Black-Faced Sect Founder II


By Joe Hung, The China Post

Because Crystal Water Sect Founder (清水祖師) started practicing medicine in Hemp Grass or Macao (麻草), he is also known as Macao Shangren (麻草上人) or Saint Hemp Grass. He was almost like Aesculapius, the son of Apollo, who was taught medicine by Chiron the Centaur, who could cure any sick man, woman or child.

In 1083, or the sixth year of Yuanfeng, under the reign of the Emperor Shenzhong of the Song Dynasty (宋神宗元禮元年), Qingxi (清溪), a county now known as Anxi (安溪) in the province of Fujian suffered a long drought. The people of Qingxi, or Clear River, called on Saint Hemp Grass for help. The universal benefactor couldn’t refuse, so he became a rainmaker. As he prayed before an altar at Qingxi, rain poured. More than enough rain fell to end the drought, and the thankful people of Qingxi wanted to build a temple for their benefactor.

When he first came to Qingxi, the Chinese Aesculapius was given accommodation at a house at the foot of nearby Mount Penglai (蓬萊山). There is a clear-water lake, named Yangyue (映月) or (Lake) Reflecting the Moon, in the vicinity. When the temple was erected on a little rocky hill there, the people called it Qingshui-yan or Clear-Water Rock (清水巖). That gave the saint his best-known name of Clear-Water Sect Founder. As he lived at the foot of the mountain, he also came to be known as Penglai Da-zhu (蓬萊大祖) or Great Sect Founder of Penglai. The Buddhist saint decided to stay at Clear-Water Rock. He stayed there for 19 years to continue practicing medicine and asceticism required of a Buddhist monk. He also raised funds for charity and built roads and bridges, the shortcut to earning merit to become a bodhisattva. As a result, he secured a large following in Zhangzhou (漳州) and Dingzhou (汀州), two prefectures in the province of Fujian.

Whenever there was a natural disaster, such as famine or drought, the people turned to him for help. His timely help, often in the form of supplication for divine succor, often wrought wonders. He died on the thirteenth day of the fifth moon of the ninth year of Daguan under the reign of the Huizhong emperor of the Song Dynasty (宋徽宗大觀三年), which corresponds to 1109. He told his disciples on the day of his death that he would pass away, sat down in meditation, and died. He was 65 sui (years). (There is a difference in counting age between China and the Westerners. A Chinese baby is one year old when it was born. Such a baby in the West is just one day old.) One biography of the sect founder says he died on that day in the ninth year of Jianzhong jingguo (建中靖口), but that reign of the Huizhong emperor’s lasted only two years. The Buddhist saint’s birthday, according to another biography, is the sixth day of the fifth moon rather than sixth day of the first moon. His faithful in Tamsui celebrate the birthday on the former date.