Chinese ancient legends and figures 9- Lao Tzu, a myth or reality?

Chinese ancient legends and figures 9- Lao Tzu, a myth or reality?

This time I wont write details about Taoism and values deeply but I will speak about basic ideas of Lao Tzu, his life and his core ideas. Lao Tzu alongside Confucius is biggest Chinese philosopher. It cannot be determined who is more important of these two great people. While Confucius was busy with concept of state, society and social norms Lao Tzu was busy about living in harmony with nature and  observing natural changes. He was also thinking about how people should live in harmony with each other and nature and how people should perceive happiness, changes, sadness and how to deal with challenges. Basically was searching meaning of life and giving a meaning to it.

3 th

What is even more interesting is that no one is completely sure about existence of Lao Tzu and most details about his life. Most of historians believe that Lao Tzu lived between 601BC  and 531BC.  Its known very little about his life actually. There are many different and contradictory stories about his life which are very unclear and brief. Even most famous Chinese ancient historian Sima Qian  145BC-86BC) didn’t leave one conceptualized story about Lao Tzu but several shorter often not completely reliable. It is believed that Lao Tzu was born in state of Chu, in  present day  Luoyi Henan province. His real name was Li. Er while  Lao Tzu actually means Old Master. There is legend that he was held in mothers womb for 62 years and that he was born with long beard and large eyebrows or in other words old and wise. Other legends suggest that he lived for 129 years.  There are suggestions that he worked as historian or librarian on royal court of Zhou dynasty in Luoyang. Records of Sima Qian suggest that Lao Tzu was married and had one son Zong who later became legendary warrior.

Some parts of Records of Sima Qian state that he  had few followers while other parts say that he didn’t have any followers before he went to west. It is stated that he travelled a lot observed nature, visited many villages and towns where he was both learning but also teaching wisdoms. There is also an unreliable story that he once met with Confucius and that they spoke to each other in respectful way despite  differences in ideas of these two philosophers. According to Records of Grand Historian Lao Tzu told Confucius that he should be more flexible and spontaneous and less ambitious.  While Confucius told him that he perceives Lao Tzu as dragon which rides over sky with wind and clouds.


Now even more  mysterious thing is where Lao Tzu left and whether he left at all. In some writings of Sima Qian Lao Tzu was becoming more and more disappointed by ignorance of people and hard life during Spring and Autumn Period. Lao Tzu was also disappointed with moral decline of various rulers and often wars between states for their dominance and recognition by Zhou court. Also there are suggestions that he wanted to observe and discover harmony, nature and Tao deeper without interruption.  It is often suggested that he didn’t get single disciple and was sad that people don’t want to live according to natural goodness. There is also possibility that he went with the flow, followed his Tao and wanted to live in harmony with all  statics and dynamics in nature and Tao. Simply it can be said that he went to observe stillness of mountains and flexibility of rivers without interruption.  According to story he took an ox and was riding him towards west from  Zhou capital Luoyang.

Legend says that he wanted to leave some trace before he disappears and left the collection of his wisdoms to the border security guard. While getting out of city at western gate Lao Tzu was noticed by one of guards. Lao Tzu was stopped by one of guards. Guard told that his name is Yin Xi and that he recognized Lao Tzu and wants to be his disciple. Lao Tzu wanted to test his devotion and asked about his life. Yin Xi told him that he was interested in astronomy and in all processes of nature, 5 elements and living with virtue. Thus Lao Tzu got sure that he is truly devoted to Tao and that he respects 3 virtues of Lao Tzu. According to legend Lao Tzu still decided to leave but ordained Yin Xi as his disciple. Instead of mentoring him Lao Tzu left him on a bamboo slips his main wisdoms what became known as Tao Te Qing. Lao Tzu went without a trace to the west riding and ox.  This action can be perfectly seen as example of Wu Wei.

Lao Tzu riding an ox

Further according to legend Yin Xi followed the Tao and preserved and rewrote Tao Te Qing several times and was speaking teaching of Lao Tzu to the people.  He left more followers than his teacher Lao Tzu. If we follow this story there were more and more Taoist individuals and smaller movements until 2nd century CE.

Significance of Lao Tzu is very big. Lao Tzu was core person in conceptualizing Taoist teaching. Lao Tzu collected previous ideas about nature, worship, way of living and called it Dao or Tao.  It can be translated as Way. Tao Te Qing is collection of his main ideas and views on nature, time, actions, love, competition, spirituality, astronomy, mind, body,  morality, justice,  contrasts and their balance, harmony with nature, power of mind, balance between people in way of harmony,  and many other things. All this things mentioned above and concept of yin yang were systematized by Lao Tzu existed long before in traditional Chinese spirituality, shamanism and astronomy.  Lao Tzu named this teaching as Tao meaning way. Tao Te Qing can be translated as Classic Way of Virtue.


