Happy Birthday to the Drunken Monk!

Here at Taiwan Temples we raise a glass in honor of Jigong (濟公), popularly known as the Drunken Monk (seen in typical form in the picture below). His lunar calendar birthday is 6th day of the 3rd lunar month, which is TODAY on the Gregorian calendar.

(Story by Rich Matheson, our Taiwan Temples photographer.)

A Ji Gong spirit medium drinks alcohol from gourd at temple festival, Taitian Temple of Nankunshen, Kun Chiang Village, Beimen District, Tainan

Ji Gong (pronounced Gee Gong) is also known as *Zen Master Daoji and *Ji Gong Huo Fuo (Jigong Living Buddha). He’s an extremely popular deity in Taiwan.

*Zen Master Daoji, aka Dao Ji Chan Shifu (道濟禪師)
 *Ji Gong Huo Fuo (濟公活佛)

Ji Gong Huo Fuo Great God (puppet) General in Queen of Heaven Temple, Tianhou Temple, Lugang, Changhua, Taiwan

He also is referred to colloquially in English as The Mad Monk, The Drunk Monk, The Crazy Monk and Crazy Ji.

Ji Gong ‘Great God (puppet) General’ (大仙尪仔 or 神將) rests on scooter, Putz Santiatz troupe

Ji Gong is commonly seen in marching troupes during street parades, pilgrimages and festivals. He appears as one of the ‘great god generals’, who are represented with large puppet figures worn on people’s shoulder

(Some other common great generals are Chi Yeh, Ba Yeh, Ba Jia Jiang, and San Tai Tz.)

Ji Gong hand Puppet for sale at roadside vendor

As we wrote, Ji Gong is very popular in Taiwan. He is also one of the better understood gods by the general populace, likely due to the popular TV series ‘Ji Gong’. His worshippers cover a broad range of society: from gamblers and rebels to monastic Buddhists.

Jigong Huo Fuo is the principal deity worshipped in Long Feng Monastic Buddhist Temple (龍鳳寺) in Jiashen Township

Belying his popularity among Taiwanese, however, Ji Gong ranks only as a minor deity in the Chinese pantheon. Like most gods, Ji Gong(1130–1209) was born a mortal, called Li Xiu Yuan (李修緣(or 元), to parents who were said to be unable to have children (though obviously they had one anyway).

At birth the room Ji Gong was delivered in was diffused with a red glow and a fragrant smell. It is also said a statue of Mahakasyapa (降龍羅漢 Taming Dragon Arhat) fell off its throne at a nearby temple, signifying that a lohan had descended to earth.

Jigong Huo Fo Joss, Jigong Temple, Kaohsiung Harbor and Jungshan University area, Kaohsiung City, Taiwan

At eighteen, Ji Gong entered the monastic life in Ling Yin Temple (靈隱寺) as the disciple of Chan Master Huiyuan (慧遠禪師). Here he became known as Daoji (道濟). Unlike other monks, Daoji ate meat, drank wine and spurned the vinaya (traditional code for monastics). For this and other eccentric behavior, he was expelled from the monastery.

Jigong, The Drunk Monk, grimaces after a swig of brandy, Nankunshen Temple

For the remainder of his life, Li Xiu Yuan wandered from village to village in the coastal parts of Zhejiang Province (浙江) helping people and performing miracles. Through his good deeds, compassion and continued practice of Buddhism, he gained magic powers. Li Xiu Yuan died at the Jing Ci Monastery (淨慈寺) on May 14th (solar-17 June 1207). Not long after his death, he was deified in the Taoism pantheon and later also honored in the Buddhist faith as Ji Gong.

Colorful Jigong (Drunk Monk) statues with fans and liquor gourds in Cishan

Tales of the adventures and miracles performed during Ji Gong’s life fill volumes. Some late works have him helping the poor and righting wrongs — much like a Chinese magical martial artist version of Robin Hood.

Life-size Bronze Ji Gong Statue

Once, when I asked about Ji Gong at a Taoist temple where he was worshiped I was told he was a Buddhist god. At a Buddhist temple on the same day I was told he was a Taoist figure. This follows Taiwanese folk religion in general, but it seems Ji Gong’s place in the pantheon is murkier than most. Disciples of Yi Guan Tao, a syncretistic religion popular in Taiwan in which both Eastern and Western gods are worshipped, believe their founder Zhang Tian Ran (張天然) was actually an incarnation of Ji Gong.

Female spirit medium channeling Jigong

Ji Gong is easy to recognize; he (or she) wears tattered robes and a peaked hat with the character fuo (佛) on it. In one hand (s)he holds a fan and in the other a gourd or bottle of spirits. His or her expression and manner is not surprisingly one of a person in a profound state of intoxication.

Xinying Taitz temple’s Great God Generals at Taitian Temple of Nankunshen. Earth God, Three Princes, Thousand League Ears and Eyes and Jigong

The following may also explain why Jigong is so popular in Taiwan:

Youth line up to drink alcohol from ‘The Mad Monk’s’ gourd, Dajia Mazu Pilgrimage 2011, Taichung, Taiwan

Once, a Jigong medium noticed me photographing him at a festival in Taitian Temple of Nankunshen. He staggered over.

A drunk Jigong in rags with gourd full of alcohol and fan staggers

I was crouched on the ground and he offered me some of his sauce. How could I refuse? Surprisingly, it was a decent brandy.

A drunk Jigong in rags offers his gourd full of alcohol

It is said that Ji Gong mediums will imbibe from dawn ‘till dusk but still stay lucid. They are true gentlemen drunks and if you need an excuse to drink tonight, then now you have one.

Happy Birthday, Mad Monk!