Taoist mythology, Lanna history, mythology, the nature of time and other considered ramblings

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Location: Chiangrai, Chiangrai, Thailand

Author of many self-published books, including several about Thailand and Chiang Rai, Joel Barlow lived in Bangkok 1964-65, attending 6th grade with the International School of Bangkok's only Thai teacher. He first visited ChiangRai in 1988, and moved there in 1998.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Religious Taoism

Religious, or esoteric, Taoism, with organized religious communities, developed in the 2nd century CE, appropriating a variety of themes and spiritual techniques. Its adherents shared an interest in (and hope for) immortality. While the goal of avoiding death is in fundamental ways incompatible with philosophical Taoism, there are hints in the philosophical tradition about protection from harm possible for those in harmony with Tao. The lives of such perfected ones, or hsien (Xian, Immortals) as they came to be called, became central paradigms in religious Taoism. Lao hsien-sheng means “revered teacher, honored friend.” Lao-tzu became deified as a revealer of sacred texts, seen as guide, savior, and god. Techniques for spiritual attainment grew more and more elaborately enunciated.
Tao Ch’ien, famous poet/philosopher, said that to discover a method of turning metal into gold (something which would last forever), would be at the same time be to discover the elixir of life. Early Taoist sages like Chuang-tzu referred (surely allegorically) to immortal beings with magical powers; some followers interpreted these references literally, and devoted themselves to discovering the “Pill of Immortality.” They sought to prolong their lives, using breath control, yoga-like exercises, beneficial herbs and abstentions (i.e. from sex and grains). Adepts in these practices, though appearing to die, were believed to achieve a kind of immortality through admission to heavenly realms inaccessible to the spirits of regular mortals. The pursuit of this exalted state gave rise to a vast body of Taoist alchemical and otherwise esoteric lore.

Tranquility may be present in the body in the very beginning, but it becomes lost, which is why widespread tricks concerned with the body are used. They don’t conform to true Tao, which eschews ambition, and even most received learning. Important harmony comes only from beyond heaven and earth, entering from there the region between heaven and earth, where the spirit might meet it. When it enters the body, it doesn’t occupy a specific spot, but fills the entire space enclosed by skin. Any who conduct life in accordance with the ethical precepts of Tao, who heeds this ethic without violating it, preserves harmony. Whoever fails to acknowledge something like this ethic will inevitably lose harmony.

By maintaining the unity of body and soul, can you not escape dissolution?
He who has grasped the secret of life will be safe from the attack of buffalo or tiger.
And why? Because he has no spot where death can enter.
- Lao Tsu

As alchemic herbalists’ knowledge advanced, it grew more esoteric. Much as many “Taoists” misunderstood the message and sought grandeur (immortality), some who actually learned longevity techniques sought other kinds of grandeur. By living long enough, and seeing things at least partly in the genuine Taoist way, recurrences, cycles and repeat patterns in human events started to became somewhat comprehensible, accessible, usable, and even manipulable.

Mountain hermits, called hsien (or xien), are said to have, by means of dieting, bodily exercises, regulation of the breath, and mental cultivation, succeeded in prolonging life far beyond the ordinary span. Later Taoist adepts devoted themselves to compounding an elixir of immortality, incidentally achieving mastery over the forces of nature such as enabled them to perform a variety of miraculous feats. A book with short accounts of prominent figures among the hsien appeared towards the end of the Han dynasty (about 200 CE), and was followed by longer biographical descriptions of numerous other “immortals,” who had achieved divinity through devotion to Taoist practices and teachings. These hsien were forever exempt from both mental and spiritual decay.
The Chinese word hsien in written form is a character composed of two pictographic elements, ‘man’ and ‘mountain’: the name originally applied to men retired from the world, who lived a hermit’s life in the mountains. Their activities included the gathering of certain herbs and roots which, when eaten, would cure disease and rejuvenate the body, lengthening life far beyond its normal span. Chief among such plants was the ling-chi or “magic fungus”, believed to contain vitalizing elements of marvelous efficacy (Ganoderma Lucidum, the Reishi or Lingzhi mushroom; ‘het lin-jue’ in Thai).

The Taoist Pantheon developed with the growth of Taoist religion in the late Han and Six Dynasties periods (2nd-6th centuries CE). In religious Taoism the gods are conceived of as pure emanations of the Tao, with Taoist Gods divided into two categories: those of the Prior Heavens and those of the Posterior Heavens. At the top of the hierarchy are the gods of the constellations, Prior Heavens Gods exempt from changes and representing the mystic sources of life, primordial breath, and blessing in the world of the Posterior Heavens. The highest of the Taoist divinities are the Three Pure Ones of the Prior Heavens.
The gods commonly worshipped by Taoists as patron spirits are those of the Posterior Heavens, where change takes place. They’re divided into three groups: those of the Heaven, those of the world of nature and man, and those of the underworld. These three sections of the visible world are governed by the change of seasons and the continuously revolving complementary interaction of yin and yang.

Kwan Yin or Guan Yin (the Healer of the Cries of the World) is undoubtedly the most popular of all Chinese Deities. A kind of Buddha, she’s the female depiction of Avalokiteshvara, Bodhisattva of compassion, and protects women, children and sailors most particularly, but also fishermen, merchants, craftsmen, people suffering criminal persecution, and whosoever is in such need as to be driven to supplicate her. A willowy woman in long flowing robes, she rises from waves or rides standing on a dragon, amongst clouds. The Goddess of mercy and compassion, she dresses in white and light blue, sits on a lotus and sometimes holds an infant.
Murdered by her father for refusing to marry, she wouldn’t stop reciting the holy books when she arrived in Hell; the ruler of the underworld couldn’t keep the dead souls who heard her to still suffer! The disgruntled god sent her back to the world of the living, where Kwan Yin attained great spiritual insight.
There are altars to her in Buddhist temples, at various Chinese social societies, and at temples of her very own. She’s even popular as a divination oracle!
Her name in Chinese:

China was once had many Temples dedicated to Guan Yin. She’s worshipped by Buddhists and Taoists, men and women, by both rich and poor. Kuan Yin (a.k.a. Kannon, Kanzeon, Kwan Shih Yen and in Thailand, Kuan Im, sounding to me like “Should be Full”) has been depicted at times as a man, but the female image is much more popular. Usually depicted as a young, pretty woman with red lips, she often wearing a lace or brocade robe, and carries a willow branch in her right hand, a vase in her left. The vase may be upright or down-turned; from it flows endless compassion. She’s regarded as a savior from all types of misfortune, one who upholds justice and provides for the needy, and a bestower of children for infertile or childless women.

Xiwang Mu, Hsi Wang Mu or P’an T’ao rivals Kuan Yin as the highest of female deities. The Golden Mother, or Queen Mother of the West, with abode in the K’un-lun Mountains, she guards the Peach Tree of Immortality. Only one peach ripens every 3000 years, according to legend – but as this means only 3 peaches can have ripened within human memory, and that seems inconsistent with associated legends of the 8 Immortals, perhaps that number might best be taken as an exaggerated 300! Any who partake of her peaches, or receive blessings from Xiwang Mu, attains immortality. She’s shown as a stately matriarch, often with a peach in hand. The wife of Dongwanggong Royal Count of the East, whom meets once a year, later stories make her wife of the Jade Emperor, Queen of the Western Heavens and of the Immortals. She became Controller of Time, Space and Death, and came to sit on a dragon/ tiger throne to preside over dead souls coming to her. Her sacred animals include a nine tailed fox (representing cunning and longevity), a three legged crow (representing death), a toad or frog (rebirth), and a rabbit holding sacred mushrooms (for experience of altered states of consciousness). Spiraling clouds of energy are often drawn around and her familiar spirits.

