The Folding Immortal

In the Hushi Pass of Suzhou(滸市關), there was a man named Chen Yiyuan(陳一元) who left home to pursue the Dao. He constructed a house solely for cultivating his practices. He would sit alone in the house, locking himself inside. At first, he stopped eating porridge, then abstained from fruits and vegetables, drinking only water from the Stone Lake. He instructed his son to bring a jug of water each month. On the second month, when his son came to visit, the jug remained outside the door, but the water had dried up. His son refilled the jug for him.

A scholar named Sun Jingzhai(孫敬齋), upon hearing of this, greatly admired Chen Yiyuan. He wrote a note and placed it under the jug’s cover, asking if Chen Yiyuan would agree to meet and requesting the date for the meeting. He felt anxious afterward, fearing Chen Yiyuan’s refusal. When he visited again the next month, he found the note still there on the jug with an additional line below it, saying, ‘You may come to meet on the seventh day of the second month.’ Sun Jingzhai was overjoyed and, on the appointed day, went along with Chen’s son to meet Chen Yiyuan.

Chen Yiyuan appeared to be around forty years old, while his son had already aged. Sun Jingzhai inquired about where to begin cultivation, and Chen said, ‘Sit quietly for a while and count the thoughts in your mind.’ After some time, Chen asked, ‘How many thoughts have you had?’ Sun replied, ‘Seventy-two.’ Chen Yiyuan smiled and said, ‘With a mind unattached and seeking tranquility, this is the law of things. For an hour, you’ve had seventy-two thoughts; this isn’t considered many. Your foundation and temperament allow for Dao learning.’ He then taught Sun the method of drinking water, saying, ‘Life originates from emptiness; excessive eating makes the body heavy, breeding more and more filthy worms in the abdomen, easily clouding the mind with phlegm. Those practicing Dao should first cleanse their mouths, then their intestines, starving all kinds of worms to death, thus purifying the internal organs. Water is the primal first true Qi. When heaven and earth opened, there were no Five Elements; there was only water. Hence, drinking water is the key to cultivating immortality. However, the water in the city is too turbid, burdening the internal organs. One must obtain the clearest water from the mountains, slowly swallow it, making a ‘ka-ka’ sound in the throat, then the sweet taste can be distinguished. A spoonful of water can last a day and night. After a hundred and twenty years of this practice, the body gradually becomes light and clear. Even drinking water will no longer be necessary; one can ride the wind with Qi.’

Sun Jingzhai asked whom Chen Yiyuan learned from. Chen said, ‘Thirty years ago, I went to Mount Tai to burn incense. I encountered a young man, very handsome, who could predict the weather in advance. We traveled together. The young man carried a brocade box, and each time we lodged, he would softly converse with the box before sleeping. I was deeply puzzled and bored a hole in the wall to peek. I saw the young man place the box on the table, tidy himself, and bow again. An old man emerged from the box, smiling with bright eyes and flowing white beard. They whispered to each other, and I couldn’t understand, only catching ‘thief of the Dao’ and ‘Dao’s thief,’ eight words. At midnight, the young man asked, ‘Sir, are you ready to sleep?’ The old man nodded, so the young man folded the old man up, like a paper figure, and put him into the box. The next day, the young man knew I had peeked, so he explained his origin, allowed me to be his disciple, and passed on the Dao techniques.’ Sun Jingzhai tried to hug Chen Yiyuan, finding that even the chair he sat on weighed only thirty catties. As Sun Jingzhai’s two daughters were yet to be married, he sought leave from Chen Yiyuan to return home and promised to continue learning after his break.

I met Sun Jingzhai at Magistrate Zhang’s office(張明府署) in Zhenze(震澤), and he told me these events. This was on the tenth day of the second month in the fifty-third year of Qianlong.

Translated from《折疊仙》in 《子不語》:

滸市關有陳一元者,棄家學道。購一精舍,獨坐其間,內加鎖鑰。初辟粥飯,繼辟果蔬,但飲石湖之水。命其子每月餉水一壺,次月往視,則壺仍置門外而水已乾,乃再實其壺以進焉。
孫敬齋秀才聞而慕之,書一紙條貼壺蓋上問可見否并請許見日期,心惴惴,恐不許也。次月往探,壺上批紙尾云:「二月初七日,可來相見。」孫大喜,臨期,與其子偕往,見一元年僅四十許,而其子則已老矣。孫問:「修道從何下手?」曰:「汝且靜坐片時,自數其心所思想處。」孫坐良久,一元問:「汝可起幾許念頭?」曰:「起過七十二念。」一元笑曰:「心無所寄,求靜反動,理之常也。汝一個時辰起七十二念,不可謂多,根氣可以學道。」遂教以飲水之法曰:「人生本自虛空而來,因食物過多,致身體堅重,腹中穢蟲叢起,易生痰滯。學道者先清其口,再清其腸。餓死諸蟲以蕩滌之,水為先天第一真氣。天地開闢時,未有五行先有水,故飲水為修仙要訣。但城市水渾,有累靈府,必取山中至清之水,徐徐而吞,使喉中喀喀有響,然後甘味才出。一勺水,可度一晝夜。如是一百二十年,身漸輕清,並水可辟,便服氣御風而行矣。」孫問一元:「何師?」曰:「余三十年前往泰山燒香,遇一少年,貌其靈俊,能預知陰晴,因與一路偕行。少年背負一錦匣,每至下店,必向匣絮語片時,然后安寢。心大驚疑,鑿壁窺之:見少年放匣几上,整冠再拜,一老人從匣中笑坐而起,雙眸炯炯,白鬚飄然。兩人相與密語,聽不可解,但聞『有竊道者、有道竊者』八字而已。夜三更,少年請曰:『先生可安寢乎?』老人頷之,遂將老人折疊如紙絹人一般,裝入匣中矣。次日,少年知余窺見,故告我來歷,許我為弟子而傳以道也。」孫抱一元試之,連所坐椅,僅三十斤。孫以兩女未嫁故,乞假而歸,假滿再往。
余見之於震澤張明府署中,具道如此。時戊申二月初十日也。

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