Written by an unknown author, Seven Taoist Masters is the story of six men and one woman who overcome tremendous hardships on the journey to self-mastery. These characters and their teacher, Want Ch'ung-yang , are all historical figures who lived in the Southern Sung and Yuan dynasties.
The novel brings to life the essentials of Taoist philosophy and practice, both through the instruction offered by Wang - on topics such as cultivation of mind and body, meditation techniques, and overcoming the four obstacles of anger, greed, lust, and drunkenness - and through the experience of characters.
While all road eventually lead to the experience of the Tao, each individual's path is unique, as is the adventure of each master in this book.
A training manual written in the form of a story, the book: 'SEVEN TAOIST MASTERS: A Folk Novel of China' (c. 1990) translated by Eva Wong, introduced the reader to a blend of myth and history to both entertain and teach, in the form of lectures, the Taoist philosophy of Wang Ch'ung-yang and Ch'iu Ch'ang-ch'un. History had recorded that the disciple "Ch'iu Ch'ang-ch'un was befriended by Kublai Khan and was appointed court high priest during the reign of the first Yu'an Emporer" (p.xvii). And Wang Ch'ung-yang lived during the Sung (1127-1279) and Yu'an (1271-1368) dynasties.
Wang Ch'ang-yang (the rebirth of yang, or the rejuvenation of mind & body) was regarded as one of the greatest patriarchs of the school of True Reality (or the school of Complete Reality) and his students, the seven Taoist masters, were of the Northern School of Taoism, that branch of Taoism which advocates the 'singular path', where enlightenment and immortality are achieved through meditation and chi-kung exercises, it is the closest to Buddhism and Ch'an meditation of the Taoist sects. Ch'iu Ch'ang-ch'un, one of the seven masters, founded the Lung-men (Dragon Gate)sect of Taoism.
SEVEN TAOIST MASTERS presentd a mix of myth and history in the most appealing way to the reader conforming to the Taoist pedagogy of story telling to instruct as more accessible in an intuitive reading than as analytic reading of a text. The main character, Wang Ch'ung-yang, was approached by two immortals, Lu and Chung-li Ch'uan, dressed as beggars, who had to convert mortals into Taoist immortals before the flowering of the immortal peach so that the Empress of Heaven wouldn't have to eat it alone. While Buddhism emphasizes reincarnation, Taoism strives for immortality, by means of internal alchemy, the actual transformation of body & soul through various Taoist efforts and personal sacrifices of the apprentice.
So in the SEVEN TAOIST MASTERS, the experiences of Wang Ch'ung-yang are used as a vehicle to describe the attitudes and situations for Taoist training and the obstacles usually encountered on the road to enlightenment. The seven Taoist masters each represent seven different approaches to the Tao, and each master must negotiate an obstacle in their own way on the path to enlightenment. In this particular theology of Taoism is the belief that destiny can be changed by the actions of people, reward and retribution will be given according to one's behaviour.
The book, SEVEN TAOIST MASTERS, contained a number of typographical and grammatical errors, such as "propserous" (p. 89), and "emerge" for merge throughout the work, and a number of ancient Chinese woodblock illustrations; yet overall, this is an excellent introduction to the Northern School of Taoism using a primer originally written for the training of Taoists priests. Also, please read TAOIST MASTER CHUANG (c. 2000) by Michael R. Saso, to gain further insight into the life and training of a Taoist disciple.