A saint born in Chongming, Jiangsu Province, China
Jiangsu province is praised by many poets for its beauty. Many writers and scholars have visited and created historical masterpieces. Chongming Island, simple, quiet and pure as a pure lotus flower, stands aloof from the worldly. It is a barren land with tall trees, as if an oasis in a desert. There, in Xinhe, a serene town, unknown to the world, a living Bodhisattva, a man of great virtue, was born in July 1914. He, Zhang Pei Chen Lao Chien Ren, would later become the first president of the World I-Kuan Tao Headquarters.
Saint Zhang Lao Chien Ren, a savior with wisdom, like a shining star emitting infinite light and passing through the world from this little town into eternity, passed down the I-Kuan Tao mission to future generations.
Learning the philosophy of Confucius at a young age
Zhang Lao Chien Ren’s father was a man named Ji Ching; his mother, Miss Ling, was humble, kind and honest. She was a diligent and thrifty homemaker and followed the Chinese tradition of the three guiding principles when interacting with others. She had a good upbringing and a soft personality with compassion and perseverance. Zhang Lao Chien Ren didn’t go to school until he was eight. A year later, it was arranged for him to study at a foreign school as a second grader. At that time, his intelligence was clear, and he was admitted as a third grader after passing an examination with a very high score. He finished his elementary education at age twelve with high honors and was well-loved and encouraged by his teachers.
Zhang Lao Chien Ren studied English phonics in the fifth grade and English grammar in the sixth grade and he remembered what he had learned until his old age. Because of his intelligence and abilities, he qualified to continue his studies. However, Xinhe had no middle school at that time, and he would have needed to travel to a neighboring town to continue his education. This cost was beyond his family’s financial ability. As a result, he received no formal education following completion of elementary school.
Unable to continue his studies in intermediate school, Zhang Lao Chien Ren kept up his life-long eagerness in learning by continuing to study Mencius with his sixth-grade teacher. He memorized the entire text of Mencius and could still recite it even in his nineties. This helped him tremendously later in teaching, inspiring Tao members and sharing his determination in learning.
Leaving home and missing home
Zhang Lao Chien Ren was honorable, noble, and righteous with a great fund of knowledge and good manners. With only four years of formal education, he was serious and strict in dealing with people. He cared for his parents every day. At home, he fulfilled his responsibility as a child. From his schooling, he learned benevolence and diligence, which laid a good foundation for his character.
Zhang Lao Chien Ren’s father worked in Shanghai to make a living. He took the fourteen-year-old Zhang Lao Chien Ren to Shanghai to work at Mr. Hsiao’s exporting business as an apprentice for three years. He was very thrifty and saved the daily extra food allowance of two coins. He would give a bag of collected coins to his mother every time she visited him. When his mother asked him where the coins were from, he told her the truth. They looked at each other feeling the love that was deeply engrained in their hearts.
Living away from home at such a young age, he shed tears at night missing his mother and her loving words. He was her only son and he was very close to his mother. They had slept in the same bed since he was little. Mother and son never separated emotionally; indeed, she shed tears every day for a year after he left for Shanghai. Tears would fill his eyes every time when this memory surfaced in his mind.
Following his conscience and cultivating merits
In his second year in Shanghai, Zhang Lao Chien Ren started receiving wages. The joy was mixed with some resentment because he didn’t agree with the practices of his boss, which involved the use of counterfeit materials. He had no control, but he made up his mind: “Once I have saved enough money for my retirement, I will quit.” He didn’t want to become corrupt. The Book of Changes reads, “A great man, his virtue is as high and broad as heaven and earth, his wisdom is as bright as the sun and the moon. He manages things in order like the changing of the four seasons. For things mysteries, he can separate the auspicious from the ominous.” In this manner, Zhang Lao Chien Ren did business without compromising his conscience.
