Now, as promised, my own story of how I met Kwan Saihung, and the tests that I had to pass before he would speak to me.
I interviewed Deng Ming-Dao, the author of Chronicles of Tao in San Francisco. You can hear the interview at either the CrossingTheLine or AuthorTalk.audio website.
The author, Deng Ming-Dao and I got to know one another by having lunch together, along with my wife, Trudy. Before the end of lunch I mentioned that having read about his Master and his incredible life in his book, and knowing that he had fled China and was at that time living in San Francisco, I desired very much to meet his Master in person. Deng brushed my suggestion aside saying that he never meets with anyone.
After lunch we walked back to his art studio to pick up our equipment. Upon arriving, Deng went to the far end of the studio and made a phone call. I couldn’t tell what was being said, as the entire conversation was conducted in Chinese.
The conversation lasted but a few minutes, and when he was through he walked back over to us and said, surprisingly, that his Master would meet with me, but only if I passed a test. We were to arrive at a specific Chinese Dim Sum restaurant the following day a few minutes before the restaurant opened. There I was to pick his Master out of the group of Chinese men that would be lined up at the door waiting for it to open.
The next morning my wife and I drove to the restaurant as instructed and at the specified time—in front of the specified restaurant—we could see perhaps a dozen men standing in a queue waiting for the doors to open. If you know me personally, you know that I have been meditating for over 50 years. I didn’t know what his Master looked like then, nor up until this day have I ever seen a picture of Kwan Saihung. You will just have to believe me when I tell you that I closed my eyes, opened myself up to “feel” and “see” the men—and I knew which of them was the Master.
I got out of the car and my wife followed me. She was asking how I knew whom to approach as I walked toward the line of men in front of us. I didn’t answer; I had to act on intuition. I walked up to one of the men; not the oldest, not the youngest, not differently dressed in any way. I stopped in front of the one man that I felt was a special soul, and without hesitation I bowed and addressed him as Shifu. I told him my name and expressed that I wished to speak to him. He appeared to be surprised that I had recognized him. At this time, I didn’t know that I was required to pass yet another test before he would agree to grant me my request for an audience.
Upon meeting, he bowed back, and invited my wife and I in perfect English to join him for Dim Sum. We walked in and were shown by a waiter to a large round table. The author, Deng, and five other disciples joined us shortly thereafter. Shifu ordered for all of us and we began to eat, which was an experience unto itself, and caused me some embarrassment. As all of those at the table helped themselves from the food being spun around on a lazy-Susan, I didn’t notice that before they chose from the common plate with their chopsticks, they flipped them quickly end-for-end so as not to touch the food with the end being used to feed themselves. The move was so natural and rapid that I didn’t see them doing it. It wasn’t until my wife leaned over and whispered in my ear that I noted my faux pas and with an apology, made the correction. There was smiles and some laughter all around as they could see that I was embarrassed. After this Shifu passed me a plate of what looked like deep fried sticks, and motioned for me to try the dish being offered. Not to offend, I promptly took the food—with the proper end of my chopsticks this time—and with all eyes on me, I put the food in my mouth, and crunched down on God only knows what. The look on my face must have told the story because they all began to laugh uproariously. After forcing the food down, I turned to Deng and asked what I had just eaten. He told me that it was a rooster foot, which was followed by another round of laughter.
Suddenly, Shifu became very serious. He turned to me and said softly, “Before I tell you any more, you must tell me something.” I responded, “Of course.” He looked me straight in the eyes and very quietly asked, “What was my Tibetan Master’s name?”
Shifu was raised in China, but Taoists often send their select students away for training at the feet of a Master of another faith. In Kwan Saihung’s case, he was sent by the Grand Master of China to study Hinduism in Tibet, near the border with India.
Without pause I answered him by saying, “I won’t tell you his formal name, but I will tell you by what name you called him.” He nodded, and I whispered his teacher’s name in his ear—the name by which Kwan reverently referred to him while being trained by him. He smiled, clapped his hands and nodded in the affirmative. I had passed his test.
Later, after lunch was over, my wife, Trudy, and I joined him at his training studio. When we entered, he formally greeted us. To our right, students were practicing their martial arts. All of a sudden one of the students lost his grip on the sword he was swirling about his head. The sword flew across the room and just missed slicing us in half. Shifu was furious. He walked over to the student and we could tell that he was being berated. All of a sudden, from a standing start, Shifu sprung into the air over the student’s head. There was no apparent preparation for the leap, he just took off and was 6 feet into the air before I could blink. From the apex of his jump, his foot whipped out and stopped just short of the student’s face, then Shifu landed light as a feather. He walked over to us, bowed deeply and apologized for his offending student. Kwan Saihung was over 80 years old at the time.
He then took us to a corner of the large room, drew up chairs for my wife and I, and asked how he could help me. I told him about the problem I was having with my energy in meditation, and asked too for help with a particular problem I was having with my breathing technique. He gave me a very complicated set of instructions (breathing and visionary techniques) to help me. He had me practice them over and over while he watched and corrected me. As I left, he told me that I had to perform the exercises for 30 consecutive days, and if I missed a single day for any reason, I had to start all over again from the beginning. I completed the assignment and my blockage in meditation was gone for good.
I never doubted any of the stories that Deng related in his book after that day I spent with his Shifu. I was indeed honored to have met a true Taoist Master.
Postscript: A Taoist Master wants neither material goods nor wealth. Shortly after I met him, his students gifted him a house in San Francisco that they had bought for him. He gratefully thanked them, and one day shortly thereafter, he disappeared. The last I heard, he was a dishwasher in a Chinese restaurant in New York—exactly as he wanted.