Lao Tzu updated this concept with concept of Wuji and Taiji. Wuji is considered as eternal space and eternal emptiness that is everywhere around us. Wuji represents constant stillness, non changes and statics. Second is Taiji which is translated as supreme ultimate. It is something that  constantly changes, moves, circles and is constantly flexible. Taiji is constant change of day and night, winter and summer, spring and autumn, good and bad, flowing water, rain and sun,  beautiful and ugly, new and old, love and hate…It is considered that Taiji is name for all relative things and that nothing is absolute that there is thin line between all contrary things.  Wuji and Taiji together give a Yin Yang which symbolizes contradictious harmony as I spoke before.   Yin symbolizes- night, woman, moon, earth, passive, evil and yang symbolizes-  day, man, sun, heaven, active, good. Lao Tzu also added his main virtues to Tao Te Qing such as are simplicity( spontaneity, no competing, wisdom, tranquility, peaceful mind,) , patience( stillness) and compassion( kindness).  He considers Tao as Way with no name and no shape but that it can be personified in way of harmony and path of wisdom. Also Lao Tzu added famous concept of Wu Wei.


Systematized Taoism and its followers during this period still didn’t function as organized association but several centuries later. Later it became organized and systematized teaching only by middle of 2nd century CE.  It never became official state philosophy but  was widely respected by various dynasties mostly by Han, Tang Song and Ming. Taoism deeply influenced life of people. Lao Tzu definitely left great significance on Chinese people. Maybe not him directly but Tao Te Qing and inspired Taoist teaching on it. Taoism not only as a organized movement but as a spiritual concept and way of life had and has great impact on life, culture, arts, medicine, architecture, perception of life, relations between people, virtues, perception of nature, understanding changes and unchangeable things and much more. Together with Confucianism Taoism is core of minds and hearts of Chinese people, Chinese civilization and Chinese nation.  Maybe not Lao Tzu that much but inspiration by Tao Te Qing created Taoist movements.


Still existence of Lao Tzu and origin of Tao Te Qing is mystery as there are suggestions that he actually didn’t write it but that book was written by his followers and that its collection of things that he taught them. There are also ideas that Yin Xi wrote only what Lao Tzu was telling him. It is often believed that Tao Te Qing was a compilation of works of more philosophers who systematized Taoist ideas. Some think that they cooperated on it while others that even different contributors lived in different centuries. It is believed that they had in common that they were signing their works as Lao Tzu what means old master and that later misunderstanding appeared and people thought it was one person. Oldest found examples of Tao Te Qing were found only by late 4th century BC.  Some Taoist followers worship Lao Tzu as deity while in past some schools considered him as individual deity such as Way of Celestial Masters. Todays schools of Taoism Zhengyi and Quanzhen consider Lao Tzu as incarnation of Taishang Laojun one of 3 Pure Ones an important deities in Taoism.  Generally Taoists think that Lao Tzu is personification of Tao. Mostly Taoists do not worship Lao Tzu alone but he is considered as incarnation of 3 Pure Ones who are often worshiped together with other deities.


Traces of  burial site of Lao Tzu do not exist as it was believed that he went to the West somewhere far completely alone. Some rare suggestions exist that he went to Tibet or India. During Han dynasty( 206BC-220CE) with arrival of Buddhism to China  via Silk Road some scholars thought that Lao Tzu actually went to India and that Buddha was his disciple. It was believed like that because of some similarity between two teachings. They believed that Buddha during his retreat met Lao Tzu in mountains who showed him the Tao. Even at beginning Buddha was considered  that he found Tao instead of term Buddhahood by Taoist scholars  Taoist scholars understood the best Buddhist teaching and using their terminology they were able to translate it to Chinese. Chinese version of Buddhism was created by Taoist adaptation. Chan( Zen) Buddhism appeared in 4th-5th century under influence of Taoism.

So its up to you to read, think and decide if Lao Tzu is myth or reality.



Chinese ancient figure 8- Confucius, a father of imperial China, education and social norms

Chinese ancient figure 8- Confucius, a father of imperial China, education and social norms

Here I want to focus on biography and life of Confucius and basically some ideas. Also I will focus on some aspects of his life that seem to be legend and a question of his existence.

His Chinese name is Kong Qiu and simply great man with great ideas. He lived during Spring and Autumn Period( 771BC-476BC) a period of formal supremacy of Zhou dynasty in terms of politics and culture while there was large division on many states who often were in rivalry relations and fought wars. Confucius was born  in state of Lu in Qufu in todays Shandong province in 551BC.  Confucius was born during rule of Duke Xiang of Lu. He became later known as Kongfuzi what means master Kong so from this name he is known as Confucius. Confucius never met his father as he died when he was only 3 years old. He originates from aristocratic family which was impoverished already by time of his birth.  His ancestry dates to house of Dukes of Song during Shang dynasty. At age of 15 he was learning classical six arts which were compulsory for scholars  of Zhou dynasty and those were rites, archery, music, calligraphy, charioteering and math. At age of 19 Confucius married with Qiguan. At age of 23 his mother died and he mourned for 3 years as was tradition saying.  First he tried to be governmental official and worked on some position, He served as magistrate and later as assistant in Ministry of Public Affairs. .Confucius later became Minister of Crime in state of Lu. At that time he was in mid 30ies and decided to become teacher  too and spread his ideas and education as he saw biggest value in education and spreading it.  By proposing his ethical and governmental ideas he was collecting some disciples. Confucius was trying to give education for more people and never took money from his disciples like at that time aristocratic families were paying tutors for their male kids. Confucius played role of diplomat too  in managing relations between rivalry dukes and tried to mediate conflict peacefully and was successful several times.


