《双语园地》Founder of Tai Chi: Zhang Sanfeng 太极祖师张三丰

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Since its formation in the 12th century, Tai Chi has become an increasingly popular practice for mind and body worldwide. Though many people know of the practice, few know the story of its founder, Zhang Sanfeng.

Zhang was a legendary Taoist monk whose life spanned the Song, Yuan, and Ming dynasties. According to the History of Ming Dynasty: Biography of Zhang Sanfeng, he was from Yizhou City, Liaodong, or today’s Dongbei Province in Northern China. His given name was Quanyi; Sanfeng was a nickname that he was known by.

Zhang was a towering figure of seven feet tall, with posture as rigid as a crane’s and whiskers as hard as spearheads. He was known for being slovenly and wore a Taoist robe year-round regardless of the weather.

He was said to have been a wanderer, traveling to the ends of China. Legend has it that he could travel about three hundred fifty miles in a day.

Besides being the founder of the popular Tai Chi practice, Zhang also founded the Wudang Sect of the Tao school. As a monk that had obtained the Tao, he was greatly sought after by the emperors of the Ming Dynasty for his wisdom, and played a key role in popularizing Taoism through poetry.

Originally, Tai Chi was intended by Zhang to be a practice for both the spirit and body. But as time went on, people began to adopt Tai Chi for its physical benefits and Tai Chi began to become more and more of a physical exercise.

Wudang Mountain

As a highly accomplished Taoist monk, Zhang became very famous by the time of the Ming Dynasty. During the two-century-long dynasty, almost every emperor sent emissaries to search for him in order to seek his advice on governance. Three emperors proclaimed him a “true person,” an enlightened person of the Tao school.

However, Zhang traveled from place to place and was hard to find until he finally settled down in Wudang Mountain.

After having visited all the peaks and canyons of Wudang Mountain, he declared, “This mountain will become very famous in the future.”

When Emperor Yongle, the son of Ming Dynasty’s first emperor, ascended to the throne, he was determined to find Zhang. After a few fruitless attempts, the emperor sent Bachelor Hu Guang to look for Zhang with a very sincere note that he wrote himself.

After receiving this letter, Zhang responded with a poem. Zhang knew exactly why the emperor looked for him—as the ruler of China, the emperor had everything he wanted. So what could he possibly want Zhang for? The answer must be longevity.

In his poem, Zhang revealed to Emperor Yongle the secret to longevity: the emperor needed to calm his mind and relinquish his worldly desires. Emperor Yongle was more than happy to follow this advice.

In return, the emperor ordered the construction of eight palaces, two Taoist temples, thirty-six nunneries, and seventy-two rock temples on Wudang Mountain. He also made it a royal mountain and sealed it with a royal stamp.

Just as Zhang had predicted, Wudang Mountain became very popular and Taoism flourished in China.

Popularized Taoism

Zhang’s many writings, including Da Dao Lun, Xuan Ji Zhi Jiang, and Xuan Yao Piao, were all very popular with Taoists later on.

His most significant work, however, was Wu Gen Shu, a collection of twenty-four poems aimed to inspire people to start cultivation. In these poems, Zhang compared happiness in the secular world to a rootless tree that couldn’t sustain itself for long. In order to escape this predicament, said Zhang, people must cultivate themselves.

The previous literature of Taoism had been very mysterious and obscure in terms of meaning and wording, and was therefore not widely read. Through the catchy rhythm and simple format of his poems, Zhang made Taoism more accessible to the common people.

His writing turned Taoism from an inaccessible belief to a ubiquitous practice that was followed by emperors and commoners alike.

Tai Chi—A Lost Cultivation Way of Mind and Body
Beside having calm and relaxed movements and finding a balance between strength and flexibility, Zhang’s Tai Chi also emphasizes internal cultivation. It is practiced for self-defense and also to achieve an extended lifetime.

In recent decades, Tai Chi has attracted people from all over the world. There are many international competitions, tournaments, and large-scale performances dedicated to Tai Chi each year. It’s also been depicted in many movies and TV programs.

But the practice has strayed far from Zhang’s original teachings—it has become a physical exercise that is not very effective for either self-defense or longevity.

