Ji Gong (Chee Gong 濟公), Zen Master Daoji (Dao Ji Chan Shifu 道濟禪師), or Ji Gong Huo Fuo (濟公活佛 Jigong Living Buddha); all common names for a popular god in Taiwan.
He also goes by; Master Ji, Rinpoche Ji Gong, and colloquially in English; The Mad Monk, The Drunk Monk, The Crazy Monk and Crazy Ji.
Ji Gong, along with Chi Yeh, Ba Yeh, Ba Jia Jiang, San Tai Tz etc. are commonly seen as ‘great god generals’, large puppet figures worn on people’s shoulders, in marching troupes during street parades, pilgrimages and festivals here in Taiwan.
Ji Gong is also one of the better known and understood gods by the general Taiwan populace, likely due to the popular TV series ‘Ji Gong’. Ji Gong is worshiped by a broad range of people; from gamblers and rebels to monastic Buddhists.
Belying his popularity amongst Taiwanese, Ji Gong ranks only as a minor deity in the Chinese god pantheon. Ji Gong(1130-1209), was born a mortal, Li Xiu Yuan (李修緣(or 元), to parents who were unable to have children yet, obviously, had one anyway. At birth the room was diffused with a red glow, fragrant smell and a statue of Mahakasyapa (降龍羅漢 Taming Dragon Arhat) fell off its throne at a nearby temple, signifying that the lohan had descended to earth.
Aged eighteen he entered the monastic life in the Ling Yin Temple (靈隱寺), the disciple of Chan Master Huiyuan (慧遠禪師) where he became known as Daoji (道濟). Differing from other monks, Daoji ate meat, drank wine and spurned the vinaya (traditional code for monastics). For this and other eccentric behavior, Li Xiu Yuan was expelled from the monastery.
For the remainder of his life, Li Xiu Yuan wandered from village to village in the coastal parts of Zhejiang (浙江) helping people. Through his good deeds, compassion and continued cultivation of Buddhism he gained magic powers. He died at the Jing Ci Monastery (淨慈寺) on May 14th (solar-17 June 1207). Not long after his death, Daoji was deified in Taoism and later recognized in Buddhism as Ji Gong.
Tales of the adventures and miracles performed during his life fill volumes. Zui puti 醉菩提(before 1673), Jigong quanzhuan 濟公全傳(1668) and 評演濟公傳 (1898-1900) Pingyan Jigong Chuan are works about Jigong filled with tales which have him helping the poor and righting wrongs; much like a magical Chinese Robin Hood who is a martial arts master.
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 I-Kuan Tao, a syncretistic religion popular in Taiwan that worships many Eastern and Western gods, believe their founder, Zhang Tian Ran (張天然), was the incarnation of Ji Gong.
Ji Gong is easy to recognize; he (or she) wears tattered robes and peaked hat with the character fuo (佛), in one hand is a fan and in the other a gourd or bottle of spirits. Her expression and manner is of one highly intoxicated.
Another reason Jigong is so popular in Taiwan?
A Jigong medium notices me photographing him at a festival in Taitian Temple of Nankunshen and staggers over.
I was crouched on the ground and he offers me some of his sauce. Surprisingly, it was decent brandy.
I’ve been told that Ji Gong mediums will imbibe from dawn ’till dusk and stay lucid.