Today being the 15th day of the third lunar month in the Chinese calendar, I am heading down to our Swee Cheok Tong Quah Kongsi in inner George Town, Penang to offer personal prayers of thanksgiving to our clan association's resident deity, Poh Seng Tai Tay (保生大帝), otherwise known as Tai Tay Eah, on the occasion of the deity's birthday and my recovery from an ailment that had landed me in hospital at the beginning of the year.
Poh Seng Tai Tay is known throughout the Chinese diaspora from Hock Kian Province as the Deity of Healing and indeed, the image of the deity that we worship in our clan association was brought over from our ancestral village in China.
Recently while visiting the Cheng Leong Keong (Tai Tay Eah) temple in Jelutong, Penang, pictured here, I came across a bilingual booklet which traced the legend of the deity. The booklet does not seem to have a large readership and perhaps if I were to reproduce an extract here, I can help to propagate the worship or understanding of Poh Seng Tai Tay.
The title Poh Seng Tai Tay is a shorter version of the full title Wan Shou Wu Ji Bao Sheng Da Di (萬壽無疆保生大帝) bestowed in 1425 to Tai Tay by Emperor Ming Renzong of the Ming Dynasty of China.
Poh Seng Tai Tay (meaning Great Protector of Life) is a popular diety of healing among the Hokkien community, and he is more affectionately called, in the Hokkien dialect, Tai Tay Eah or Tay Eah Chor. He is traditionally apotheosised by Chinese physicians and druggists. His birthday is celebrated primarily on the 15th day of the third lunar month and to a lesser scale, on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month.
Poh Seng Tai Tay has several other royal titles which were bestowed upon him by emperors of various dynasties of China through the ages in appreciation of his divine assistance and service rendered to the royal families and the people. These titles include Wu Zhen Ren (吳真人), Da Dao Gong (大道公), Hua Jiao Gong (花轎公) and En Zhu Gong (恩主公).
Poh Seng Tai Tay was born into a Wu family and was given a name called Tao (吳本), and pseudonyms Hua-chi (Hua Ji) and Yun-chung (Yun Dong). He was born on the 15th day of the third lunar month in the year 979 during the Sung Dynasty in the village of Pai Chiao (Bai Jiao Xiang) of Tung Uahn (Tong Aun) District (同安縣), in the Prefecture of Chuan Chew (泉州府) of Hock Kian Province (福建省) in China. The villagers of Bai Jiao Xiang were reportedly the descendants of Emperor Tai Bo of the Chou Dynasty.
For generations, the ancestors of Tai Tay were conscientious cultivators of high virtues and supererogation. They were ever ready to assist the distressed, help the poor and perform meritorious deeds whenever and wherever possible. Tai Tay's father, Wu Tong, and mother, Huang Shi, were well respected in the village for their thriftiness in home management and generosity in performing dana.
According to legend, the birth of Wu Tao (that is Tai Tay) was not an ordinary one. It was told that when Madam Huang was giving birth to her son, she had a vision of Heavenly messengers, Tai Bai Jin Sing (太白金星), Nan Ling Shi Ze (南陵使者)and Bei Dou Sing Jun (北斗星君), escorting a divine boy (that is, the deity Zi Wei Sing) (紫微星) to come to transmigrate to be her baby. At the very moment of his birth, some extraordinary phenomena occurred. The room where he was being born was filled with a scent of divine nature and brightened with rays of varied colours. Looming over the house were layers of multi-coloured clouds and flooding the house compound was an air of heavenly bliss. This was an extraordinary sight and indeed a good omen.
During his childhood, Wu Tao was extremely intelligent and bright, fond of reading and studying. He was admirably known as a wonder boy. As he grew up and attended school, he read very widely books of various disciplines. He could remember whatever that he had read. He was extremely learned not only in the fields of astrology and geography but also in the disciplines concerning etiquette and ceremonies, music, law and administration. Being particularly interested in medicine, he deeply engrossed himself in medical research, making substantial and significant contributions in medical science.
According to one account, at the age of 17, Wu Tao got to know one wise man from Mount Kun Lun, Xi Wang Mu (西王母), quite by accident, and learned from him the Taoist secret of making medical Dan (i.e. pills) and powder as well as the Taoist way of cultivating towards attaining enlightenment.
He became a government official when he was only 20 years of age. At the age of 24, he passed the second stage of the Imperial Examination (that is, Ju Ren), and was consequently appointed by the Imperial court as a royal official.
The greatest ambition in life that Wu Tao cherished was to be able to serve the community well and help the sick, poor and needy. He was very kind and compassionate, attaching little or no importance to fame, wealth, authority and position. In consequence, during his term of office as a royal official, he was very clean and incorruptible, righteous and straight.
He served as a government official for only a few years. Later he resigned from his post and retired to his home village to lead a secluded life in the eastern region of the Mount of Great Wild Goose in Bai Jiao Xiang. This marked a crucial turning point in his life. He became a very strict vegetarian, cultivating self purification and practising the Dao (i.e. the Great Way to Enlightenment). He studied with full enthusiasm the wonderful Dao of mystics of the highest order. He spent a great deal of his time and energy in furthering his medical skills. He mastered the magical skill known as Shang Wu Fei Bu Fa (三五飛步之法). With compassion he resumed his medical practice, making prescription in accordance with the patient's sickness and conditions. At the same time, he engaged himself in manufacturing special medical pills and powder and in applying the mystic power of talisman for the purpose of treating the people of their diseases and solving their problems and difficulties. Countless number of patients were treated, cured and restored to full health. Wu Tao was thus a man of great compassion, and a physician of profound medical skills. His good reputation began to spread far and wide.
In the year 1036, on the second day of the fifth lunar month, Wu Tao sucessfully perfected the Dao of self purification and attained the state of enlightenment, ascending to heaven on a white crane. He was then only 58 years of age.
The second extract from this booklet will follow later.