A MODERN DAOIST PILGRIMAGE
by Rebecca Kali and Mark Johnson
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
every temple features a tortoise supporting a huge tablet on its back.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
in-depth Daoist Experience/Study Trips to some of China’s most
exceptional spiritual sites.
article originally appeared in:
The Empty Vessel: A Journal of
Contemporary Taoism - Winter 2002
Rebecca Kali may be reached at:
PO Box 540
Click here to email Rebecca
Mark Johnson may be reached at:
801 Tupper St.
Click here to email Mark