2nd Chairman of the Board: Yuan Lao Chien Ren
Displaying the Tao as an Example
Cultivating the Tao Truthfully
Honoring the Life of Yuan Lao Chien Ren
Respectfully presented by
Chongming Island is the world’s largest alluvial island, north side of the Yangtze River in Jiangsu province, China. It faces the large business city Shanghai, and has long been called the “Door to the Yangtze River” or “Fairyland in the East China Sea.” Yuan Lao Chien Ren was born on March 16th, 1921 (lunar calendar) in a farmer’s home in the town of Xinhe on the island.
Yuan Chien Ren’s father, a righteous man and a longtime vegetarian, was a diligent and thrifty farmer. His mother, Hsu Shiao Uh, was born to a family of scholars in the Qing Dynasty. Her upbringing molded her into a virtuous lady with filial piety. Yuan Chien Ren had an older brother, a younger brother, and two sisters. Even though the family wasn’t rich, this family was in great harmony.
When he was a child, Yuan Chien Ren’s maternal grandfather, a teacher with many disciples, lived with Yuan Chien Ren’s family. Influenced by his grandfather, Yuan Chien Ren excelled in his studies in Chinese literature. He also participated in the school soccer team and helped in the farm after school. He continued his studies in middle school. Later, his father, viewing farming as hard work and wishing something different for his son, sent him to Shanghai through an arrangement with a friend as an apprentice in the Li Tai printing company, learning typesetting and printing in the Shanghai International Settlement area. During that time, regardless of how large or small the tasks assigned to him, Yuan Chien Ren completed them diligently and was much loved by his boss, Mr. Sun.
One day, when he was seventeen, Yuan Chien Ren started having palpitations and lost his appetite and couldn’t sleep for a couple of days. When he received a message from his mother informing him of his father’s critical condition, he realized that the physical distress he experienced was a response to his father’s illness because they were closely connected at heart. His father had passed away by the time he reached home. He was deeply saddened for the lost opportunity to care for his father in his old age. After the mourning period, he married a Ms. Huang, which had been arranged earlier by his father.
Returning to his hometown, Chongming Island, at age twenty-five, he received the Tao upon his cousin’s invitation along with his wife and his son at Chong Zun Tang (temple) on January 5th (lunar calendar). Master Huang Wen Han was his transmitting master. His cousin and Mr. Shi, a colleague of his, were his introducer and guarantor.
Upon his cousin’s request to Zhang Lao Chien Ren, Yuan Chien Ren participated in the Shen Fo class seven months after his initiation. Witnessing amazing revelations, including channeling of the holy messages, strengthened his faith in the Tao. He understood that Tao was the supreme truth, and was presented the remarkable opportunity to dedicate his whole life to it. With no delay, he took the Ching Ko Yuan (a vow to purify one’s mind, words and deed) and started practicing vegetarianism and cultivating the Tao truthfully.
In the year 1946, Yuan Chien Ren had the desire to raise his deceased parents from the underworld to receive the Tao, and he also learned that there was a need for people to bring the Tao to Taiwan. Under the permission, guidance, and requirements of Zhang Lao Chien Ren, he studied and memorized the Chinese classics, including the Analects of Confucius, the Mencius, the Great Learning, and the Doctrine of the Mean, and donated ten bags of rice to support the mission in Taiwan financially. Leaving his mother, his pregnant wife, his son, and his then-unborn daughter, Yuan Chien Ren took the Hai Chin Luan passenger ship from Shanghai to Taiwan with Huang Wen Han Chien Ren (then a master) and Ku Shiang Lin Chien Ren (then a devout Tao member).
The three of them was arranged by Lao Chien Ren Li Ting Gang (李廷崗老前人) of the Shanghai Ji Chu Zu Tan (上海基礎組壇) to stay in the house of Master Wu Xin Xue (吳信學點傳師) in Keelung. They moved to Taipei after the New Year, rented a place in the intersection of Nan Chong Street and Nan Hi Road to establish the Tien Fung Temple (天豐) named by Shi Zuen (師尊). A month later Zhang Lao Chien Ren (張老前人) brought along twenty-four members to Taiwan and assigned Yuan Chien Ren to the Ruifang (瑞芳) District in New Taipei City.
