GRAND MASTER HUN YUAN TIMELINE
1944 (February 2): Chang, Yi-jui was born in Zhongliao Township, Nantou County, Taiwan.
1963: Chang graduated at the Land Survey Department of Kuang-Hwa Senior Industrial Vocational High School in Taichung, Taiwan.
1982: Chang attributed his recovery from a serious illness to divine intervention, left his business career, and vowed to consecrate his life to religion.
1983: Having received revelations from the Jade Emperor and Guiguzi, who would eventually give him the new title and name of Grand Master Hun Yuan, Chang opened a family hall in Taichung and started gathering followers.
1984: The family hall was renamed the Shennong Temple.
1987: Grand Master Hun Yuan legally registered his movement as Weixin Shengjiao. Headquarters were moved to Nantou County, Taiwan, where the Hsien Fo Temple, whose plans were based on designs by Grand Master Hun Yuan, was inaugurated.
1992: Grand Master Hun Yuan started teaching publicly I Ching and Feng Shui.
1994 (October 16, lunar calendar): Grand Master Hun Yuan felt inspired to express the dragon nature of the fifty-three Buddhas through calligraphy painting. He painted The Golden Dragon of Fulfilled Wishes, inaugurating a cycle of dragon-related paintings.
1995: Grand Master Hun Yuan published the book Feng Shui World View, which made him well-known beyond his circle of followers in Taiwan.
1996: Grand Master Hun Yuan founded I Ching University.
1997: Grand Master Hun Yuan started teaching I Ching and Feng Shui in Taiwan via television.
2000: Grand Master Hun Yuan exhibited the six paintings Golden Dragon of Auspiciousness at the Exhibition of Zen at Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall in Taipei.
2000: Based on designs by Grand Master Hun Yuan, Weixin Shengjiao started building the City of Eight Trigrams in Henan, China.
2002: Based on designs by Grand Master Hun Yuan, Yellow Emperor Temple was built in Qiaoshan, Zhuolu, Hebei, China.
2003: Inspired by a Japanese Taiko performance, Grand Master Hun Yuan painted Taiko—The Fulfillment.
2003: Based on designs by Grand Master Hun Yuan, Chi You Temple was built in Fanshan, Hebei, China.
2008: Based on designs by Grand Master Hun Yuan, construction started for the City of Eight Trigrams in Nantou County, Taiwan.
2010: Based on designs by Grand Master Hun Yuan, Yan Emperor Temple was built in Gushan, Hebei, China.
2010 (February 20, lunar calendar): Grand Master Hun Yuan visited what is traditionally believed to the birthplace of Guiguzi in Hebei, China, where his production of a work of calligraphy was accompanied, according to the movement, by miraculous events.
2011: The Weixin Museum, hosting a large collection of paintings by Grand Master Hun Yuan, was inaugurated in Nantou County, Taiwan.
Grand Master Hun Yuan [Image at right] is one of these founders of religious movements who also emerged as significant artists in their own merit. In this sense, he can be compared to Oberto Airaudi, who founded Damanhur in Italy (Zoccatelli 2016), and to Adi Da Samraj (Franklin Jones), the leader and founder of Adidam in the United States (Bradley-Evans 2017). Like Airaudi and Adi Da, Hun Yuan is revered as the founder of a new religious movement by his followers, while on the other hand his artwork is appreciated even by artists and critics who are not interested in joining his group (see Carbotti 2017).
Hun Yuan was not educated as a religionist nor as an artist, but as a land surveyor. He was born on February 2, 1944, as Chang, Yi-jui in Zhongliao Township, Nantou County, Taiwan. He graduated in 1963 at the Land Survey Department of Kuang-Hwa Senior Industrial Vocational High School in Taichung, Taiwan, remained in his school for some years as a teacher, and went on to establish the first land survey company in Taiwan. Chang was not irreligious, and read books about the I Ching, the Chinese “Classic of Change,” and the traditional geomancy system known as Feng Shui. However, for some twenty years after graduation, he was primarily a businessman.
Things changed in 1982, when Chang fell seriously ill. He attributed his recovery to divine intervention, vowed to devote his life to religion, and started receiving messages from the Jade Emperor and Guiguzi. Eventually, he received through his revelations the new name and title of Grand Master Hun Yuan and went on to establish in 1984 a Taiwanese new religion, Weixin Shengjiao, which grew rapidly to some 300,000 members in Taiwan and abroad (Introvigne 2016).
