Texts of the Wudang San Feng Pai

A central feature of every form of traditional Daoism I’m familiar with is “adherence to the three treasures” 皈依三宝.  When you go through the formal process of becoming a disciple of the San Feng Pai, part of the ceremony involves taking refuge in the three treasures, taking an oath to follow them through life, old age, sickness, and death.  The term “three treasures” has a broad range of meanings within Daoism - referring on one level to the energies within the body - Jing, Qi, and Shen 精气神, while referring on another level to the three primary celestial phenomena - the sun, the moon, and the stars 日月星, or even the three main elements - wind, water, and fire 风水火.  In the context of the disciple ceremony, “three treasures” specifically refers to the three sources of Daoist teaching - the Dao, the scriptures, and the master 道经师.

In a traditional Daoist context, all three of these must be present in one’s study of the Dao.  ‘Master’ 师 signifies one’s teacher and integration into a lineage.  Within our lineage this is by far the most important source, as most of the teachings of the San Feng sect are unable to be expressed linguistically or textually.  The detailed coordination needed to properly perform martial arts movements, or the more complex internal coordination needed in the different forms of qigong, not to mention the secrets of inner alchemy, necessitate person-to-person teaching through what is traditionally called secret transmission 密传, heart-transmission 心传, or oral secrets 口诀.  

‘Scriptures’ 经 signifies the large textual corpus of the Daoist tradition.  Within the San Feng sect there are only a handful of texts that are really important.  On the one hand, the lineage itself is very practice-oriented, so scholarship and scripture study in general are, comparatively speaking, not stressed very much.  On the other hand, our master in particular had a disdain for too much book learning arising out of his years in the temple where, as he related to us, he knew many monks with profound understandings of the intricacies of Daoist philosophy who didn’t appear to be helped at all by this knowledge in their daily lives.  So he drew this important distinction between knowledge 知识 and wisdom 智慧 - where study of the scriptures, though undoubtedly beneficial to one’s knowledge, only translates into wisdom when tempered by experience (this is a play on words in the Chinese as ‘scriptures’ is jing 经 and ‘experience’ is jingyan 经验).  He always told me I read too much.    


Master Kuang on the cover of Wudang Wugong

Babmboo scroll of the Daodejing

Informal textual study

The primary text used in the San Feng lineage is the Daodejing 道德经, which students are required to memorize in classical Chinese.  After memorization has taken place, according to traditional Daoist pedagogical theory, the student’s mind is primed for understanding the content of the poems, which is transmitted informally through daily interactions with the master.  In training with our master, the primary text he would quote was the Daodejing, using it to illuminate everything from how to evade an opponent during sparring to the details of inner alchemy.  The second most often-quoted text was the Zhuangzi, 庄子 from which he loved to tell stories - the useless tree, the wheelwright, the tale of the butterfly, etc.  The teachings from these foundational Daoist texts, however, were always informal.  This appears to be the primary form of textual exegesis in the San Feng lineage.  

Formal textual study

The first scripture we studied formally under our master was the Qingjingjing 清静经, Classic of Clarity and Tranquility, which our master took us through character-by-character, giving commentary on each line of the poem.  This scripture contained the basic framework from which the San Feng sect approaches Daoism in general and inner alchemy in particular.  

After this we spent several months going through the Yuhuang Xinyin Miaojing 玉皇心印妙经 Jade Emperor’s Miraculous Mind-Seal Classic.  While the Qingjingjing established the metaphysical framework within which Daoist practice takes place, the Yuhuang Xinyin Miaojing served as the gateway for more complex explanations concerning the nature and structure of the human body as well as the specific practices of inner alchemy.       

The last scripture we studied in-depth, character-by-character with our master was the Huangdi Yinfu Jing 黄帝阴符经 Yellow Emperor’s Yin Talisman Classic.  In our master’s reading this text is all about inner alchemical theory and the relationship between the body and the cosmos.