Yuan Chien Ren rented the first floor of the Central Daily News building on Feng Chia Road (逢甲路) and set up the Tien Huh Tan (天和壇). He tried very hard to spread the Tao. Away from home and living a life as a single man with language barriers and cultural differences, he held on to his task without much progress. Fortunately, he transmitted the Tao to Mr. Chen Shuei Yuan, who worked for the local government. From Mr. Chen’s network of friends and local residents’ help, the Tao was transmitted to more local residents. He also brought the Tao to Shuangxi (雙溪) and Pinglin (坪林).
Without much financial support, he lived a thrifty life. Sometimes, when he returned to his home after visiting nearby small towns to spread the Tao, he consumed spoiled foods after washing and re-boiling them. The difficult situation he faced didn’t stop him. With limited verbal skills of the local dialect, he often communicated with written notes and gestures while teaching Tao classes. He started to learn the local dialect and supported himself by selling chow mien and doing odd jobs. In his free time, he read books and newspapers (Chinese Daily News) and practiced Chinese calligraphy. It was during this time that he was honored as a Tao transmitting Master. Later, he guided Zhou Xin Fa (周新發), Lin Hua (林華), Huang Gong (黃貢), Zhou Shi Xiang (周士祥) and Wu Wan Sheng (吳萬盛) to the Tao, laying a foundation for the Tao in Taiwan.
When Tao affairs became steady in Ruifang area, Zhang Chien Ren advised him to move to Keelung, where he was able to settle in Kao Sha Market (高砂市場) in 1949. It was after World War II, and business was slow. Zhang Lao Chien Ren purchased a noodle-making machine with the temple’s funds. Yuan Chien Ren started selling noodles and wonton for a living. Witnessing Zhang Lao Chien Ren, who humbly performed manual labor to sustain the temple, Yuan Chien Ren insisted on contributing all the money he earned selling noodles and wontons to the temple funds. He collected merchandise brought by ships, sold them in the market, and put the profits into the temple’s fund. He often picked up discarded vegetable leaves in the market to eat. Upon his request, his friend brought potherb mustard seeds to Taiwan, and he grew the vegetables. Every day, he would go to the wholesale market to sell pickled mustard greens at four in the morning, and then he would sell chow mein and wontons. In his free time, he visited Tao members and traveled to take care of Tao affairs. In addition, he did all the paperwork for temples and assisted other masters. The Li Ben that masters received were all handwritten by him.
Yuan Chien Ren was very thrifty. He spoke of and embodied “cherishing one’s blessings.” All his furniture was from second-hand stores. He fixed broken pieces again and again and did his best to save water and electricity. He cherished paper and wrote notes on the blank areas of calendars and flyers. He reused plastic bags multiple times before formal recycling. His clothes and shoes were all worn down. With his sense of humor, he compared himself to Ji-Gong Buddha, who described himself as a rag monk with worn down shoes, a hat, and a ragged cassock. However, even though he was a determined saver and was hard on himself, he was very generous when it came to the needs of the temple.
Humble, easygoing and well loved, he was called “Old Mr. Yuan” and “Pickled veggie Yuan” by people in the market. He guided many people from China to the Tao. He also touched the hearts of people in Taiwan who came and listened to his classes, brought him items, and learned from his wonton-making technique. Yuan Chien Ren emphasized harmony among people to be in line with the Heavenly Tao. If members had questions about the Tao, he explained until they understood. He would correct those who deviated in their behavior, and comforted and helped people in need.
He never blamed those who took advantage of and who deceived him. Rather, he reflected upon himself for not having the wisdom to discern the bad from the good. He either blamed himself for not teaching them well enough or for not being able to lead by example. He considered himself a small potato. He thought that he fell short for not fulfilling family duties in caring for his mother, wife and children. He worried whether he could even return to the Heavenly home.
