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》:


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