Aboot Xu Ben Shan's personal copy of the Qing Jing JIng

Wudang Press edition of the Quanzhen Morning and Evening Prayers

Tablature to the Morning and Evening Prayers based on master Wang's notes

Morning and Evening Prayers

After going through the three above texts we spent the next three years practicing the morning and evening prayers from the Quanzhen (Complete Perfection) sect 全真派, of which our lineage is an offshoot.  Every week our class would gather to chant the Taishang Xuanmen Risong Zaowan Gongkejing 太上玄门日诵早晚功课经 Highest Mystical Gate Daily Chanting Morning and Evening Prayers.  These days two versions of these prayers are in print - one northern version printed at White Cloud Temple 白云官 in Beijing and a southern version printed at Wudangshan.  The Wudang recension of the prayers is the most common throughout China, and was collated by the 13th generation head of the San Feng sect, Wang Guang De 王光徳 in the 1980’s.  These prayers contain a massive amount of stuff - too much to get into here.  Learning these took years and involved lots of musical education (we also learned instruments - the gongs, drums, bells, and for the more musically inclined among us, also the flutes and some of the string instruments).  Within this huge body of texts are many purificatory, magical texts, texts honoring the various lineages of inner alchemy, and other texts invoking the presence of the gods.  

Beyond the above scriptures, another text of central importance to our lineage is the Zhang Sanfeng Quanji 张三丰全集 Collected Works of Zhang San Feng.  Again, we did not study this text formally.  However our master quoted from it prodigiously, particularly from the poems: Dazuo Ge 打坐歌 Meditation Song, Wugen Shu 无根树 Rootless Tree, and Xuanji zhijiang 玄机直讲 Straight Talk on Profound Principles.  The importance of this particular collection of texts extends back through the generations in our lineage.  Our grand master Zhong Yun Long 钟云龙 also quotes often from these works, and I know his master Guo Gaoyi 郭高一 was fond of them.  Beyond him, the last Qing dynasty abbot of Purple Cloud Palace 紫霄宫, Xu Ben Shan 徐本善 had a personal copy which they still keep at the temple.  

So that’s a little overview of the main classical texts that are relevant to the study of Daoism in the Wudang San Feng Pai.  Though it may seem like a lot, within the context of Daoism our sect is really pretty light on this stuff.  Theory is downplayed, practice is emphasized.

New era in Daoist texts

Jaunary 1988 issue of Wudang Magazine with master Guo on the cover

After the reforms of Deng Xiaoping at the end of the 1970’s, a new era began for Daoist texts.  Many masters who had become monks in the 1920’s and 30’s had been forced out of the temples during the periods of agricultural collectivization (50’s-60’s) and the cultural revolution (60’s-70’s), and spent the intervening three decades in secular society - some like Zhu Cheng De working in labor camps, and others like Kuang Chang Xiu working as doctors of Chinese medicine.  As a result of the strict anti-religious policies of the CCP, an entire generation was skipped in the transmission of Daoist teachings.  

Because of this, by the time Daoism was legalized in 1979, many of these masters were getting quite old (master Guo was 79, master Zhu was 81), and had never had an opportunity to transmit the teachings they had received during their time as Daoist monastics.  As a result, by the beginning of the 1980’s many Daoist masters in China felt an urgent need to pass on their teachings in any way possible.  This had the paradoxical effect of actually opening many previously closed lineages, and spurring the proliferation of formerly secret teachings through a number of media.  

One of the most interesting case studies from this period, and something that hasn’t gotten much attention, is low-brow kung fu magazines from the 80’s and 90’s like Wudang Magazine 武当杂志 and Wuhun Magazine 武魂杂志.  These periodicals are really amazing mashups of martial arts history, history of religions (primarily Buddhism and Daoism, sometimes Islam), inner alchemical theory, and practical step-by-step instructions regarding martial arts, Qigong, and meditation.  

