The man behind "The Chain"
The Unusual Life of Kai Feng
monk, healer, torturer, mummy, and god
Hieh Kai Feng was born in 1931 as Lee Kun-Tai He lived an unassuming life for the first 40 years of his life, where he farmed a parcel of land left to him by his relatively affluent family. He
was married, and fathered 4 children. then, . Then, in 1970, at a ripeful age of 39 (40 by Taiwanese accounts since Taiwanese starts age counting from 1, instead of 0 ) as , Kun-Tai suddenly decided to become a Buddhist monk. He built a thatched hut in front of his house, adopted a severe schizophrenic as his disciple, and began to raise chickens with his new helper, whom he kept on a line of string, much like a leash.
He called the leash "The Chain of Loving Attachment".
The master and disciple were literally inseparable, since the disciple was always tied to the master as they go about their daily chores, which mainly consisted of chanting sutras and tending to chickens and pigs.
Then, one day, quite unexpectedly, the disciple's delusions subsided.
The story of the cured lunatic quickly spread by word of mouth, and Kun-Tai, now known by his Buddhist name Shieh Kai-Feng, was soon known throughout Taiwan as a healer. He claims to be able to treat mental disorders considered untreatable by Western medicine: advanced schizophrenia. dementia, and general misfits. Many believed that he can cure non-psychiatric diseases as well. Kai-Feng never made such claim explicitly, but he made no effort to deny it either.
distraught by the shame and inconvenience of having to look after lunatics, flocked to Master Kai Feng with their unwanted kinsmen. The unwanted came from all over the country, and, for a fee —which the master always insists was not obligatory— he would take in the unwanted as disciple. In Sinic cultures, the relation between master and disciple is a bond that would last for a life time: a far more convenient arrangement when compared to the annoying, western-styled psychiatric hospitals which always insist on discharging their "patients" every time they show signs of improvement.
As the number of disciples grew, Master Kai-Feng's little thatched hut also grew. At first it was extended into a larger thatched house known as "The Center for Rehabilitation" (see above). Then, a few years later. as disciples and cash rolled in, the center became "Long Fa Tang", or the Dragon Temple.
Then in 1982, the now very famous Master took in a talented (and non-deranged) female disciple by the name of Shieh Shin-Shen (all Chinese speaking Buddhist monks and nuns adopt the surname Shieh). Shin-Shen,
who has a university degree, soon became the master's right hand woman as she took over most of the the administrative details of the growing Temple and became its spokeswomen.
With the help of his new right hand woman, Master Kai-Feng soon developed his Dragon Temple into a full blown, multi-faceted corporation.
At its peak, the Dragon Temple housed over a thousand deranged disciples, all of whom were chained in pairs with the master's "Chains of Loving Attachment".
The master genuinely believed that the bondage was therapeutic. The idea was that an an overtly active disciple would be chained to an overtly passive one to achieve a kind of balance. And a sense of responsibility would be taught to the lucid and he leads the less sound, while the less sound would receive guidance from the lucid. It was understood as a mutually beneficial arrangement —a bizarre, although not at all unreasonable application of the age old concept of bringing harmony through interaction of opposites.
While the disciples works toward a greater inner balance, they were also be taught practical "job skills": They learned how to raise chickens. work on sewing machines, and a wide assortment of other skills. The deranged disciples rarely leave the Dragon Temple to find jobs elsewhere, but their continuous "hand on training" did generated huge amounts of revenue for what is now the holiest, and one of the largest chicken farms in Taiwan.
In addition to revenues from sales, money also came in in the form of donations. Many were eager to contribute: Family members of the deranged, whose biggest fear is the return of the unwanted, happily gave "incense money" to keep the temple going. And pilgrims, who visit the temple mainly to get rid of cancer, asthma, diabetes, and a wide assortment of other incurable ailments, were more than generous when it comes to money.
During busier says, it was not usual for pilgrims to wait in queue for up to a hour for the opportunity to kneel in front of the master and become his nominal disciple. Before the master take them in, the new disciples would force red envelopes stuffed with cash into the master's yellow garb, cash which the master refuse vigorously at first and would only accept at the utmost insistence of his newly taken disciples.
Institutions like Long Fa Tang is highly dependent on reputation. It is no surprise, therefore, that starting from 1987, Master
Kai Feng hired music teachers and martial artists and began a program where he would train his more lucid disciples to perform in public.
The program proved successful and a group of fifty selected disciples would soon appear all over East Asia, where, dressed in yellow and blue, the sight of fifty incurable lunatics working in absolute synchrony would bear testament to effectiveness of Master's Kai Feng's treatment method and his divine powers.
The Dragon Temple's growing fame and influence, however, is not entirely without setbacks: Master Kai Feng, who was very public and very vocal in his rejection of Western style psychiatric treatments, soon made plenty of enemies among psychiatrists.
In order to get rid of the annoying old monk, the psychiatrists accused the master of patient abuse, illegal squatting, building code violations, religious scams, and the crime of running the largest unlicensed medical institution in the entire country, where a staff of thirty non-medical personnels looked after anywhere from six hundred to a thousand deranged men, all of whom are classified as medical patients under the Taiwanese law.
The doctors, who had the support of parliamentarian Huang He-Chin, pressed the government to pass the Mental Health Act a bill with clauses specifically targeting the treatment methods used by Kai Feng. In response, the master mobilized his band of deranged disciples. For several days, Kai Feng's disciples would protest the the impending bill by playing funeral elegies in front of the shipping company ran by the bill's chief sponsor, parliamentarian Huang.
The protest proved highly effective, but in a bizarre way: A few weeks after the sound of funeral elegies, Huang died suddenly of natural causes.
The connection between death and the funeral elegies was inescapable. And thanks to sensationalist media reports, the effectiveness of the old monk's elegy soon became the common topic of afternoon gossips in the entire country.
The death of Huang helped the Dragon Temple immensely. The Mental Health Act was duly passed, but when it comes to enforcements, government official followed Confucius' advice: Respect the gods and demons, but stay far away. Perhaps no official really took the notion of the death bringing elegy seriously, but certainly, no one wished to test its effectiveness either.
With the passage of the Mental Health Act, the master's Dragon Temple is now officially illegal. However, Kai Feng's immense influence in Souther Taiwan allowed him to effectively "stay" the law through political connections.
The master's political endorsement is invaluable in election season, and the politicians he endorsed inevitably returned the favor by making legal maneuvers that helped keep the Dragon temple "as is". Even those officials who are against the existence of the Dragon Temple as a psychiatric institution feel pressured from family groups, who generally feel that the temple provides a better solution for their problems than bona fide psychiatric institutions.
Ten years later, in 1999, Long Fa Tang — the Temple of the Dragon — was recognized as the largest chicken farm in Taiwan, with a million chickens laying eggs and defecating in almost equal proportions. They are tended by helpers from the 700 mental patients in the ‘care' of the Temple, wading through slurry, eggs and chicken corpses. Hieh Kai Feng had by now sought to sophisticate the impracticalities of string, and with such a large number of inmates found that a light chain was the most efficient form of control. So he chained them together, one by one, through noon and night. He is delighted with the results, and proud of them. He firmly believes he is not only taking care of his patients but also helping alleviate the tremendous burden placed on their families.