Confucius was successful at this and centralized power and restored order in state of Lu. But state of Qi tried to distract Duke of Lu by sending beautiful dancing girls. As legend says Duke didn’t attend governmental meetings for few days and Kong Zi was disappointed ad decided to leave the Lu because of lack of morality of duke for whom he served. At that time he was in his 40ties. Kongzi visited many of smaller and bigger states and visited courts there but dukes and kings listened only to his proposals. But never applied them so Confucius was always on road seeking for someone who will apply it and collected disciples on his way. Kongzi considered rituals, governance and music of Western Zhou as core for Chinese culture and state and these ideals he promoted and tried to apply in Lu and other states. Western Zhou was period when  state was united and before Spring and Autumn decentralization. Confucius was teaching his disciples all 6 arts, ethics and governance. At age of 68 he returned his home to state of Lu. Before that he climbed a Mount Taishan which was sacred at that time already. In his hometown he continued teaching most until his death. Confucius was very friendly towards his disciples used to joke but also demanded respect but respected them back too. His son and one of favorite disciples died early and he felt sorry for both of them. At age of 73 Confucius died in his hometown in 479BC As a highly respected person he was buried on grand ceremony and state mourning was declared. Kong  Zi was buried in his hometown Qufu and his tomb still can be visited and people come there to pay respect.

tomb of confucius qufu
Tomb of Confucius, Qufu, Shandong province

He believed that basis for happiness is ideal family in which younger give respect to older and women are submissive to men. From a basis of ideal family goes ideal harmonious society with hierarchy respect and where everyone knows its place and deserves place according to education and skills. Education, respect and harmonious relations are basis of society and everyone by self-cultivation improves his position in society. Kongzi believed that every human serves to society for a higher good and functioning of society. He also believed that following virtues, traditions and high education give you better status in society. Confucius is often seen as conservative person promoting old traditions, rituals and customs which keep unity of family and society. In keeping family tradition each family must worship its ancestors what brings family unity. Under ideals of Western Zhou which established concept Mandate of Heaven legitimacy of ruler must be based. He considered that ruler must worship Heaven in order to gets its blessing and govern under divine power. Confucius considered that state must be strong and ruler generous, powerful and ethical. He considered that highest positions could have only people with highest education and highest skills and virtue. He considered that each ruler and member of society must think about his own behavior, morality and educate himself in order of perfection. In order to get respect leader must be self-disciplined and to respect others too. He believed that you must be compassionate and positive to motivate others to follow law. By education he believed you can achieve higher status and respect in society and only if you have high morality and are self-disciplined.  Confucius idealized concept of 4 professions and their contribution to society. Hierarchy, respect, self-discipline are a must according to him. Confucius emphasized highly on worship of Heaven and ancestors and with aim to keep order worship must be highly detailed. Which chants and when, number of vessels and all steps of ritual had to be according to some order done. Kong Qui considered major arts: computing, calligraphy, music, ritual, archery and chariot driving. He believed that they require strict self-discipline and hard working and therefore are contributive. Confucius believed that such concept of state and organization of society leads to harmnonius society. He was against wars and believed that  justified war only in case of defense.  However despite his brilliant ideas there are some controversies related to Confucius such as misogynic  ideas and underestimating living beings. There is a story when he asks only about human lives when there was accident in which horseridrers were involved and behaves towards animals as towards property of human. Also sometimes his philosophy may seem to strict with lack of spontaneity and joy but some important ideas are definitely serving functioning of society.

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statue of Confucius in Confucius Temple, Beijing

He never left book behind him but his followers gathered his main ideas into  few books.  Confucius left behind 72 disciples who continued spreading his idea,, Moreover they wrote his basic concepts in  Classics of Poetry, Book of Documents, Book of Rites, Spring and Autumn Annals, Great Learning, Mencius and Analects.

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Confucius temple Beijing,

During era of Han dynasty he was deified and worshipped by his followers and scholars. His idea of governing was institutionalized during Han dynasty( 206BC-220CE) when such hierarchy, family and social relations were established like he promoted. Also imperial examination of civil servants who studied his classics existed until 1905. Today Confucianism is still important in China but not in terms of empire, inferiority of women and blaming those sick or unsuccessful and keeping them in poor condition. Today Confucianism serves as idea of hierarchy, social harmony and working on your own skills and education for self-achievement and serving your society.

If you read my history articles you will see how on  his principles Chinese state and society functioned for 2000 thousand years. About role of Confucianism in modern China will be in last chapter of history.