Yu-huang-Shang-Di, The Jade Emperor (Tien Kung) is Father Heaven, the August Supreme Emperor of Jade, whose court is in the highest level of heaven, may originally have been a sky god. The Jade Emperor made men, fashioning them from clay. His heavenly court parallels Beijing’s Forbidden City, controlling army, bureaucracy, a royal family and parasitical courtiers, but the Jade Emperor’s rule is orderly and without caprice. The seasons come and go as they should, good is rewarded and evil punished. Over time, the Jade Emperor became more and more remote, and it became customary to approach him through his doorkeeper, the Transcendental Dignitary. As the great High God of the Taoists, he rules Heaven as a Potentate rules on Earth: all other gods report to him. He meets out justice, like a judge, through the court system of Hell, where evil deeds and thoughts are punished. He’s Lord of the living and the dead, of Bhoddhivistas, gods and demons. Although Yu-huang is the highest ruler in the Taoist Heavens, he ranks beneath the 3 Pure Ones, who are more elemental forces than ruling Deities.
Usually depicted sitting on a throne, his impassive countenance partially obscured by strings of pearls hanging from the front of his hat, the Jade Emperor often holds a pointed slab of jade as a symbol of authority. For some, Yu Huang is too holy to be represented by an image, but they place a tablet bearing his title on altars. His birthday’s the 1st day of spring.

Guan Gong or Kwan Yu, is the object of the second most prevalent Taoist cult in traditional China (behind Kwan Yin). A native of Shandong province, he was a highly decorated military general during China’s Warring States Period (220 - 280 CE), regarded as strong and able, with an outstanding degree of loyalty. Despite his military abilities, or rather, due to his unwavering loyalty, Guan Gong was killed in battle (as told in the classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms). He became revered as an Immortal, and throughout succeeding centuries people believed him to receive continuing Heavenly promotions. He’s patron saint of various trades and professions (of policemen, and thieves too!), which led to his becoming tutelary deity for money-making enterprises in general. Depicted as a large man with long black beard, he stands with long-handled, double-edged broadsword, or sits at a desk, face red and stern. Behind Guan Gong one usually sees his assistants, General Zhou Cang and white-faced General Guan Ping (Guan Gong’s son). Guan Gong gets special veneration from those concerned with loyalty, military affairs, commerce, giving birth to sons, and exorcising spirits.

The 3 Pure Ones, or San-ch’ing, are Yen Si, Leng Pu and To Ta; also Yu-ch’ing (Jade Pure), Shang-ch’ing (Upper Pure) and T’ai-ch’ing (Great Pure). Manifestations of Lao Tzu (especially To Ta), they aren’t rulers, but seek to save mankind by teaching and benevolence. With Jade Pure live Yuan-shih T’ien-tsun and the Holy Men (sheng-jen). With Upper Pure live Ling-pao T’ien-tsun (Spiritual Treasure Honored by Heaven) and some Heroes. T’ai-ch’ing (a.k.a. TaishangLaojun) Great Pure, the divine manifestation of Lao Tzu, holds a fan painted with yin-yang and the Big Dipper. The highest Deities of Taoism, these 3 transcend hierarchy. The Jade Emperor rules the Heavenly hierarchy, while the lofty 3 Pure Ones do nothing.
In the middle of many depictions is the absolute highest image of religious Taoism, Primordial Heavenly Worthy Leng Pu. To his right Numinous Treasure Heavenly Worthy; to his left Supreme Way Heavenly Worthy. Some people believe the 3 Pure Ones represent or control various stages of energy in the cosmos; others focus on them as purely representative of three energies (jing, qi, and shen), the energies cultivated in Taoist meditations.
Dou Mu (Star Mother) is Mother of the Plough (the seven stars of the Big Dipper). She’s generally depicted with three eyes in each of her four faces (one in each major direction). She has four arms on each side of her body. Two of her hands are held together, palm to palm, while the other six hold a sun, moon, bell, golden seal, bow, and halberd. Dou Mu, with her senior position in the hierarchy, can save people from many evils and troubles. She has famous Temples at Tai Mountain in Shandong, at the White Cloud Monastery in Beijing, Qian Mountain in Liaoning, and Weibao Mountain in Yunnan.
Xuan Wu Dadi (Dark Lord of the North, the Lord of True Martiality, or Lord of Black Martiality) ranks in popularity just behind Kuan Yin and Guan Gong. He’s usually depicted in black robes, holding a sword and wearing a jade belt, long black hair flowing freely down his back. Proper depictions of Lord Xuan Wu always include a tortoise and a snake, sometimes beneath one of his feet. He’s able to control the elements, capable of great magic, and particularly worshipped by those wishing to avoid fires (and also Chinese martial artists). He’s the ‘patron saint’ of Wudang Mountain in China’s Hubei Province, where he allegedly attained immortality. The name “Wudang” roughly translates as “only Xuan Wu deserves it.”
Tai Yi Jiu Ku Tian Cun (Heavenly Worthy Tai Yi, the Savior from Suffering), one of Taoism’s most important Gods, rules the 10-stage Taoist Hell. After death, all human souls must appear before Tai Yi and be sentenced. He’s is depicted riding on a nine-headed lion, generally carrying a vase in his left hand and sword in his right. The vase is filled with a cleansing holy water used to deflect any bitterness of wrong-doing to people he sees as good, while the sword subdues demons and monsters, punishes the wicked and meets out justice. Tai-yi “The Supreme One” is also known as Da-yi “the Great One.” During the Han Dynasty, Tai-yi was part of a triad (San-yi) but became a personified deity, one assisted by Siming, Ruler of Fate. Tai-yi dwells in the polar star, with the five legendary emperors (rulers of the cardinal points) his subjects. He’s venerated with the god of the sun. For the Inner Deity Hygiene School of Taoism, he’s the most important deity within the human body. He’s also called the Qing Xuan Shang Di (‘Black Abstruse God’). When people die, it’s his job to decide where the spirits should stay.

