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Since ancient times only one path leads to Mt. Huashan
Mt. Huashan, also known as Western Mt. Huashan in Shaanxi Province, is the pinnacle of awe-inspiring precipices and has been revered as the King of the Five Sacred Mountains of China. [Note: The Five Sacred Mountains include Eastern Mt. Taishan in Shandong, Southern Mt. Hengshan in Hunan, Western Mt. Huashan in Shaanxi, Northern Mt. Hengshan in Shanxi, and Central Mt. Songshan in Henan.] Mt. Huashan is situated south of Huayin City, with Mt. Zhongnan further south and the Yellow River and the Wei River located to the north. A Chinese poet once admiringly described Mt. Huashan’s breathtaking views as “Soaring above the white clouds and over-shadowing the Yellow River.”
According to Shi Ji (The Historical Records, written by the noted Chinese historian Si Maqian), many of the most celebrated Chinese kings and emperors had graced this mountain, the very mountain of mountains in China, with their visits. The Yellow Emperor and Yao and Shun, the two legendary sage kings in ancient China, were two of those dignitaries. The first emperor of the Qin Dynasty, Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty, Emperor Xuan Zong of the Tang Dynasty, as well as several more of the most celebrated emperors, chose Mt. Huashan as a place for a royal ceremony, for worshipping gods and the royal ancestors. One wonders why anyone would choose Mt. Huashan as a favorite site for royal worshipping ceremonies. After all, to hold a worship ceremony, one has to traverse a long, winding path of 12 kilometers (approximately 8 miles) to reach the top of Mt. Huashan. As a result, the phrase, “since ancient times, only one path leads to Mt. Huashan” has been used to describe the path along the dangerous, precipitous cliffs of this mountain.
For thousands of years, discussions abounded about the perilous, difficult, and lone path leading up Mt. Huashan. Few can come to a definitive conclusion why no other path leading to the mountaintop has been built. In this article I would like to probe into the geological challenges, as well as the spiritual inspirations, of this “one path” that leads to the top of Mt. Huashan.
In fact, the formation of Mt. Huashan is a challenge for geological research. The mountain is essentially a massive piece of granite, a gigantic piece of rock. According to The Book of Mountains and Seas, Mt. Tai Huashan, today’s Mt. Huashan, was whittled into a cube that measures 40,000 feet and ten meters. While many mountains were formed by the extruding movement of the tectonic plates in the earth's crust, the movement of the earth’s crust obviously did not form such a single, huge piece like the solid rock Mt. Huashan. So who "whittled" the shape of this single piece of rock?
Many traditional Chinese fables have speculated about the formation of Mt. Huashan. One of the fables claims that Julin, a Chinese version of Hercules, created the mountain. Another one of the legends goes like this: Once upon a time, before Mt. Huashan was formed, Mt. Huashan and Mt. Shouyang were one mountain. One day the Monkey King, from the novel Journey to the West, told a joke that caused a divine guest of the Queen of Heaven’s peach banquet to burst into laughter. The guest spilled half of the elixir from his cup, which flooded the human realm. The Huashan and Shouyang mountains blocked the elixir, damming the flood and spreading it in China, the middle earth, also called the Middle Kingdom. At the command of the Jade Emperor of Heaven, Julin came down to the human realm to divert the flood. With his left hand grabbing Mt. Huashan and his right foot stepping on the base of Mt. Shouyang, Julin gathered all his strength and, with one roar, he split the mountain into two. The flood that had risen to more than 1,000 feet was instantly released and surged between the two mountains toward the east. This fable seems somewhat credible, because even today there is a giant pothole at the base of Mt. Shouyang that resembles a giant footprint. There is also a geographic formation on the eastern peak of Mt. Huashan, resembling a giant palm print. The palm print on Mt. Huashan, or “Cliff of A God’s Palm”, was considered the most preferred of eight most marvelous natural landscapes east of the Great Wall. Wang Wei, a noted Tang Dynasty poet, wrote a poem praising Julin’s ingenious work of creating Mt. Huashan and Mt. Shouyang.
Since ancient times, gods and humans have always coexisted in Chinese fables. The Chinese have forever associated all the mountains and rivers in China with the beliefs in Buddhas, Taos, and other deities. There is virtually no mountain or river in China that does not have at least a Taoist or Buddhist temple on or beside it. There is a common saying: “It is not the height of the pinnacle but the deities that dwell there that makes a mountain well-known.” Such mountains inspire and attract people to their spiritual charms.
I believe that Mt. Huashan is the center of a Daoist energy field. Since I am going to talk about Taoism, I may as well mention that the highest realm of Taoist cultivation is “Zhen” or Truthfulness, seeking eventual “Quan Zhen” or Complete Truthfulness.
Another interesting phenomenon is the shape of Mt. Huashan. From a distance it looks like a lotus. Because in Chinese language, “flower” sounds almost the same as “Chinese” or “Hua,” some say they named the mountain “Mt. Chinese” instead of “Mt. Flower.” In the cultivation community, the Lotus is a sacred flower. That is one reason why Mt. Huashan is revered as a scared mountain. There are five peaks on Mt. Huashan, pointing in five different directions. The geographic locations of the five peaks correspond to the Theory of the Five Elements, of which everything in the universe is believed to be composed, i.e., Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth. In addition, each of the five mountain directions corresponds to an element in the Theory of the Five Elements. West corresponds to Metal, North to Water, South to Fire, East to Wood, and the Center corresponds to Earth. The unique geographic locations of the five peaks of this mountain suggest a careful and deliberate design of this seemingly coincidental work of nature. If the universe is composed of the five elements, it looks like Mt. Huashan is by itself a small universe.