Chinese ancient legends 7- Zhuge Liang, hero and strategist of 3 Kingdoms Period

Chinese ancient legends 7- Zhuge Liang, hero and strategist of 3 Kingdoms Period

This legend is about one of very glorified historical and legendary person famous for its honesty, loyalty, kindness and excellent military strategies. He is often considered as first one to apply in practice Sun Tzu military strategies.  Zhuge Liang is also a character of Chinese literature work- Romance of 3 Kingdoms.


Lets see first about his life and later about significance and consecration.  Zhuge Liang was born in 181 in todays Shandong province. When he was very small he got orphaned. When he was 16 his uncle died too and he moved to Hubei province. While he was hardly studying he was  working as  a farmer in order to feed himself. About him have heard Liu Bei founder of Shu Han state an important warlord and figure who opposed distorted Han dynasty which was dominated by General Cao Cao. Cao Cao was misusing his post and keeping Han emperor as puppet while he governed and while corruption and famine were on rise..

zhuge game
in video game

Liu Bei personally visited Zhuge Liang in his cottage in Hubei province. Liu Bei heard a lot about intelligence and honesty of Zhuge so he decided not to invite him but to come on his own there. They met for the first time in 207 when they created so called Longzhong plan. It was a military strategy and idea of reunification of China under honest and new ruler. It included idea of capturing Xianyang and Luoyang in the northeast and replacing current Han dynasty. For such a large idea king Liu Bei needed to make closer union with another warlord and rebel King Sun Quan who later became ruler of Dong Wu. Liu Bei employed Zhuge Liang as diplomat and sent him to palace of Sun Quan. Thanks to his diplomatic skills and wisdom Zhuge Liang managed to persuade Sun Quan to accept alliance with Liu Bei. Thanks to that in 208 they severely defeated Cao Cao at Battle of Red Cliffs and thanks to that prevented Cao Caos expansion to the south. After this battle Zhuge Liang got position of Military Advisor General in todays Hunan.  Between 212-214 Zhuge Liang provided strategy and logistics for capturing of todays Sichuan province. Zhuge Liang and Liu Bei became even friends. In 223 Liu Bei died and Zhuge Liang wanted to continue to stay loyal to his family and than served his son and was friend to his son Liu Shan. They developed close friendship too and Liu Shan perceived him as his second father. He was nominated as marquis of Wu and executed function of the chancellor and soon became chancellor. He was working on reunification of China during 3 Kingdoms Period. But first he knew that unity must be in Shu Han and therefore went to the south to calm down rebellions on the south that held todays Yunnan, parts of Sichuan and Guizhou province. Campaign finished successfully and Zhuge Liang stabilized southern and southwestern borders of Shu Han. So now he was ready to advance to the north against Cao Wei but before that he decentralized economy and promoted industry and agriculture. He knew that for stable state and waging for economy must be strong. His reform was successful. It was like that because many peasants that were escaping Cao Wei during wars they inhabited todays Sichuan and parts of Yunnan. Also large number of peasants from south inhabited Sichuan. Thanks to that agriculture was spontaneously blooming in Shu Han.  Trade of silk and natural materials developed. Cooper coins were used as currency. Production of silk, salt and iron and development of transport were under control of state like in case of Han dynasty. With secure resources he initiated conquest of Cao Wei in 228  and in total conducted 5 campaigns. Most crucial battles were at Tianshui in 228 which ended in stalemate, at Jieting in 228 which finished with Zhuges failure, Chengsang battle in 229 which ended in success of Zhuge Liang, at Jianwei in 229 Zhuge Liang won, at Qishan in 231 Zhuge was defeated. At Qishan was one of biggest failures for Shu Han. Despite great strategies and highly motivated soldiers army of Cao Wei was much stronger and much larger so army of Shu Han didn’t have chance to compete successfully. But Zhuge Liang wasn’t giving up and wanted to try until his last breath to conquer Cao Wei. In 234 he initiated his last campaign and battle of Wuzhang started. He felt there seriously ill and died during stalemate. After that Shu Han forces retreated. He was buried at Dingjunshan.


He is known as first statesman who used in practice strategies proposed by Sun Tzu in book Arts of War.  He also did a lot of innovations in warfare. Zhuge invented more advanced crossbows and started to use balloons with candles for signaling between troops. He did it first time once when he was surrounded by troops of Cao Wei and he sent signal for help. Zhuge Liang was also a good writer and poet. He liked to spend time in nature and write. Zhuge wrote Mastering Art of War and his own memoirs.

zhuge temple
In a temple,

After his death legends and legends were retold about him for hundreds and even more than thousand years. Zhuge Liang was deified by Taoists. There are several temples in Sichuan devoted to Zhuge Liang where his statues are located and people come to worship him for his honesty, bravery and smartness.

Zhuge Liang is one of main characters of Romance of 3 Kingdoms a work which dates from Ming dynasty. He is there described as hero, real warrior, honest and loyal man. There are many fictional events in which Zhuge participated written in this book.

zhuge takeshi
Takeshi Kaneshiro as Zhuge Liang in movie Red Cliff 1 and 2 source;

Zhuge Liang is still popular today. He is depicted in many movies and series. Takeshi Koneshiro plays role of Zhuge Liang in 2008 movie Red Cliff. Zhuge Liang is also a character in card games, video games and comics.  Song about Zhuge Liang from Serial Romance of 3 Kingdoms

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source of featured image:


Chinese ancient legends 6: Guan Yu, a warrior, guardian of households and symbol of bravery!