Following the filial exemplar: attempting to cure his father with his own flesh
Zhang Lao Chien Ren was well known for his filial devotion to his parents. One day at work, when he was thirty years old, he received a message from his brother-in-law that his father was critically ill. He prayed on his way home for his father’s recovery. When he arrived home, he realized that the doctor had tried all means but nothing worked. He remembered a story of a devout son who used his own flesh to cure his father. He decided to try it. His hand froze when he saw blood coming out after he cut into his thigh and he regretted he couldn’t cure his father.
Sincere filial love sowed the seed of Tao
His father passed away three days later at age sixty-two. Zhang Lao Chien Ren was in deep sorrow and fainted when his father was put into a coffin.
After finishing seven rituals for the deceased, each lasting seven days, he went back to Shanghai. He missed his father and wanted to serve him, but as the Chinese poem had said, “The tree wants to calm down but the wind keeps blowing; the child wants to care for his parent but the parent can’t wait and leaves him.” Knowing how dedicated a son Zhang Lao Chien Ren was, his friend, Mr. Tang Jun Min (唐俊民), told him, “After a person’s passing, his soul proceeds to the underworld. However, if one of his descendants has received the Tao, he can be raised to Heaven.” Hearing that receiving the Tao would raise his father from the underworld, Zhang Lao Chien Ren immediately agreed to receive the Tao.
Practicing vegetarianism and compassion to receive the Tao
As Zhang Lao Chien Ren’s introducer to the Tao, Mr. Tang arranged the Tao receiving ceremony to be conducted by Lin Ting Gong Chien Ren, and had his father, Mr. Tang Hai Yu, served as the guarantor. With filial piety, spiritual foundation and good karma, Zhang Lao Chien Ren received the precious Tao at Shanghai Jia Bei Tai Guang Tan (家北泰光壇) on October 19th, 1943 (lunar calendar).
During the explanation of the Three Treasures, Zhang Lao Chien Ren heard, “We need to pay back our debts for the amount of animal flesh we have consumed.” This reminded him the pain that stopped him from cutting his thigh to cure his father, and he asked himself, how can I kill animals for their meat? He used to consume meat at every meal, but he made a mouth purification (vegetarianism) vow the same evening he received the Tao. His firm belief in Tao and his determination are truly admirable.
He diligently learned precepts and rituals and read numerous books. With his wisdom, intelligence, and unusual ability to comprehend and memorize what he learned, his talents as a leader were gradually revealed. This led him toward an unwavering life of Tao propagation.
Following and learning the Tao from Shi Zuen with gratitude
On March 15, 1944 (lunar calendar), Shi Zuen officially visited Tao temples in Shanghai. The demeanor of Shi Zuen captured Zhang Lao Chien Ren’s heart. Shi Zuen looked stern, yet was warm with people. Later, Shi Zuen moved to live at Mr. Pang Shou Cheng’s house (龐守誠前賢). Shortly thereafter, Zhang Lao Chien Ren and his introducer Tang Jun Min (唐俊民) moved to Shanghai accompanying Shi Zuen and helped with chores—pouring tea, serving towels, and tidying bowls and chopsticks.
Venerable Shi Zuen was very kind and he seized all teaching opportunities. For instance, during incense offerings, he would ask, “Why do we do this?” In asking this question, he really meant, “Do you offer your true heart? With kind thoughts, your heart in Tao will send out fragrant scents. Serve people and dedicate your love to them.”
On another occasion, Shi Zuen asked, “Why are we lighting candles?” “Our eyes are bright to shine away our five Skandhas. Is your heart full of light? Is there much darkness in the world? Can we truthfully dedicate our heart to the world and be a lamp in the dark world?” Using simple words with deep meanings, Shi Zuen clearly pointed out the need to regain the purity of mankind’s nature. Shi Zuen’s teachings were deeply ingrained in the heart of Zhang Lao Chien Ren.