T’Shai-Shen, The God of Wealth presides over a vast bureaucracy with many minor deities under his authority. A majestic figure robed in exquisite silks, even atheists worship him. Although possessed of no cult, the God of Wealth is one of the most popular Taoist Gods. Historically poor China gladly worships this wealth-giving Deity. In modern China people continue to worship the God of Wealth, and businesses across East Asia routinely maintain an altar in his honor. Every lunar New Year the God of Wealth descends from Heaven to inspect his followers. Chinese people across Asia eat dumplings this day, as they’re thought to resemble ancient ingots of precious metal. The God of Wealth is welcomed on New Year’s night in accordance with a geomantic almanac. Most images include a long white or black beard, and smiling countenance. He frequently wears a broad, heavy belt and a hat with protruding rectangular earpieces.
Ch’eng-Huang is God of moats and walls. Every village and town had its own Ch’eng-Huang, most often a local dignitary or important person who on death was promoted to godhood. His divine status is revealed in dreams, after gods make the actual decision. Ch’eng-Huang protects the community from attack and sees to it that the King of the Dead doesn’t take any soul from his jurisdiction without proper authority. Ch’eng-Huang also exposes evil-doers in the community itself, usually through dreams. His assistants are Ba Lao-ye and Hei Lao-ye - DayWatchman and NightWatchman.
Tsao Wand is God of the Hearth. Each year Tsao Wand reports on each family to the Jade Emperor; the family has good or bad luck during the coming year according to this report. Tsao Wand’s wife records everything spoken by the family! A paper image representing the hearth god and his wife is offered incense, burned for them daily. When it’s time for his report to the Jade Emperor, sweetmeats are placed at his mouth, the paper burned, and firecrackers lit to speed him on his way.
Tu-Ti local gods are minor gods of towns, villages and even streets and households. Though hardly the most important gods in the divine scheme, they’re quite popular. Usually portrayed as kindly, respectable old men, they see to it that the domains under their protection run smoothly. In traditional China, every village had a shrine to a local Earth God, who was in charge of administering local affairs, primarily agricultural and weather-related. These Gods weren’t all-powerful, but rather modest Heavenly bureaucrats to whom individual villagers could turn in times of need, famine, drought, etc. Often called “Grandpa,” which reflects his close relationship to the common people, Tu-ti typically wears a black hat and red robe.
Yeng-Wang-Yeh, Lord Yama is the greatest of the Lords of Death, judge of all souls newly arrived to the land of the dead. He decides whether to send them to a special court for punishment or put them back on the Wheel of Transmigration.
Man Cheung (Wen-chang in Putonghua), is said to have been a handsome man of Szechwan during the T’ang Dynasty. After several reincarnations, he was deified in the Yuan period, 1314 CE. It’s said he transformed himself 98 times, wrought numerous magnificently wonderful effects, promoted all three national religions(Confucian, Buddhism and Taoism), and equals in authority the 3 rulers of heaven, earth, and sea, and assists those seeking office, or taking examinations.
The 3 Mao Brothers, Mao Ying, Mao Gu, and Mao Zhong, were born at Jun Qu Mountain in Jiangsu Province 150-141 BCE. When Mao Ying was 18, he ran away to Heng Mountain in Shanxi Province to practice Taoism. After 31 years he returned, with miraculous healing powers. His brothers, government officials at the time, saw Mao Ying’s level of cultivation, and decided to dedicate themselves to the Taoism he preached. The three earned fame as mystics and healers, and are believed to have ascended to Immortality. After their physical deaths Jun Qu Mountain was renamed Mao Mountain, in their honor. A Mao-shan Sect started in the 4th century CE, offering special mediumistic and visionary communication with Taoist divinities.
WenChang is God of Culture, patron saint of scholars, students, and bureaucrats. He’s depicted as a stern mandarin in formal dress. He sits in judgment on mortal men, writing his verdict in the Cinnamon Record (a constantly updated ledger of people and their fates as ordained by Heaven and modified by human action). Wen Chang has been worshipped for over two millennia as a constellation of six stars near the Big Dipper. The Cult of Wen Chang was once one of China’s largest, and persists throughout the Chinese world.
P’an-Chin-Lien is Goddess of prostitutes. After her husband died, she saw little reason to remain faithful… she became “much too liberal and inventive with her favors” and her infuriated father-in-law killed her. Her more professional associates (professional for charging money, anyway) honored the tragedy of her death, and eventually she rose to be the goddess of sexual entertainers.
Songzi Niang Niang is an ancient Goddess involved with childbirth. If a woman couldn’t become pregnant after years of marriage, she’d pray to Songzi Niang Niang, and take some ash from an incense burner at a temple to her, mix it water and drink it, bringing the Goddess’s power into her own body, trying to relieve her infertility. Men pray to Songzi Niang Niang for sons.
Yao Wang is patron of healers, famous as a physician during the Sui and Tang Dynasties. As Medicines King, he often has long sleeves and the walking stick of a wandering Taoist.
Zhong Kui is believed to drive away ghosts and evil fortune, while bringing good luck and success. He’s depicted as a large warrior with wild beard and sword. He has ghosts following him as servants, and also bats (a symbol of luck). Stories recount Zhong Kui’s adventures in taming evil; traditional people hang his picture in their doorways on the 5th day of 5th lunar month, and on lunar New Year’s eve.
Zhang Sanfeng was a Ming Dynasty Immortal credited with inventing the martial art of taichi quan. He’s regarded as a founder of internal martial arts, and worshipped at Wudang Mountain.
Heavenly Master Zhang, officially named Zhang Dao Ling, was a powerful Taoist mystic said to have founded institutionalized Taoism in 141 CE. In that year he founded the Five Pecks of Rice Sect, dedicated to a somewhat socialist society worshipping Taoist Gods through spirit-writing, mediumship, and other occult practices. The Five Pecks of Rice Sect eventually grew into one of Taoism’s most popular sects, and remains active throughout the world of Chinese influence.
60 Year Cycle Gods: many know of Chinese astrology’s simple 12-year animal cycle, but Taoism’s calendrical system is much more complex, with an overlapping rotation of ten “heavenly stems” and twelve “earthly branches.” In this 60-year cycle, each year in this cycle is ruled by a particular Deity; the ruling Deity in your birth year is your ‘guide’ or ‘guardian angel.’ Children born to any of these Deities (born in the time they rule) are believed to exhibit similar, and particular, characteristics.

These Gods have changed over time, in the way of myths. Such progressions can also be seen as cycles, spirals, or recurrent dreams with but focus, mood or some details altering according to the needs of those who might listen. Modern trivializations by Shanghai’s Western capitalists of the 20s and 30s (anxious to diminish all things Chinese), and Fantasy game players today, show but some of the many facets of this process.

Pa Hsien, the Eight Immortals (in pinyin: ba xian, pronounced bah-shie-an) are one of the most popular groups of deities. They’re usually represented as a group, and only occasionally individually. Their stories were first recorded in the Tang Dynasty, then more fully developed and fleshed out during the Ming. The Eight Taoist Immortals have been popularly worshiped by Taoist sects as well as ordinary Chinese, and are only mistakenly associated with the Han Dynasty’s Eight Gentlemen of Huainan, the Tang Dynasty’s Eight Drunken Immortals (and associated sword technique) or the Eight Immortals of Ancient Sichuan. The Taoist Eight Immortals took form during the Song and Yuan Dynasties, and coalesced in Yuan Dynasty dramas such as The Yueyang Pavilion by Ma Zhiyuan, The Bamboo Raft by Fan Zi’an and The Willow Tree in the South of the City by Gu Zijing. By the middle of the Ming dynasty, when Wu Yuantai published his novel The Journey to the East, Where the Eight Immortals Came From, they had the forms known today. Their deeds were popularized widely in many other tales, including “Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea” and “Eight Immortals Congratulating Birthday,” tales in which many Chinese take special delight. According to such folktales, the Eight gained great supernatural skills and power, but often played in the mortal world, doing kindness and punishing evil, helping the poor and rescuing people from disaster. They represent a cross-section of the general population, showing that anybody can become an immortal. Most were reputedly born during the Tang or Song Dynasties; they’re said to live now on Penglai Mountain-Island. There’re about 10,000 Chinese Immortals, but the Pa Xian are the best known. As symbols of good fortune, their faces and names are found on ornaments and architecture, and in artwork, even modern Chinese stamps!
The word “xian” (before Communist times transliterated as hsien) has been roughly translated as “first” or “new.” The Immortals are born anew, and no longer subject to the ‘world of dust’. They’re adept at magical skills: ability to fly, weightlessness, invisibility, longevity, and mastery of the elements. These abilities arose from their virtues, most importantly humility and compassion, but also courage, humor, perseverance, strength of purpose, honor, fairness and integrity. The Pa Xian are separate individuals, and achieved immortality at different times, indeed in different dynasties, but are often depicted in each other’s company. They offer instruction to the worthy, assistance to the needy, and together represent a wide, some say complete, range of human experience: youth, old age, poverty, wealth, male, female, commoners and nobility. The first four in this listing were people of historical authenticity.

