was of the opinion that myself – Niu Sheng Xian (牛胜先) – as the eldest son, should inherit our family Daoist lineage and carry it forward to future generations. This meant that my father wanted to officially pass on the teachings he had directly received from master Zhao Bi Chen and his ‘Thousand Peaks Earlier Divine Sky School’ (千峰先天派 - Qian Feng Xian Tian Pai). In 1988, young master Du Xiu Si sent the top leading disciple of Du Xin Wu’s ‘Natural Correct School’(自然门 - Zi Ran Men) of Daoist cultivation and martial arts practice to Beijing. This head disciple’s name was young ‘Master Longevity Quell’ (彭镇师 - Peng Zhen Shi). Master Peng Zhen’s very important task was to bring official notification that I – Niu Sheng Xian – had been formally acknowledged by the Daoist masters of China, as the inheritor of my father’s lineage, which he had acquired direct from master Zhao Bi Chen. From this time onward I was considered the head of the ‘Thousand Peaks Earlier Divine Sky School’ (千峰先天派 - Qian Feng Xian Tian Pai).
During the 6th lunar month of 1988 my father decided that the time had come for his ‘Seated Transformation’ (坐化Zuo Hua), a process common to both Buddhism and Daoism in China whereby a practitioner ‘passes away’ in a controlled manner whilst sat in a cross-legged meditation posture. To this end he asked me to help him with various tasks over the next ten days. This gave us time to sort out his affairs and clear-up any doubts regarding the Daoist teachings, including questions relating to the ‘Three Step Work Law’ (三步功法– San Bu Gong Fa), and the ‘Lineage Protection Way Great Law’ (传护道大法 - Chuan Hu Dao Da Fa). My father bestowed a ‘Dragon Gate Law’ (龙门法 – Long Men Fa) name, and confirmed that I was to take charge of the ‘Thousand Peaks’ (Qian Feng) lineage, and made sure that I understood the Regulations relating to Daoist cultivation (道规 – Dao Gui). He ‘Sealed’ (印章 – Yin Zhang) the transmission by handing-over the book written by the founder (Zhao Bi Chen) of the ‘Thousand Peaks’ (Qian Feng) lineage, entitled ‘The Secret Cultivation of Essential Nature and Eternal Life’(性命法诀明指 – Xing Ming Fa Jue Ming Zhi). With this my father asked me to unite all the disciples of our lineage and personally guide my youngest brother Niu Sheng Li (牛胜利) by making all the necessary arrangements when needed, etc. Just before his ‘Seated Transformation’ (Zuo Hua) began, my father asked me to open all the doors and windows, as he was ready leave his body. In the presence of his disciples he said:
“Eldest son, support the head, disciples support the torso and waist. Second son Sheng Tian (胜田) is in Germany – I can not wait for him. Third son Sheng Li (胜利) supports the legs. No one is allowed to cry after I have gone.”
The entire process of leaving his body took forty-five minutes to complete, as my father slowly reduced his oxygen intake until his breathing became very subtle and then finally ceased.
Many Daoist practitioners have had problems reading and understanding the Daoist teachings of ‘Essential Nature and Eternal Life Mind Body Cultivating Life Skill Law’. My father’s contribution in this area has been extensive as he possessed the ability to present the often obscure concepts of Daoist cultivation in an everyday common vernacular that everyone could understand. His explanations clearly defined what the concepts meant and gave exact instructions about the correct order that the practices had to be performed in if they were to be effective. All of my father’s insights were gathered into a book he wrote entitled ‘Essential Nature and Eternal Life Mind body Cultivation Life Skill Law’ (性命双修养生功法 - Xing Ming Shuang Xiu Yang Sheng Gong Fa). This book has been very popular amongst those who truly love good health and its influence on Daoist cultivation (丹道– Dan Dao) is considered immeasurable. My father dedicated his life to preserving the teachings of the ‘Thousand Peaks Earlier Divine Sky School’ (千峰先天派 - Qian Feng Xian Tian Pai) of master Zhao Bi Chen, and making them available for everyone in China and throughout the world. His contribution to world Daoism has been successful in its objectives. As I write in 2010, it has now been 22 years since my father passed away. Niu Jin Bao was not only my father, but he was my Daoist master. I do not live-up to his reputation. My father was a lineage inheritor whose inner power and presence has been able to influence China and the world. Today, in Sweden, the United States, Australia, Japan, the United Kingdom, Greece, Slovenia, Indonesia, Palestine, Switzerland, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Finland, Denmark, France, Germany, Canada, Taiwan, Hong Kong, my father’s Daoist lineage has been successfully transmitted. My father’s grandson Niu Xiao Xu (牛晓旭) – also known as ‘Master Earlier Truth’ (先真子) - has extensively studied the Daoist path (丹道 – Dan Dao) with great vigour and attained understanding, as has the eldest grandson named Niu Xian Ci (牛天赐) who has also inherited my father’s teaching. May my esteemed father now rest in peace!
Written on the 11th day of the 6th lunar month, 2010 by the eldest son Niu Sheng Xian (牛胜先) in Zhuhai (珠海)!
'Licchavi Vimalakirti came to the foot of that tree and said to me, ’Reverend Sariputra, this is not the way to absorb yourself in contemplation. You should absorb yourself in contemplation so that neither body nor mind appear anywhere in the triple world. You should absorb yourself in contemplation in such a way that you can manifest all ordinary behavior without forsaking cessation. You should absorb yourself in contemplation in such a way that you can manifest the nature of an ordinary person without abandoning your cultivated spiritual nature.' Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra