Sun Buer 孙不二 (birth name Sun Fuchun 孙富春) was born into a wealthy family in Shandong Province in 1119. She was educated well as a child and enjoyed poetry and calligraphy. In her teens she was married to Ma Yu (马钰) the son of a prominent local family. Together they raised 3 sons. The family lived quite a normal life. Then they met Daoist master Wang Chongyang.
Following the Way
In 1167, when Sun Fuchun was 51 years old, the Daoist teacher Wang Chongyang (王重阳) built a hermitage on a piece of her husband’s land. Wang had founded a new spiritual lineage called Complete Perfection Daoism (全真道). Ma Yu became a disciple, requiring divorce from Sun Fuchun and a vow of celibacy.
Initially, Sun Fuchen chose not to follow the Dao. If Sun Fuchen became a disciple, it would help her husband on his spiritual path by freeing him from his duty to her. However, becoming a Daoist ascetic would require leaving behind not just her financial security and social status, but also her friends, parents, and children.
Two years later, Sun Fuchun became a disciple of Master Wang, and the only female member of the seven first-generation Complete Perfection disciples that came to be known as the Seven Perfected (七真). She was given the Daoist name “not two” (Buer, 不二) describing oneness with the Dao. After Master Wang’s death, Sun Buer traveled west, braving rain, snow and the dangers of the road. Three years later, she arrived in present-day Shaanxi Province. There, she practiced solitary meditation and attained union with the Dao.
In 1179, Sun Buer moved to Luoyang in Henan Province where she lived in a mountain cave hermitage with another female Daoist known as Immortal Maiden Feng (风仙姑). It is said that Feng lived in the upper cave, while Sun Buer lived in the lower cave, and that the two protected themselves from temptation (外鬼) by throwing rocks at any men who passed by.
Sun Buer and her disciples established a Quanzhen community at the Cave of Immortal Maiden Feng. On the twenty-ninth day of the twelfth month of 1182, having predicted her own death, she washed herself, put on clean clothing, and came before her disciples. She recited a poem. Then sitting in lotus position, Sun Buer left her mortal body. Legend has it that at the moment of her death, her former husband Ma Yu (who was far away) saw her riding up to heaven on a five-colored cloud. He tore off his clothes and danced with joy, celebrating her accomplishment.
Ma Yu is not the only one to celebrate Sun Buer. There are shrines to her in some Daoist temples. During later dynasties, she appeared as a character in a number of famous plays and novels. Many Daoist texts refer to her as Primordial Goddess Sun (孙元君) and the Primordial Goddess of Clear Stillness (清静元君) considering her to have transcended the human condition.
The Complete Perfection movement continued to grow after Sun Buer’s death. Monasteries and temples were established throughout northern China, and within 100 years of Sun Buer’s death, there were over 20,000 Daoist monastics, 6,000 of which are believed to have been women. The Complete Perfection lineage is the primary branch of monastic Daoism today.
There are several texts associated with Sun Buer. They include poetry, and instructions on female Daoist practice. However, is it questionable which of these work were written by her and which were simply inspired by her. The following poem is from a 14th century anthology of Daoist poetry called “Lingering overtones of a calling crane” (鸣鹤余音).
Be free from grief and anxiety.
A solitary cloud and wild crane beyond constraint.
Within a thatched hut,
Leisurely read the golden books.
Forests and streams outside the window,
At the edge of the rolling hills, water and bamboo.
Luminous moon and clear wind;
Become worthy to be their companion.
– Louis Komjathy translation
Throughout her life, Sun Buer was wife, mother, hermit, teacher, immortal, and goddess. She is an inspiration to all Daoists.