Founder of Tai Chi: Zhang Sanfeng

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Since its formation in the 12th century, Tai Chi has become an increasingly popular practice for mind and body worldwide. Though many people know of the practice, few know the story of its founder, Zhang Sanfeng.

Zhang was a legendary Taoist monk whose life spanned the Song, Yuan, and Ming dynasties. According to the History of Ming Dynasty: Biography of Zhang Sanfeng, he was from Yizhou City, Liaodong, or today’s Dongbei Province in Northern China. His given name was Quanyi; Sanfeng was a nickname that he was known by.

Zhang was a towering figure of seven feet tall, with posture as rigid as a crane’s and whiskers as hard as spearheads. He was known for being slovenly and wore a Taoist robe year-round regardless of the weather.

He was said to have been a wanderer, traveling to the ends of China. Legend has it that he could travel about three hundred fifty miles in a day.

Besides being the founder of the popular Tai Chi practice, Zhang also founded the Wudang Sect of the Tao school. As a monk that had obtained the Tao, he was greatly sought after by the emperors of the Ming Dynasty for his wisdom, and played a key role in popularizing Taoism through poetry.

Originally, Tai Chi was intended by Zhang to be a practice for both the spirit and body. But as time went on, people began to adopt Tai Chi for its physical benefits and Tai Chi began to become more and more of a physical exercise.

Wudang Mountain


As a highly accomplished Taoist monk, Zhang became very famous by the time of the Ming Dynasty. During the two-century-long dynasty, almost every emperor sent emissaries to search for him in order to seek his advice on governance. Three emperors proclaimed him a “true person,” an enlightened person of the Tao school.

However, Zhang traveled from place to place and was hard to find until he finally settled down in Wudang Mountain.

After having visited all the peaks and canyons of Wudang Mountain, he declared, “This mountain will become very famous in the future.”

When Emperor Yongle, the son of Ming Dynasty’s first emperor, ascended to the throne, he was determined to find Zhang. After a few fruitless attempts, the emperor sent Bachelor Hu Guang to look for Zhang with a very sincere note that he wrote himself.

After receiving this letter, Zhang responded with a poem. Zhang knew exactly why the emperor looked for him—as the ruler of China, the emperor had everything he wanted. So what could he possibly want Zhang for? The answer must be longevity.

In his poem, Zhang revealed to Emperor Yongle the secret to longevity: the emperor needed to calm his mind and relinquish his worldly desires. Emperor Yongle was more than happy to follow this advice.

In return, the emperor ordered the construction of eight palaces, two Taoist temples, thirty-six nunneries, and seventy-two rock temples on Wudang Mountain. He also made it a royal mountain and sealed it with a royal stamp.

Just as Zhang had predicted, Wudang Mountain became very popular and Taoism flourished in China.

Popularized Taoism


Zhang’s many writings, including Da Dao Lun, Xuan Ji Zhi Jiang, and Xuan Yao Piao, were all very popular with Taoists later on.

His most significant work, however, was Wu Gen Shu, a collection of twenty-four poems aimed to inspire people to start cultivation. In these poems, Zhang compared happiness in the secular world to a rootless tree that couldn’t sustain itself for long. In order to escape this predicament, said Zhang, people must cultivate themselves.

The previous literature of Taoism had been very mysterious and obscure in terms of meaning and wording, and was therefore not widely read. Through the catchy rhythm and simple format of his poems, Zhang made Taoism more accessible to the common people.

His writing turned Taoism from an inaccessible belief to a ubiquitous practice that was followed by emperors and commoners alike.

Tai Chi—A Lost Cultivation Way of Mind and Body
Beside having calm and relaxed movements and finding a balance between strength and flexibility, Zhang’s Tai Chi also emphasizes internal cultivation. It is practiced for self-defense and also to achieve an extended lifetime.

In recent decades, Tai Chi has attracted people from all over the world. There are many international competitions, tournaments, and large-scale performances dedicated to Tai Chi each year. It’s also been depicted in many movies and TV programs.

But the practice has strayed far from Zhang’s original teachings—it has become a physical exercise that is not very effective for either self-defense or longevity.

As a genuine cultivation practice, Tai Chi is not just about the movements; the improvement of one’s mind and moral character is far more important. Taoism believes in having a pure mind with no intentions. Without cultivating the mind, the Tai Chi exercises alone are not enough to better the body.

Some well-known Tai Chi masters don’t even try to meet this basic requirement of cultivation, and their minds are clouded by worldly desires. For this reason, no matter how diligent their exercising, they will not find Tai Chi very effective.

Over the years, some people have come up with different styles of Tai Chi and tried to become popular by changing the movements. But Tai Chi itself is very intricate, and cannot be easily changed. These Tai Chi spinoffs have also caused the general efficacy to erode.

The genuine Tai Chi that Zhang taught has long been lost. It is a shame and a disappointment to those who truly want to cultivate.

Luckily, there is a great cultivation practice today that is known for its simple movements and effectiveness—Falun Dafa. It has been spread far and wide because of its many benefits, and over 100 million people from around the world are practitioners.

It may not be Zhang Sanfeng’s original teachings, but the spirit of a healthy mind and body continues on in this practice – a spirit that Zhang would agree with.

