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Religions in China - San mao zhenjun 三茅真君, the Three Perfect Lords Mao


The Sanmao zhenjun 三茅真君 "The three perfect lords Mao" is a group of three immortals, namely Mao Ying 茅盈, Mao Gu 茅固 and Mao Zhong 茅衷. The epithet "perfect lords" (zhenjun 真君) was added on imperial edict during the Song period 宋 (960-1279).
The name Mao Yin first appears in an apocryphical classic from the Han period 漢 (206 BC-220 AD), the Shangshu diyan qi 尚書帝驗期 where it is said that everybody wanting to obtain a Daoist scripture rendered himself into the western country of the Queen Mother (Xiwangmu 西王母). Mao Ying obtained a classic on the mysterious perfection (xuanzhen zhi jing 玄真之經) and a treasure book (baoshu 寳書).
Ge Hong 葛洪 writes in his Shenxianzhuan 神仙傳 that Mao Ying (courtesy name Shushen 叔申) came from Xianyang 咸陽 (modern Xianyang, Shaanxi). During the time of the First Emperor of Qin 秦始皇帝 (r. 246/221-210 BC) he was able to produce an immortality pill on Mt. Huashan 華山 and thereupon ascended to Heaven on the back of a red Dragon. The First Emperor wanted to do the same as his surname, Ying 嬴, sounded similar to the personal name of the immortal. It is also said that Mao left his home with the age of 18 and spent 20 years on Mt. Hengshan 恒山. When he came back his father was enraged about his missing filial piety and wanted to beat him. But the cane broke atwo on the immortal's back. The astonished father asked him if he was able to reawaken the death but Mao Ying answered that this was only possible if the death had been morally integer during lifetime. He left then on a winged cart and departed for Mt. Gouqu 句曲山 in the south. He was erected a temple, and people from far and near came to venerate him and to pray to help them in suffering. The mountain was later renamed Mt. Maoshan 茅山.
Mao Ying’s younger brothers Gu (courtesy name Jiwei 季偉) and Zhong (courtesy name Sihe 思和) served as high officials to the Han dynasty. Only in the age of 70 or 80 they left their home in search for their older brother. He gave them back their youth and they started meditating in a cavern at the foot of Mt. Maoshan for more than 40 years, after which they also became immortals. Laozi thereupon bestowed Mao Ying the title of Taiyuan zhenren Dongyue shangqing siming zhenjun 太元真人東嶽上卿司命真君 "Perfect lord controlling the lives, superior chamberlain of the Eastern Summit, true man of the great origin" and entrusted him with the registers of the souls in the regions of Wu 吳 and Yue 越 (southeast China). His brother Gu was entitled as Lord Dinglu 定錄君 "Fixing the records" and Zhong as Lord Baoming 保命君 "Preserving life".
In the Song period encyclopedia Taiping guangji 太平廣記 and the reprint series Guang Han-Wei congshu 廣漢魏叢書 the Shenxianzhuan is quoted very differently: Lord Mao, it is said there, came from the region of Youzhou 幽州 (region of modern Beijing) and studied the Dao in the region of Qi 齊 (modern Shandong). According to Daoist encyclopedia Yunji qiqian 雲笈七籤 the author of one biography of the Mao brothers was the Jin period 晉 (265-420) Daoist Li Zhonghou 李中候 (i. e. Li Zun 李遵), an adherent of the Shangqing tradition 上清. In that biography it is said that their ancestor called Meng 濛 (courtesy name Chucheng 初成), recognizing that the traditional Zhou dynasty 周 (11th. cent.-221 BC) would soon find its end, rendered himself to the Master of the Spirit Valley (Guigu xiansheng 鬼谷先生) and thereafter to Mt. Huashan. His son Yan 偃 (courtesy name Taineng 泰能) was an official of King Zhao[xiang] of Qin 秦昭襄王 (r. 306-251) and was given the title of marquis, just like his son Jia 嘉 (courtesy name Zhenglun 正倫). But the father of the Mao brothers, called Zuo 祚 (courtesy name Yanying 彦英), preferred the private life of a peasant. His son Ying rendered himself to Mt. Hengshan where he studied Laozi's Daodejing 道德經 and the Book of Changes (Yijing 易經) and nourished himself from roots and herbs. A spirit revealed him that he had to render himself to the Royal Lord (wangjun 王君) in the west where he would obtain knowledge about the Dao. He learned 20 years with him before he proceeded farther to the west to Mt. Guishan 龜山 where he met the Queen Mother who finally taught him the true Dao.
The book Maoshanzhi 茅山志 quotes the text incised in a stele erected by the Shangqing master Zhang Yi 張繹 in 522, on which this story is reported slightly different.
The Tang period book Jixianzhuan 集仙傳 reports that during the Han period a large group of deities came down to the house of Mao Ying, bestowed him caps, jewels, bells and a divine mushroom (shenzhi 神芝), as well as a patent of investiture. These presents made him a deity with rights and duties. His brothers were likewise appointed to celestial offices.
During the Song period, first in 1102 and then in 1249, the three brothers were officially enshrined in the Daoist pantheon with the voluminous titles of Taiyuan miaodao chongxu shengyou zhenren Dongyue shangqing siming shenjun 太元妙道衝虛聖祐真人東嶽上卿司命神君 "Divine lord controlling the lives, superior chamberlain of the Eastern Summit, perfect man, holy reliever of the dashing voidness, of the miraculous Dao of the great origin" for Mao Ying (Da Mao jun 大茅君 "the Great Lord Mao"), Dinglu youjin zhidao chongjing deyou zhenjun 定錄右禁至道衝静德祐真君 "Perfect lord, virtuous reliever of the dashing calmnes, of the attained Dao, restrainer to the right fixing the records" for Mao Gu (Zhong Mao jun 中茅君 "the Middle Lord Mao"), and Sanguan baoming weimiao chonghui renyou zhenjun 三官保命微妙衝惠仁祐真君 "Perfect lord, unselfish reliver of the dashing benevolence, of the subtle prodigy, preserving the lives in the three offices" for Mao Zhong (Shao/Xiao Mao jun 小茅君 "the Young Lord Mao").

Source: Qing Xitai 卿希泰 (ed. 1994), Zhongguo daojiao 中國道教 (Shanghai: Zhishi chubanshe), Vol. 3, pp. NNN.

August 3, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail