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  Home  ->  Classes  ->  Meditation  ->  Eight Immortals
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Meditation - Eight Immortals

The Eight Immortals crossing the sea. Clockwise in the boat starting from the stern: He Xiangu, Han Xiang Zi, Lan Caihe, Li Tieguai, Lu Dongbin, Zhongli Quan, Cao Guojiu and outside the boat is Zhang Guo Lao.

The Eight Immortals (Chinese: 八仙; pinyin: Bāxiān; Wade-Giles: Pa-hsien) are a group of legendary xian (immortals or transcendents) in Chinese mythology. Each Immortal's power can be transferred to a tool of power (法器) that can give life or destroy evil. Most of them are said to have been born in Tang Dynasty or Song Dynasty. Not only are they revered by the Taoists, but they are a popular element in the secular Chinese culture. They live on Penglai Mountain-Island.

Zhongli Quan

Chinese: 鐘離權 or 鐘离權;
Pinyin: Zhōnglí Quán;
Wade-Giles: Chung-li Ch'üan
aka Chung Li Chuan
Cantonese: Han Chung Li

Zhongli Quan is one of the most ancient of the Eight Immortals and the formal leader of the group. Zhongli Quan was a Marshall or General of the Han Dynasty (207 BC - 220 AD). Zhongli Quan is usually depicted with his chest and belly bare and holding a fan. His fan has the magical ability of reviving the dead. His magical fan can also control the forces of the seven seas and the changes in the weather. He is often depicted as mounted on a chimera (Kei Lun). In Taoism he is known as "True Yang First Master" (Chinese: 正陽祖師; Pinyin: Zhèng Yáng Zú Shī). He is known as "Master Cloud Chamber" (Chinese: 雲房先生; Pinyin: Yún Fáng Xiān Shēng) in accounts describing his encounter with Lü Dongbin before achieving immortality.

According to legend, bright beams of light filled the labour room during his birth during the Han Dynasty. After birth he did not stop crying until seven full days had passed. It was said that Lao Tzu himself, shared the wisdom of the Tao with Zhongli Quan. One day, whilst meditating, the adjacent stone in his mountain chamber cracked and revealed a sacred jade box. Inside this mysterious box contained an age old scroll that showed him the secrets of attaining Immortality. Studying the secret meditations, Zhongli Quan finally achieved his immortality. His chamber was filled with celestial clouds and music. A magic crane appeared to bring him to the realms of the immortals.

Zhongli Quan is associated with the Trigram Chen of the Bagua. Chen is a yang wood trigram that relates to the direction East, and is represented by the colors Green. Chen is often associated with the thundering forces of nature, and thus we may say that Han is often seen as jovial and forceful. His positive emotions embodies generosity, benevolence and graciousness while he suppresses the negative feelings of condemnation, guiltiness, frustration and violence.

Lu Dongbin

Chinese: 呂洞賓
Pinyin: Lǚ Dòngbīn
Wade-Giles: Lu Tung-Pin
Cantonese: Liu Dong Bin

aka Lu Yan
Chinese: 呂巖 or 呂岩
Pinyin: Lü Yán

Lu Dongbin is a Chinese deity revered as a hero of marvelous and infinite wisdom by Taoists. He was born in the during the Tang Dynasty in the 8th century and converted to Taoism by Zhongli Quan. Lu Dongbin is the most widely known of the Eight Immortals and hence considered by some to be the informal leader. His real name is Lü Yán (Chinese: 呂巖 or 呂岩). Dòngbīn is his courtesy name. Dòngbīn literally means "cave visitor". He called himself "Master Purely Yang" (Chinese: 純陽子; Pinyin: Chunyang Zi) and is called "Ancestor Lu" or "Originator Lu" (Chinese: 呂祖; Pinyin: lü zŭ) in Taoism.

He is depicted in art as being dressed as a scholar and often mounted on a tiger, the symbol of divine energy and power. Liu carries with him a white horse-hair whisk that bestows him the power to fly through the skies and walk the clouds. Lu Dongbin is also famous for his magic charms (yellow paper with sacred writings) that could ward off ghosts and demons. His greatest source of power is the magnificent double-edged sword, called "The Demon Slayer". The sword enables Lu to capture, tame, or dispel all evil spirits. It also gives him the ability to hide in the heavens and render his physique invisible to evil spirits.

When he was born a fragrance allegedly filled the room. Lu Dongbin has a reputation as a womanizer and a heavy drinker, even after becoming immortal. Lu Dongbin had mastered the five elements and yin and yang, and used his powers to his advantage to sleep with many beautful women. Eventually Lu Dongbin did attain a higher state and became enlightened.

Lu Dongbin is associated with the Trigram Tui of the Bagua. Tui is a yin metal trigram that relates to the direction West and is represented by the colors white, gold and silver. Tui is often associated with the intuitive and vitality forces of nature. Thus Lu Dongbin is often seen as mysterious, magical, and divine. His positive emotions embody courage, bravery, impartiality, and righteousness while he suppresses the negative feelings of sorrow despondency and misery.

Iron Crutch Li

aka Li Tieguai
Chinese: 李铁拐 or 李鐵拐
Pinyin: Lǐ Tiěguǎi
Wade-Giles: Li T'ieh-kuai
Cantonese: Tit Gwai Li

aka Hollow Eyed Li
Chinese: 李孔目
Pinyin: Lǐ Kǒngmù

aka Li Ningyang
Chinese: 李凝阳 or 李凝陽
Pinyin: Lǐ Níngyáng

Iron Crutch Li is the most ancient of the Eight Immortals of the Taoist pantheon, born during the Western Zhou period and originally named Li Yüan. Li studied with Lao Tzu and Goddess Hsi Wang Mu. He is said to have devoted 40 years to the practice of meditation, often forgetting to eat or sleep.

Iron Crutch Li was a handsome man before becoming an immortal; however, on one occasion his spirit travelled to heaven for seven days but after six days his apprentice mistakenly assumed that he had died and cremated his body. Upon returning, Li was forced to enter the only body available: the corpse of a homeless beggar who had died of starvation. Lao Tzu gave him a gold band to keep his hair in order and turned the beggar's bamboo staff into an iron crutch to help his lame leg.

Iron Crutch Li is portrayed as an ugly old man with dirty face, scraggy beard, and messy hair held by a golden band, walking with the aid of an iron crutch. He is irritable and ill-tempered but also benevolent to the poor, sick, and needy, whose suffering he alleviates with medicine from his gourd bottle. A vapour cloud emanates from the gourd, and within it is the sage's soul or a spherical object representing the "Philosopher's Stone". At night he makes himself so small that he can sleep inside his gourd bottle. He is sometimes shown riding on a chimera. Iron Crutch Li eventually ascended to heaven in the form of a dragon, but frequently returns to earth to help others.

Tit Gwai Li is associated with the Trigram Li of the Bagua. Li is a yin fire trigram that relates to the direction South and is represented by the color red. Li is often associated with the vitalizing and energizing forces of nature, and thus we may say that Tit Gwai Li is often seen as active, compassionate, and a little quick tempered. His positive emotions embodies delight, fondness, love, esteem, and fame while he suppresses the negative feelings of hatred, craving, arrogance and unkindness.

Elder Zhang Guo

aka Zhang Guo Lao
Chinese: 張果老
Pinyin: Zhāng Guǒ Lǎo
Wade-Giles: Chang Kuo Lao
Cantonese: Cheung Guo Lo

