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Master Daoji

Venerable Daoji (1130-1207AD), also known as Huyin, Yuansao or Ji Dian(literally “Crazy Ji”), was honorifically referred to as Ji Gong (literally “FatherJi”). With the secular name Li Xiuyuan, he was a prominent monk in South Song Dynasty (960-1279AD). Born in Taizhou, Zhejiang Province (present day Tiantai County, Zhejiang Province) in the eighteenth year of Shaoxing period, South Song Dynasty(1148AD) under the reign of Emperor Gao, Venerable Daoji lived sixty years and passed away in the second year of Jiading period, South Song Dynasty(1209AD). Venerable Daoji was tonsured at eighteen years of age by Venerable Huiyuan, or “Master Xiatang”, at Lingyin Temple in Lin’an (present day Hangzhou), and eventually passed away in Jingci Temple in Lin’an. Part of his sarira (Buddhist relics) after cremation was buried in Hupao, Hangzhou, where Ji Gong Pagoda was built later.

After becoming a monk in Lingyin Temple, Venerable Daoji behaved in departure of the common lifestyle of a monk. Instead of sitting in meditation or reading Buddhist sutras, he dressed shabbily, and drank and consumed meat, ignoring sarcasm and criticism from others. In a wild and eccentric way, he wandered in secular districts and played with children on business streets. The unorthodox Venerable Daoji was seen as an outcast by both the monks and the common, and was rejected in particular by monks of Lingyin Temple. The temple supervisor at that time, for instance, reported Daoji’s transgression of monastic codes to the abbot, suggesting that he should be expelled from the temple. The abbot, Venerable Huiyuan, however, replied that a “lunatic” such as Daoji should not be bound by the rules and regulations which are for the “normal”, and that Buddhism, as a liberal religion aiming to deliver all beings from torment, should be tolerant enough to host a crazy monk. Daoji has been staying in Lingyin Temple thereafter, and was called “Ji Dian” (literally “Crazy Ji”) or “Ji Fengzi” (literally “Ji the Madman”). He moved to Jingci Temple after Abbot Venerable Huiyuan passed away.

Ji Gong is a legendary monk that is well-known to the Chinese. Active among the common in his day, Daoji was remembered through anecdotes about him in folkloric stories. Bearing strong compassion for the people for their sufferings, Daoji roamed widely and had travelled to Zhejiang, Jiangxi and Anhui Provinces, where he mingled with local people, saving lives, assisting good people in need and punishing villains. He was a skillful medical doctor, too, and used to heal incurable diseases for elderly monks and the poor to relieve them from ailment and pain. His virtue was thus widely praised by the people, and himself referred to as “the living Buddha” and “Ji Gong” (literally, Father Ji). He was also the hero of many miraculous stories. It is said, for instance, that following the public call he drafted to raise funds for Jingci Temple, which had been destroyed in fire in 1204AD, a large number of logs were donated to the temple, transported through underground waterway and extracted from Xiangji Well within the Temple. This well was later referred to as Shenyun Well (literally “Well of Divine Transportation”) and became one of the famous historical sites in Jingci Temple.

According to Venerable Daoji himself, he was born in a family of officials. Venerable Jujian, his deciphal's peer in Dharma, recorded in Inscription to Stupa of Huyin Yuansao that he is “grandson of Li Wenhe, Commandant of Linhai, Tiantai County”. His family had been serving as officials for generations, well-regarded for honesty and integrity, and had devoted themselves to Buddhism and practiced merits across generations. From Daoji’s family came many famous lay Buddhists, such as Daoji’s father Li Maochun, a sincere, honest and benevolent man who engaged in business after giving up his official post.

Venerable Daoji became monk and studied Buddhism as disciple of Venerable Huiyuan, or “Master Xiatang”, at Lingyin Temple, and was a student of Linji School of Buddhism (one of the five major schools under Chan Buddhism). He was later listed as the fiftieth greatest Chan Buddhist, and the sixth greatest among the Yangqi Sect. He soon reached enlightenment under guidance of Venerable Huiyuan, and changed his behaviour drastically after enlightenment to that resembles a madman. Venerable Huiyuan, however, knew that he was no ordinary person, and therefore offered protection to him when he was rejected by all others. Although Daoji did not leave behind any work about Chan Buddhism, his extraordinary spiritual attainment has been reflected in excerpts of various biographies and novels about his life.

So far there has not been enough historical work that gives comprehensive, detailed and accurate records of the life of Venerable Daoji. Existing records of Daoji could be found scattering in various biographies and novels. Daoji was featured in various contemporary film and television works such as the Chinese television series Ji Gong (1985), starring famous actor You Benchang (1933-). Apart from biographical materials, Venerable Daoji’s Autobiography also offers invaluable information to the study of his life.


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