Ancient Chinese Stories of Cultivation: Zhao Sheng, the Tao Seeker
1. Triumphing over Six Tests in a Row
In ancient China, there were a lot of cultivators, but few of them were able to attain the status of a divine being. This is because cultivation is very challenging and masters expect their disciples to adhere to very strict and difficult standards. Without an exceptionally strong resolve and will, a cultivator will not be able to complete his cultivation.
Once upon a time in ancient China, there was a man named Zhao Sheng. Longing for the Tao, Zhao Sheng traveled a long distance to Sichuan Province in western China to cultivate in Taoism under Zhang Daoling's tutelage. In order to confirm Zhao Sheng's will, Zhang Daoling arranged a series of tests.
One day Zhao Sheng arrived at Zhang Daoling's door. He explained the purpose of his visit to the doorman and begged him to tell Zhang Daoling. To his astonishment, the doorman did not go tell Zhang Daoling about him. Instead, he showered Zhao Sheng with curses. Determined to cultivate in Taoism, Zhao Sheng did not lose his temper at all. He decided that he would not leave until he became Zhang's disciple. He slept outside the door that night and for the next 40 nights as well. The doorman cursed at him for 40 days. Finally, Zhang Daoling agreed to meet Zhao and allowed him to stay. However, Master Zhang ordered him to live on the paddies to work as a scarecrow and drive birds and beasts from the crops. Zhao obeyed without hesitation.
It was windy and cold in the field at night. Wild animals made terrifying noises that sent chills up and down one's spine. Yet Zhao was very devoted. He made sure not a grain was lost to animals. One day at sunset when he had just driven away a flock of birds, Zhao saw an unusually beautiful young maiden approaching him. The lady told him that she was walking to a village far away and asked for lodging overnight. Zhao Sheng thought that, as a cultivator, he should help people in need. He invited the lady to sleep in his thatched shack, but he sat in the field alone until dawn. The next day the lady complained of foot pain and stayed for a few more days. At night the lady tried to seduce him, but Zhao Sheng's heart was set on cultivation and he was not tempted at all.
Next, Master Zhang ordered Zhao Sheng to go to the mountain and get firewood. As soon as Zhao took off, he saw over 30 pots of gold on the road. He seemed completely oblivious to the gold. In fact, he passed the pots by and did not even turn his head to examine the gold. When he got up on the mountain, three roaring tigers charged at him at the same time, as though they were about to devour him. At the pivotal moment, Zhao did not panic. He thought, "I am Master Zhang's disciple. Master is watching over me! Nothing will harm me!" Indeed, the tigers tore his clothes and licked at his face, but they did not bite him at all. Seeing that he was fearless, the tigers lowered their heads and abandoned him.
Next, Master Zhang ordered Zhao Sheng to go to the market and buy some fabric. After Zhao selected the fabric and paid for it, the vendor accused him of not paying for the goods. Shouting at Zhao, the vendor made a scene and attracted a lot of onlookers. Zhao did not argue with him or defend himself. Instead, he took off his robe as a payment for the fabric. Suddenly the vendor admitted that he had made a mistake.
One day when Zhao Sheng was watching over the crops, there came a beggar from afar. The beggar was in rags and covered with dirt and filth. There were abscesses and pus all over his body. His stench was so foul that it was suffocating. The beggar approached Zhao and begged for food. Zhao was very sympathetic toward the beggar. He removed his own clothes and offered them to the beggar. He offered the beggar his own lunch and the food from his pantry. The old beggar was touched by Zhao's kindness, but he did not touch Zhao's stores of food.
2. Picking Peaches
Zhang Daoling had 201 disciples, but he tested them in order to impart the Tao to the genuine cultivator among them.
One day he led his disciples to a ridge named Staircase to the Clouds on Guming Mountain. He pointed at a peach tree growing in a crag and said, "I shall impart the Great Tao to the person who can pick peaches from that tree." The peach tree was growing in the middle of a very steep, rough rock between the clouds and the depths of a valley. Most of the disciples looked down at the tree from the ridge and were bathed in a cold sweat. They shied away from the challenge and replied, "It is impossible, Master."
Only Zhao Sheng thought differently. He thought, "Since Master told us to go get the peaches, there must be a way. Besides, my master is here. He would never let me fall into the abyss and die. A cultivator must have faith in his master and the Tao before he can reach the Great Tao." He made a leap of faith towards the peach tree and landed right on the tree. Everyone was shocked by his action.
One by one Zhao picked the peaches on the tree and threw them towards Master Zhang. Zhao picked 202 peaches in total, so Master Zhang and his 201 disciples would each have one. After Zhao finished picking the peaches, Master Zhang reached out to pull him up. All the disciples thought, "How can he possibly reach him from here?" But before their eyes Master Zhang's arms extended their length by three times and pulled Zhao up to the ridge.
After Zhao Sheng ate his peach, Master Zhang told his disciples, "Zhao Sheng was able to land on the tree because his mind was righteous. Now I, as your master, will try to do the same and see if I can make it. It will be great if I can pick a large peach from the tree. If I cannot land on the tree, I am not worthy to be your master and I shall die trying without regret." Everyone but Zhao Sheng tried to persuade Master Zhang not to do such a dangerous thing. Ignoring their pleas, Master Zhang made a leap, but he missed the tree and fell into the valley. Everyone turned pale with shock. For a very long time no one made any sound. Everyone decided that their master must have died and started weeping.
Zhao Sheng, too, was overcome with grief. There is a Chinese saying, "Master for a day; Father for a lifetime." If anything should happen to Master, how could he live on as a disciple? But then he thought, "Master is great, he is at a very high level. At the bottom of each valley there must be solid ground, even the deepest one. It is nothing to a cultivator that has attained the Tao. As a disciple, I must follow Master closely in all circumstances. I must not abandon Master and live alone." He closed his eyes and made another leap of faith into the valley.
Zhao lost the feeling of time. When he finally landed, he was not injured at all. In fact, he landed right in front of Master Zhang, who smiled at him as though he had been expecting him. There was a bed and a chamber there. Master Zhang said, "I knew you would come!" Master Zhang imparted the Great Tao to him for three days before they returned home. All other disciples were amazed and saddened by their loss of opportunity to obtain the Great Tao.
Finally, Master Zhang and Zhao Sheng ascended into the sky in broad daylight and became immortals. All the other disciples watched as they soared into the sky until they disappeared into the clouds.
Source: The Biography of Immortals