Ancient Cultivation Story: The Deity He Shanggong

[Chinese folklore is full of ancient stories of cultivation, immortals and taoists. These stories, often mystical and full of magical happenings, reflect the depth to which the concept of cultivation permeates the whole of Chinese culture, tradition and history. These stories are not directly related to Falun Gong, but are included on Clear Harmony because they are of interest to western people, providing an insight into the deep cultural tradition of cultivation practices in China.]

No-one knows the true name of He Shanggong. However people gave him this name because he lived in a small hut beside a river [He Shanggong translates from Chinese roughly as, a man who lives by a river]. He lived during the time of Emperor Wen in the Han dynasty.

At that time, Emperor Wen studied the “Books of Morals” [an ancient cultivation book], and he also requested all nobility and his ranking officials to study it. However, even though he devoted much time to studying the Book, he did not have a deep understanding of it. There was also no one else with good qualities to help him with his understandings.

Emperor Wen often travelled around to search for someone to consult on the “Book of Morals”. After he heard that He Shanggong understood the essence of the Book, he sent his servants to ask him questions.

He Shanggon told his servants; “The essence of morals is very sacred. How can such a solemn thing be enquired on by other [for the Emperor]?” Therefore, the Emperor had to visit He Shanggong in person, although he was unwilling to do so. He asked He Shanggon; “the Book of Odes says that there isn’t a piece of land in the world not belonging to the Emperor; all within the Four Seas are my courtiers and my people. Lao Zi also said: “the Dao is honourable, the Heaven and Earth is honourable, the King is also honourable.” The Emperor belongs to one of the Four Honourables. Even though you have achieve some status as a Taoist practitioner, aren’t you also one of my people? How can you be so arrogant and show no respect to me?”

After listening to Emperor Wen’s heckling, He Shanggong clapped his hands and sat down. Then he suddenly ascended up and levitated several metres off the ground.

He Shanggong faced down and said to Emperor Wen; “I don’t reach the Heaven, stand on the Earth or am not bothered by the ordinary. How can I be one of your people?” Hearing those words, Emperor Wen knew he had met someone with great achievements in cultivation. He ran and knelt down by He Shanggong and said, “I have no virtue or talent. I am much indebted to my ancestors’ good deeds, and have inherited this place/position. But I’m not so knowledgeable and can’t take this important duty. Though busy with the worldly affairs, I have always intended to cultivate the Dao but owing to my foolishness and ignorance, it’s hard for me to understand the essence of the cultivation books. I hope that you could give me some instructions.”

He Shanggong observed Emperor Wen’s sincerity and granted him two volumes of Classic Books and said: “When you go back home, study these two books diligently. Any problems you encounter will be easily solved. These two books explain the “Book of Morals” and have been imparted to only three persons. You are the fourth one. Remember, never show them to others.” Seconds later, He Shanggong vanished, cloud and mist covered everything, and the heaven and earth all became dim. Emperor Wen knew he had met an immortal.

He valued these two books highly, and thereafter couldn’t leave the Book of Morals out of his hands.

Some said that the Immortal Beings saw Emperor Wen’s pure intention to cultivate the Dao, but there was no one to guide him. Therefore, they sent a Taoist immortal to teach him the essence of the Book Morals.

He Shanggon rising up from the ground was to convince the Emperor in case he did not believe He Shanggong.

Translated from

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