Guiguzi is a character who needs to be introduced here, as he is also crucial for Grand Master Hun Yuan’s artistic activities. There are different narratives about Guiguzi, all starting from the fact that a book attributed to him, and also called Guiguzi, is a recognized Chinese classic of political strategy and diplomacy. The traditional narrative is that the book was authored by a sage of the Warring States period (453–221 BCE), whose name was indeed Guiguzi, who operated the first school of diplomacy in human history. A shrine in the place where the school is said to have been located was erected in the nineteenth century in Henan, China, and is still visited by pilgrims. Twentieth century scholars contested the traditional narrative. They noted that the earlier available information about Guiguzi the sage “is based on statements made first, as far as we know, about one thousand years after his supposed lifetime” (Broschat 1985:1) and claimed that a person called Guiguzi might never have existed. The book of course existed, but it might well have been a compilation of writings by different authors. Recently, however, scholars came to adopt different views. For instance, University of Oklahoma historian Garret Olberding maintains that “in itself this lack of information [about Guiguzi] is insufficient ground to dismiss him as fiction” (Olberding 2002:4).
Guiguzi was deified after his death as a god of commerce. Weixin Shengjiao, however, promoted him to a main deity of its pantheon. It recognized in him the incarnation of Bodhisattva Wang Chan Lao Zu (also spelled Chu), and claimed that Guiguzi is mystically united with Grand Master Hun Yuan and gives him revelations on a regular basis. It is also claimed that Guiguzi was an important figure in the historic development of the worldview and divination method taught in the Chinese classic book I Ching. [Image at right]
This also raises the question of the exact nature of the artistic production of Weixin Shengjiao’s founder, which consists of drawings for temples and other buildings and paintings. Are these part of an “automatic” art similar to Western spirit art, in the sense that the spirit of Guiguzi guides the hands of Grand Master Hun Yuan? There are precedents in this sense in Taiwanese new religions such as Taoyuan, whose art can properly be classified as spirit art. In interviews with the undersigned in January 2017, however, Grand Master Hun Yuan denied that such is his case. He claims to be fully conscious when drawing or painting. Yet, on the other hand, he is in a state of permanent union with Guiguzi and all his production, including the artistic one, can be correctly described as “inspired” by Guiguzi. The inspiration, here, is not a vague reference only, but a process whereby the constant presence of Guiguzi in Grand Master Hun Yuan’s life determines a good deal of what he decides to commit to writing, drawing or painting.
Grand Master Hun Yuan is not an architect. He “designs” buildings and spaces by committing to paper general indications. These are largely based on his widely acknowledged proficiency in the Chinese art of geomancy known as Feng Shui. Before considering any aesthetic value, the founder of Weixin Shengjiao arranges for buildings and gardens to respect the principles of Feng Shui. He is also consulted by architects who are not part of Weixin Shengjiao, but his main achievement are the movement’s temples, including the headquarters in Nantou County [Image at right] and two Cities of Eight Trigrams, one in Taiwan and one in Henan, China. Grand Master Hun Yuan would however deny that considerations about Feng Shui and aesthetics are part of two separate realms. He teaches that what is in accordance with Feng Shui conveys an image of harmony, and as such is also beautiful.
Outside Weixin Shengjiao, Grand Master Hun Yuan is known primarily for his books, courses, and TV shows about I Ching and Feng Shui, but he is increasingly popular also as a painter. He calls his productions “calligraphy” but there is no clear distinction in traditional Chinese culture between the notions of calligraphy and paintings (Hun Yuan 1995, 1998, 2007). There is, however, a difference between simple, short auspicious messages written by Grand Master Hun Yuan, calligraphy writings of longer sutras, and large compositions, often depicting dragons. The auspicious messages and the sutras have a religious value, and devotees report that they derive from their presence in their homes and in Weixin Shengjiao’s temples practical benefits in addition to the spiritual ones. They are also elegant products of calligraphy.