Considering himself not intelligent but rather slow, unwise, and awkward, with little knowledge, he studied diligently. He either asked people about or looked up in books anything he never heard of, be it new knowledge or historical stories. He made sure to understand these thoroughly. He especially put tremendous efforts into studying scriptures, sutras, and the meanings of words, phrases or sentences.
In his fifties, following Zhang Lao Chien Ren’s advice, Yuan Chien Ren started learning English at a cram school for ten years to be able to disseminate the Tao overseas. His tuition was later waived, as he was considered a living example and an advertisement for the school. Earlier, when he lived in Keelung, he would travel to Taipei to take a class on I Ching, the Chinese classic, the Book of Changes, offered by Taipei Shen Tien Tao Yuan (臺北先天道院). He persevered, traveling back and forth with a perfect record of attendance. After he published his book, Tao Te Ching: Lecture Outline and Course Materials, he met the medium at Dao Zu temple in Keelung. Through the medium, he was praised by Lao Zi, author of Tao Te Ching, that his book was in compliance with the doctrine of Lao Zi.
Yuan Chien Ren retired from work in 1991 and took up the responsibility as the president of the Zhong Shu Dao Te Cultural and Religious Foundation (忠恕道德文教基金會) of Taipei City. As he was taking care of Tao affairs in Keelung at the same time, he was named the chairperson of Chi Hua Tong (啟化堂). During this time, he traveled among all temples in Taiwan, giving speeches as well as accompanying or representing Zhang Lao Chien Ren in caring for and inspecting the progress of overseas temples in various countries, including the Philippines, Korea, the United States of America, Australia, Canada, Brazil, Holland, France, England, Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, and Myanmar (Burma).
To put into practice his idea, “For this lifetime, advise people with words; for hundreds of lifetimes, advise people with books,” Yuan Chien Ren kept writing. To save paper, he began writing on the blank side of flyers. His articles were often published in newspapers, such as the Central Daily News. At age 65, he compiled his teaching notes of Tao Te Ching and published “Tao Te Ching, Lecture outline and course materials.” When Ji-Chu magazine was established, he wrote articles regarding the Tao and explained scriptures and sutras. His most treasured work remains his “Tao Te Ching, Lecture Outline and Course Materials”; the second edition has been printed. To provide more teaching materials, Yuan Chien Ren also published lecture outline and course materials for the Heart Sutra, The Great Learning, the Doctrine of the Mean (學庸), Jin Si Lu (近思錄), and Exploring the Details of the Four Chinese Classics (四書探微). The latter two books were also published in Ji-Chu magazine.
As arranged by Zhang Lao Chien Ren (張老前人), at age seventy-six, Yuan Chien Ren would commute by train daily from Keelung to Taipei Shen Tien Tao Yuan, which he had done since 1996. His lunch was very simple, with few items beside rice.
In October 2001, Zhang Lao Chien Ren cited a verse in the Tenth Section of the Platform Sutra, “Leaves fall off the branches to where the roots are,” meaning that man must return to the Heavenly home, and delegated his responsibility in Tao affairs to Yuan Chien Ren. Since Zhang Lao Chien Ren returned to Heaven upon completion of his earthly tasks in 2010, Yuan Chien Ren succeeded Zhang Lao Chien Ren as the leader of Ji-Chu Zhong-Shu Tao society. Yuan Chien Ren was also elected as president of the World I-Kuan Tao Headquarters.
To further sustain, develop, and strengthen Tao affairs, Yuan Chien Ren promoted a new system, “Assisting management of the Tao affairs.” Later in 2011 and 2012 he held the “Repentance Class” in Ji-Chu Zhong-Shu worldwide fourteen times, giving all members an opportunity to cleanse their past sins and start cultivating the Tao truthfully.
