(Minghui.org) Fei Changfang was from Runan (in today’s Henan Province) in the Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD). When serving as a market officer in Runan, he often saw an old man selling medicine at the market. The man always charged the same for his medicines, and all the diseases he treated were completely cured. He would tell the patients what they would spit out after taking his medicine and exactly when their illnesses would be cured. Everything he said later proved true. Because of this, many people came for help and he made lots of money every day. However, he gave most of the money to the poor people on the street who were hungry or cold.

The old man always hung an empty wine gourd in front of his store. After sunset when the market was empty, he would jump into the gourd. No one on the market knew about this except for Fei, who could see what the old man did from his place upstairs.

“This old man must be someone with extraordinary abilities,” Fei thought to himself. So he cleaned up the area around the medicine store every day and laid out a variety of delicacies for the old man. After he did this for a long time, one day the old man said to him, “You may come to me after the sunset when no one is around.”

Fei went to the old man as he was told. “When you see me jumping into the wine gourd, please do the same after me,” the old man said. Sure enough, Fei followed the old man and jumped into the gourd.

As soon as jumped in, Fei no longer saw the gourd, but magnificent buildings and temples, with pavilions one after another. There were also gates and winding paths, guarded by dozens of servants.

“I used to be a heavenly being who served as an officer,” the old man said to Fei. “I was temporarily demoted to the human world due to some negligence in my duty of care. You are someone who can be taught, and that’s why you were able to see what I did [jumping into the gourd].”

Fei was totally overwhelmed. He knelt down on the ground and kowtowed to the old man. “I’m only an ordinary human being, deeply buried by karmic debts. I’m very grateful for your mercy and feel as if I had been reborn from a coffin, like a new sprout growing from a dead tree,” Fei said to the old man. “My body is covered with dirt and it stinks. And my mind is filled with stubborn thoughts. It’s an extremely rare blessing for someone like me to be shown such kindness and mercy from an immortal divine being.”

“I have been checking on you carefully and deem that you are a rare person suitable for the cultivation of Tao,” the old man said to Fei. “Please do not tell anyone about what happened today.”

One day, the old man came upstairs to bid farewell to Fei. “I have some wine downstairs and would like to drink with you.” Fei sent someone to fetch the wine, but no one was able to pick up the vessel; even dozens of people could not move it a bit. Fei went to tell the old man. The old man smiled, went downstairs, and picked up the vessel with one finger. The vessel was only the size of a mussel, but they drank till dawn the next day and did not finish it.

The old man said to Fei, “I will be leaving soon. Do you want to come with me?”

“My strong willingness is beyond words,” Fei said eagerly, “but how can I leave without my family knowing what I’m doing?”

“That’s easy,” the old man said and took out a piece of bamboo pole, “Take this home and tell your family that you are sick. After a few days, put it in your bed where you sleep, and you can come over then.”

Fei went home and pretended he was sick. A few days later, he put the bamboo pole where he slept and stood on the side. The bamboo pole turned into a lifeless body of Fei. His family thought he was dead and buried him in great grief.

Fei left with the old man, but he did not know where they were going. On the first day, the old man took Fei to a place where he was ambushed by tigers. The old man disappeared. The tigers made ferocious gestures as if they were ready to tear him apart, but Fei remained calm and undisturbed. After some time, the old man took him into a stone chamber and left. On the top of the chamber was a huge boulder, several meters square, precariously hanging above him, with a number of snakes chewing on the tying rope that was about to break. Fei sat calmly under the boulder with a clean and peaceful mind. Then the old man came back and said to Fei, “You are really teachable!”

Then, the old man took Fei to a place with something very filthy like feces and told him to eat the substance. By now, Fei had already passed a number of tests, such as the test of his faith in the old man with the gourd, the test of his honesty with the wine vessel, the test of fear with the tigers, and the life and death test with the hanging boulder. However, when it came to this test, Fei was overwhelmed by his notions as described earlier–a smelly body covered with dirt, along with a mind full of stubborn thoughts... Looking at the crawling maggots and overcome by the unbearable foul smell, he could not do what the old man told him to do.

The old man sighed and said, “You can’t become an immortal after all. But you will be a person with supernormal powers and skills on earth, who enjoys a lifespan of hundreds of years in the human world.” He then handed a sealed scroll of charms and spells to Fei and said, “You can use these charms to expel ghosts and spirits and cure diseases.” With these words, the old man told Fei to ride home on a bamboo pole which had transformed from a green dragon.

Fei thought he was with the old man for only a number of days. But upon arriving home, he found over ten years had passed. His family members were surprised to see him and could not believe that he was still alive. Fei told his family that what they buried earlier was only a bamboo pole. To confirm, his family members dug up his grave and reopened his coffin, and found what Fei said was indeed true.

After returning home, Fei used the charms given by the immortal old man to drive out demons and cure diseases for locals. It was said that he later lost the charms and was killed by a group of ghosts.

According to ordinary concepts and notions, when the old immortal told his chosen disciple to eat the filthy substance, it was indeed incomprehensible. But when thinking about this further, we may realize the guiding principles of cultivation practice toward the divine are beyond the knowledge and theories of ordinary society, and they may not be restricted by everyday notions, either.

In ancient times, the majority of cultivation practices were teaching the assistant souls of practitioners, and they did not teach many cultivation principles either. When a Taoist master found a person of great virtue and good inborn qualities, he would usually conduct a series of tests without the person being aware of them. If the person passed all the tests, the master would unlock the disciple’s divine power and reveal to him principles at that level. Those who failed the tests would abort cultivation halfway.

Chosen by the immortal old man as a disciple, Fei had relatively good enlightenment quality. For example, he was not hindered by human notions on numerous occasions, including being told to jump into the wine gourd, to leave home and follow the master, be surrounded by ferocious tigers, or sit under a huge boulder precariously hanging right above him. However, in the last test, his enlightenment quality plunged as he was moved by human sentiments about likes and dislikes, cleanliness and filthiness. As a result, he lost the opportunity to become an immortal.

Fei’s failure explains a principle of cultivation. Regardless of whether a system is Buddhist or Taoist, either in ancient times or modern society, a cultivator’s complete faith in his master and whether he follows instructions play a crucial key to success in cultivation. It is also the ultimate manifestation of one’s level of enlightenment quality.


Book of the Later Han

Chinese version available

Category: Traditional Culture