Encounter at the Mineral Spa
“Gold Mother has yet another title. Wu Ji Li Tian (無極理天). She is the Divine Logos beyond all form. Roughly, her name can mean “The Realm of Infinite Possibility beyond all polarity.”
A mild winter’s day in Beitou. I slide easily into the flowing waters of the Beitou mineral spa, and its silky warmth entices me into a dreamy, trance-like state. My head is still spinning from the encounter just now at the private temple of Yaochi Jinmu (瑤池金母), or the Golden Mother of the Shining Lake. Her other name is Xiwangmu, Queen Mother from the West. If you have read the famous Chinese Taoist novel, or seen an animated version of Monkey, you might have an idea of Xiwangmu. She is the Queen Mother of Paradise who throws a birthday party and invites all the gods and celestials to attend. On her birthday feast, she gives away peaches of immortality to her guests, a much coveted treat even among the gods! However Monkey stole into the orchard and ate up all the peaches!
We were in Xin Beitou (New Beitou), the area around Xin Beitou MRT Station and Qinshui Park, north of Taipei city. Developed as a hot spring resort during the Japanese era (1895-1945), it enjoyed the notoriety of being a red-light district. But in the past 20 years, the government has upgraded the entire area so that the tree-lined, lush hill city of Xin Beitou, from MTR station all the way up to the mountain top, is now lined with high quality spas, deluxe hotels, and good restaurants. . Behind the mineral spa area lays Yangmingshan National Park famous for its seasonal splendors. Plum flowers in winter, azaleas and cherry blossoms every spring, picturesque hiking trails, and stately homes of government bureaucrats and famous men of letters. Mineral waters stream from numerous geothermal vents that populate the region and are famous for their health benefits. Since Japanese colonization, the hot springs have improved to include aroma therapy, massage, acupuncture, and excellent food which contribute towards the fulfilling spa experience.
It was the 4th day after Chinese New Year in Hong Kong. The Year of the Dragon had just settled in, and I was nudged to travel to Beitou, after my last visit which was ten years ago. I said to my girlfriend, “Let’s go soak in the mineral springs and truly r-e-l-a-x!” The flight from Hong Kong to Taipei is just a little over an hour. Little did we know that we were in for a little adventure of our own.
On this particular day, we had made reservations at a designer spa, situated right at the mouth of the largest geothermal vent of the Beitou Valley. Due to the smell of sulfur and the constant rising of steam, Beitou Valley has the appearance of a witch’s cauldron. Aboriginal inhabitants of the area named it paktaaw, meaning ‘witch’. We were entering the witch’s brew.
Surprise Audition in a Taoist Shrine
Spring Hotel is where we stayed was further up the hill. In the afternoon, my girlfriend and I strolled down the hill from our hotel towards the designer spa. It was a 20 minute walk. As we turned the corner and was just about to arrive at our destination, we stumbled upon a beautiful mansion by the roadside. The outdoor patio was drenched in the golden-ocher rays of the afternoon sun. Statues of Buddhist and Taoist gods–including Bodhidharma–carved out of marble and granite, were spread out all over the patio, and nestled amidst pine and cypress trees. I should note here that in Taiwan, Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism are integrated very well and their cultural software is very compatible.
All of a sudden, I felt a slight push from an unseen hand. A strange yet attractive force pulled me inside. I walked up a short flight of stone steps, and landed right in the living room of a beautiful home, which turned out to be a shrine room.
Turns out the multi-storied mansion was built by a rich local merchant. Following the footsteps of his philanthropic forebears, he had dedicated the ground floor of his mansion as a shrine to honor the chief Taoist deities, and it was open to the public. Since there was no sign on the street advertising a temple inside, the entire place was very quiet and private. We could have walked right by the mansion and missed it. But we were drawn in by some mysterious guidance.
Sweet-smelling aloes wood incense was lit, and the clean fragrance wafted in and out of the open area supported by huge columns. The pantheon of Taoist deities beamed down on me from a many-tiered altar. The altars were decorated with neatly trimmed fresh flowers, freshly-lit candles and incense sticks were in abundance, and the wooden floor was polished until it glistened. I gathered the shrine room was very well kept. An air of meticulous order prevailed. The temple keeper came over and greeted us cordially, and upon my inquiry, told me the name of the presiding Goddess. In fact she has a few names. Her most popular name is Yaochi Jinmu (瑤池金母), the Golden Mother of the Shining Lake; and her other name is Xiwangmu (西王母), Queen Mother of the West. And she is well known, even in Japan and Korea. In the famous 16th century Taoist novel Monkey (Journey to the West), Xiwangmu is the Queen Mother of Paradise who throws a birthday party and invites all the gods and celestials. During her birthday she gives away peaches of immortality to her guests, a much coveted treat even amongst the gods! However Monkey stole into the orchard and ate up all the peaches!
“Incidentally,” the shrine keeper continues, “Gold Mother has yet another title. Wu Ji Li Tian (無極理天). She is the Divine Logos beyond all form. Roughly, her name can mean “The Realm of Infinite Possibility beyond all polarity.” Now that’s sounding more like Quantum Physics and Big Bang theory and right up my alley. Her name also means Primordial Ruler, the Supreme Feminine (Yin) Principle of all creativity. This Supreme Yin as mentioned in the Tao Te Ching is the “Gateway to all the wondrous mysteries.”
In this particular shrine, Gold Mother is portrayed in the form of a crone. In other temples, she takes on the form of a resplendent woman in her prime, very gold, very ornate. I gazed up at her statue. By now, the hair on my back was standing up. My girlfriend felt a powerful presence too. We offered incense, said a silent prayer, thanked the shrine keeper, and resumed our journey heading for the spa.
“Only Inside our Gene Pool!”
As I soaked in the sensuous, warm mineral waters of the Beitou spa, I heard Gold Mother talking to me. I have been working with sacred archetypes since childhood, and have had many years of training in Buddhist meditation and Jungian psychology, I have since evolved a method of my own in communicating with archetypes. Therefore, I am pleasantly surprised but not incredulous! Gold Mother’s style is telepathic, except if I become really attentive and turn up the dials of my inner listening, her voice sounds like the ringing of silver bells.
“Ha ha ha, so you are looking for a mate, and you think you can find him in the ordinary world out there? Don’t waste your time, little one. Your only match is someone who shares our same gene pool.”
By now I am chuckling. I am bemused, and attentive, to Gold Mother’s poignant message. The bubbling waters of the onsen is writhing and sending up tendrils of white vapors into the moistened air. I feel like I am suspended inside a huge cosmic womb, the silky waters so warm and comforting.
It’s a lot to integrate all at once. I look around and study my immediate environment. This is a semi-outdoor spa pool, protected on three sides by tall evergreens, but offering an unimpeded panoramic vista of the geothermal vent that runs across this part of the valley. The entire motif is Japanese chic. Under the open sky, the water sparkled with a blue green ambiance. It’s as if we were suspended in an etheric paradise. Could this geothermal outlet be a mini regional branch of the Shining Lake? As above, so below.
In the next couple days, my girlfriend and I visited the shrine three times. And a lot more from Gold Mother has come through over the past year and a half.
(Continued on next segment…)