Zhongli Quan (Han Zhongli, Zong Liquan, Han Chung Li or Chung-li K’uan), the Bun-haired Taoist, first and greatest of the Eight Immortals, discovered an Elixir of Life. His symbol the peach represents longevity. Often depicted carrying a fan of palm leaves or feathers, with which he can revive the dead and control the seas, he rose to prominence in the Imperial Service of the Han Dynasty; stories portray him as a general or provincial governor in 21 BCE. It’s said he invented his Elixir of Immortality accidentally, while making maple syrup! His personal name Quan was later changed to Jue; known as Heguzi or Zhenyangzi, he became worshiped as Patriarch Zhenyang, and counted among the Five Northern (Han) Patriarchs.
Zhongli Quan is known as Han Zhongli because he lived during the Han Dynasty. In one of several stories of how he achieved immortality, five Taoist saints initiated him into the teachings of immortality - up in mountains to which he fled after losing a fight with Tibetans. Hundreds of years later, Zhong Li-Quan instructed Lü Dongbin, the popular Immortal “Ancestor Lü”, on physical immortality.
Born with a peculiar appearance - a round face with a high forehead, large cheeks, deep-set eyes, sharp nose, square mouth, thick earlobes and broad shoulders - Zhongli Quan’s face and lips are shown quite red, and his arms longer than other people’s. He has a corpulent, bare belly, is bald, with a long beard, but yet is known as the ‘Perfect Man’. It’s said that when he was born, in Yantai, brilliant rays rose like flames, and that in his first days, he neither cried nor ate. On the seventh day, he jumped up and yelled: “I want to play in the Purple Palace and Jade Capital, where the immortals live! I am going to ascend to the heavenly world someday.”
When Zhongli Quan grew up, he joined the army. Eventually promoted to general, he was defeated in battle against Tibet. His army scattered, and he fled alone on his horse, into a valley. At midnight, he met a blue-eyed monk who led him to a mansion and told him to rest. The monk left, and Zhongli Quan, tired and hungry, wandered about the grounds of the mansion, lamenting his loss, until he heard someone say, “It must have been that blue-eyed monk who let out the secret.” Startled, Zhongli Quan turned to find an old man standing behind him. The old man had a white deer fur coat over his shoulders and a green walking stick in hand. He asked, “Are you not General Zhongli Quan? Why don’t you come in and have a rest in the house?” Zhongli Quan knew immediately this to be no ordinary person, and found himself imploring the old man to teach him wisdom. To his joy, the old man agreed.
A few years later, Zhongli Quan left, and soon met hermit Wang Xuanpu, who taught him deeper, more profound Taoism, magical arts and also secrets of immortality. After some years of guidance in internal cultivation, Zhongli perfected his golden Elixir of Life. He then tied his hair in two buns and, calling himself the “freest tramp under heaven”, resumed his travels. Popularly known as the “Free Perfect Man”, he and Wang Xuanpu are considered the first two patriarchs of the Quanzhen Taoist tradition.
Immortals like Zhongli Quan drop their bodies like old clothes, their liberated spirits entering the celestial realm, until, at some auspicious time, they retake human form, return to the world and teach Tao to those who can learn. At the end of the Tang Dynasty, Zhongli Quan appeared on Earth to guide Lü Dongbin to immortality:
Zhongli stood writing poems on a tavern wall in the city of Chang’an, singing for any who would listen, when Lü Dongbin stopped in to quench his thirst, and began to watch with interest. Lü was traveling from his native village to take the civil service entrance exam. Knowing him to have the spirit to follow Tao, Zhongli engaged the young man in conversation. Zhongli tested Lü’s perception and attitude on various issues such as life, death, poverty, wealth, vanity and impermanence. Lü provided straightforward answers, which satisfied Zhongli. After a while, though, while they were still talking, Lü Dongbin fell asleep and dreamt of taking the civil service exam, passing with honors, then rising quickly through the ranks to become trusted advisor to the Emperor. He married, had a family and lived in a luxurious house; it seemed to him he had everything a man could wish for. However, others grew jealous, schemed and spread rumors about him. The Emperor, deceived by the stories, but without real evidence, decided to have Lü Dongbin banished to a border province. Awaking from his dream, Lü changed his mind about wanting to follow that lifestyle; he decided a better path was to follow Tao. Zhongli took him as a student, and together they went to the mountains to pursue inner cultivation. Lü attained much, embodying characteristics admired by the Chinese; eventually he became the third patriarch of the Quanzhen School.
Another story has Zhongli Quan grow up to become an Imperial Counselor. Under the emperor’s order, he commanded troops attacking enemies in the North. He lost both the war and troops, and fled alone. At Gumi Path he met Wang Xuanpu, who taught him a formula for longevity, plus knowledge of divine elixirs and Green Dragon Swordsmanship. Afterwards he went to Mt. Hua, then to Mt. Kongtong where he met the Venerable Ruler of the Supreme Concourse, who granted him the title Yunfang. His discussions with Immortal Lü Dongbin on the Tao of the Divine Immortals were made into The Transmission of Dao by Zhongli Quan and Lu Dongbin. In the first Qinkang year of the Song Dynasty Emperor Qing, he was granted the title of “Perfect Man Zhenyang Who Enlightens and Transmits Dao” (1269 CE), but preferred instead to call himself “Zhongli, the Freest Tramp under Heaven”, which, some say by mistake, was interpreted as referring to a Zhong Li of the Han dynasty - possibly helping to explain the 1300 year span! When teaching Tao, he normally wore his hair in two buns, with a fan in hand and his big belly exposed. A smiling old men always beaming with joy, it was said that he could turn copper and other base elements in to silver, which he distributed to the poor. During the Tang dynasty, after helping Lu Dongbin, he received an order from the Jade Emperor and ascended to heaven as the “Perfect Man of the Left Chamber of the Supreme Ultimate”.

