WANG ZHE (1112–1170), also known by his clerical name, Zhongyangzi; Daoist master of the Jin period (1115–1234) and founder of the Quanzhen sect. The third son of a great landowner in Xianyang, Shaanxi province, Wang received a Confucian education and entered the district school in Xianyang at the age of twenty. Following a disagreement with his teacher, however, Wang was denied permission to sit for the civil service examination and had to settle for success in the less prestigious military examination. Although at first enthusiastic about a career in the military, Wang grew discouraged by his failure to advance in rank and resolved to abandon the military for a life of seclusion on Mount Zhongnan. He practiced Buddhism for a time, but in the sixth month of 1159 he received secret oral teachings from Lü Chunyang and Zhong Liquan. Thereafter, he converted to Daoism and was ordained a priest (daoshi).
Accounts of Wang's career as a Daoist emphasize the ascetic character of his practice. On one occasion he is said to have slept on ice; at another time he dug a hole two meters deep in which to meditate, naming this austere cell "the grave of a living corpse." In 1163 he filled in this hole and built a small hermitage in the village of Liujiang, where he began to proselytize his newly attained religious faith. These efforts won him few converts at first, however, for he was regarded as little more than a madman. In 1167 he burned the hermitage and journeyed alone to Shandong province, where Ma Danyang of Ninghai became his disciple. Thereafter, in contrast to his experience in the Shaanxi region, many potential disciples came forward. Of these, Wang chose six to receive his transmission. With Ma Danyang they were called the Seven Perfected Ones of Quanzhen Daoism. Wang was successful in organizing five Daoist societies in the northern coastal area of Shandong. These include the Sanjiao Jinlian Hui (Golden Lotus Society of the Three Teachings) and the Sanzhai Pingdeng Hui (Equality Society of the Three Teachings). Following his success in Shandong, he decided to return to his home in Shaanxi. He set out with Ma Danying and four other disciples but died en route at Kaifeng in Henan province.
The Quanzhen school drew upon Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism, the so-called Three Teachings, for its doctrine and practice. With a strong affinity for Chan practices, it emphasized meditation, clerical itinerancy, and nonreliance on the scriptures. The teachings of this school are summarized in Wang's Lijiao shiwu lun. Wang Zhe was also an accomplished poet. Even today his anthologized poetry, especially the Zhongyang quanzhen ji and the Zhongyang jiaohua ji, are highly regarded.
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Translated from Japanese by James C. Dobbins