Chiseling Caves to Cultivate the Tao
Hao Datong (1149 – 1212 AD) is one of the Seven Taoists in Quanzhen Taoism, who are very well-known in China due to their depiction in Chinese kung fu novels. Instead of killing an elderly woman by mistake as dramatized in the novels, according to Feng Bi Preface in Taigu Collections (available from Orthodox Taoism Scriptures compiled in the Ming Dynasty), he once traveled to Wozhou (also known as Zhaozhou, or Zhao County in Hebei Province today). There he sat still for mediation under the Zhaozhou Bridge for 6 years. During that time, naughty children made fun of him, and he was not bothered. The children even piled up stones over his head, and he was not disturbed. As water rose in the river, he did not leave, but nonetheless remained safe. That is, he was a person with high morality and supernormal abilities.
Hao Datong was a student of Wang Chongyang, the founder of Quanzhen Taoism. After Wang Chongyang passed away, becoming a divine being, his seven disciples separated from each other and wandered around the land. Hao Daotong went to various places, and survived by begging for food. After arriving at Zhaozhou, he sat for meditation every day under Zhaozhou Bridge. One day, Wang Chongyang changed form to a young adult and told him that, only by chiseling a cave in Mount Hua, one of the Five Great Mountains of China, and cultivating in it could he reach consummation.
Hao Datong followed his master’s words and went to Mount Hua. He spent three years chiseling in Beidouping (Beidou Plains on Mount Hua). Finally, he completed the Ziwei Cave and he planned to cultivate there. When constructing the cave, two disciples began to follow him: Meiliang and Zhuqing. These two disciples helped Hao Datong dig the cave and worked very hard. Hao Datong was also responsible to them. Surprisingly, as soon as Ziwei Cave was finished, one elderly Taoist arrived and said, "Your cave looks spectacular. I do not know how to create a cave, can I have this cave to cultivate here?" Hao Datong agreed immediately without any objection and gave the cave to him. The two disciples were upset, but could do nothing since their teacher had already agreed. Hao Datong and his two disciples climbed further up the mountain to chisel a cave. As soon as the second cave was finished, another fellow Taoist came and asked for it. In this way, after Hao Datong and his two disciples spent their efforts chiseling one cave, a fellow Taoist would come and take it; after completing another cave, another fellow Taoist would come take it. More than forty years passed, and they finished 70 caves, but still had no place to cultivate.
Hao Datong and his two disciples then went to Nieniechuan. This was a sharp cliff, a wonderful place to cultivate. He asked his two disciples to hold the rope while he lowered himself down using the rope to chisel a cave on the mountain face. These two disciples originally planned to cultivate into divine beings, but through the years, they only helped him dig caves and give them away to other people, while learning nothing about the Tao. Many times they had planned to quit, but did not want Hao Datong to see them leave. Now it seemed a good opportunity and they had a wicked idea. They cut the rope, letting their teacher fall to his death. The two quickly left with their belongings to descend the mountain. As soon as they passed a large rock at Qianchichuang, they saw Hao Datong walking lightly toward them. The two disciples immediately realized their teacher had already become an enlightened being, and felt immense guilt. Seeing their regret, Hao Datong once again accepted them as disciples. That large rock was later named the "Regretting Rock."
One day, Hao Datong and his two disciples returned to Nantianmen on Mount Hua, and started to chisel a cave there on the cliff. One day, as they were digging, the two disciples saw someone walking towards them. The two disciples told their teacher, "Someone is walking towards us." Upon hearing that, Hao Daotong shifted himself into the cave, sat down and passed away, turning into a divine being. This cave was thus not completed, and was named the "Half-Finished Cave."