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by Rebecca Kali and Mark Johnson

For three weeks in October, 2001, as representatives of the newly established American Daoist Association and the National Qigong Association, we visited almost every major Daoist Temple and Sacred Mountain in China. We were searching for teachers who had the expertise and willingness to give in-depth training to Americans. We also went with the intention to arrange future Daoist educational tours and to establish a meaningful dialog between Daoist in China and those in America. We fulfilled our mission far beyond our expectations.

Our pilgrimage started at Fragrant Hills Hotel in a magnificent park overlooking Beijing. Mark feels its the only place to stay when visiting the city. White Cloud Temple was our main stop in Beijing. It is the central temple of the Quan Zhen Daoist Sect as well as the main headquarters for the All China Daoist Association. While there, the Abbot, mentioned that many of the Abbots of the other temples we would visit were classmates of his at White Cloud’s School of Daoism. During a private tour of the temple buildings, we discussed arrangements for classes in Nei Gung Internal Alchemy and Shen level practices. We left with the assurance that we can arrange the higher level of instruction we require for our groups.

From Beijing, we went to Mount Tai Shan. On the way, we experienced our first all night train ride and quickly discovered that if you don’t want strangers bunking above and below you, then buy up all the available berths in your compartment ahead of time. After an early morning cable car ride to the top of the mountain, we learned Tai Shan is considered the foremost and oldest sacred mountain in China. The earliest shrines there were simple structures built to worship natural forces. They were an expression of Daoism’s shamanic heritage. Tai Shan was a home of the Dao, long before Daoism became a religion.

Our overall impression of the mountain was appreciation for the harmonious way the many temples and walkways complimented the natural environment. Undulating dragon walls and circular archways lead us from one temple to the next. Rebecca was mostly impressed with the overall power and strength of this ancient sacred mountain. Whereas, Mark was particularly captivated by the monastery’s Ping-Pong table with a huge yin/yang symbol painted on it. On our last day on the mountain we were surprised and pleased to be given a banquet in our honor, where we enjoyed special foods found only on Tai Shan such as He Xiang, a fried herb and Ling Zhi, a mushroom said to convey longevity. At the Azure Cloud Temple, we discussed the Dao De Ching with a scholar who is translating his work into English. We look forward to our next visit to Tai Shan and continuing our dialogue with him.

Our next stop was Qing Dao, a modern and beautiful city on the Pacific coast. Its architecture was heavily influenced by German entrepreneurs who settled there at the turn of the century. Their expertise in brewing fine beer, accounts for Tsingdao being China’s most famous beer. After a scenic drive to Lao Shan Mountain, we arrived at Tai Qing Temple where we were welcomed by a priest who led us through the extensive temple gardens. He pointing out the wide variety of exotic and well cared for plants. In an inner courtyard we met Abbott Lu, who also emphasized the importance of harmony between man and nature. During an interesting tour of the temple complex we discussed options for future studies with them. He then showed us their new lecture hall where our groups will study.

The next day, we spotted a smaller temple near the top of the mountain. Upon investigation, we discovered two little old monks who obviously didn’t have too many visitors. They proudly showed us Dragon King Spring cave and the trail that Jang San Fang frequently traveled when he stayed there. A short walk up the trail disclosed a beautiful frog pond filled with water lilies. Mark also noticed a lot of empty potato chip bags floating in the water!

After descending the mountain to the sea coast, we took an exciting high speed boat tour of Qing Dao Harbor, followed by a quick flight to Wu Han. It was supposed to only be a stopping off point between planes and trains, but it turned out to be one of the more surprising and unusual places we visited. Expecting a dirty industrial city, we found their main boulevard so lit up with bright lights and neon signs, it dwarfed the strip at Las Vegas!

After the glitter of Wu Han, we took an overnight train to Mount Wu Dang Shan. We arrived at 4:30 in the morning, an hour ahead of schedule. And can you believe we were charged higher fares for the extra speed! Wu Dang looked as if it was under siege, due to much new construction. The city is preparing for the flood of Westerners who saw the movie, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon". Did you know...the actors and actresses never made it to the temples? They shot all their fight scenes in the studio and superimposed them onto the temple backgrounds.

Wu Dang Shan is not just one mountain, but a mountain range with numerous temples and martial art centers. The variety of temple architecture is amazing. Some are built over 1,000 foot precipices, others have winding walled courtyards, and some feature ancient sacred wells. One wooden structure is supported by a huge central pillar with twelve horizontal beams spiraling out from the center. Another features a narrowly carved stone projecting twelve feet out from the mountain over a deep canyon ravine. People obviously crawl out on it to place burning incense at the end. But, we decided to decline the offer.

Almost every temple features a tortoise supporting a huge tablet on its back.

As the story goes, the tortoise being the first son of the dragon, it was given the secrets of the Immortals. One huge statue of a tortoise had his head cut off by the Gods, because he revealed some of the secrets of the Immortals to the local people. Unfortunately, just before our arrival, the head Abbott of Purple Cloud Temple, Master Wang, died unexpectedly at age 59. We were able to pay our respects and to film three days of rare Taoist funeral ceremonies. Fortunately for us, the abbots of the various temples and the heads of the martial art schools still honored our prearranged appointments, in spite of being involved with the ceremonies.

