Eight Daoist Immortals

Eight Daoist immortals – ink painting by a contemporary Chinese artistHistorically, the Eight Immortals could refer to 8 different Daoists, and it was until the Ming Dynasty, the general consensus has been reached based on Wu Yuantai’s “Journey to the East, the Source of the Eight Immortals Legend (八仙出处东游记)”.

Since then, the following eight historical figures are commonly known as Eight Immortals and each is associated with a particular nature in Five Agents and Eight Trigrams.

Eight Immortals

Iron-Crutch Li

According to Daoist classics, Crutch Li was an impressive-looking guy and spent decades meditating in a mountain cave. One day he decided to tour around the world, so he left his body in the cave in a vegetative state cared for by his disciple. 
Iron-Crutch Li (铁拐李 418-326BC), the leading figure of the Eight Immortals, from Sichuan, representing yin-metal in Five Agents and ☱ (兌) in Eight Trigrams.

A few days later, the disciple was urgently called home to deal with some urgent matters. When Crutch Li returned the cave, he found his body was no longer usable so he got into a fresh corpse of a bagger staved to death and with that unsightly appearance he entered the immortal realm.

In the popular culture, Crutch Li forever holds a metal crutch and carries a huge bottle gourd in his back. The Crutch both serves as his magic wand and his personal vehicle, while the gourd filled with plasters to cure rheumatoid arthritis, a disease suffered by the bagger as the result of sleeping outdoors.

Han Zhongli (汉钟离)

It is said he used to be an ill-templed man and easy to get cross, so his magic tool is a palm leaf fan that helped him to put out the fire of anger, one of the major obstacles on the path to upgrading our tangible form of existence. 
As the legend goes, Han Zhongli was initially a military general of the East Han Dynasty and eventually became a Daoist, representing a journey from war to peace based on justice and respect.

Thus he sands for yang-fire in Five Agents and ☲ (离) in Eight Trigrams.

Zhang Guolao (张果老)

When woman emperor Wu Zetian invited the hermit Daoist in Mt Zhongtiao, Shanxi, to meet her at Luoyang palace in Henan, Zhang Guolao had already been 100-year-old.

But he didn’t want to go so he pretended he was dead.

A few decades later, he was once again invited to Chang’an palace in Shaanxi by the musician Emperor Minghuang, Zhang however accepted. He displayed some magic Daoist arts and some charming stage arts to the emperor and his artist lover Lady Yang.

However, years later, he once again pretended to be gravely ill and returned to the deep mountain where he was spotted from time to time sitting on a donkey backwards travelling around.

It is said he used this strange position to ride the donkey to show the people the way to go forward is to defy the convention and habits, like trees growing by defying the gravity.

Thus he sands for yang-wood in Five Agents and ☳ (震) in Eight Trigrams.

Lu Dongbin (吕洞宾)

Lu Dongbin (吕洞宾) was born in 796 during Tang Dynasty in today’s Shanxi Province. Like nearly all classic Chinese scholars, his aspiration was to pass the state-level scholarly exam, that took place once in every four years, to secure an honourable job in a government office. But he failed repeatedly.

One day during his travel when he was 46, he met a Daoist immortal who offered to cook lunch for him. During the time waiting for his meal, he fell into sleep. In the dream he passed the exam, became a government official, got married and had many children; decades late, he was found guilty by the throne, lost his job and wealth, watched all his family members die and left alone struggling to survive. Then he woke up and realised it was just a dream while the meal was yet to be served.

He thought about his dream and wondered what was the point for earthly success. Hence he decided to become a Daoist and eventually ascended to an immortal’s world from Mt Zhongnan.

Lu Dongbin was a consummated swordsman thus he sands for yang-mental, the purest and strongest yang qi (info-energy), in Five Agents and ☰ (乾) in Eight Trigrams.

The guy is one of the three most popular mythical figures in China with numerous temples attributed to him, along with Bodhisattva Guanyin and General Guanyu.

Below are two lines from a classic poem attributed to Lu Dongbin:

There is a world hidden in every grain;
There is a universe boiling in each kettle.

White Cloud Daoist Temple, in the city of Jingmen, Hubei Province. It is said that Lu Dongbin (吕洞宾, born in 796), one of eight most well-known immortals transformed from Chinese Daoists, once stayed there during his cultivation.

Fairy He – He Xiangu (何仙姑)

Fair He was originally a daughter of a family surnamed He and loved bushwalking. During her mountain hike, she met a couple of immortals and was taken as their disciple. She learned how to see in the darkness and view the past and future, and soon she was known as a Fairy He the Prophet.

At the time, China was ruled under woman emperor Wu Zetian who wanted Fairy He to teach her how to achieve longevity. Fairy He told her to place those with virtue and talent on the important positions, even they were her rivals and serving a life sentence in prison; sack those who only knew how to please her but cared nothing about the nation and the people.

Wu Zetian took Fairy He’s advice seriously and the woman emperor’s time was marked as an era of peace and prosperity.

Thus Fairy He sands for gentle and generous yin-earth in Five Agents and ☷ (坤) in Eight Trigrams.

Below is a verse allegedly penned by Fairy He:


Lan Caihe (蓝采和)

As a historical figure, Lan Caihe is recorded as an actor performing in capital Chang’an during the era of artist couple emperor Tang Minghuang and Lady Yang.

As a legend, reportedly he lived a long life but remained as a young man in appearance and in the heart.

In Chinese mythology, he is admired both for being a highly experienced stage performer and for his tender, humble, affectionate, charming yet unassuming character.

He loved nature and his trademark image in popular culture is of carrying in his arm a flower basket, thus Lan Caihe sands for gentle yin-wood in Five Agents and ☴ (巽) in Eight Trigrams.