Yuan Chien Ren acknowledged that he was instructed one-to-one and heart-to-heart by Zhang Lao Chien Ren the meaning of loyalty and forgiveness. Loyalty is the essence of the heart, and forgiveness is its application. Loyalty and forgiveness can strengthen the Tao in us. Tao is naturally in us. However, to embody the Tao in loyalty and forgiveness may not come naturally. An ethical man with Tao must be loyal, doing his best, not cheating himself. Forgiveness is to put oneself in another’s situation without selfishness. In doing so, we are in one with the Tao with no separation. Loyalty and forgiveness are like an object and its shadow. When one is loyal, he must possess the quality of forgiveness, like the shadow following the object. This is the way to interact with others. Yuan Chien Ren is the most important man to Zhang Lao Chien Ren and is the only one who could carry on the mission of Zhang Lao Chien Ren.
More than twenty years ago, Yuan Chien Ren encouraged Tao members with his three expectations, “Understanding the Tao (the truth), being sincere, and practicing after realization.” Living in this ever-changing world, his advice was what a Tao cultivator should continually follow wholeheartedly. Staying firmly in the Tao in this unstable world is the vision and advice from Yuan Chien Ren.
Yuan Chien Ren completed in perfection his earthly cultivation in Tao and returned to Heaven at age ninety-six on February 12, 2016 at six o’clock in the morning (January 5, lunar calendar). He brought the Tao to Taiwan and guided countless people along this path for seventy years. For his entire life, he held on closely to the Tao and cultivated his virtues, stayed at his role, and fulfilled his responsibilities. He was humble, thrifty, and diligent in learning. His reverence to the Tao, respect to teachers and masters, and his support in Tao affairs earned great respect. His life was like that of the Chinese saint and Confucius’ disciple, Yen Hui (顏回). Confucius described the life of Yen Hui as “With a ladle of food and a scoop of water, living in a shabby alley, in this hardship of life that most people can’t endure, sage Yen Hui keeps his joyful heart. What a sage Yen Hui is” (Analects of Confucius). This was the life Yuan Chien Ren had lived as our example. Yuan Chien Ren embodied sage Yen Hui’s words: “I wouldn’t brag about my good deeds, nor do I take credit of my work” (Analects of Confucius, Book 5). Yuan Chien Ren also possessed another quality of Yen Hui: “Diligence in learning, not projecting anger to others, and not repeating the same mistakes” (Analects of Confucius, Book 6). Yuan Chien Ren’s virtues are like those of sage Yen Hui described by Confucius, “I have talked with Yen Hui for a whole day and he had no objections to anything I said, as if he was slow to learn. When I am not with him, I observe his conducts and find him able to illustrate my teachings. Yen Hui is not slow in learning” (The Analects of Confucius). Yuan Chien Ren demonstrated Yen Hui’s virtues, as stated in the School Sayings of Confucius (孔子家語), “Be firm in righteousness, be soft and receptive in admonishment, be fearful when receiving fortune, and be careful in one’s cultivation in conduct.” Yuan Chien Ren lived by himself for almost sixty years in Taiwan and cultivated virtues and good conducts in perfection even when no one was around him.
Venerable Yuan Chien Ren has left us, but his virtues and examples will last forever. The caressing breeze on my face reminded me of the popular song of his hometown that he would hum:
Hurry, hurry, hurry, blow out the lamp of the lost soul, let go of the suicidal guns, come and buy a piece of candy and change your taste; sweet or bitter, taste it yourself…
Please be reminded not to be attracted to and to be confused by the temporary worldly joy from our five desires. Everyone in Ji-Chu Zhong-Shu shall carry on the vow of Yuan Chien Ren, the same vow of Zhang Lao Chien Ren, cultivating and propagating the Tao sincerely and single-heartedly. We will keep up the lineage for eternity and carry on the aspiration of Yuan Chien Ren to display the tradition of Ji-Chu Zhong-Shu. In doing so, we may be able to repay a tiny fraction of the abundant Heavenly grace and what Yuan Chien Ren has done for all of us.