The Tale of Duke Mǐn 闵公 & Dàomíng 道明

Dramatis Personae

JĪN Qiáojué 金乔觉 = a Korean prince, also a monk (and possibly an incarnation of a great bodhisattva)

Subtle Listening (Dìtīng 谛听) = his dog

Duke MǏN 闵公 = a local monarch whose territory included the Nine Flower Mountains

Dàomíng 道明 = his son

Mùlián 目连 = a disciple of the Buddha, probably not part of this story

Fù Luóbǔ 傅罗卜 = someone else who is probably not part of this story

Once upon a time, in Ānhuī 安徽 province, there was a mountain range called the Mountains of the Nine Philosophers (Jiǔ Zǐ Shān 九子山). But nobody calls them that today, for the poet Lǐ Tàibái 李太白, who was boating on the river, thought they looked like the petals of a flower, so today they are called the Nine Flower Mountains (Jiǔ Huá Shān 九华山).

People say that in the days of Emperor Sū Zōng 肃宗 of the Táng 唐肃宗 dynasty(reign 12a-10), a Korean priest arrived by the name of JĪN Qiáojué 金乔觉, or as he pronounced it, KIM Kiaokak. He had come to China to practice true Buddhism, he explained, and he travelled to the Nine Flower Mountains because they looked like a lotus, and would therefore be a good place for his efforts. (With him came his piously vegetarian Buddhist dog, named Dìtīng 谛听, “Listening Attentively.”)

His speech was odd, but his face was handsome and his manner appealing, and so it was rumored that he was none other than crown prince JĪN Qiáojué (630-729) of the Silla (Xīnluó 新罗) Kingdom in southern Korea, who at the age of 24 had shaved his head and become a wandering Buddhist monk.

Now the bodhisattva Dìzàng incarnates himself into the world of ordinary people from time to time, and most people believed that in fact prince Jīn Qiáojué was such an incarnation, and so they politely referred to him as “Disciple Dìzàng” (Dìzàng bǐqiū 地藏比丘)

Disciple Dìzàng and Listening Attentively lived in a desolate cave. When they were thirsty, they drank from mountain springs. When they were hungry Disciple Dìzàng cooked a little white rice mixed with a nourishing kind of white mud (the kind local people call Guānyīn earth 观音土, after the compassionate bodhisattva).

The Silla royal family, although Buddhist, was very sorry to lose its promising prince, and sent two of his uncles to try to persuade Disciple Dìzàng to return, if not to the royal court, at least to Korea, but they became his disciples instead, and stayed with him in the Nine Flower Mountains.

Soon some other lay believers quietly came to the caves and, seeing how austere his life was, resolved to construct a hermitage for him.

The Nine Flower Mountains belonged to a certain Duke MǏN 闵公, who was also a Buddhist believer, and who therefore loved both virtue and monks who practiced austerities. At every festival he invited Jīn Qiáojué to come to his palace as his honored guest.

When he heard of the project to build the hermitage, naturally he was very happy to contribute land on the mountain for it. (Mountains were not much good for farming anyway.)

So Duke Mǐn asked Jīn Qiáojué how much land would be needed.

Jīn replied, “The hermitage should be the same size as my robe.” That seemed whimsically modest. Duke Mǐn had anticipated quite a bit more. But being a pious believer, he was happy to oblige a whim of any scope from such a holy man, and he agreed quite enthusiastically.

“The robe opened and opened, until it covered the entire Nine Flower Mountain range.”
(Drawing by Ziyi Jin, Eleanor Roosevelt College, UCSD, & Qian Zhou, John Muir College, UCSD, Class of 2019, by permission.)

However, as Jīn opened out the robe, it turned out to be much larger than anticipated. In fact it opened and opened, until it covered the entire Nine Flower Mountain range. This seemed unfortunate, but Duke Mǐn believed that a promise was a promise. And besides it was for his beloved Buddhism. And furthermore, a whole mountain was not much better for farming than part of a mountain was. So he gave Disciple Dìzàng the whole of the beautiful Nine Flower Mountain.

Meanwhile, when people back in Korea learned that their prince had moved to the Nine Flower Mountain to practice Buddhism, many of them followed him there. So did many Chinese, of course. Among them was none other than Duke Mǐn’s own son, who shaved his head and became a monk and took the religious name of Dàomíng 道明, which means “Brightness of the Way.”

The hermitage grew and grew as pilgrims and disciples flocked to it, and Nine Flower Mountain became a major Buddhist center. And since people believed that Disciple Dìzàng was Dìzàng, the lord who saves the souls in hell, much attention was paid at this place to death and salvation.

When he reached the age of 99, Disciple Dìzàng, having brought enlightenment to countless disciples, climbed into a coffin and died. His faithful disciples buried him. When, on a hunch, they dug him up again three years later, his body was just as soft and fresh as the day he had died. So they covered it with gold and placed it on the altar of the hermitage with other statuary, and there it remains to this day.

Not long afterward, Duke Mǐn decided also to become a monk, and asked his own son, Dàomíng, to be his teacher.

And so today we often see two figures standing like servants beside a statue or painting of Dìzàng. The young one at his left is Dàomíng. The older one at his right is Dàomíng’s beloved father Duke Mǐn.

Some historians believe that this story has gotten very tangled, and that Dàomíng is really the religious name of Jīn Qiáojué himself. Some also say that Duke Mǐn’s son took the religious name of Mùlián 目连, a famous disciple of the Buddha, known in India as Maudgalyayana or Moginlin, of whom he was perhaps an incarnation, and whom he is always painted to resemble. Mùlián of course, has his own stories, one of which is found on this web site. (Mùlián Jiù Mǔ 目连救母)

(Other people say Jīn Qiáojué’s name was actually FÙ Luóbǔ 傅罗卜 and that he came, not from Korea, but from the city of Wángshè 王舍城 in the barbaric western lands of the Xīróng 西戎 tribes. But that couldn’t be right, since if Jīn Qiáojué were Fù Luóbǔ, it would mean he wasn’t Jīn Qiáojué, which would be very confusing, even for a Buddhist. Besides, it was clearly better to be Korean than to be barbaric.)