According to many historical records, many cultivator-turned-immortals live at Mt. Huashan. Among all the cultivators living at Mt. Huashan throughout the ages, Chen Tuan, Hao Datong and He Yuanxi are the best-known ones. Shao Kangjie (or Shao Yong), the famous master of the “Art of Changes” (I Ching) and the author of the “Plum Blossom Poem” during the Song dynasty was the fourth generation disciple of Chen Tuan. This disciple’s ingenious talent demonstrates Chen Tuan’s unusually high cultivation level.
Chen Tuan was proficient in the Art of Changes. Besides the ability to levitate, Chen Tuan also possessed the supernormal capability of Precognition and Retro-cognition. He once wrote, “The top of Mt. Huashan is my palace. Once I step out of the palace I need to walk in the air and ride in the wind. There may not be trials that lead to the top of Mt. Huashan, but I have white clouds that bring me there.”
According to a historical record, Chen Tuan met the Initial Emperor of the Song Dynasty before he established the Song Dynasty. This is what one of the sayings tells us: “When the wars prevailed in China, the mother of the Initial Emperor of the Song Dynasty and his brother put them on a yoke and carried the yoke over her shoulder while fleeing the wars. They met Chen Tuan halfway, who composed an impromptu poem, “Who said China had no emperor? The emperor sits in a yoke over the woman’s shoulder.”” As for Hao Datong, he was the one of the famous Seven Taoists of the North Song Dynasty, and established the Tao School of Huashan. He Yuanxi was the one who built the frightful “Trial in the Sky.” If we have to guess which cultivator-turned-immortal carved the words into the “Cliff of Complete Truthfulness,” it would have to be He Yuanxi since only he could build the “Trial in the Sky.”
In order to reach the highest realm of Taoist cultivation, the state of “Immortal of Truthfulness,” a Taoist cultivator needs to pass many tests with a will that is so strong that even the “Second Thought Rock” could not stop his cultivation. He needs to establish his righteous thoughts and persevere with a strong determination. He must pass “Overlook over A Thousand Feet”, “Blue Dragon Ridge”, “Gold Lock Gate”, the “Trial in the Sky”, and finally the “Cliff of Complete Truthfulness” to attain to the highest realm of Taoist cultivation: “Immortal of Truthfulness.” Those challenges of this journey prior to obtaining the Right Fruit in cultivation are comparable to those challenges for the quest cited in the classic novel Journey to the West.
On a different note, while hiking in perilous territory, many unexplainable phenomena might crop up that can reinforce a cultivator’s faith in divinity, increase righteous thoughts and strengthen determination. There are four unresolved mysteries on Mt. Huashan. The first mystery is “the Jar inside the Cave”; the second, the “Pool Facing the Sky”; the third, “Platform where Paper Money for the Gods Flies Upward,” and the fourth, “Cliff of Complete Truthfulness.”
“The Jar inside the Cave” refers to a cave containing a large jar, a jar much bigger than the opening of the cave. In addition, the jar is in perfect condition, without any sign of repair. How did this jar get into the cave without sustaining any damage? Did the jar come into existence before the cave, or the other way around?
“The Pool Facing the Sky” was located on top of the South Peak, the highest peak of all five peaks on Mt. Huashan. The pool measures one square meter and no more than one foot in depth. The Taoist cultivators called it the Taiyi Pool (or The First Pool.) Despite its humble size, the “Pool Facing the Sky” has some mysterious characteristics. The Pool never dries out, even during the drought season, or overflows during the rainy or flood seasons. The water inside the Pool always remains the same level all year round. Since the “Pool Facing the Sky” is on a mountain peak higher than 2,000 meters in altitude, and the peak is mainly made of granite, where does the water come from?
Every March, all devotees visiting Mt. Huashan will come to the “Platform where Paper Money for the Gods Flies Upward.” Paper money for the gods is a type of yellow, flimsy paper, used to worship the gods. The devotees shred the flimsy papers and throw it down from the platform. Because of gravity, the thrown shreds should always fall down, toward the bottom of the mountain. However, paper money for the gods thrown from this platform always fly upward into the air, as if a divine power sent them up to the sky, making this the reason is this platform is named “Platform where Paper Money Flies Upward.” Another fascinating phenomenon adds to the mystery of the platform - there are always flocks of swallows, coming from nowhere, pecking at the shreds. When there are more shreds, more swallows appear, pecking at the shreds. When there are fewer shreds, there are fewer swallows. All the swallows disappear with the last piece of the shreds. Why do shreds fly up instead of down? Why are swallows here attracted to the shreds? Where do swallows come from at this high altitude?
I have already described the mysterious carvings on the “Cliff of Complete Truthfulness,” so I’m not going to repeat them here.
All these unsolved mysteries are tangible, verified facts. None of them is fiction. In my humble opinion, only through a righteous faith in gods can one resolve these mysteries, because all of these unsolved phenomena are beyond the principles of the human world. This is why I say for those who seek the Tao, these unsolved mysteries experienced on Mt. Huashan can reinforce their faith in cultivation.
I’d like to think that the common phrase “Only one way leads to Mt. Huashan” means there is only one road for man - a road of cultivation. This difficult journey from “Qing Ke Lawn” to “Cliff of Complete Truthfulness” is actually a metaphor for the journey of a life returning to its true origin. The difficult path to the “Cliff of Complete Truthfulness” is another metaphor for the difficult cultivation road that leads a cultivator into the realm of “Completely Truthful.” The road of cultivation may be difficult, but it is accompanied by joy and hope.
* Tian Xin is a contributor at PureInsight.org .
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