Be silent to conserve the Chi – the principle of the temple
While serving Shi Zuen, Zhang Lao Chien Ren noticed that Shi Zuen often “stayed silent with eyes open only thirty percent, without revealing his own light.” This became the center and the guiding principle in the Tao cultivation of Zhang Lao Chien Ren. Therefore, Zhang Lao Chien Ren often reminded us during large class gathering, “Be silent to nurture our chi; cultivate good heart and conscience.” Now the Ji-Chu Zhong-Shu Division has adopted “Be silent to nurture the chi” as our motto. The sign can be seen on walls in temples or lecture hall as a constant reminder to carry on Zhang Lao Chien Ren’s principle of Tao cultivation.
Zhang Lao Chien Ren stayed firm in Tao cultivation with sincere belief and a great vow for Tao dissemination. He was granted the Heavenly Mandate through Shi Zuen to be a transmitting master six months after he received the Tao. It was at ten in the morning on April 8th, 1944 (lunar calendar) when he became a transmitting master. He practiced the rituals of the Tao transmitting ceremony in the afternoon at Ji-Chu temple. The same evening, he transmitted the Tao at a private temple at a home in Shanghai to nineteen Tao seekers and explained the Tao and the Three Treasures to the new members. The fact that Zhang Lao Chien Ren took the mouth purification vow the same day he received the Tao and transmitted the Tao the same day he became a Tao transmitting master is truly legendary and continues to be highly praised.
Doing after learning – diligence in guiding people to the Tao
Knowing all the suffering of mankind and understanding Mencius’ words, “Save the drowning world with the Tao,” Zhang Lao Chien Ren went back to his hometown, Chongming, to advocate the Tao through his network of friends. Heaven rewarded him for his hard work; around one hundred temples were established in a short period of time. His truthful cultivation, practice and propagation of the Tao are good examples for us to follow.
A person with virtues can withstand tests
Wang De Chuan Chien Ren (王德川前人) took Zhang Lao Chien Ren along with two private temple hosts to Chengdu (成都) for Tao affairs. Zhang Lao Chien Ren assumed cooking responsibilities and the other two were assigned, respectively, to fetch water and to cut tree branches for firewood. At that time, chimneys were rare, and the damp wood would smoke when Zhang Lao Chien Ren was cooking, making his eyes tear. One day Wang Chien Ren saw him wipe tears with his sleeves and wanted to test him. He said to Zhang Lao Chien Ren, “What are you crying for? The cooking job is too hard, right? You don’t need to suffer cultivating the Tao. Go home. We don’t need you here. You are reluctant to do it and I know you are regretting now. Go home! Go home!” Zhang Lao Chien Ren wanted to explain, but he wasn’t given a chance to reply. He thought maybe he didn’t know how to properly start a fire to cook with. He felt that cultivating the Tao naturally came with trials to test his heart. Even though he felt hurt, he thought cultivating the Tao was a learning process and resolved to overcome the hurdle.
Going overseas to spread the Tao
While in Chongming, Zhang Lao Chien Ren received a letter from a Tao member who went to Taiwan to establish the Tao there. The letter urged him to hurry and come because they were short on helpers. He delegated his responsibility in Chongming to transmitting master Wu Yan Zuo (吳延佐) and left for Taiwan on February 4th, 1947 (lunar calendar). There were twenty-four members altogether on the team, and they brought 70 rolls of silk fabric, 100 dozen cloth towels, and 600 dozen handkerchiefs to sell in order to finance the trip.
After the ship arrived Keelung, the team stayed for three days before going to Nanchang Street in Taipei, where they established Tien Fong Temple (天豐壇). Living together with Master Gao Shao Ji (高紹繼), a native of Shandong province from Xiamen (廈門), Zhang Lao Chien Ren started his Tao mission in Taiwan.
Staying calm in the storm and spreading the Tao
Toward the beginning of his time in Taiwan, Zhang Lao Chien Ren had a very tight budget. The fabrics had all been sold, and little money remained after all expenses were paid. He went back to Shanghai again to bring merchandise back to Taiwan to sell in order to support the temple. He personally took the cheapest seat in the ship, toward the upper decks. Once, a storm hit the ship, and he was hurled up in the air. Later, he tied himself to his bed frame.