Han Xiangzi (韩湘子)

Allegedly Han Xiangzi was the nephew of Han Yu, a Tang Dynasty high official, writer and neo-Confucius who viewed the social success as the highest accomplishment of life, which is quite a departure from the original Confucianism.

It is said that Han Xiangzi once attended his uncle’s high profile birthday party as a hermit Daoist and showed the guests how to edit the external environment, which was his way to show the world there is something more advanced than mundane achievements.

Han Xiangzi is best known for his drought relief deeds for farmers. As legend has it, whenever he played a certain tune on his vertical bamboo flute, the sky would rain.

Thus he sands for water in Five Agents and ☵ (坎) in Eight Trigrams.


Ah, so the eight programs are representative of the eight immortals?? Or is it the five arrangements.

All Things Chinese
In a way, yes. 

At the beginning (and by the essence) there is nothing (zero).

Then a thought appears – a crack on the consciousness (1).

The crack forms a taichi core containing yin-yang two forces (2).

The dual forces split and interact/balance each other in motion, in so doing a dynamic structure is created in a space with four directions (4)

The most stable structure is a triangle (3).

There are 5 agents to shape the yin-yang force with certain characteristics (5)

Four directions can be subdivided into 8 spheres, known as 8 trigrams (8)

On the spheres, all things grow with sub-directions (subdimensions) (countless).
While all things in the universe are equally considered in Hinduism (countless), Taoism mainly focuses on the yin and yang (the structural building blocks of all things in the universe), and Buddhism concentrates on jumping out of the universe (0). 

Therefore Daoism can help you know about the game of life called universe better than any other schools while Buddhism can help you know the real you and the true reality beyond the game.

Taoism then is kinda like as a stage (the universe), and Buddhism is like the actor developing on the stage. The Tao being an ever-changing yet constant source while following Buddhism is a way to visit and find your manifestation to learn.

So would Confucianism then be the way to behave socially? Hence allow the universe to shape what is and will be, while you relate and balance yourself in a harmonious way to that energy so it is nurturing and for you and the good of all.

All Things Chinese
Yes, you are soooo… right.

Confucianism teaches how to play each of your given stage roles well – be a good family member, a good neighbour, a good friend, a good worker and a good citizen.

Taoism teaches how to understand the whole drama and all the roles on the stage, not just yours.

Buddhism teaches how to leave the stage and be yourself.

Cao Guojiu (曹国舅)

Cao Guojiu is said to be a song Dynasty emperor’s brother-in-law. Although living a privileged life, he observed how people’s soul could be easily damaged by the fleeting earthly power and wealth which would require countless lifetimes to redeem, hence went to the wilderness to seek a way (Dao) to rise to the occasion.

“Where is Dao?” when Han Zhongli and Lu Dongbin met Cao Guojiu, they asked.

“In Heaven.”

“Where is the Heaven?” they pursued.

“In my heart.”

The two smiled broadly. “You know who you are.” And they taught him “Secret Way to Return to True Reality (还真秘术)” and eventually introduced him to the immortal world.

Cao Guojiu he sands for Yang-Earth in Five Agents and ☶ (艮) in Eight Trigrams.

Eight Immortals’ Temples

This is the Eight Immortals Temple, the biggest Daoist temple in Xi’an, the home to Terracotta Warriors.

The building complex was built during the Song Dynasty (960–1279) and is one of the main cultivation venues for Dragon Gate lineage of Pure Truth sector in the Daoist discipline.


So totally cool. I can feel the Zen.

All Things Chinese
Zen is the shortcut to Zero bypassing all digits.

Bell and drum structures in Eight Immortals Temple, the biggest Daoist temple in Xi’an

Eight Immortals Cross the Sea

Eight Immortals crossing the sea without vessel is one of the most enduring legends in China.

As the legend goes, one day, the team of eight were invited to attend G13 meeting along with other five distinctive celestial VIPs on Penglai Island in the East China Sea. The meeting was mainly recreational with no serious issues discussed and no joint statement released. In fact, the central agenda was of viewing how peony blossoms sway in the mid-spring breeze. In Chinese culture, peony flowers represent queens and princesses.

On their way back after the boring meeting, the pack of eight felt they would like to do something rather outrageous for a change, so they decided to return to the mainland without a boat.

Iron-Crutch Li threw his crutch onto the sea which immediately became a canoe, then Han Xiangzi did the same with his vertical bamboo flute. Han Zhongli followed suit and turned his banana leaf fan into a surfboard. Zhang Guolao unfolded his paper donkey, while Lu Dongbin stood on his yin and yang double swords. Fairy He sat comfortably on her cosy lotus flower, as for Lan Caihe and Cao Guojiu, they utilized their bamboo clapper and jade tablet as their personal vessel respectively.

The story first appeared on a Ming Dynasty opera Eight Immortal Cross the Sea:

则俺这八仙啊过海神通大, 方显这众圣归山道法强, 端的万古名扬.
We cross the sea in our own mode
We made the show to let it know
You can be the master of your world
When the Dao is with you

However, the powerful sea dragon lords felt their authority had been challenged therefore sent massive organic fleets to cruise the East, South, West and North China Seas to block the immortals’ way home.

Fierce marine battles erupted. After having lost a couple of marine princes, the ocean bullies’ power was neutralised. The Immortals reached the mainland all in one piece and the China Seas once again returned to peace.

The Eight Immortals Cross the Sea

The image was made with rice in different colours that a peasant family in Shanghai’s Jinshan grew in their own farmland.

Life is a dream and a game – the Eight Immortals Playing Mahjong 

This embroidery work was produced by Shen Yunzhi (沈云芝 1874 – 1921), who created Photorealist Embroidery style.

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