Lü Dong-Bin (Lu Tung-pin, Lu Yan, Ti Luang Pin, or Chun Yang Zi), the most famous (and popular) or the Eight Immortals, was born 755 or 798 CE in Shangsi Province, northern China, to a family of civil servants, and became the most famous of the Eight Immortals. At his birth, an exotic fragrance filled the room and heavenly music came from the sky. His mother lifted her eyes to see a white crane descending from Heaven and flying around her bed.
His given name was Lü Yan. Quanzhen Taoists took him as one of north five ancestors, so people generally call him “Ancestor Lü”. A Yuan Emperor gave him the title of Patriarch Lu, or Lu Zu. He was titled ‘Chunyang’ for assisting the Emperor, so people call him “Lu Chunyang”. Later he became he “Who Dreamt an Evanescent Dream.” A hero of early Chinese literature, he’s said to have become an official in 770 CE, and to have written the Kung Kuo Ko, a classic on morality. The most common semi-historical tale claims he was a mortal in the Tang Dynasty from China’s Shanxi Province, unaccomplished until he was 64, when he met the Taoist Immortal Han Zhongli, who explained Taoism to him. From then on dedicating himself to Taoist cultivation, and became an Immortal.
Of his family background there are many stories. One says the family name was Li, and that when Wu Zetian was ruler, she began to kill all members of the Li family. So they changed the name to Lu! Lü Dongbin was 5'2'' tall, but with the most extraordinary appearance. His body was like that of a tiger, his cheeks like those of a dragon, his eyes those of a phoenix and his eyebrows slanted up above his temples. He had a mole on the tip of his left eyebrow and the lines on his feet were like those of a turtle. Although very clever since little, he failed the imperial examinations both times that he sat for it.
After repeatedly failing the imperial examinations, he happened to meet Han Zhongli, who was cooking a pot of millet. Han Zhongli gave Lu a pillow to rest his head on, and during his sleep Lu dreamt of succeeding in the imperial examination and becoming a government official. After a series of promotions, he was designated an important official in the imperial court, and got married. Soon he became prime minister, but then bad luck came. He was framed, and put in jail for crimes he didn’t commit. His family was ruined, reduced to living a terribly poor life. After having experienced all this in what seemed a long dream, he awoke to find that Han Zhongli hadn’t even finished cooking his millet. He grasped that a man shouldn’t pay much attention to transient glory and success; that man’s life is little but a dream. He left his family to followed Han Zhongli to cultivate Tao on Mt. Zhongnan (Zhong Lan Mountain).
Later, Lü Dongbin roamed as a vagrant, and met the Immortal Fire Dragon at Lushan Mountain. This Immortal taught Lu many kinds of highly sophisticated sword skills and also magical arts. As he learned the magical arts and became such a skillful fencer, the Fire Dragon awarded him a magic sword - one which could make him invisible. He passed a test of ten temptations, then traveled around doing good, ridding the country of dragons and monsters. He uses his sword to fight evil, but seldom kills enemies, instead defeating ignorance and aggression with compassion.
He’s venerated not only for his association with the Elixir of Life, but for compassion and severity with evil. Thousands of statutes are dedicated to him in many temples and grottoes all over China. He carries a large double-edged sword known as Chan Yao Kuai, the Devil Slayer, with which he controls demons. He wears a unique hat, which is flat and slopes downward past his forehead, sometimes carries a shield, and is portrayed carrying a horsetail fly whisk, a common tool in Taoism and traditional symbol representing ability to walk on clouds or fly (flies = flying?). He styled himself Chunyangzi, implying that his body was pure Yang.
He’s regarded as one of five founding fathers of Quan Zhen Sect Taoism (Complete Reality Taoism, the largest active sect in China). Despite his relatively high status in the Taoist hierarchy, Lü Dong Bin remains accessible. He’s credited with frequent travels among people to provide healing, exorcise demons, resolve disputes, and promote Taoist cultivation.
In a 3rd variation of the dream story, Lü Dongbin served as a government official in the Tang dynasty, but failed the highest imperial examinations. When 64, he met Han Zhongli, who gave him a lesson in the magic arts. Lü dreamt of promotion to a high official post and of enormous wealth; for fifty years everything was wonderful - then he was banished and his family killed. He awoke from dream, and decided to forego such a career. Lu practiced under Zhongli Quan for 10 years before Zhongli was summoned back to Heaven. Then, for the next 1000 years, Lu wandered about the country, preaching Taoism and suppressing demons.
When 100 years old he still looked a young man; it’s said he could travel 100 miles in a few seconds. It’s also said he now lives in Mount Zhong Lan, calling himself Hui Dao Ren! He’s associated with dragons, cranes, and fondness for wine.

Zhang Guo (Chuang Kuo Lao, Zhangguo Lao, Chang Kuo-lao or Chung Kwoh-Lao), the eldest among the Eight Immortals of Taoism, represents age, and the old. He’s called Zhang Guo Lao out of respect; the word “Lao” means “Elder”. He claimed he was born during the Yao era, in prehistoric times, and was too old to know his real age. Said to be from the ZhongTiao Mountains in the province of Zhanxi, he lived mostly in the Tang Dynasty, cultivating Dao as a hermit on Mt. Zhongtiao.
His most notable feature is that he rides backwards: having discovered that going forward is moving backward, he sat on his magical white mule facing what is normally thought the wrong way. Zhang Guo rode backward because he felt that humankind has been moving backward, away from noble dignity, righteousness and the truest qualities of being. His mule, or donkey, carried him thousands of kilometers a day, and felt no thirst. When resting, Zhang Guolao could fold the mule up like a paper map and put it in a box or wallet. When again required, he’d simply sprinkle it with water (spitting on it would do) and the mule returned to normal.
By the time of the reign of Empress Wu Zetian (684-705 CE) he was thought to be several hundred years old. The Empress summoned him - he feigned death so as not to have to meet her! He was seen preparing for the trip, and then suddenly falling dead at a temple’s gates. It was mid-summer and hot - his body began to smell terribly and was buried. Empress Wu Zetian was told of this, and gave up her idea. Soon afterwards, though Zhang Guo was seen in the mountains near Hengzhou, alive as ever.
The Emperor Tang Gaozong also repeatedly invited Zhang Guo to come, and offered him an official post in the imperial court, but was always politely refused; Emperor Tang Xuanzong too invited him, in 735 CE. Emperor Xuanzhong sent an imperial decree, commanding Zhang Guo to come to the palace and take up the post of Chief of the Imperial Academy. Zhang Guo went with troops sent to escort him, and was asked by the Emperor to explain the Way of Eternity. Shocked by how decrepit Zhang Guo looked, the Emperor asked him, “You have already obtained the Tao, but why do you look so old, with little hair and few teeth?” Zhang Guo answered, “To get to this old age, I didn’t have any method to follow, so I have turned out to look like this. It is really very shameful. But if I pulled out my few hairs and my teeth, then couldn’t I get new ones?” He proceeded to pull out his few hairs, and knocked out his few teeth. The emperor was even more shocked, and, afraid for him, commanded attendants to take him away for a rest. A little later, Zhang Guo retuned with a totally new look: thick black hair and white teeth. High-ranking officials prostrated themselves; all wanted to know his method of recovering. Zhang Guo refused to tell.
A few years later, Zhang Guo fell ill and resigned his official post. He went back to his mountain alone and died shortly after. His body was placed in a casket; disciples carrying it to burial wondered why it seemed so light, and opened it, only to find it empty! Amazed upon hearing this, the Emperor ordered that a temple be built in Zhang Guo’s honor.
A slightly variant rendition also has him frequently invited to the Imperial Court; after declining appointments by the Tang dynasty emperors Tai and Gao, in 684 CE he made his way to the capital where he dropped dead in front of the gates of a temple. His body was buried, decayed and was eaten by worms, but he recovered and went to the Heng-chou mountains in Ping-yang. In 746 CE he fell ill and died, but later when his tomb was opened it was found to be empty.
The personification of the primordial vapor that is the source of all life, his symbols include a musical instrument made of a tube of bamboo, called the Yu Ku, and the feather of the peacock or Phoenix, birds of immortality. He’s usually depicted carrying two drumsticks. Zhang Guo represents primordial chaos, smoke, air, age and the center. His picture can be found hanging over the bridal bowers of newly married couples, because Zhang is the Bringer of Offspring, especially boys. In the 23rd Kaiyuan year of Tang Dynasty Emperor Xuan (735 CE), he was granted the title “Senior Official of the Silver Seal and Blue Ribbon in Charge of the Emperor’s Diet," but is more commonly called the “Gentleman of Pervasive Mystery”.

