三丰祖师San Feng Zu Shi
A bronze sculpture with gold gilt, in an attentive and upright position.
三丰祖师San Feng Zu Shi
Zhang San Feng’s ancestors used to live in Jiang Xi province and his grandfather was very good in astrology. As he calculated that the new emperor would be coming from the north, he moved the whole family to Liao Yang during the end of Nan Song dynasty. Master Zhang’s father was a strong intellectual on tactics and strategies, he worked for Emperor Tai Zong in Yuan Dynasty (元太宗). Legend has it that his wife Madam Lin had a dream about a crane flying over from an ocean and then she gave birth to Zhang San Feng. The birth time was April 9th at midnight. This boy had rather unusual looks with very big ears, round eyes, and also a strong and round body who walked like a crane. When he was five, he got an eye disease and his eyesight deteriorated day after day. One day, he was being approached by a Taoist named Bai Yun Chan Lao (白云禅老). He found this boy to be a great talent, only that his eyes were being disturbed by demons. He would like to take this boy back to the Temple and help him recover. The mother agreed, and Zhang San Feng followed his master to the Temple. After six months, his eyes recovered and he started to learn Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism. Since Zhang San Feng had astonishing abilities, he could comprehend all these literatures easily. During the reign of Emperor Shi Zu in the Yuan Dynasty (1215 A.D.-1294 A.D.), he joined the civil service and held office as the Magistrate of Bo Ling County (博陵縣) for a short time. As he was not interested in vanities, he resigned and started to travel. One day while touring around the mountainous regions near present-day Bao Ji (宝鸡), he saw the summits of three mountains and decided to give himself the Taoist name "San Feng Zi" (三丰子). At the age of sixty-seven, Master Zhang went to Zhong Nan Mountain and came to meet Huo Long Zhen Ren (火龙真人). After years of cultivation, he finally became an Immortal at Wu Dang Mountain (武当山).
In 1384, Emperor Tai Zu of Ming Dynasty sent orders to summon Zhang San Feng (张三丰) thrice to imperial court, but Zhang refused. He then demanded Shen Wan San (沈万三) and Qiu Xuan Qing (邱玄清), who were two of the most influential pillars of the community, to personally invite Zhang for a meeting. Zhang again refused. In 1391, Tai Zu sent the Taoist high priest, Celestial Master Zhang Yu Chu (张宇初真人), to visit Zhang again. Still he declined. Throughout the years, Zhang San Feng’s whereabouts were unknown, and he gave his visitors the runaround.
When Emperor Cheng Zu of Ming Dynasty (明成祖) came to power, he knew that Master Zhang San Feng was an incomparable talent and wanted to recruit him. He sent out his chief officers in charge of public relations and human resources to search for Zhang in 1406. Despite years of searching, their effort was in vain. Later, an officer named Hu Ying (胡滢) heard that the Master was living in seclusion in Tian Gu Cave (天谷洞) located in He Ming Mountain. So, he went there to try his luck. Unfortunately, as Master Zhang was no longer interested in worldly matters, he continued to hide away from visitors. Hu Ying persisted and stayed on the mountain until he passed away at the age of eighty-nine; his gravestone is still there on He Ming Mountain. Hu’s death further reinforced the Emperor’s wish to see Master Zhang. In the spring of 1417, the Emperor sent Taoist Wu Bai Li (吴伯理) of Long Hu Mountain (龙虎山) an imperial decree ordering him to go visit Tian Gu Cave to seek out Zhang. This time, Taoist Wu organized solemn Taoist ceremonies and prayed to the deity of the mountain, hoping that he would have a chance to meet Master Zhang. In the autumn of 1420, Wu chose a nice place behind Yan Xiang Temple (延祥阁) and constructed a reception hall known as Jie Ge (杰阁) for the Master.
According to legend, Wu’s prayers touched the Master, who descended to meet him. However, when Wu begged him to go to Beijing to see the Emperor, Master Zhang refused and vanished into the cave again. The words he left for Wu were that “An emperor needed to be hardworking and love his people, for an emperor of peace would bring blessings to his country”. He avoided the Emperor and other influential people, for a country’s rulers should always had their focus on the country and the people.
According to the Taoist Collection, it was mentioned that Zhang San Feng had practised in the Tian Gu Cave of He Ming Mountain and written “San Feng You Ci” (三丰游此) on the stone wall of the cave, meaning San Feng had been there
In 1459 A.D., Emperor Ying Zong of Ming Dynasty honoured the master as “Tong Wei Xian Hua Zhen Ren” (通微显化真人), and later Emperor Shi Zong changed his title to “Qing Xu Xuan Miao Zhen Jun” (清虚玄妙真君).
三丰祖师San Feng Zu Shi