太極祖師張三豐

歷史上能夠被幾代皇帝尋訪、封號的人,恐怕只有張三豐一人。明朝兩百多年間,幾乎各代皇帝都尋訪過他。明英宗賜其號為「通微顯化真人」;明憲宗封其號為「韜光尚志真仙」;明世宗贈封他為「清虛元妙真君」。(道家是修真的,所以這些封號都有一個「真」字。)整個明代,從帝王到百姓,普遍崇道,這與張三豐的巨大影響是分不開的。

張三豐是跨越宋、元、明三朝之道士,為武當派開山祖師。

《明史·張三豐傳》記載:「張三豐,遼東懿州人,名全一,一名君寶,三豐其號也。」因為他不修邊幅,又號張邋遢。他身材高大,「龜形鶴背,大耳圓目,鬚髯如戟。」寒暑只穿一件道袍,一件蓑衣……有過目不忘之才,浪跡天涯,有人說他能一日千里。他曾遊武當山各處奇巖深谷,對人說: 「此山異日必大興。」

由於張三豐神名噪起,朱元璋曾幾次訪尋,均未果。他兒子朱棣也早聞張之大名,只是無緣得見;登基後多次派人尋訪也沒有找到。後來他下命令,派侍讀學士胡廣去找,並帶去一封言辭懇切的信。

張三豐收到朱棣的書信後,答詩一首託弟子孫碧雲轉交朱棣:

天地交泰化成功,朝野鹹安治道亨。
皇極殿中龍虎靜,武當雲外鐘鼓清。
臣居草莽原無用,帝問芻蕘苦有情。
敢把微言勞聖聽,澄心寡慾是長生。

皇帝乃九五之尊,擁有海內,他最大的願望是甚麼?長生。張三豐在此信中給永樂皇帝開了一個長生的妙方:「澄心寡慾」(心要乾淨,欲望要少)。永樂帝得到神人的指點,十分滿意。

永樂十年,朱棣調集軍民工匠三十餘萬眾,經十多年,在武當山建成八宮、二觀、三十六庵堂、七十二巖廟等龐大工程建築,花費以百萬計。建成後,賜名「太和太嶽山」,設官鑄印看守。這正合張三豐昔日之預言。

張三豐著述甚豐,諸如《大道論》、《玄機直講》、《玄要篇》等等,皆被後代修道者所推崇。不過,他最傑出作品當稱《無根樹》丹詞。

凡樹有根,方能生髮,樹若無根,必不長久。人生在世,生老病死,百慮憂心,百年歲月,轉瞬即逝,如樹之無根也。張三豐作此丹詞二十四首,以「無根樹」為名,叫醒世人,使其看破浮生夢幻,早修性命耳。

下面是《無根樹》的第一首:

無根樹,花正幽,貪戀榮華誰肯休?
浮生事,苦海舟,蕩來飄去不自由。
無邊無岸難泊系,常在魚龍險處遊。
肯回首,是岸頭,莫待風波壞了舟。

丹詞開宗指出人生貪戀榮華富貴,猶如在苦海里漂泊的小船,時常處在危險之中,規勸世人要超脫名利,及時修煉,「莫待風波壞了舟」。

千百年來道家理論玄奧,文字晦澀,不能為社會所廣泛接受。張三豐採用歌詞的體裁、通俗的文字把玄奧的修真理論化為膾炙人口的曲詞《無根樹》,對後世修道者影響很大。

張三豐所創的太極拳是一種性命雙修的功法,注重內修,動作沉穩,神意悠然,剛柔相濟,以靜制動;既可搏擊,又可長生。現在全球研習太極的人非常多。大家在國際上經常看到太極比賽、大型太極團體操表演,表現太極的影視劇也很多。太極越來越火,但離當年張三豐的真傳卻越來越遠,已變成了太極操,既難實戰也難長生。人們發現:近代太極「名家」平均壽命只有70歲左右,這離「觀耄耋能御眾之形」相差太遠。這是甚麼原因呢?

提起修煉,很多人以為就是煉功(做動作),這是非常片面的認識。煉動作是次要的,修心性才是主要的。道家經常講「清淨無為」,其實就是指修心。修煉者只有重德修心性,才能提高層次。試想,那些名利心、爭鬥心強盛的「名家」,他能靜的下來?這些不好的心會干擾他、消耗他,他怎麼能長功?有些人連最基本的要求——「澄心寡慾」都做不到,談甚麼修煉?怎麼能長生?

還有的人在名利心的作用下,或迎合時尚,或標新立異,隨意篡改太極動作,胡亂編一些東西騙人。真傳功法裡面都有玄機,是不能隨意改動的,你哪怕改動一點,就不是那東西了。這種騙人的東西,有時對人反而有害,又有幾人能知呢?

正宗的太極已經失傳了,令許多有志真修者扼腕嘆息。

幸運的是,現在有一種簡單易學、長功極快、出功全面的高德大法橫空出世了,這就是法輪大法!正因為神奇,他很快傳遍世界,全球修煉者已經超過一億人。有志真修者可以去拜讀一下奇書《轉法輪》,你一定會有所收穫。

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