Chinese ancient legends 6: Guan Yu, a warrior, guardian of households and symbol of bravery!

It is time for legends again. Today it is turn to speak about one legendary, brave and very famous person. It is Guan Yu. Today he is most famous as god of war,  loyalty, bravery, strength and guardian of property. He is idol for many brave people. He is worshipped widely in China. In China after Guanyin, Mi La Fo and Jade Emperor he is most popular deity widely worshipped in folk tradition, Taoism and Buddhism. He is often found in Taoist temples, rarely in Buddhist temples and often in home shrines of population which is devoted to Taoism or Buddhism. Often he is set in front of other deities in shrine as a symbol of protection and guardianship of other deities. In Chinese restaurants worldwide, in offices of companies across China ,in hotels in China, in Chinese shops there are bigger or smaller shrines there is his statue as most important one especially near entrance door of the place. It is with purpose to scare evil spirits and  energetically protect property from robbery. In history he was often worshipped as guardians by secret societies related to martial arts, by robbers. Today he is often worshipped by Chinese mafia and police as well. In Hong Kong some police stations have small shrines with his figure. He is often important hero in video games, cartoons, comics, tv series and movies.

In one hotel where I stayed in Beijing in 2015,
in a restaurant
in a restaurant in Beijing

Guan Yu was a real person without superhuman abilities. But because his ethics, bravery, martial skills, strength and honesty he was consecrated as a deity few centuries later. He lived between cca 160 and 220CE. He was born during Han dynasty period a dynasty which ruled China between 206BC to 220CE. It was one of most prosperous Chinese dynasties thanks to Silk Road, large trade and cultural exchange between China and other countries, territorial expansion, development of Taoism, arrival of Buddhism, big technological, astronomic and medicine discoveries. Therefore it is considered as first golden age of Chinese civilization. However in during 2nd century prosperity started to decline because of too high taxes, oppressive emperors or regents, famines, corruption and nepotism. When in 189 greedy general and chancellor Cao Cao took primary power in court and controlled Emperor Xian regional governors became even more angry. They declared autonomy and rebellion against imperial court. One basis of power was formed in todays Sichuan what later became Shu Han state governed by king Liu Bei. In east there was another basis created with Sun Quan as head what later became Dong Wu. Guan Yu didn’t want unjust centralization in corrupt court with puppet emperor and joined Liu Bei. He swore there on infinite loyalty to Liu Bei and Zhang Fei an another general of Shu Han. They swore on infinite friendship and always to fight on same side. In one clash troops of Liu Bei were defeated and Guan Yu was captured by General Cao Cao. He treated him very well and he became general in Cao Cao army. Guan YU still felt obligation and friendship towards Liu Bei and Zhang Fei and wanted to return to them. He expressed big thanks to Cao Cao and decided to do one favor for him before he leaves him. In battle against General Yan Liang who was opponent to Cao Cao. During battle Guan Yu broke through enemy troops on a horse with one spear and passed through 10000 soldiers to reach general Yan Liang and killed him. As a proof that he killed Yan Liang he brought his head to Cao Cao. Afterwards he rode away on horse from Cao Cao. Cao Cao was so impressed by his loyalty and braveness and ordered his soldiers not to stop Guan Yu.

3 friends
3 friends, Guan Yu, Liu Bei and Zhang Fei

Than since 190 Guan Yu served Liu Bei together with Zhang Fei. They initiated several campaigns against Cao Cao which ended successfully. In 208 large battle at Red Cliffs occurred. Guan Yu commanded naval forces and it was decisive battle between Cao Cao, Liu Bei and Sun Quan. Guan Yu bravely fought without a step back. At the end Cao Cao was severely defeated and was prevented in conquering all China. Liu Bei sent Guan Yu on many campaigns. In 219 Guan Yu was first time defeated at Fangjing. It happened because he suspected that Sun Quans troop will betray Liu Bei. Therefore he was busy with capturing food supplies of Sun Quans troops and it gave opportunity to Cao Cao to attack. During that time dispute between Sun Quan and Liu Bei appeared and they were in open war. Guan Yu with weakened forces because of battle at Fangjing were retreating in Shu Han territory at beginning of 220. On the road he heard that Jiangling ( a town of Shu Han) was conquered by Sun Quans troops. Captured people and soldiers were very well treated and Sun Quan openly made it known in order to make Guan Yus soldiers not interested to fight and surrender. But Guan Yu didn’t want to give up and started approaching Jiangling. Sun Quans troops surrounded them and set an ambush. During courageous fight almost all Gun Yu soldiers died and only he and his few officers were captured. They were executed very soon.

my guan yu
Guan Yu a guardian of my little home altar,

Guan Yu was consencrated during Sui dynasty( 581-618). During Tang and other dynasties he became main symbol and guardian of soldiers and they worshipped him for courage, success in battles and were expected to be loyal as him.