Elder Zhang Guo is known as "Master Comprehension of Profundity" (Chinese: 通玄先生; Pinyin: Tōngzhào Xiānshēng). During his life was a Taoist alchemist who lived on Tiáo Mountain (條山; Pinyin: Tiáo Shān) in the Heng Prefecture (Chinese: 恒州; Pinyin: Héngzhōu) during the Tang Dynasty. By the time of Empress Wu, he claimed to be several hundred years old and also declared that he had been Grand Minister to the Emperor Yao during a previous existence. He has a fabulous horse that carries him thousands of miles in a few moments. Often he would ride facing backwards. Upon reaching his destination, he collapsed the horse, folding it like a piece of paper and stored it in his pocket. When ready to travel again he would take it out and moisten it with water, changing it back into a horse. His symbol is a tube containing wands or "phoenix feather" with which he can foretell fortunes and misfortunes. He is known to help souls to reincarnate, and even today in China, his image is found is the bedrooms of those who are trying to have children. Elder Zhang Guo was a master of Taoist breath regulation and could go without food for days, surviving on only a few sips of wine. He was known to make liquor from herbs and shrubs as a hobby. Other members of the Eight Immortals drank his wine, which they believed to have healing or medicinal properties.

Around 735 AD Zhang Guo Lao was elected Chief of the Imperial Academy with the honourable title of "Very Perspicacious Teacher". Emperor Hsüan Tsung of the Tang dynasty asked the famous Taoist necromancer, Yeh Fa-shan, who this Zhang Guo Lao was. Yeh Fa-shan replied, "I know. But if I were to tell your Majesty I should fall dead at your feet, so I dare not speak unless your Majesty will promise that you will go with bare feet and bare head to ask him to forgive you, in which case I should immediately revive." Hsüan Tsung agreed and Fa-shan then said, "Zhang Guo Lao is a white spiritual bat which came out of primeval chaos." No sooner had he spoken than he dropped dead at the Emperor's feet. Hsüan Tsung, with bare head and feet, went to Zhang Guo Lao as he had promised and begged forgiveness for his indiscretion. Zhang Guo Lao then sprinkled water on Fa-shan's face and he revived. Soon after Zhang Guo Lao fell sick and returned to die in Tiáo Shān. When his disciples opened his tomb, they found it empty.

Elder Zhang Guo was the most eccentric of the eight immortals, as one can see from the kung fu style that was dedicated to him. Drunken Boxing (Chinese: 醉拳; Pinyin: Zuì Quán) includes moves such as delivering a kick during a back flip, or bending so far back that your shoulders touch the ground. According to legend, the Eight Immortals were invited to a banquet in an undersea kingdom. They arrived intoxicated and rambunctious so the kingdom's guards attacked them. Even though they seemed too drunk to retaliate, they took advantage of their drunken state and created a new fighting style to defeat the guards. Each of the techniques in the Drunken Set demonstrates an attribute of one of the Immortals: Fat Han (Zhong Li Quan), the drunkard holding a large pot in his arms; Lu, the drunkard with internal strength; Cripple Li, the drunkard with the powerful right leg; Zhang, the drunkard with swift double kicks; Flute Player Han, the drunkard with powerful wrists; Miss He, the drunk woman flaunting her body; Lan, the drunkard with a deadly waist attack; and Cao, the drunkard with the powerful throat lock.

Cheung Guo Lo is associated with the Trigram Kan of the Bagua. Kan relates to the direction North, and is represented by the colors black and blue. His positive emotions are gentleness, stillness, alertness, and gratitude while the negative emotions that he can suppress are fear, uncertainty, panic, and anxiety.

Philosopher Han Xiang

aka Han Xiang Zi Chinese: 韓湘子
Pinyin: Hán Xiāng Zi
Wade-Giles: Han Hsiang Tzu
Cantonese: Han Sing Tu

Philosopher Han Xiang was born Han Xiang during the Tang Dynasty. His courtesy name is Qingfu (清夫 qīng fū). He was the nephew or grandson of Han Yu, a prominent statesman. Han Xiang once persuaded Han Yu to give up a life of bureaucracy at a banquet. Han Yu was adamant that Han Xiang should give up his life of Taoism too, so Han Xiang demonstrated the power of the Tao by pouring cups after cups of wine from the gourd without an end. He was initiated into the secrets of Taoism by fellow Immortal Lü Dongbin while still a teenager, and quickly became absorbed in the practice of internal alchemy. He probed the mysteries of Heaven and mastered the Five Elements of Energy. The sacred knot on his robe is a symbol of his success in combining the two energies of Yin and Yang into the One Original Energy. It is said that one time Lu Dongbin carried him up to a vantage point on the mythical World Tree in order to show him the universe. Han Xiang fell from the tree and was killed but quickly resurrected himself. He was very poor, but totally unconcerned about it for he was intoxicated with the love of the Tao. He performed wonderful feats and is able to foretell the future. Han is portrayed as a protector of flautists because his flute gives life and plays the Six Healing Sounds. He is often shown mounted on a buffalo, symbolizing Taoist Goddess Hsi Wang Mu, Ruler of the West.