As a genuine cultivation practice, Tai Chi is not just about the movements; the improvement of one’s mind and moral character is far more important. Taoism believes in having a pure mind with no intentions. Without cultivating the mind, the Tai Chi exercises alone are not enough to better the body.

Some well-known Tai Chi masters don’t even try to meet this basic requirement of cultivation, and their minds are clouded by worldly desires. For this reason, no matter how diligent their exercising, they will not find Tai Chi very effective.

Over the years, some people have come up with different styles of Tai Chi and tried to become popular by changing the movements. But Tai Chi itself is very intricate, and cannot be easily changed. These Tai Chi spinoffs have also caused the general efficacy to erode.

The genuine Tai Chi that Zhang taught has long been lost. It is a shame and a disappointment to those who truly want to cultivate.

太极祖师张三丰

历史上能够被几代皇帝寻访,封号的人,恐怕只有张三丰一人明朝两百多年间,几乎各代皇帝都寻访过他明英宗赐其号为「通微显化真人」;明宪宗封其号为「韬光尚志真仙」;明世宗赠封他为「清虚元妙真君」(。道家是修真的,所以这些封号都有一个「真」字)整个明代,从帝王到百姓,普遍崇道,这与张三丰的巨大影响是分不开的。

张三丰是跨越宋,元,明三朝之道士,为武当派开山祖师。

“明史·张三丰传”记载:「张三丰,辽东懿州人,名全一,一名君宝,三丰其号也。」因为他不修边幅,又号张邋遢他身材高大,「龟形鹤背。 ,大耳圆目,须髯如戟。」寒暑只穿一件道袍,一件蓑衣……有过目不忘之才,浪迹天涯,有人说他能一日千里。他曾游武当山各处奇岩深谷,对人说:“此山异日必大兴。”

由于张三丰神名噪起,朱元璋曾几次访寻,均未果他儿子朱棣也早闻张之大名,只是无缘得见;登基后多次派人寻访也没有找到后来他下命令,派侍读学士胡广去找,并带去一封言辞恳切的信。

张三丰收到朱棣的书信后,答诗一首托弟子孙碧云转交朱棣:

天地交泰化成功,朝野咸安治道亨。

皇极殿中龙虎静,武当云外钟鼓清。

臣居草莽原无用,帝问刍荛苦有情。

敢把微言劳圣听,澄心寡欲是长生。

皇帝乃九五之尊,拥有海内,他最大的愿望是什么?长生,张三丰在此信中给永乐皇帝开了一个长生的妙方:?「澄心寡欲」(心要干净,欲望要少) 。永乐帝得到神人的指点,十分满意。

张三丰著述甚丰,诸如“大道论”,“玄机直讲”,“玄要篇”等等,皆被后代修道者所推崇。不过,他最杰出作品当称“无根树”丹词。

凡树有根,方能生发,树若无根,必不长久。人生在世,生老病死,百虑忧心,百年岁月,转瞬即逝,如树之无根也。张三丰作此丹词二十四首,以「无根树」为名,叫醒世人,使其看破浮生梦幻,早修性命耳。

下面是“无根树”的第一首:

无根树,花正幽,贪恋荣华谁肯休?

浮生事,苦海舟,荡来飘去不自由。

无边无岸难泊系,常在鱼龙险处游。

肯回首,是岸头,莫待风波坏了舟

丹词开宗指出人生贪恋荣华富贵,犹如在苦海里漂泊的小船,时常处在危险之中,规劝世人要超脱名利,及时修炼,「莫待风波坏了舟」。

千百年来道家理论玄奥,文字晦涩,不能为社会所广泛接受。张三丰采用歌词的体裁,通俗的文字把玄奥的修真理论化为脍炙人口的曲词“无根树”,对后世修道者影响很大。

张三丰所创的太极拳是一种性命双修的功法,注重内修,动作沉稳,神意悠然,刚柔相济,以静制动;既可搏击,又可长生现在全球研习太极的人非常多大家在国际上经常看到太极比赛,大型太极团体操表演,表现太极的影视剧也很多。太极越来越火,但离当年张三丰的真传却越来越远,已变成了太极操,既难实战也难长生。人们发现:近代太极「名家」平均寿命只有70岁左右,这离「观耄耋能御众之形」相差太远。