Ancient Cultivation Stories: Princess Zhangzhao

In the fifteenth year of the Zhenguan period in the Tang dynasty of ancient China, the Great Tang Emperor (Tang Taizong) Li Shimin, accompanied by his officials, went to Mount Mian to pay his respects to the master monk Zhichao. The younger sister of the emperor, Princess Zhangzhao, also went with them.

When Taizong arrived at Mount Mian and heard that Zhichao had passed away, he felt very disappointed and sad. He looked up at the sky and sighed: "This trip for worshipping the Buddha is in vain." Suddenly, four characters, "Kong Wang Gu Fo (Empty King Ancient Buddha)," and the image of the master monk Zhichao appeared in the sky. Tang Taizong therefore conferred the title "Kongwang Buddha (Empty King Buddha)" on Zhichao. Princess Zhangzhao saw the miracle with her own eyes and also liked the graceful mountain, so she decided to become a nun and dedicate her life to practising Buddhism.

When Tang Taizhong was worshipping at Mount Mian, he saw one place that looked like an intersection of two dragons where there were many practising caves left by previous practitioners located on the top of the mountain, on the cliffs, and inside the woods. He appreciated them so highly that he gave the place the name "Dragon Ridge."

Princess Zhangzhao decided to practise at the Dragon Ridge that was named by her brother. During her second year, Tang Taizhong ordered to build a temple for his sister and gave the name "Ligu Rock" to the place where Zhangzhao had practised in the past year. Therefore, people also call the princess "Li Gu (Aunt Li)."

Though the emperor took good care of her, she was very diligent in her practise and was not arrogant being a royal relative. Besides meditating, she often went to the mountain to collect herbs and treated patients. From the time she became a nun in the Mount Mian area, when there was a drought she burned incense and prayed for rain. It has been said that her prayers were always answered, bringing great delight to the surrounding residents. The princess was given a nickname "Living Guanyin (Bodhisattva)."

After Zhangzhao became a nun, she went back to the capital to visit her brother on two separate occasions. The first time was in the eighteenth year of Zhenguan (A.D. 644). One day, Tang Taizong missed the princess so much that he wanted to ask her to come back to the capital. On the same night, the princess saw the Mother Buddha (Bodhisattva) descend from the sky in a form with thousands of hands and eyes. She told the princess: "Today His Majesty was not well because of restless national matters. He wished you could have gone back to the palace and consoled him." When the princess wanted to have another look at the Mother Buddha, she had disappeared. Zhangzhao then followed what the Mother Buddha said and went back to the palace to see her brother. After greetings, Zhangzhao told Taizong what happened. Taizong said: "The merciful and benevolent Mother Buddha is always considerate to civilians. When you go back, you can build a hall to worship the Mother Buddha so that her blessings can be spread to more people." As soon as the princess went back, she started to have the hall built and worshipped.

The second time the princess returned to the capital was in the fall of the twentieth year of Zhenguan Period. One day when Princess Zhangzhao was meditating on the mountain, she felt that she floated to the sacred Mt Linjiu and heard there was a voice in the sky: "Now His Majesty is sending the master monk Xuanzang to the Western Region to retrieve the real Buddhist scriptures. His Majesty also ordered the building of the Dayan Buddhist pagoda and wrote the Sheng Jiao Xu (The Preface to the Sacred Teaching) to praise it. It shows that His Majesty greatly appreciated the teachings of Buddhism, which is a blessing for the civilians." When the princess came out from the meditation, feelings of missing her brother struck her very deeply. She made very simple preparations and then headed to the capital promptly. When she arrived at the palace and saw her brother, she told him what the Buddha showed her. Tang Taizong was very pleased and told her details about Xuanzang going on the pilgrimage for the Buddhist scriptures. Then he ordered the princess to build a hall at the place where she meditated to worship the founder of Buddhism, Sakyamuni.

During the practise of Princess Zhangzhao, many of the miracles that had happened to her were widely told. A lot of worshippers came to see her. However, people could hardly find her. It was said that if the worshipper looked for her in the northern mountain, she replied in the southern part. When some looked for her in the eastern valley, she answered in the western valley. When some looked for her at the top of the mountain, she replied at the foot the mountain. Though it was very hard to trace her, people who had real connections with Buddhism could see her in person and be guided by her. It was said that after the princess became successful in her practise, she helped many followers to become immortals, including the Immortal Mianbai in the Tang dynasty, the Immortal Danling in the Song dynasty and the Immortal Lingcao in the Ming dynasty.

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