Guan Yu Tao
In Taoist temple,

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Chinese legends 5- Legend of Laughing Buddha, a deity of luck, fertility and wealth or Maitreya Buddha

Chinese legends 5- Legend of Laughing Buddha, a deity of luck, fertility and wealth or Maitreya Buddha

In world known as Fat or Happy Buddha in China actually known as Mi La Fo or Maitreya Buddha, but who is he?  You have probably seen his figures in most of  Chinese or Vietnamese restaurants  and feng shui shops all over the world. In China you can see his figures in most of souvenir shops, many temples, restaurants, households and some offices. He is one of most famous deity in Chinese folk beliefs, Taoist and Chan Buddhist pantheon. After Guanyin and Jade Emperor he is second most important and most widely worshipped deity in China. Except in China he is one of major deities in Korea, Japan and Vietnam.

In a restaurant,

He was born in 9th century in China. Since childhood he was admitted to Chan Buddhist temple. His real name isn’t known but only nickname which is Budai in Chinese and Hotei in Japanese. His name is literally translated as cloth sack since he always carried one.  It is known that he was fat eccentric and very joyful man.  Budai was always smiling and with his charismatic nature he drew many people around him like magnet. He used to travel from temple to temple, from village to village and town to town mostly by walk. Wherever he appeared he brought joy, happiness, wealth, health and good fortune. His main mission was to spread happiness. People usually went as a crowd around him and especially children. In his sack he always carried a lot of sweets for children, his mouth nice words for everyone and his face a smile.  Budai believed that more you give more you receive and more happy you are. When he reached new temple or village he put his sack down and started laughing madly.  Laughter was his way of enlightenment and spreading happiness. He rarely spok.  Budai said that magic is in laughter and symbolically represented laughing at problems by special gesture. It was putting his bag down and laughing at it, bag symbolized problems which you should put down and laugh at them. Budais recipe for happiness was smiling, positive approach to solving problems, modesty, making others happy  and giving. Budai spent his life in happiness, joy, laughter, spreading happiness, compassion and modesty. When he died in 903 he wanted to be cremated. It was his wish because he secretly put a lot of fireworks in his robe in order to make people laugh one last time. When cremation started fireworks burnt and went into sky.

In Tanzhe temple near Beijing,

In China he is considered as deity of good luck, prosperity and wealth. Also he is considered as patron of children and often is depicted with them. His big belly is symbol of happiness, fertility, prosperity, generosity and wealth.  His big years are symbol of good listener. Budai brings only precious gifts such as good fortune and children.


He shouldn’t be confused with first Gautama Buddha or Amitabha Buddha as he isn’t same Buddha and some don’t even consider him as Buddha.  In all 3 major schools of Buddhism there is concept of Maitreya Buddha a future Buddha which will come and spread good and help people. In Theravada and Vajrayana he still didn’t appear and is depicted as slim person. Since 16th century Chan Buddhist schools of China accepted Budai as first recorded Maitreya or Mi La Fo in Chinese. Soon Japanese Zen schools of Buddhism also confirmed Budai as Mi La Fo and than schools of Korean Seon and Vietnamese Tien Buddhism did same.  He was recognized like this because of his good deeds, generosity, enligthtened peaceful mind and willingness to help. However Chan Buddhism doesn’t consider him as only Maitreya but as one of them as they consider that there were, are and will be many undiscovered Maitreyas .

In popular TV serie

Budai about himself  and Maitreyas said-

Mi-lo, true Mi-lo

Reborn innumerable times

From time to time manifested to men

The men of the age do not recognize you

In China he is considered as major deity of luck, happiness, fertility, prosperity and wealth. He is widely worshipped as popular folk religion deity. By many Chinese he is also considered as incarnation of Maitreya. Taoist schools also consider him as deity. Except in houses, restaurants, offices and shops his statues may be found in most of Buddhist temples especially in first halls. He is often in shrines of Taoist temples too. Except in China he is widely worshipped deity in Singapore, Malaysia both by Taoists and Buddhists. In Japan he is also popular deity  for followers of Zen and Shinto. In Korea he is worshipped by followers of Seon Buddhism and Korean folk religion. In Vietnam he is worshipped bz followers of Tien Buddhism and highly infeunced by Chinese, Vietnamese folk religion.

My collection in different depictions,
One of my favorite

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Chinese legends 4: Ji Gong Crazy Monk and Living Buddha

Chinese legends 4: Ji Gong Crazy Monk and Living Buddha

Ji Gong was born in 1130.  Story  starts like this his parents were wealthy couple but couldn’t have a child. They started visiting temples and were praying to various deities to get a child. In one of temples they were praying near statues of 500 Arhats. Suddenly one of statues of Arhats fell and got broken. It is said that its spirit went into Ji Gongs mother as she very soon became pregnant. So it is believed that he is reincarnation of one of them. At age of 18 his parents died. He decided to become monk and was ordained and  got Chan Buddhist name Dao Ji in Lingyin Temple near Hangzhou. Ji Gong was eccentric but always smiling, kind hearted and compassionate. He loved nature so much and spent a lot of time in nature. But Ji Gong didn’t obey all rules of Buddhism. He liked to drink alcohol and eat meat a lot. Daoji disobeyed monastic rules and had troubles with temple authorities. He liked to behave crazy, make jokes and pranks even when he wasn’t drunk. It was his nature.