The hagiography about Grand Master Hun Yuan’s calligraphy is very rich. For instance, it is claimed that on February 20, 2010 (lunar calendar), he visited the village in the Chinese province of Hebei where, according to traditional accounts, Guiguzi was born. He wrote calligraphy and advised his followers that, should that be the real birthplace of Guiguzi, a miracle would follow. In fact, it is claimed that “after Grand Master Hun Yuan Chanshi finished writing calligraphy, the cloudy sky was suddenly dispersing to reveal a vacancy in the shape of Eight Trigrams [of the I Ching]. The local people were amazed at this astonishing scene. They also saw a small area of red grass by the house where Wang Chan Lao Zu [i.e. Guiguzi] was born. It is said that the red grass was dyed by the blood of the delivery of Wang Chan Lao Zu’s mother” (Huang 2014:76).
It is, however, the larger paintings that have caught the attention of critics, including some outside Weixin Shengjiao and some in the West, for their intrinsic quality and originality. They are produced at amazing speed by Grand Master Hun Yuan, often with a single stroke of the brush on rice paper and as a matter of few seconds. For Westerners, this may be reminiscent of modern action painting, and Italian critic Gianni Carbotti has compared Grand Master Hun Yuan to Jackson Pollock (1912–1956: Carbotti 2017). The difference with Pollock, however, is that the work of the leader of Weixin Shengjiao is rooted in a century-old Chinese tradition, and each painting acquires a precise meaning when read within the context of this tradition, one of which the artist’s Chinese audience is aware.
Grand Master Hun Yuan dates the beginning of this artistic activity to a specific day, October 16, 1994 (Lunar calendar), when, while meditating on the fifty-three names of Buddha mentioned in the Sutra Spoken by the Buddha on the Visualization of the Two Bodhisattvas King of Healing (Bhaisajya-raja) and Supreme Healer (Bhaisajya-samudgata) (佛說觀藥王藥上二菩薩經), he was enlightened about the true nature of dragons as embodiments of “sacred and energetic vitality.” He spent the whole day painting The Golden Dragon of Fulfilled Wishes with a heavy brush. [Image at right] In the end, he did not feel tired, which he interpreted as an auspicious sign (Hun Yuan 2007:2). In the meantime, he had also inaugurated a distinctive style of painting, and he would never look back.
Dragons remain prominent in Grand Master Hun Yuan’s artistic production, but by no means are they his only subjects. Circumstances may direct him to subjects other than dragons. In 2003, Japanese musicians were offering a performance of traditional Japanese Taiko music in Taichung. Grand Master Hun Yuan was asked to prepare a calligraphy work “Taiko—The Fulfillment.” He produced a large painting in his distinctive style, and it is reported that one of the Japanese performers, who had clairvoyant abilities, felt the special energy and the “blessing of all holy deities” emanating from the painting (Hun Yuan 2017:25). [Image at right]
What is the purpose of these paintings? They are sacred artifacts, which decorate Weixin Shengjiao’s temples and other buildings. Those sufficiently schooled in the tradition of Chinese calligraphy, in traditional Chinese notions about dragons, and in Weixin Shengjiao’s own theology, may see in the paintings a way of conveying and illustrating the movement’s message. Even without a full understanding of their meaning, however, devotees I interviewed reported the feelings of peace and universal harmony they experienced in front of the paintings. For a member of Weixin Shengjiao, the question of considering the aesthetic value of Grand Master Hun Yuan’s paintings apart from their message would not make sense. The beauty and harmony cannot be dissociated from the message, and from the fact that they are works by the founder of the movement, who operates under the constant inspiration of Wang Chan Lao Zu (Guiguzi). An often reproduced example is The Stable Nation of the Golden Dragon, admired by critics but also regarded as a sacred painting by devotees. [Image at right]
The situation is, however, different for those who are not members of Weixin Shengjiao. A number of paintings by Grand Master Hun Yuan are hosted at the Weixin Museum, in Nantou County, Taiwan, inaugurated in 2011 (Huang 2011). The museum is operated by Weixin Shengjiao, but it is open to the public and increasingly visited by non-members and tourists. For them, the aesthetic value of the paintings may be dissociated from Weixin Shengjiao’s theology, although this is something the publications of the movement would not encourage. They appreciate the uniqueness of Grand Master Hun Yuan’s style, and Westerners often wonder whether he has been exposed to contemporary currents such as abstract expressionism, considering also that Chinese artists are increasingly part of the international circuits of modern art.