Han Xiang is associated with the Trigram Sun of the Bagua. Sun is a yin wood trigram that relates to the direction South East, and is represented by the color Light Green. Sun is often associated with the generating and sensitive forces of nature, and thus we may say that Han Xiang is often seen as determined and astute. His positive emotions embodies kindness, forgiveness and graciousness while he suppresses the negative feelings of jealousy, covetousness, envy and anger

Immortal Woman He

aka He Xian Gu
"Immortal Aunt He"
Chinese: 何仙姑
Pinyin: Hé Xiān Gū
Wade-Giles: Ho Hsien-ku
Cantonese: Ho Sen Ku

aka He Qiong
"Beautiful He"
Chinese: 何瓊
Pinyin: Hé Qióng

Immortal Woman He Xian Gu is the only female deity of the Eight Immortals. She is depicted holding a magic lotus blossom, the flower of open-heartiness and divine brilliance, that improves one's mental and physical health and symbolizes her power and purity. She is mounted upon a deer, a symbol of longevity and ceaseless energy. She usually carries an instrument, a bamboo ladle, or fly-wisk and is accompanied by a Phoenix (Chinese: 鳳凰; pinyin: Fènghuáng) to accompany her. At birth during the Tang Dynasty she had six long hairs on the crown of her head. She became an immortal at age 14 after meeting fellow Immortal Lu Dongbin taught her internal alchemy and gave her a precious rare "Peach of Immortality". Soon after eating the peach, she was able to journey in her spirit body to pay homage to the Great Taoist Goddess of Immortality, Hsi Wang Mu. The Goddess delightedly carried her off to the gardens of Boundless space, He Xian Gu's new home. She was able to cease her menstruation and conserve her life force energy.

She spent her youth telling fortunes, flying and floating from mountain peak to mountain peak collecting herbs and food for her mother and the poor. She also frequently flew to the mountains to meet other female immortals. She achieved great fame and was summoned to present herself to the Empress of China. She ignored the royal command and instead ascended to heaven in full daylight disappearing from the earth. Some years later she was seen floating on a rainbow cloud above the temple of Ma Ku, a famous woman Taoist adept. He Xian Gu still appears to the virtuous, the innocent, and those oppressed people who are in great need of divine intervention.

He Xian Gu is associated with the Trigram Kun of the Bagua. Kun is a yin trigram that relates to the direction South West, and is represented by the color pink. Her positive emotions are open-heartiness, purity and infinite wisdom while the negative emotions that she can suppress are worry, distress, agony and restlessness.

Lan Caihe

Chinese: 藍采和
Pinyin: Lán Cǎihé
Wade-Giles: Lan Ts'ai-ho
Cantonese: Lam Choy Wah

Lan Caihe is the least known of the Eight Immortals. Lan Caihe was from Tang Dynasty but his exact age and sex are unknown. Lan Caihe is variously portrayed as a youth, an aged man, or a girl. The deity could be a hermaphrodite, but in the form most well-known he is a young effeminate boy or youth carrying a bamboo basket slung on a hoe over his shoulder. The basket contains various flora associated with ideas of longevity such as peach blossoms, springs of prine, bamboo shoots and chrysanthemum flowers. His mount is an elephant, which gives him stability, wisdom, and wise discretion. Lan Caihe's behaviour was out of norm and the deity was known for his bizarreness. He wore only shorts and thin shirts in winter and thick jacket and long pants in summer. He walked with one shoe on and one foot bare. He gave much notoriety to his own lunacy when he wrote songs and poems that questioned existence and its fleeting cycle of life and death, which seemed meaningless to this immortal.

