During my years as a wandering Daoist, I spent some time at Taiqing Temple on Jiugong Mountain in Hubei Province (湖北省，九宫山，太清宫). It was there I met Master Lin (林道长)。
I had been at the temple for a year when Master Lin arrived. He was from a small temple in Hunan Province and also spending time as a wandering priest. He was short and skinny and dressed in a strange combination of Daoist robes and regular street clothes. His thinning black and grey hair was pulled up in the traditional Daoist top-knot. He had a long white beard. At first, the temple management was reluctant to let him stay. He was over 50 years old at the time. Most temples in China are cautions about accepting older Daoists, as the temple becomes responsible for their medical costs. However, Master Lin was very humble and kind and did his best to help out around the temple. Those who got to know him took a liking to him, and spoke to the abbot on his behalf. Before long, he was granted permission to stay.
It wasn’t long before unusual things began to happen.
Everyone living in a Daoist temple is given a work assignment for part of each day. Master Lin’s job was to receive pilgrims in one of the temple’s small sanctuaries. People visit Daoist temples for different reasons. Some light incense and bow to the statues. Others consult with the priests, asking for advice. But something different was happening in Master Lin’s sanctuary.
Walking by the temple one day, I noticed Master Lin standing in the middle of his sanctuary with a pilgrim. He took a piece of the blank yellow paper usually burnt as offerings and rubbed it all over the pilgrim’s body. He then held it up to the sky for some time. Then Master Lin began to read, making predictions about what would happen to the pilgrim in the future. I saw him do this many times. Sometimes he would divine the future, other times he would diagnose illnesses, or suggest a certain herb or medical treatment. The other Daoists began to playfully joke that Master Lin could “read the book of heaven” (看天书) hearing and seeing things that we could not.
Word of Master Lin’s talent began to spread. One day a woman came to the temple. Her legs were very swollen. She was looking for the temple doctor, but he was away at the time. Someone pointed her at Master Lin. Master Lin sat the woman in a chair and examined her thoroughly. He then held his hands a few inches above her legs, and moved them through the air, tracing the lines of her meridians. Using his Qi energy to guide hers, he treated her swollen legs. After two visits, she was healed. That was the first time we had seen Master Lin use qigong to heal, but it was not the last.
Soon a group of Buddhist monks from a nearby temple visited us. One of the younger monks, a disciple to their abbot, was suffering from a hernia that caused his testicles to fill with fluid. He had great pain and difficulty walking. His qigong treatments took place in private, so I was unable to observe. But, and after a week or so, he had recovered. The Buddhist abbot came to thank Master Lin. After that, the Buddhists often came to visit. They brought Master Lin food and cigarettes (Master Lin smoked a profusely). The Buddhists tried to convince Master Lin to join their temple instead, but he said no, joking that he would not look good without hair.
Shortly after that, Master Lin began practicing Bigu (Daoist fasting). Unfortunately, the gifts he had for divination and healing didn’t carry over to fasting. The other Daoists urged him to stop smoking, but he didn’t. For a few weeks, nothing passed his lips but fruit and water and cigarette smoke. As you can imagine, after a few weeks, he was quite ill. After recovering in a local hospital, Master Lin left Jiugong Mountain to continue his wandering.
Meeting Master Lin showed me a side of Daoism that I hadn’t seen before. I knew that Daoism had roots in traditional shamanistic practices, but I hadn’t seen this in person. More than anything, I remember how humble and unassuming Master Lin was, and how he used his gifts to help others. I wonder where Master Lin is today, and if he still reads the book of heaven.