Today is the anniversary of the death (1227) of Qiu Chuji (丘处机) — Taoist name, Changchun zi (長春子) — founder of the Dragon Gate sect of Taoism and the most famous of the Seven True Taoists of the North (seven disciples of Wang Chongyang). I do not normally celebrate the deaths of people here, but the traditional day to venerate saints in the Christian tradition is the date of their deaths on the grounds that at death they left mortal suffering behind. It seems fitting to translate such a notion over to the Taoist tradition.
The Northern Complete Reality School was founded by a Taoist priest, Wang Chongyang, born Wang Zhongfu — 1113-1171, of the Sect of Clear Serenity of the Singular Path. According to traditional legend, Wang Chongyang met two of the Taoist Eight Immortals (deified mortals) in the summer of 1159 AD. The immortals, Zhongli Quan and Lü Dongbin taught Wang Taoist beliefs and trained him in secret rituals. Wang met one of these immortals again a year later and was provided with a set of five written instructions, which led to his decision of living alone in a grave he created for himself in Zhongnan Mountain for three years and in a hut he later called “Complete Perfection Hut” for another four years. After seven years of living in the Zhongnan Mountain, Wang met Tang Chuduan and Qiu Chuji who became two of his seven disciples. Wang Chongyang’s seven disciples, Qiu Chuji, Ma Yu, Tan Chuduan, Liu Chuxuan, Wang Chuyi, Hao Datong, and Sun Bu’er were later known as The Seven Masters of Quanzhen or the Seven Immortals.
In 1180, Qiu Chuji went to the Dragon Gate Mountain in Longzhou. Seeing the beautiful scenery, quiet surroundings, natural caves, and springs and learning that immortal Lou Jing of the Han dynasty once cultivated himself in this place, Qiu decided to settle here. After selecting a cave as his residence he went on with his Cultivation and Refinement for 6 years, using the methods inherited from his master, Wang Chongyang.
Qiu Chuji read and studied Taoist scriptures carefully. He found a phrase in the Book of the Inner Landscape of the Yellow Court that read “by staying awake day and night, one achieves perfection and can remain unperturbed even under lightning and thunders”. Qiu forced himself not to sleep at night and finally succeeded. Henceforth Qiu never lay down at night and rested simply by Sitting in Meditation and Entering Tranquility. He left Dragon Gate Mountain in 1186.
In 1219 Genghis Khan ordered Qiu Chuji to visit him in a letter dated 15 May 1219 by present reckoning. Qiu Chuji left his home in Shandong in February 1220 and journeyed to Beijing. Learning that Genghis had gone West, he spent winter there. In February 1221, Qiu Chuji left, traversing eastern Mongolia to the camp of Genghis’ youngest brother Otchigin near Lake Buyur in the upper Kerulen – today’s Kherlen-Amur basin. From there he traveled southwestward up the Kerulen, crossing the Karakorum region in north-central Mongolia, and arrived at the Altai Mountains, probably passing near the present Uliastai. After traversing the Altai he visited Bishbalig – modern Ürümqi – and moved along the north side of the Tian Shan range to Lake Sutkol, today’s Sairam, Almaliq (or Yining City), and the rich valley of the Ili.
From there, Qiu Chuji passed to Balasagun and Shu City and across this river to Talas and the Tashkent region, and then over the Syr Darya to Samarkand, where he halted for some months. Finally, through the Iron Gates of Termit, over the Amu Darya, and by way of Balkh and northern Afghanistan, Qiu Chuji reached Genghis’ camp near the Hindu Kush.
Qiu Chuji, had been invited to satisfy the interest of Genghis Khan in “the philosopher’s stone” and the secret medicine of immortality. He explained the Taoist philosophy and the many ways to prolong life and was honest in saying there was no secret medicine of immortality. Genghis Khan honored him with the title Spirit Immortal. Genghis also put Qiu Chuji in charge of all religious leaders and sects in the empire. Their conversations were recorded in the book Xuan Feng Qing Hui Lu.
Returning home, Qiu Chuji largely followed his outward route, with certain deviations, such as a visit to Hohhot. He was back in Beijing by the end of January 1224. From the narrative of his expedition, Travels to the West of Qiu Chang Chun, written by his pupil and companion Li Zhichang, we derive some of the most vivid pictures ever drawn of nature and humanity between the Great Wall of China and Kabul, between the Aral and Yellow Seas.
Of particular interest are the descriptions of the Mongols and the people of Samarkand and its vicinity, the account of the land and products of Samarkand in the Ili Valley at or near Almalig-Kulja, and the description of various great mountain ranges, peaks and defiles, such as the Chinese Altay, the Tian Shan, Bogdo Uula, and the Iron Gates of Termit. There is, moreover, a noteworthy reference to a land apparently identical with the uppermost valley of the Yenisei.
After his return, Qiu Chuji lived in Beijing until his death on 23 July 1227. By order of Genghis Khan, some of the former imperial garden grounds were given to him for the foundation of a Taoist Monastery of the White Clouds that still exists to this day. Contemporary Taoist belief and practice largely follows Qiu Chuji’s Dragon Gate Way.
To explain Taoist dietary practices would take volumes, not to mention the fact that they have shifted in certain ways over the centuries. For example, at one point grains were frowned upon but now are central. Eating properly is critical to Taoist practice in general and certain principles are fundamental. These include the general avoidance of red meat, and eating chicken and fish sparingly; always eating vegetables and fruits in season only, and eating only those grown locally without pesticides or chemical fertilizers; avoidance of too many raw foods; an emphasis on whole grains; avoidance of caffeine and alcohol; limited use of fats, and avoidance of deep fried foods; and, most important, eating in moderate quantities. Here is a classic Chinese method for cooking brown rice. You should make it in quantities sufficient for several days. It can be reheated by steaming or stir frying. The cooking pot must have a tight fitting lid for the method to work.
Chinese Brown Rice
Whole meal or brown rice is best, organic and short grain is preferable. Add in some wild rice for variety and flavor if you wish.
Use 1 cup of rice to 3 cups of water.
You can roast the rice first in the cooking pot until golden brown if you like but it is not necessary.
Add the water, a little sea salt (not rock salt) and 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil.
Bring to the boil.
Put a lid on the pot turn the heat off and allow the pot to cool naturally (several hours). Do not lift the lid until the pot is cool.
When the pot is completely cool you will find that the liquid has been absorbed but the grains are not all glued together.
This is the traditional method and gives the best results, but it does require a little patience. Try to avoid aluminum — stainless steel or ceramic cookware is best. You can cook a few days’ worth and store it in the refrigerator or freezer, it can then be steamed or stir fried (with a few vegetables).
Never store cooked rice at room temperature, allow the cooked rice to cool completely and then store it chilled in the refrigerator. Never leave it in the pot, always transfer it to a ceramic container for storage after it has cooled sufficiently.