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Ji Gong in TV serie

Oldest monk tolerated him as he considered that gates of Buddhism are too wide and can accept even “Crazy Monk”. That’s how he got this nickname. Soon oldest monk passed away and Ji Gong was expelled from temple. Only thing he had was wearing monastic robe which looked faded very soon, chaplet around neck,  hat on which was written Buddha, bottle and wooden fan. He was going alone on streets, villages and mountains and enjoyed listening to birds thus became even closer to nature. When he appeared in towns people taught he was some weird crazy homeless  who was either acting crazy or too drunk as he carried bottle with rice wine always. All money that he got by begging he spent on alcohol and meat especially on pork ribs. Some people were afraid of him but were generous towards him when they saw his kindness and willingness to help. He was very friendly towards children and played with them. Local imperial authorities never liked him as he was speaking truth how they steal from people and they used to arrest him. He was often passing forests and mountains in order to reach other villages and towns. People often confused him with beggar and homeless but when they saw his hat and chaplet they called him crazy monk. People often saw him drunk sleeping under tree. He achieved many things such as healing children. He also cured strange knot from head of one old man in local village.

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Carving at Feilai Feng

Daoji continued homeless lifestyle. Finally he was admitted by Taoist temple as in Taoism moderate use of alcohol and meat is acceptable. Ji Gong continued to be himself and help on his own way that is a bit strange. For example he helped an old man who was trying to hang himself, when Ji Gong saw him he came imitating that he also wants to hang himself they started discussion and Ji Gong asked man to get naked as he was born anyway naked so he should die naked. Than Ji Gong continued making fun of desperate man and man started laughing and making jokes too and he forgot about suicide. Then he told his tragedy to monk about death of his daughter.  He continued helping people and his motto was- Torn sandals, worn hat, shabby monks robe, wherever is injustice there I am.( Shahar 163)

Ji gong temple altar
Ji Gong in Temple in Hangzhou, source:

Years were passing. People and Taoists recognized more and more his goodness and willingness to help and started calling him living Buddha. He was never considered as reincarnation of Buddha but reincarnation of one of Arhats. He was perceived already as an enlightened and compassionate and natural one. Another of his quotes is- Sixty years life in disorder, from east to west, I fight always,  Today I review and return all is same as those before. ( Shahar 163)  Practice of meditation and mysticism gave him superhuman abilities that are probably more legend than reality. For example he used his power through well to bring best wood logs from Sichuan province needed for temple construction so he continued shouting in well until enough of wood was transported via energy. Also once Ji Gong felt that mountain peak may fall down on a village and destroy it. He started warning people but they thought he was some lunatic that spoke nonsense. So Ji Gong was running around and spotted a wedding. He came there and kidnapped the bride and was running with her on his shoulder. Groom, his family, brides family and other guests started chasing him and called whole village to chase kidnapper. So they run for him in forests and suddenly mountain peak fell on village. Than Ji Gong left bride go.  He than saw large rock falling on a small girl that remained in village. He used power of his mind and inner energy and pointed on rock by hand and according to legend rock still floats in the sky at that place near Hangzhou.

Ji gong home altar
Ji Gong Home altar
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I worship Ji Gong too, red figure on right

In last years of his life Ji Gong was supposed to be ordained as enlightened one- Arhat at Buddhist temple since Buddhist started to respect his deeds and personality. When among other monks he was wandering half-drunk towards temple and laughing. He spotted a young lady crying because her baby was sick. He then left the line of monks and went to help the baby. Then he was late on ceremony but anyway when he explained reason he was ordained as Arhat. In 1207 he passed away and was buried in Jingci Temple. He was recognized as immortal and deity firstly by Taoists. As this branch of Taoism allows eating meat, alcohol and sex in moderate level he didn’t do any misconduct and despite strange and foolish behavior his positive joyful nature, compassion, tolerance, patience, simplicity, wish to help, and balanced life and closeness to nature he was granted with status of deity.  As he was late on  Buddhist ceremony there was not place for him in Arhat hall but his statue was put on beam.  In Lingyin Temple at Feilai Feng near Hangzhou on walls  you can find many murals that depict his life. There are many stone statues of Ji Gong on Feilai Feng mountain and caves there. Also his  statue you can find in Arhat hall in Azure Clouds Temple at Xiangshan hill near Beijing.  His statues take important place in altars of several Taoist and Buddhist templs. Some people worship Ji Gong in their home altars as they believe he brings happiness, joy, cheerful mood, health and wellbeing. Instead of tea they give wine or brandy in front of his figure. Espcially in southern China he is popular as a deity in Guangdong, Sichuan, Fujian, Hong Kong, Chinese Taiwan and in Chinese communities of Singapore and Malaysia.

