Ji Gong, the Eccentric Monk

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on August 31, 2015.)

Ji Gong at Lingyin Temple, Hangzhou, Zhejiang

An amusing character seen in some temples is the Chan (Zen) master Ji Gong, also called Daoji. He wears a funny little hat with the character for "Buddha" on it, and monk's robes nearly in rags. His left hand holds a fan (for comfort--and magic), and in his right is a gourd containing wine. This may account for the seemingly-drunken smile on his face.

Historically, he was a man named Li Xiuyuan (1130-1207), famed even in his own time for his eccentric behavior (drinking alcohol and eating meat--no-nos for a monk) and for using magic powers to help the poor and suffering. He is still appealed to for help. After his death, he was adopted into Daoist and folk beliefs, and some Buddhists hold him to be a bodhisattva or an arhat (he is sometimes included in the list of Eighteen Arhats as the Dragon-Taming Arhat).

He also can be seen often today in films, television shows, and even video games.

He was ordained a monk at Lingyin Temple in Hangzhou, where a hall is dedicated to him today--somewhat surprising, as he was kicked out of that temple for his un-monk-like behavior. He was then accepted into Jingci Temple on the other side of West Lake, where he performed numerous miracles.

In one of these, after a fire had destroyed some halls at Jingci Temple, Ji Gong was sleeping off a hangover. The abbot kept shaking the monk, asking him to help obtain wood for rebuilding. At last, the annoyed monk cried out, "Leave me alone! There's enough wood in the well to finish the job!" Sure enough, upon inspection the abbot found huge timbers in the well and completed the building.

Ji Gong at Jingci Temple, Hangzhou, Zhejiang

Ji Gong at Wuyou Temple, Leshan, Sichuan
[Almost every picture I take of Ji Gong is blurry. Is it because he drank a lot?]

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