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Myths and Legends of China

Page: 47

Originally, Yüan-shih T’ien-tsun was not a member of the Taoist triad. He resided above the Three Heavens, above the Three Pure Ones, surviving the destructions and renovations of the universe, as an immovable rock in the midst of a stormy sea. He set the stars in motion, and caused the planets to revolve. The chief of his secret police was Tsao Chün, the Kitchen-god, who rendered to him an account of the good and evil deeds of each family. His executive agent was Lei Tsu, the God of Thunder, and his subordinates. The seven stars of the North Pole were the palace of his ministers, whose offices were on the various sacred mountains. Nowadays, however, Yüan-shih T’ien-tsun is generally neglected for Yü Huang.

An Avatar of P’an Ku

According to the tradition of Chin Hung, the God of T’ai Shan of the fifth generation from P’an Ku, this being, then called Yüan-shih T’ien-wang, was an avatar of P’an Ku. It came about in this wise. In remote ages there lived on the mountains an old man, Yüan-shih T’ien-wang, who used to sit on a rock and preach to the multitude. He spoke of the highest antiquity as if from personal experience. When Chin Hung asked him where he lived, he just raised his hand toward Heaven, iridescent clouds enveloped his body, and he replied: “Whoso wishes to know where I dwell must Page 129rise to impenetrable heights.” “But how,” said Chin Hung, “was he to be found in this immense emptiness?” Two genii, Ch’ih Ching-tzŭ and Huang Lao, then descended on the summit of T’ai Shan and said: “Let us go and visit this Yüan-shih. To do so, we must cross the boundaries of the universe and pass beyond the farthest stars.” Chin Hung begged them to give him their instructions, to which he listened attentively. They then ascended the highest of the sacred peaks, and thence mounted into the heavens, calling to him from the misty heights: “If you wish to know the origin of Yüan-shih, you must pass beyond the confines of Heaven and earth, because he lives beyond the limits of the worlds. You must ascend and ascend until you reach the sphere of nothingness and of being, in the plains of the luminous shadows.”

Having reached these ethereal heights, the two genii saw a bright light, and Hsüan-hsüan Shang-jên appeared before them. The two genii bowed to do him homage and to express their gratitude. “You cannot better show your gratitude,” he replied, “than by making my doctrine known among men. You desire,” he added, “to know the history of Yüan-shih. I will tell it you. When P’an Ku had completed his work in the primitive Chaos, his spirit left its mortal envelope and found itself tossed about in empty space without any fixed support. ‘I must,’ it said, ‘get reborn in visible form; until I can go through a new birth I shall remain empty and unsettled,’ His soul, carried on the wings of the wind, reached Fu-yü T’ai. There it saw a saintly lady named T’ai Yüan, forty years of age, still a virgin, and living alone on Mount Ts’u-o. Air and variegated clouds were the sole nourishment of her vital spirits. An hermaphrodite, Page 130at once both the active and the passive principle, she daily scaled the highest peak of the mountain to gather there the flowery quintessence of the sun and the moon. P’an Ku, captivated by her virgin purity, took advantage of a moment when she was breathing to enter her mouth in the form of a ray of light. She was enceinte for twelve years, at the end of which period the fruit of her womb came out through her spinal column. From its first moment the child could walk and speak, and its body was surrounded by a five-coloured cloud. The newly-born took the name of Yüan-shih T’ien-wang, and his mother was generally known as T’ai-yüan Shêng-mu, ‘the Holy Mother of the First Cause.’”


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