Lan Caihe is associated with the Trigram Chien of the Bagua. Chien is a yang metal trigram that relates to the direction North West, and is represented by the color Gold. Chien is often associated with the creativity and strength, and thus we may say that Lan Caihe is often seen as creative, lively and imaginative. His positive emotions embodies uprightness, nobility, cultivation, and embodiment while he suppresses the negative feelings of misery, deprivation, gloom, and rejection.

Royal Uncle Cao

aka Cao Gongbo
"Honorable Uncle Cao"
Chinese: 曹公伯
Pinyin: Cáo Gōng Bó
Cantonese: Cho Quat Kau

aka Cao Guo Jiu
Chinese: 曹國舅
Pinyin: Cáo Guó Jiù
Wade-Giles: Ts'ao Kuo-ch'iu

aka Cao Jing (Chinese: 曹景; Pinyin: Cáo Jǐng)
aka Cao Jingxiu (Chinese: 曹景休; Pinyin: Cáo Jǐng Xiū)
aka Cao You (Chinese: 曹友; Pinyin: Cáo Yǒu)
aka Cao Yi (Chinese: 曹佾; Pinyin: Cáo Yì)

Royal Uncle Cao is the newest of the Eight Immortals. He was said to be the uncle of the Emperor of the Song Empire, being the younger brother of Empress Dowager Cao (Chinese: 曹太后; Pinyin: Cáo Tàihòu). Cao Guojiu's younger brother Cao Jingzhi (Chinese: 曹景植; Pinyin: Cáo Jǐng Zhí) was a bully. No one dared prosecute him because of his powerful connections, not even after he killed a person. Royal Uncle Cao was so overwhelmed by sadness and shame that he resigned his office, gave away all his wealth to the poor, and went into the mountains to seek the Tao. After some time he harmonized his mind, body and spirit until he could easily transform himself into the Tao. One day while roaming about his mountain realm he met two of the eight immortals, Zhongli Quan and Lu Dongbin. Lu Dongbin asked him, "What are you doing?" Royal Uncle Cao replied, "I am nurturing the Tao and studying the Way." When asked where the Tao was, Royal Uncle Cao pointed to heaven. When asked where heaven was, he pointed to his heart. Zhongli Quan beamed and said, "The heart is heaven and heaven is the Tao. You indeed found the truth and the way. You understand the origin of things." They invited him to travel about with other Immortals.

Royal Uncle Cao achieved immortality by practicing the secrets of Taoist alchemy and inherited supernatural powers. He is shown in the official's court dress with a jade tablet that can purify the environment. He sometimes holds castanets, which he played in a soothing and relaxing rhythm to facilitate meditation and journeying throughout the universe. He is mounted upon a horse whose spirit may have helped him unveil the secrets of the Tao and immorality.

History shows only one Cao Emperor-consort in the Song Empire became empress, Císhèngguāngxiàn Empress (Chinese: 慈聖光獻皇后; Pinyin: cí shèng guāng xiàn huáng hoù) (1015 AD - 1079 AD). She was the wife of the fourth Song emperor, Renzong (Chinese: 仁宗; Pinyin: Rénzōng), none of whose children became an emperor. This does not render the historical existence of the "Royal Uncle Cao" impossible because "uncle" also meant "brother-in-law" in pre-modern China. Císhèngguāngxiàn Empress did have a younger brother named Cao Yi in historical record. But the given name of Royal Uncle Cao being Yi as well could be a post hoc.

Royal Uncle Cao is associated with the Trigram Ken of the Bagua. Ken is a yin earth trigram that relates to the direction North East, and is represented by the color Brown. Ken is often associated with the sense of clarity, serenity and stability of nature, and thus we may say that Royal Uncle Cao is often seen as steady, calm and centering. His positive emotions embodies fairness, sincerity, compatibility and agreement while he suppresses the negative feelings of anxiety, false hope and distraction.


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