Ji GOng my
my figure of Ji Gong

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Chinese legends 3- A father of Tai Chi and a mysterious immortal Zhang Sanfeng

Chinese legends 3- A father of Tai Chi and a mysterious immortal Zhang Sanfeng

Zhang Sanfeng was born in 1247 near Longhushan Mountain. As a young boy he was given to Shaolin Temple to learn martial arts. When he was around 20 he couldn’t stay in Shaolin as he felt that place doesn’t hold him and felt more interest to Taoism than Buddhism. So he went away and lived as wanderer. He lived modestly and was observing nature most of the days. He was spending years and years in Huangshan Mountains and villages around. Zhang used to wake up before sunrise and went to sleep with right after sunset.  He spent long time in forests and rarely went to village. He slept each night in temple but in morning disappeared on some place where he chooses- on peak, near the stream or in a village. If someone needed help in some village job he would just appear help in field work, gathering cattle or building house and disappear without a word. Zhang rarely spoke and only when he spent longer time in village. He didn’t need to buy food as he was eating what he collects, grows or hunts…  After 10 years he moved to Wudang Mountains. Zhang led there the same lifestyle.  He was learning there and later teaching meditation, herbalism, alchemy, traditional medicine and Qi Gong.


One morning when he was wandering around forest he heard strange noise and saw something interesting. Zhang saw snake and magpie fighting bitterly. He was starring without a word and watching how both of them switching from fast to slow moves and not allowing each other to win. Snake was moving flexibly accurately avoiding bites and scratches of magpie while magpie was switching from attack technique to withdraw technique when snake was trying to bite her. At the end no one won and each animal run away on different side. Zhang was so inspired with this how they balance are contradictory but indivisible like yin yang and how accurately they coordinate each movement whether it is slow or fast. According to legend Sanfeng was inspired by that and created concept of Tai Chi- practice of balancing energy and cultivating it. He started practicing it by himself. At the beginning he kept new martial art in secret and went on early mornings to practice it on his own and day by day was improving his breath, peaceful mind,, slow movements, relaxing and coordinated movements. One day a bunch of robbers tried to attack him in a forest and for the first time he used this art in practice. By sneaky moves he avoided their strikes and was moving accurately and avoiding combat. When they got too tired he attacked them with full power and defeated all of them.  After some time he decided to teach other monks at Wudang  mountains Tai Chi.


He founded Sanfeng style of Tai Chi and was first generation of Sanfeng lineage that belonged to Wudang Taoist Sect. Zhang Sanfeng was teaching them both slow and fast form at every dawn and every evening.  After few decades of intensive training and life in monastery he gave full permission to his disciples to become masters of first generation and went to live alone again. It was at the end of XIII century. Taoist masters of first generation of Sanfeng style started to continue his tradition and teach new young Taoists as their disciples the same what Zhang taught them. Later they developed full new concept of Wudang Martial arts. They still continue this tradition today and currently there is 15th generation of Sanfeng style. Between XIII and XX century Tai Chi started to be widespread among other areas and teachers that formed their styles.


Except martial arts Zhang Sanfeng was teaching other monks Taoist medicine. He was specialist in herbalism and traditional medicine and he contributing there a  lot.   Zhang used to say” To cultivate the mood before cultivating the medicine; to cultivate the character before cultivating the good medicine; when the mind is steady, the medicine will come naturally by itself; when the mood and character have cultivated, the good medicine will be in reach”. ( Wudang Store, 2015) During XIV century Zhang Sanfeng appeared few times at Wudang to check how they teach. Taoists concluded that he achieved immortality. They granted him status of immortal and deity. Soon bronze, porcelain or wooden figures of Zhang Sanfeng appeared in temple altars at Wudangshan and Taoists worshipped him. Across whole China many people that are practicing martial arts and Tai Chi keep his figure in home altar and worship him as well.   In middle of XIV  century first  Ming emperor  Hongwu  heard rumors about Zhang Sanfeng his life, martial arts and other good things. He came to Wudang to meet Zhang Sanfeng and Zhang burnt incense to worship emperor as a gesture of respect but went before Hongwu came.   Hongwu emperor  declared Mount Wudang to be most important Taoist Mountain  because of Zhang Sanfengs significance. King of Hunan came to worship Wudang Mountain and tried to find Zhang but he wasn’t there. Hongwu sent his officials to search for Zhang but they couldn’t find him.

source: Souhu com

Third Ming Emperor-Yongle wrote a letter to Zhang and sent it to Wudang Mountain. Emperor wanted to invite Zhang Sanfeng to join imperial state service what was very well paid and was great honor to serve emperor at that time. Except that in letter emperor paid so much respect to Zhang Sanfeng, he called him a deity, saying that how great he is and that he wants to learn from Zhang Sanfeng. Emperor envoys were unsuccessful in finding Zhang so emperor ordered building of Meeting God Palace and built a large copper statue of Zhang Sanfeng there. It is located in Wudang and is largest temple that emperor built in Chinese history. Emperor bowed in front of his statue and burnt incense for him. It was only time in Chinese history that emperor burnt incense for some Taoist and some immortal.

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