For a long time now I’ve been wanting to tell this Taoist story about a young girl who wanted to learn Taoist magic and become an immortaless. It really has good advice about self-cultivation of Taoism and goes like this:
In the province of Sichuan there was a very rich man, who had a young daughter, she was quite beautiful and intelligent, but desperately wanted to learn Tao magic. She told her father from a very young age she didn’t want to marry but rather wanted to read Taoist books and to cultivate herself according to Taoist doctrines. Her father opposed this strongly and forbid her to do so.
When she turned 16, a boy on a white crane suddenly appeared at her home and said to her, “I am a Taoist and have heard you are very interested in Taoist magic and internal cultivation, so I was sent to guide you.”
Surprised and happy, the girl hid the boy and his white crane in a room at the back of the family compound, but only after a few days a maid discovered her secret. She warned the girl that her father would be very upset if he found out what she was doing and told her to send the boy away immediately.
The daughter begged the maid to keep this secret for her and promised the maid, “I will send him away after having learned Taoist magic from him.”
One night, at midnight, the girl said to the boy, “In order to learn Taoism, I must read Taoist books, but my father forbids me from having Taoist books and to even read one if I had one. What can I do?”
The boy said to her, “You really love Taoism with great sincerity. Actually, there is no difference between you and those who cultivate Taoist doctrines in hermitages, temples, and monasteries. Since ancient times, those who could fly through the sky in the daytime never read Taoist books either. They were born Taoists, like you. The Queen Mother of the West [Xi Wangmu] once announced that Emperor Wudi of the Han dynasty was born an immortal.”
Despondently, the girl said, “But I wear clothes, eat food, and indulge in things like ordinary people. Because of this I think it will be very difficult for me to become an immortaless.”
The boy responded, “If you sincerely admire the Taoist immortal teachings from the bottom of your heart and you focus your attention on them, all the immortals will be moved and will come to help you, just as I have. Those people who are always undecided and suspicious of the teachings will never become a celestial.”
“How will you teach me, then?” she asked.
“You are surely not an ordinary girl,” he told her. “If you truly make up your mind and concentrate [through meditation], you’ll go to the Western Paradise of the Queen Mother and learn to be an immortaless, and this will happen sooner than later if you are sincere.”
After saying this the boy stood up and took his leave, but said to her as he mounted his white crane, “I hope you will focus on cultivating your self, but I must leave now. Remember, the true secret of cultivation is sinceritly and determination.” The boy then flew away into the sky on his white crane.
The girl was so elated over hearing these instructions from a Taoist immortal and so doubled her efforts with meditation. Not long afterwards she dreamt of going to the Western Paradise of the Queen Mother who predicted she would become an immortaless in this very life and instructed her on the ways of Taoist magic.
This story clearly shows that cultivating Taoist ideals and methods must be based in sincerity if one wishes to succeed.
I once heard this same advice from my Buddhist teacher, who said that sincerity is the root of all spiritual practices. Actually, it is the root of all things we wish to accomplish or experience. Artists of all types understand this quite well. Nobody ever excels in their field of endeavor without first possessing sincerity.
—Stuart Alve Olson