Han Xiangzi (Han Xian-Zi, Hang Yang Chie, Han Hsiang-tzu or Han Hsing-tze) was a scholar, poet and student of transcendental lore who chose to study magic rather than prepare for the civil service. His personal name was Xiang; he styled himself Qingfu. His uncle was Han Yu (768-824 CE), a famous writer, philosopher, poet and Tang Dynasty. Han Yu was entrusted with educating the young Han Xianzi, an intelligent but wild child, contemptuous of superficiality. When still a child he became a disciple of Lu Tung-pin, could run a thousand li per second, and was wildly eccentric. He was once expelled from a Buddhist temple because of rude behavior, but was an apt student of Tao. He had foresight and the power to make wine with empty wine cups, and also to make flowers grow before the eyes of beholders. When his uncle chastised him for studying magic, Han Xiangzi materialized two flowers with poems written on the leaves.
Traditionally seen as the patron of musicians, his emblem is a basket of fruit or flowers and a beautiful jade flute (jade is associated with immortality). A great poet and lover of solitude, he represents youth, the cultured classes and the ideal of the True Scholar Dwelling in Harmony with Nature. He’s reported to have produced extraordinary plants, and to have become immortal by eating one of the peaches of immortality. He fell from the Peach Tree and “attained immortality” on the way down, which has been described as a case of “Deliverance from the Corpse”.
When Uncle Han Yu was designated Minister of Justice, guests thronged to his home, inviting him to banquets in his honor. Han Xiangzi tried to persuade him to give up politics for Taoism, but Han Yu, in response, suggested Han Xiangzi give up his pursuit of Tao for a political career! Han Xiangzi drank to all the guests with his calabash, which remained full of wine no matter how much he drank.
One day, Han Xiangzi told his uncle that he could cause flowers to grow instantly and produce fine wine without grain. His uncle scoffed at the idea, but was amazed when Han Xianzi caused multi-colored peony flowers to blossom from out a dry stalk in the middle of winter. On the leaves was written a poem in 14 golden characters:
Clouds veil the peaks of Qinling Mountain.
I do not know where my home is
Deep lies the snow covering Lan Kuan Pass
The horses refuse to go further.

Han Xianzi saw a hidden meaning, but his uncle dismissed the lines as nonsense. Han Xiangzi told him that all would be clear later. And indeed, the poem did prove to be a prophecy, later understood by the uncle! Han Yu got demoted to a minor post in Chaoyang (or Chaozhou) in the far south (near Canton) because of opposition to the Emperor’s enthusiasm over so-called Buddha’s bones. He and his family were traveling there through Lan Kuan Pass, when they were stranded by a terrible storm. His horses got stuck in the snow. Suddenly, nephew Han Xiangzi came running up from nowhere and cleared away the snow. He told his uncle not to worry, that eventually he’d be returned to his official post and allowed back with his family. Han Yu asked him where they were. When told it was Lan Pass, Han Yu was astonished, remembering Han Xiangzi’s prediction. The prophecy had come true. Han Xiangzi comforted his uncle, who was now seeing things a bit differently, and told him that this journey would do him good in the end, that he would be promoted to a higher level. Han Xiangzi escorted Han Yu to his destination, and afterwards, they transferred to Yuan Zhou together. Uncle Han Yu composed a poem with his nephew’s verse:

A memorial presented to His Majesty in the morning
Here I am banished thousands of miles away in the evening
Wanting to assist the wise emperor and rid all evils
I will not bear grudges although this body is old and weak
Clouds veil the peaks of Qinling Mountain.
I do not know where my home is
Deep lies the snow covering Lan Kuan Pass
The horses refuse to go further.
I know what my nephew means, coming from afar
To claim my bones by the river when I am gone.

Iron Stick Li (Li Tie Kuai, Li Xuan, Li Tieguai, Li T’ieh-kuai, Li Ningyang or Ti Kuai Li) is the next most popular of the Eight, after Lü Dongbin. His main symbol, an iron crutch, hangs outside many traditional apothecaries. In spite of his association with healing, he’s not as popular as Lung Pin because of his stormy temper and numerous eccentricities. Despite his abrasive personality, he showed benevolence to the poor, sick and needy.
Born in the Han Dynasty, according to the Original Chaos Chart of Immortals’ Lineages, Li was Lü Dongbin’s disciple. Named Ningyang or Hongshui, his childhood nickname was Crippled Kid. He called himself Minor Official Li, but is also known as ‘Medicine Man’. Smart with pleasant facial features and a strong body, he spent 40 years devoted solely to meditation, often neither eating nor sleeping. He’s said to have been taught by the spirit of the founder of Taoism, Lao Tzu, and also by the Goddess HsiWangMu. At the invitation of the Supreme Venerable Sovereign and Gentleman Wanqiu, Li’s soul would visit Mt. Hua (Huashan). Similarly, the spirit of Lao-Tzu summoned him to Heaven, instructing him to leave his body in the care of a pupil. Prior to departure, he explained to his disciple Lang Ling that though his soul could leave his body to make trips, he needed him to take care of his physical body during his week absence. He told Lang Ling to burn his body after seven days if he hadn’t returned by then. Unfortunately, on the 6th day, his mother got terribly sick, and Lang Ling had to go home. Confused and in a hurry, he burned the master’s body. When Li’s soul came back next day, he couldn’t find his body (which another story says had been mutilated and eaten by wild animals); his soul was homeless! He wandered into a nearby forest and found a dead body. Elated to have a ‘host’ for his soul, Li immediately attached himself to the body. When he came back to life, he realized that the body was of an ugly beggar with unkempt appearance, unbuttoned shirt and bare feet, who had just died of hunger. He’d now become disreputable, and somehow still had a crippled right leg! He wanted to exchange this body for another, but Lao Tzu advised Li that outer appearances had no effect on the cultivation of Taoism, and gave him a gold band for his hair. Li went to Lang Ling’s home, poured the contents of his gourd into Lang Ling’s mother’s mouth, and brought her back to life. Her bamboo stick of the dead turned into iron, and he took it with him.
In later times, he was given a title: ‘Imperial Sovereign Donghua Who Reaches the Sun and Reveals the Origin’. His minor symbols include a pilgrim’s gourd which contains magical medicines with which he healed many sick people, and a crab. He can transmute matter with his staff and magically makes medicine in a gourd he often carries (a symbol of the universe). At night he makes himself so tiny that he can sleep within the gourd. In pictures, he’s usually depicted as a lame beggar; hence, his reputation for helping the poor. He’s usually depicted with messy hair and dirty face. He’s often shown riding on a chimera, sometimes as accompanied by a deer. Patron saint of Apothecaries, he represents the sick.

He Xiangu (Ho Hsien-Ku, or He Hsiang Ku, 700 – 750 CE), depicted as a wise young woman, came from Ninling, near Canton in the district of Yong, in Yunmu Xi (Ravine of Mica), or perhaps Zengcheng, Guangdong Province; she’s also said to have lived in Guangzhou during the reign of the Tang Empress Wu Zetian. Her personal name was Qiong. The sole true woman in the group, called the Immortal Maiden, she was granted immortality because of her ascetic nun-like ways. Born with just 6 strands of golden hair on her head, images portray her with thick flowing hair, ‘though some say she never had more than 6 strands of hair for her whole life!
She attained immortality early, when only 14 or 15. At thirteen, she went into mountains to pick tea. There Lü Dongbin and his magic sword saved her from a demon. Afterwards, she had a vision in which a spirit taught her how to eat mica or mother-of-pearl powder (or crushed semi-precious stones - symbols of immortality, wisdom and light). She made the powder, ate it, then consumed fruits that she found in the mountains and nothing else. She found she could walk so quickly it was as if flying, and could accurately predict people’s fortunes. She swore not to marry, and spent most of her time alone. Sometimes she was seen flying to and fro in the mountains, where she spent time floating around, picking berries; at sunrise would fly off to bring the fruits she’d collected to feed her mother. She became more and more ethereal, floating from peak to peak; one day she found and ate a peach - afterwards she never felt hungry again. Having dispensed with earthly food, she delivered herself from death, leaving her corpse to become a Female Immortal.
He Xian Gu is said to have disappeared one day on her way to visit the Empress Wu Hou (690-705 CE) after being summoned by her to the imperial court, but was sighted 50 years later floating on a cloud. She’s portrayed as a young maiden holding a magic lotus, given to her by Lu Tung-pin. Her symbol, an open lotus blossom, often on a long stalk, represents purity. It’s the flower of open-heartedness, meaning openness & wisdom. She appears only to those of great virtue.