He brought forty to fifty pieces of luggage full of supplies every time he traveled from Shanghai to Taiwan. Initially, language barriers posed difficulties in introducing the Tao to the Taiwanese people. However, all members of the team braved difficulties and persevered. Zhang Lao Chien Ren came in contact with a carpenter, Mr. Huang, who lived on West Ningpo Street, and ordered custom-made holy tables. With limited communication augmented by gestures of praying hands, Mr. Huang received the Tao. Subsequently, Zhang Lao Chien Ren guided a rice store owner to receive the Tao. Through word-of-mouth, the Tao slowly became widely disseminated. United in one heart, everyone worked toward the same goal–introducing the Tao to others.
Facing trials from the government
In the beginning, their task was difficult, with many obstacles. However, with God’s grace, the Tao gradually became more widespread. More temples were established after Chou Shin Fa Chien Ren in Ruifang received the Tao under Yuan Chien Ren, and the Tao prospered in the area.
When Tao affairs were at their peak, rumors and slander in the media caused the government to impose a ban on Tao activities. Zhang Lao Chien Ren was called to the police headquarters a few times. Since there was no proof of any wrongdoing, the government dismissed the case. We can only imagine the distress Zhang Lao Chien Ren must have experienced. During that time, Zhang Lao Chien Ren encouraged everyone to remain faithful to resolve this trial together. Zhang Lao Chien Ren firmly believed that the government would know the truth eventually, and the trial would then be over.
Bearing the slander and carrying the responsibility
Along with Chien Ren of other divisions, Zhang Lao Chien Ren made a public announcement in a newspaper (新生報) to clarify outstanding rumors. The Tao community taught proper manners and the guiding principles of human relationships. The purpose of the Tao was to advocate the traditional teachings of Confucius. However, this didn’t loosen the restrictions imposed by the government. As a result, Zhang Lao Chien Ren was forced to carry on activities secretly to loosen the government’s control.
To do so, Zhang Lao Chien Ren published a notice in a newspaper in June 1963 to discontinue all the Tao activities. Tao activities continued underground. Even though he was the main person of interest to the local police department, he continually taught Tao classes; he offered two to three classes in one day with a personal record of more than seventy classes in one month.
Strengthening virtues and creating merits to nurture the growth of Zhong-Shu Division
The government’s primary concern with Tao-related activities was the perception that secret activities were occurring. Zhang Lao Chien Ren and Chen Wen Shiang Chien Ren stated in the media that this was because their group was not officially registered with the government. From then on, their direction was to shift activities to public venues and Zhang Lao Chien Ren started working on registering the group with the government. Under these two principles, Tao affairs became more and more prosperous.
After the Xian-Tian Tao Yuan in Taipei City was founded in 1967, the number of Tao seekers increased tremendously. Zhang Lao Chien Ren improved the system of the Tao operation. He started Virtue Strengthening and Tao Studying classes, in 1974, to train and prepare young members to become pillars of the organization. This class has existed for more than thirty years, and continues to be given today. In the inauguration ceremony of the Taoyuan Guishan (桃園龜山) Chuan Gen Dao Yuan (全真道院) in 1976, Zhang Lao Chien Ren was much honored and praised for his achievements.
Since 1979, the Tao has advanced overseas under the leadership of Zhang Lao Chien Ren to more than twenty counties in five continents. Under the I-Kuan Tao Ji-Chu Zhong-Shu Division of the World I-Kuan Tao organization, there are private and public temples and lecture halls in the following countries: the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia, and Thailand in Southeast Asia; Japan and Korea in Northeast Asia; the United States of America (including Hawaii), Canada, and Mexico in North America; Brazil in South America; South Africa in Africa; New Zealand and Australia; and Holland, France, Germany, England, and Italy in Europe.