The paintings of Grand Master Hun Yuan would easily have a market, and the suggestion that he puts them on sale through art galleries has often been made. Although this would perhaps make him more well-known outside Weixin Shengjiao, particularly in the West, so far Grand Master Hun Yuan has resisted these suggestions. He reports that, in the early phase of building I Ching University, he needed funds for the construction, and indeed considered selling the six pieces of the series Golden Dragon of Auspiciousness, after they attracted favorable comments at the Exhibition of Zen, held at Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall in Taipei in 2000. [Image at right] While he was almost ready to sell the paintings, which were exhibited outdoor, “it suddenly rained and the six pieces […] were all wet and blurred. At that moment, Grand Master Hun Yuan Chanshi realized the underlying meaning, ‘No sale!’ instructed by Buddha” (Huang 2011:16). The incident typically captures the dilemma whether these sacred artifacts should be considered “works of art” in the sense in which this expression is commonly understood in the twenty first century. But this is a problem common to all genuinely religious art, particularly when it is produced mostly for the internal purpose of beautifying the devotees’ homes and the movement’s places of worship.
Image #1: Grand Master Hun Yuan painting with the brush.
Image #2: Statue of Guiguzi, City of Eight Trigrams, Henan, China.
Image #3: Hsien Fo Temple, Nantou County.
Image #4: Grand Master Hun Yuan, The Golden Dragon of Fulfilled Wishes, 1994.
Image #5: Grand Master Hun Yuan, Taiko—The Fulfillment, 2003.
Image #6: Grand Master Hun Yuan, The Stable Nation of the Golden Dragon, 1994
Image #7: Grand Master Hun Yuan, the six paintings Golden Dragon of Auspiciousness, exhibited outdoor at the Exhibition of Zen, held at Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall in Taipei in 2000.
Bradley-Evans, Martha. 2017. “Adi Da Samraj.” World Religions and Spirituality Project, July 13. Accessed from https://wrldrels.org/2017/07/13/adi-da-samraj/ on September 20, 2017.
Broschat, Michael Robert. 1985. “Guiguzi: A Textual Study and Translation.” PhD dissertation, University of Washington.
Carbotti, Gianni, 2017. “Mystical Vision and Artistic Action in the Paintings of Master Hun Yuan.” Spiritualità Religioni e Settarismi, September 18. Accessed from http://www.dimarzio.info/en/articles/religious-minorities/492-mystical-vision-and-artistic-action-in-the-paintings-of-master-hun-yuan.html on 20 September 20 2017.
Huang, Chun-Zhi. 2014. 鬼谷文化追根溯源、發展 (Tracing Back the Origin of Gui Gu Culture and Its Development to Attain World Peace). Guoxing Township, Nantou County, Taiwan: Chan Chi Shan Hsien Fo Temple.
Huang, Xiu-Yu. 2011. 唯心聖教禪機山仙佛寺唯心博物院 (Weixin Shengjiao Chan Chi Shan Hsien Fo Temple Weixin Museum). Guoxing Township, Nantou County, Taiwan: I Key Publishing House.
Hun Yuan (Grand Master). 2017. 唯心聖教 (Taiwan Weixin Shengjiao, New World Religion). Taichung: Research and Development Center for Religious Affairs of Weixin Shengjiao.
Hun Yuan (Grand Master). 2007. 禪境書法集 (The Book of Zen Calligraphy). 2nd ed. Guoxing Township, Nantou County, Taiwan: Chan Chi Shan Hsien Fo Temple (First Edition: 1994).
Hun Yuan (Grand Master). 1998. 禪境書道展回顧 (The Review of Zen Calligraphy). 2nd ed. Guoxing Township, Nantou County, Taiwan: Chan Chi Shan Hsien Fo Temple (First Edition: 1997).
Hun Yuan (Grand Master). 1995. 禪境書道集 (The Collection of Zen Calligraphy). Guoxing Township, Nantou County, Taiwan: Chan Chi Shan Hsien Fo Temple.
Olberding, Garret. 2002. “Efficacious Persuasion in the Guiguzi.” Accessed from https://www.academia.edu/27751361/Efficacious_Persuasion_in_the_Guiguzi on 20 September 2017.
Zoccatelli, PierLuigi. 2017. “Oberto Airaudi.” World Religions and Spirituality Project, March 18. Accessed from https://wrldrels.org/2017/03/19/oberto-airaudi/ on 20 September 2017.
25 October 2017