Lan Caihe (Lan Tsai Ho, or Ts’ao Kuo-chiu) - a military commander in the Tang dynasty (some say) who turned hermit and was led by Zhongli Quan to Tao. Early on, with ease traveling great distances, many thought him crazy. Although everyone else grew older, years took no toll on Lan Caihe, who always looked to be a youth of about 16. Some said he was really female; though born male, he never understood, some say couldn’t understand, how to act and behave as society expects of a man. A flute-player and wandering minstrel who carries a bamboo basket laden with fruit and/or flowers, s/he represents the lunatic, the unbalanced one. Lan Caihe also represents the poor; with symbols of lute, long castanets, and feather fan; s/he’s patron-saint of florists.
According to the Supplement to the Biographies of the Immortals and the Extensive Records of the Taiping Era, s/he normally wore blue rags, and only one shoe. In the heat of summer, s/he would wear thick clothes and coat, and wrap up in a quilt. In winter, s/he was seen lying naked on snow, body steaming. S/he’d roam cities, begging with a wooden bowl in the busiest areas. After collecting money, s/he’d tie the hollow-center coins with a piece of string and wave them around, finally letting loose so the money would scatter, to be picked up later by the desperate. Once when meditating, a cave wall became rent asunder, disclosing a casket of jade with a scroll on which were written secrets of immortality and transmutation of metals. As s/he followed the instructions given therein, the cave became filled with luminous clouds. Out of the clouds came a stork, upon whose back s/he was transported to the Happy Land of Immortality.
Lan Caihe’s specialty was the gift of music; s/he’d play cymbals and flute, and sing songs s/he’d composed. These were full of implications regarding rulers and the state of the Earth; soul-searching songs of the unreality in this fleeting life and the delusiveness of earthly pleasures. Ordinary folk seldom understood them. Though beyond their comprehension, some, especially children and the old, were enchanted by Lan Caihe’s songs and would listen to them for hours. S/he was brushed off as a mad person, but the songs brought redemption in the eyes of those who heard them. S/he’d sing raucously while drunk: “In singer Lan Caihe’s eyes, how long can your lives last? Good-looking faces are just like the green trees in spring, how could they remain, unchanged forever?” Perhaps singing of green fields and great mountains of fleecy clouds, s/he’d sing of all the heartbreak and hopelessness of the world, urging folk to turn from material concerns and emotional desires, and to pursue Tao.
One day patrons of an inn wine shop in Anhui Province where he’d been drinking heavily watched him disappear into the sky. First, divine music from Heaven came, then a white crane appeared, right in front of Lan Caihe, who climbed aboard. It flew with him up into the sky, while he dropped all of his clothes, letting them fall as he disappeared from sight of mesmerized mortals below. “Who can become an immortal without a touch of madness?”

Chao Guojiu (Chao Jingxiu, Chingxiu or Ts’ao Cao Kuo-chiu), an Emperor’s brother-in-Law, became a criminal but reformed. Younger brother of Queen Ts’ao, wife of Song (Sung) Dynasty Emperor Jen Tsung, he became known as the Emperor’s Brother-in-Law Who Lives in the Mountains as a Hermit. His father was a commander in the military. He’s shown wearing official robes and court headdress, carrying an imperial tablet which indicates his rank and right to Palace audiences. Guojiu is a semi-official title given for brothers of the empress. Chao Guojiu’s background and story were not ones of virtues and uprightness:
Emperor Jen Zhong (1023 – 1064 CE) married Empress Cao, who had two younger brothers. The elder, Chingxiu, a court official, was little concerned with his job, while younger Chingzhi was just plain irresponsible. Chingzhi came upon a couple on the street. The husband, Yuan Wenzheng, ready to sit for imperial examinations, had come to the capital city with his wife. Struck by the beauty of the young lady, Chingzhi invited them to the palace, where he strangled Yuan and tried to take his wife by force. Although frightened out of her wits, the lady deterred him. Chingzhi imprisoned her in a dungeon. Yuan’s soul approached upright Justice Bao, begging him to investigate. When Chingxiu heard that Justice Bao was making inquiries, he advised his brother to kill the lady. Chingzhi had her drowned in a well, but a deity revived her. Having made her escape, she saw an official in a procession, and thought it was Justice Bao. But instead it was Chingxiu; he had her brought along, then beaten to death with iron cudgels. However, she was revived again and promptly went in search of the real Justice Bao. Bao, not fearing the imperial family, had Chingzhi put to death and Chingxiu imprisoned. The Empress, saddened these events, tried hard to save her remaining brother. As her face was now always unhappy, the Emperor decided to please her by ordering all prisoners set free. Still, upon Chingxiu’s release from prison, he was exiled. He decided to become a recluse, and clothe himself only in plants.
One day Immortals Chongli Quan and Lu Dong-pin found him and asked him what he was doing. He replied that he was studying the Way. “What is that and where is it?” they asked. He pointed first to the sky and then to his heart. They realized that he Understood and taught him secrets of perfection. After receiving their teachings, he devoted himself to the Refinement of Tao. Eventually he got their secret formula for refinement, and was able to become a Perfect Man. Renamed Cao Guokiu, he carried a ‘weapon’ of a inscribed tablet of Permission to be Admitted to the Imperial Court. It’s said he tried to reform the corrupt emperor by reminding him that laws of heaven are inescapable. Of the Eight, Cao Guojiu was the last to become Immortal; some say this was only because the others wanted to fill an eighth cave on their Sacred Mountain! His emblem’s a court writing tablet; he represents the criminal, the downfallen and nobility. Patron saint of the theatre, he’s the finest dressed of the Eight Immortals, wearing formal court dress and carrying castanets.

The Eight Immortals Cross the Sea
One day the Eight Immortals attended a Peach Party in Heaven. On their way back, another deity (or Lü Dongbin) suggested that they exhibit the power of their magic treasures by using them to cross the sea. In Wu Yuantai’s Biography of the Eight Immortals, they must cross the raging East Sea to attend an important assembly, the Conference of the Magical Peach. Lü Dongbin proposes that eadch use his own skill or power to cross, instead of flying on their clouds. All successfully cross to the other side: Han Zongli using his palm-leaf fan, Ironstick Li Tieguai his calabash with its elixir of life, Lü Dongbin his sword, Elder Zhang Goulao his paper donkey, philosopher Han Xiangzi his jade flute, singer Lan Caihe a flower basket, and He Ziangu her lotus flower. In another version, the Dragon Prince of the Eastern Sea saw them crossing over his abode, and took a liking to Lan Caihe’s music. He decided to obtain their treasures through devious methods, hoping to gain similar skills. But after a long, fierce and furious battle, the Dragon Prince and his troops are defeated by the Eight Immortals’ use of their magic accoutrements. Variants of “The Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea” have been long popular in Chinese households, many of which are ornamented with famous depictions of it.