Our last stop in Wu Dang was an abandoned temple turned into a museum. There, we were delighted to meet 133 year old, Master Chen Li, who sat in a full lotus position as she told us of her life as a Daoist! Then she showed us her extremely long finger nails, which she said her students made medicine from. She also claimed that at age 90 her hair turned white and when she was 130 it started growing in black again. With many invitations to return, we departed Wu Dang heading west, on an overnight train to Chengdu.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by Daoists from Qing Yan Gong temple and professors of Taoist studies from nearby Sichuan University. As we shared a cup of tea, we discussed developing a Taoist studies program in Chengdu for our American students. During a tour of the elegant and recently restored temple, we were captivated by an ancient relic called the golden sheep, a mythological creature whose form was composed of all 12 animals of the zodiac. We were even more astounded to see the ancient collection of 14,000 hand-carved wooden tablets stored in the Scripture Printing House. The well preserved tablets are still being used to print 245 books of the Taoist Canon. Rebecca thought they were one of the treasures of this trip and bought enough books at the temple bookstore to fill a suitcase.

The next day we climbed Qing Cheng Shan Mountain, ascending the many steps of the tree lined trail leading to a secluded temple. The towering pines were planted by request of the first Abbott who asked each person who visited the temple to plant a seedling along the path. We were met by the Abbott, the local press and a TV crew. After the dust settled we set out to explore the other temples. They were all designed with a keen sense of the principles of feng shui. Rebecca especially admired a huge 2,000 year old ginkgo tree whose branches spread over the temple guest house. It was so immense, that four people together could not reach around its trunk. Its bark was decorated with red silk ribbons, left there by people who had benefited from its energy. What impressed Mark most about the temples was the fact the guest house had electric blankets on all the beds! We were told Rebecca’s favorite tree was planted by Zhang Daoling, the founder of religious Daoism. We paid our respects at the shrine in the cave where he spent 30 years in cultivation. In the main hall, morning and evening ceremonies were held to Zhang Daoling and the rest of the Taoist pantheon. We were pleased to be invited to participate in the ceremonies. We also enjoyed an exceptional banquet followed by Tai Ji and Wu Shu demonstrations in the temple courtyard. The secluded, picturesque setting and powerful energies of Qing Cheng Shan create a tranquil environment conducive to spiritual cultivation. We can not wait to return. We were saddened to leave this mountain, however we had to be in Hangzhou the next day.

What can we possibly say about the beauty of this ancient city and West Lake that has not already been said by poets for over 2,000 years? Hangzhou deserves all the praise it has received. But, since our focus was on Daoism, we departed for a captivating and adventurous bus ride to a Daoist temple near Huang Shan. That ride through China’s back-roads turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. We not only went around villages, we went through them on streets obviously made only for ox carts. It was so intimate it seemed like we were driving right through their living rooms. We got to see life as it is really lived in rural China.

On the way to Huang Shan we stopped at a small Daoist mountain where we took a scenic cable car ride. It was followed by a hike on a trail through a mountain gorge lined with shrines to numerous deities. Our destination was a small temple in a quaint, one street village nestled in the mountains. There were only a few monks living there, but what they lacked in numbers, they more than made up for in enthusiasm. After tea and a promise to return, we continued to Huang Shan.

Upon arrival at the "Yellow Mountain" we were awestruck at the natural beauty. Along with Guilin, Huang Shan is one of the most popular scenic attractions in China, and has been so for over a thousand years. A famous school of Chinese landscape painting developed around this mountain, depicting its unusual craggy cliffs and windswept trees. Our parting view was of the sunrise over the eastern peaks, so you can imagine the adjustment we needed to make to go from the tranquillity of that scene to the hustle and bustle of Shanghai. After a visit to the YuYuan Gardens and the nearby Bazaar in the older section of Shanghai, we departed for America.

Mark is fond of saying, "Not since Marco Polo have Westerners made such an impact on China." However, a more objective viewpoint from Rebecca is, "The current trend in China allows an openness and exchange of dialogue on Daoism that was not possible in previous years. We were not only warmly welcomed by Daoist wherever we went, but found that they have as strong a commitment to establish ties between Daoist in China and Daoist in America as we do." We will be working with many Daoist both here and abroad to bring this about.

 Rebecca Kali is the former Executive Director of the NQA and founder of  Qigong Alliance International. Mark Johnson is one of the founding fathers of the National Qigong (Chi Kung) Association (NQA) and founder of the Tai Chi for Health Institute. Mark and Rebecca's work to increase public awareness of Qigong and Daoism has led to the establishment of the American Daoist Association, as well as their collaboration on numerous projects to provide information about the health maintenance and healing benefits of practicing Qigong. 

They lead in-depth Daoist Experience/Study Trips to some of China’s most exceptional spiritual sites.

This article originally appeared in:
 The Empty Vessel: A Journal of Contemporary Taoism  - Winter 2002


Rebecca Kali may be reached at:
PO Box 540
, MN 55731

Click here to email Rebecca
Phone: 218-365-6330

Mark Johnson may be reached at:
801 Tupper St
.  Suite 1111
Santa Rosa
, CA 95404

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Dao of Well Being Tours - Qigong China Trips
P.O. Box 750
Ely, MN 55731  USA

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