Zhang Lao Chien Ren founded the Righteousness Cultivating Class (正義精修班) in 1983, a series of step-by-step Tao cultivation classes for young members. Since it expanded too quickly to be able to accommodate all the members, the system was later restructured as Zhong Shu Tao Yuan. There are instructions for elementary, intermediate, and advanced levels.
The duty is heavy and the path is far
Scholars and legislative representatives witnessed and were touched by the warmth, honesty and kindness of Tao members. Under their support, the I-Kuan Tao Headquarters were lawfully established in Taiwan, the Republic of China, on March 5th, 1988. Zhang Lao Chien Ren was honored as the President of the organization.
To unite all the divisions for the Tao mission of Shi Zhen and Shi Mu in guiding all beings to the Tao, Zhang Lao Chien Ren, in his eighties, went from place to place, sometimes late at night, to carry on the heritage. He thought it his responsibility that everyone find and recover the brilliance of his or her own true nature. The virtues and blessings he bestowed upon people evoked the praises that Chinese Historian Sima Qian bestowed on Confucius: “His virtues are as high as the mountain for us to admire, his conduct is just and honorable and serves as our model; even though we can’t reach what he achieved, deep inside we are yearning to be like him.” The World I-Kuan Tao Headquarters were formed in Los Angeles on October 6th, 1996. Zhang Lao Chien Ren was honored as the first president of the organization. Honorable Zhang Lao Chien Ren led all of us with his unwavering faith and strong will to save the world. He is like a helmsman leading us into the bright future of Maitreya Buddha’s pure land.
The spirit of Ji-Chu Division
On his way back to Taiwan from Los Angeles for the celebration of the fifty’s anniversary of Shi-Zuen’s passing, Zhang Lao Chien Ren composed, in the plane at an altitude of 31900 feet, the article “Forever Missing and Always Remembering Him.” His perseverance and physical strength at age eighty-four were truly amazing. Members of Ji-Chu Zhong-Shu division were grateful for blessings God conferred on us and encouraged each other to learn from Zhang Lao Chien Ren the cultivation of physical, mental and spiritual well-being.
Ji-Chu Zhong-Shu’s main temple in Guishan, Taoyuan was completed on April 22nd, 2000. It was the center of operations for Ji-Chu Zhong-Shu Tao affairs and a milestone of the 21st century in worldwide Tao dissemination. It was also his greatest wish in the sixty years since he first traveled from Mainland China to Taiwan. He said on the day of its inauguration, “This is my happiest day since I came to Taiwan in 1947.”
One’s possessions will not determine how great one is, but how much he has benefited others will. Zhang Lao Chien Ren traveled overseas to Taiwan, passing on the torch of Tao. He was like a candle, burning up oneself in order to light up others. Zhang Lao Chien Ren was pleased at having a “fortress,” the Zhong-Shu Tao Yuan. This displayed the heritage of Ji-Chu Zhong-Shu and the great virtues of Zhang Lao Chien Ren that flowed with the Tao overseas to the entire world.
Everything he did was done to save others from suffering
After the completion of the Zhong Shu Tao Yuan, Zhang Lao Chien Ren, at age eighty-seven, took a break for the first time in decades.
Birth, aging, illness, and death are inevitable in life. As it has been said, “cultivating the Tao with some physical illness can lead to a greater compassionate heart.” Even in illness, Zhang Lao Chien Ren used his remaining life to brighten the world. Physical pain didn’t affect Zhang Lao Chien Ren’s faith in the Tao. Occupied with people’s sufferings, Zhang Lao Chien Ren forgot his own illness and displayed his great compassion.
Wishing you good health and longevity
Our dear Zhang Lao Chien Ren, we admire you and we depend on you. We wish that you had never aged but rather lived forever. We wish that you could still hold our hands like you always did to cross the river of life and death and keep going forever. You live by example and you give without reservation your entire life. Your virtues nourished us. You turned your suffering into the power of the Tao. We regret for not living up to your expectations. We were powerless to share the very least of your sufferings, and the burden of your great vow. We sincerely prayed to our Lord in Heaven to keep you with us even for just one more day to add more light to the world and keep high our spirits in the Tao.