Worship for the 8 Immortals: For many Chinese, the 8 Immortals represent 8 factors in daily life: men and women, old and young, the rich and the poor, the noble and the lowly. Common things the 8 Immortals hold in their hands - castanets, fan, peach, stick, sword, calabash, duster and flower basket - are familiar to ordinary people, which helps show the 8 as regular, fairly normal people - or at least with characteristics one might encounter more than once - not far removed from the daily life of Taoist believers. Stories about the 8 Immortals remain popular in Chinese society, and still have influence. Special halls dedicated to them are found in many traditional Taoist temples.
Early Chinese records mix chronicles and legend, as is seen in accounts of the 8 Immortals. A humorous myth relates how, after certain Sages drank an Elixir of Immortality, they climbed upon a cloud to soar up into heaven. As the cloud began to rise, however, one dropped the vessel of the Elixir, which fell into his courtyard. His dogs licked the dregs and followed up to heaven after! Rather than to narrate an observed event, the story here means to narrate a truth, a meaning more important than directly perceptible fact. After all, it is just a narration, and any truth conveyed will not have been directly perceived; events are only selectively chosen for narration anyway, to make some point.
Taoist teachings aim to free man from attachments to the transient, thus enabling him both to use and to enjoy all things to the fullest extent possible, having assigned them their proper place. Even “truth” is transient; as is evident in that our “laws” of physics change as we more clearly observe the universe. Unfolding the higher faculties of the mind to bring a kind of consciousness more closely related to realities of the spirit, and controlling the lower natures so that they function without conflict, is the Taoist means of elevating the little self to the great Self, and transcending into

Eternal Life. Clear distinction must be made between immortality and longevity: the former belongs only to the soul, while the latter pertains to mere externals. The physical body, being generated in time, is subject to constant changes; although it may be said mystically to “put on immortality”, it cannot partake directly of immortality. What Immortality might best be apprehended as, is a continuing, persevering transcendence of time, which enables a name, spirit or set of individual, personal characteristics to continue to have meaning past the event of death.
None of the 8 had children, but they did produce effects, the consequences of which endured. Each had a spirit which, despite the transient nature of almost everything in this world of ours, has proved deathless.

“To become full, be hollow.”
Products that are hard to get
Impede their owner’s movements.
When valuables fill your house
It can no longer be guarded.
When we stop desiring what’s hard to attain,
There will be no more thieves.

I have three treasures I guard closely:
The first is mercy, the second frugality and the third is called
Not Daring to Lead the World.
Because I am merciful, I can be courageous.
Because I am frugal, I can be generous.
Whosoever takes on himself, to bear the misfortune of a realm
Is the king of the world.
True words sound as if their opposite.

Whoever is self-sufficient is rich... (Tao Te Jing, Part I, 33)
Grace is shameful, something inferior (Part I, 13)
The Man of Calling does not heap up possessions (Part II, 81)
True Words are not beautiful.

Socrates may have known nothing, a very Zen thing, but it seems possible to know a little. Not much, but here goes:

I am not alone: I was given birth to by a mother; this is not imagination.
I am a person; a person has irrational desires, but is served well by rationality.
One is inextricably involved in repetitive patterns, which one can resist but hardly escape except somewhat, temporarily, occasionally.
There are limits to what we can conceive, perceive or analyze, beyond which remain forces or patterns which affect our involvements, feelings and capacities.
You can’t always get what you want.
With other people there are always many similarities and differences to myself.
Everything changes, except the proceeding truths (presented here).
Other people, sharing both affinities with myself and complimentary differences, are, like my mother, not expendable, or less than myself. To kill a person is dangerously ignorant presumptuous arrogance, and diminishes the self through diminishing respect for the self.
Sometimes it’s time for a person to die. This should not be a personal decision, but an unavoidable one. If it’s not obvious, it’s not yet true. That people argue over abortion in the case of incestuous rape, over euthanasia, assisted suicides, &/or pulling the plug on extended vegetative state victims only emphasizes that killing is wrong. The mercy-killing of a gut-shot casualty with no hope of water, medical-assistance or pain-killers is accepted as a necessity; the elimination of hospital wards full of hopeless cases not.
10. Governmental employees who engage in killing “for the public benefit” are immoral, power-mad and wrong to the point of undermining the case for government (instead of anarchy). What government purports to save us from is sometimes what it delivers: life spiritually, socially and aesthetically diminished. Even if one doesn’t accept spiritual values, the loss of community, growth in alienation, and diminishment of positive social values makes government by greed and threat of violence less than questionable. Could the “barbarians at the gate” really make things worse?

Rules of behavior depend on subordination of the individual to:
family/clan (ancestor worship, familial loyalty, the need of youth to respect the wisdom of age)
class (dependency obligations related to wealth, financial obligations, peer pressure)
religion (a charismatic preacher, powerful god or deeply held conviction; desire to be in accord with something both transcendent and good)
community (territorial or occupational affiliations, essential extended networks)

Potential forms of rule are of 7 kinds:
1. Democracy (“We stand divided” bro against bro, brothers against father, nuclear family against extended, family against clan, clan against tribe, trader vs. priest)
2. Communism (socialism, rule by committee and judges, institutional bureaucracy)
3. Property elitism (plutocracy; who controls the most controls the most)
4. Militarism (autocracy, rule by the strong makes strong)
5. Religious (rule by the wise, most learned, scared and superstitious)
6. Anarchistic (rule by convention, threat of ostracism, matriarchy)
7. Royal (aristocracy, rule by bloodline, association with merit from distant past)
Each form has subsidiary alternatives: incorporation of parts of another, or several of the other 6, forms of institutionalized limitations (but who guards the guards?), and fraudulent, obscurant variations (legalism). Each has problems, and always there is longing for clearer answers than we have. But even dreams and fantasy come from experience.
What kind of morality, and social conventions, might be promoted as norms among good people? Perhaps, a workable code could be something like the following:
1) We’re here to learn, and can learn, even through suffering. Be tolerant of any who lose sight of this, or otherwise lose their way, but try to not be like them: ignorance, conceit, anger, jealousy and greed show a lost soul. Best not to seem to others as lowly as they may seem to you.
2) Defend yourself as necessary, while remembering it impolite to anger others, and wisest to not do to others anything you’d rather not have others do to you. Avoid force; especially, don’t even try forcing beliefs on others. Refuse to allow others to force anything on you.
3) Don’t harbor ugly thoughts, as they lead to illness in mind, body and spirit. Try to not speak too badly of others; remember that all makes mistakes, and mistakes can be forgiven.
4) Be as truthful as you can. Honesty shows one’s will, intent and comprehension.
5) Take nothing unearned, unless clearly gladly given, from anyone. Similarly, respect nature. Respect privacy and the personal space of others. Touch no intimate property, whether personal or sacred, without at least implied permission. Limit your selfishness; avoid hurting others. Pain’s poison easily debases you too.
6) Make a conscious decision about who you want to be, and how you’d prefer to react to likely situations. Don’t let others make your path for you. It’s your road, yours alone. Others may walk with you, but no-one can walk for you. Be true to yourself, remembering, you can’t do for others what you can’t do for yourself. Be as responsible as readily possible, for all the actions you can be.
7) Treat guests considerately and with honor, while not expecting the gratitude you’d prefer shown in return. Earn rapport you can depend on with your neighbors.
8) Honor Influence beyond our understanding, alone or with others, when you can, without any asking.
9) Share good fortune with others, but participate in only small, humble charities.
10) Question authority. Really. Keep asking until there are replies with a bit of useful sense!

To some, at least, it makes sense to expect that respect for the wisdom of at least some of the ancients will prove a prerequisite for survival of tests soon to come.



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