Ancient Cultivation Stories: Approaching Taoism Wholeheartedly

Liu Qian was the brother of the Prime Minister Liu Zhan during the Tang Dynasty. When he was young, Liu Qian’s family was poor and he was also very interested in learning Taoism(1). Once a Taoist priest passed by his home and saw that Liu Qian was very different from all the other people. The priest asked Liu Qian whether he knew about cultivation. Qian said: “I know of it, but my nature is too vulgar and my inborn quality is not that good. How can I force myself to cultivate?” The Taoist priest said , "Why don’t we study together?". Qian replied, "It will be a great honor." Then he formally acknowledged the Taoist priest as his teacher and went to the Luofu Mountains with him.

When they were young, Liu Qian and Liu Zhan studied together and wrote articles together. Liu Qian was interested in pursuing loftier things in life while Liu Zhan was interested in becoming rich and powerful. Liu Qian once told Liu Zhan: "I’m sure that I can’t pass the national exam. But I’ll live leisurely in the wooded mountains. After you past the exam, you’ll be busy with vulgar service in this mortal world. You have to be very careful when you’re wealthy and noble. After forty years has passed, the result will be clear.” Liu Zhan replied: "Immortality is too far away for me. Even the founding emperor of the Qing dynasty and the emperor Wudi of the Han dynasty could not reach that level. It will be much more practical to become a royal official." After that, Liu Qian worked hard to cultivate himself in Taoism. Finally he left to live in seclusion in the Luofu Mountains. Liu Zhan passed the highest imperial examinations. He was quickly promoted and eventually he became the prime minister.

Later, Liu Zhan was demoted and was exiled to Rinan. When he passed by Chaotai in GuangZhou city, there was a rainstorm so he anchored his boat by the waterfront. Suddenly a young man, who wore a tiny ponytail sticking straight up and a cotton garment, came to the boat in the middle of the storm. Amazingly his shoes and clothes weren’t at all wet. He said that he wanted to see Liu Zhan. Liu Zhan’s servant was very surprised and asked him who he was. He told the servant, “Just tell Liu Zhan I am Yi Ge.” (Yi Ge was Liu Qian’s childhood nickname). The servant reported to Liu Zhan. Liu asked him what the visitor looked like. After he heard his description, Liu Zhan was very surprised and sighed with emotion. He welcomed Liu Qian to his cabin. Liu Qian still looked like he was twenty years old, while Liu Zhan, the exiled Prime Minister, was all white-haired in his feeble and declining years. Liu Zhan had mixed feelings of grief and joy. Liu Qian comforted him: “We are brothers and have brotherly affection for each other. What I said forty years ago has come to pass.” Liu Zhan sighed emotionally and asked Liu Qian: “Can I start to practice Taoism right now?” Liu Qian said: "You are resplendent with wealth and noblity. I’m afraid that you would have difficulty letting these things go with a peaceful mind. Even if your own brother becomes a divine being, it cannot save you. Today I come here to say goodbye to you, not to save you. "

Liu Qian stayed on Liu Zhan’s boat for a while. They talked about the things that had happened during the years they were separated. Then one night, Liu Qian disappeared.

People saw Liu Qian from time to time in the Luofu Mountains. Liu Zhan died at the place where he was exiled.

(From: "Biographies of the Immortals Continued")

(1) Tao also known as “Dao,” Taoist term for “the Way of nature and the universe”. A Taoist is thus someone who follows the Dao.

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