Representatives from countries worldwide came to celebrate the birthday of Zhang Lao Chien Ren in 2006. In a wheelchair at a gathering for the Chinese New Year, with eyes closed, Zhang Lao Chien Ren looked solemn, yet emitted the warmth of his kindness. In silence with admiration, we were all spiritually connected, heart-to-heart.
Revealing the true nature and its merits
Zhang Lao Chien Ren’s Tao cultivation was in three levels: mind, body and soul. He inspired people with his acts and words. His Tao cultivation in mind and body was as he said: “I don’t drink tea; a cup of water is good; as for food, soup with two dishes will do—lightly-flavored vegetables, edamame, or bean curd; my heart is peaceful and quiet; I let things take their own natural course and I have no attachments in my heart.” As the Diamond Scripture reads, “All things are illusory.”
Zhang Lao Chien Ren was very humble. Once, many Chien Ren from other divisions came to wish him a Happy New Year, but Zhang Lao Chien Ren took a short break and excused himself just before they were about to kneel before him. He worried about Tao members catching cold and often reminded us to put on more clothes when he touched our cold hands. He loved us like his own children. He would save his delectable snacks for us and would make sure no one was left out. He was very close to us. Even when he was ill, he accommodated us. Words are unable to express our immense gratitude.
Zhang Lao Chien Ren was hospitalized for pneumonia at National Taiwan University Hospital in 2002. Knowing we were all worried about him, Zhang Lao Chien Ren encouraged us, “To cultivate the Tao is to cultivate a serene and pure heart. Let go (of your worries).” It was only he, with great virtues and the power to maintain his composure, who could truly let go. His daily cultivation, around-the-clock, of serenity and wisdom empowered him to stay calm and display the peace and light of his heart.
Returning to Heaven with perfect merits and achievements
Our honorable Zhang Lao Chien Ren truly let go of all at 10:31pm on June 20th, 2010. With a smile on his face, his soft body was in deep sleep. He mumbled a few days earlier to our Lord in Heaven, “My mission has been completed. They have all left for the Heavenly home and I want to go too; I am leaving.” (He was referring to Chien Ren from other divisions.)
Zhang Lao Chien Ren came to Taiwan across the ocean for the Tao for sixty-three years. He went from place to place for the Tao and bore the heavy responsibility of the dissemination of the Tao. He worried that members were too weak to face their trials and would lose faith in Tao. To remedy this, he carried their sins and prayed to God to deliver them from their trials. He devoted himself selflessly to God. We are all so honored to be his followers. It is with God’s grace that we are forever members of the Ji-Chu Zhong-Shu Division.
Zhang Lao Chien Ren kindly taught us on December 27th, 2000, “The sun and the moon love to stay bright, yet the clouds cover them. The river water loves to stay clear, yet the sand sullies it. The orchids love to stay pretty, yet autumn winds make them wither. Man’s heart loves calmness, yet desires disturb it. Covered with dust, it is impossible to stay clean.” A member asked, “How do we settle ourselves and expand the Tao in this tumultuous world?” Zhang Lao Chien Ren kindly replied, “The Tao never ceases working. A Tao cultivator should walk forward boldly on the path, and gradually focus less on earthly things so as to quiet ourselves and purify our mind and body. We will then be able to return to the Source, our Lord in Heaven, ending the cycle of rebirth once and for all.” He also instructed us, “There is only one truth and with one heart, we will not separate ourselves from others.” United, together, is the way we promote the Tao. All of us in Ji-Chu Zhong-Shu need to cultivate the Tao with the strong will to be heart-to-heart with Zhang Lao Chien Ren, seeking to reach his high virtues, and nurturing the Heavenly mission forever.