As an example of some of the gems to be found in these magazines, one of the higher-level martial arts forms from our system, Xuan Wu Quan 玄武拳, is elucidated in high detail throughout three issues of Wuhun from 1991 in a series of articles written by our Daoist grand-uncle Zhao Xin Hui 赵信慧.  These articles go beyond simple practical instructions and actually include detailed sections on daoyin 导引 and yunqi 运气 concerning the circulation of Qi in concert with the movements of the form.  In other issues of these magazines one can find detailed instructions of our form Tai He Quan 太和拳, the inner alchemy of our sect, and even the Wudang Wuxing Qigong, one of the highest teachings of the San Feng Pai.  

Instructions on the Wudang Wuxing Qigong by Lu guo Zhu

Many of the teachings from our lineage also made it into books during this period - for example, a step-by-step instructional pamphlet for our eight immortals sword 八仙剑 published in 1986 by Anhui Science and Technology Press 安徽科学技术出版社, or the 1982 publication Wudang Taiyi Wuxing Quan 武当太乙五行拳 from Hubei People’s Press 湖北人民出版社.  These works contain a wealth of information - not just practical instructions, but again, details concerning the internal side of the practice, history, and even the traditional poems associated with the forms.  Eight immortals sword, for example, has nine poems associated with it - one for the whole form, and then one for each immortal.  

Wudang northern style has a long textual trail throughout the 1980’s, first showing up in the 1984 Wudang Wugong 武当武功 through Hunan Science and Technology Press 湖南科学技术出版社 which contains walkthroughs of our Dragon fist 龙华拳, Xuanzhen fist 玄真拳, Dragon sword 龙华剑, along with detailed inner alchemical notes on establishing the foundation, as well as microcosmic and macrocosmic circulation methods.  More recently there was the Wudang Quanfa Shiying Zhidi Shu 武当拳法:实用制敌术 Wudang Fist Method: Practical Methods of Controlling the Opponent, which is an entire book of partner training and self defense techniques based on the Xuanzhen fist, including northern Wudang conditioning techniques against the wooden dummy (人民体育出版社 2005).    

Regarding sources of the San Feng sect’s inner alchemical practice, there are two main ones that have been composed since the 1980’s.  The first is Kuang Chang Xiu’s 匡常修 article, Xiantian Qigong 先天气功筑基要决  Essential Points in Establishing the Foundation for Pre-celestial Qigong, published in the book Laoshan Daojiaoshi 崂山道教史 through Central Compilation & Translation Press 中央编译出版社.  This contains a really fantastic overview of the whole process.  And more recently our grandmaster Zhong Yun Long’s 钟云龙 totally awesome 2014 book Wudang Taijiquan 武当太极拳, which contains the clearest elucidation of inner alchemy I’ve ever read.

So there’s been this explosion and democratization of information on Daoist practice since the 1980’s.  In its earliest phase this was spurred on by the necessity of transmitting Daoist teachings before they were lost - and transmitting them as widely as possible to ensure their survival.  A lot of the stuff from the 80’s is incredibly open-minded in its orientation.  Masters like Zhu Chengde and Wang Guangde, having seen the terrible fate Daoism had suffered in the 20th century, sought to pioneer an international interest in the religion, music, texts, and techniques.  And we’re part of that - what I’m writing here, and what you’re reading right now is a continuation of their vision.  


Basic Taiji throwing techniques from master Zhong's Wudang Taijiquan

Master Zhong's Wudang Taijiquan 2014

Master Zhong's text on San Feng inner alchemy from Wudang Taijiquan

Republican-era copy of an ancient Xuanmenjian manual

Contemporary re-printing of the Xuanmenjian manual

Martial applications from Xuan Zhen Quan

Martial applications from Xuan Zhen Quan

Wudang martial arts practice at Laoshan in the 1980's - Wudang Wugong

Master Jin Zi Tao 金子弢 returning Taiyiwuxingquan 太乙五行拳 to Purple Cloud Palace in 1981 from his book Wudang Taiyi Wuxing Quan

Martial applications from Eight Immortals Sword