The Eight Immortals: Li Tieguai 

li tieguai

It is likely that Li Tieguai (李铁拐), one of the Daoist Eight Immortals is a figure of legend not history, as there isn’t a fixed date for this deity’s lifetime.

Li Tieguai is usually depicted as an old and crippled man with bulging eyes and dirty, torn clothes. His name means ‘Iron-crutch Li’, which refers to the crutch that he needs to help him walk.

Although stories about Li portray a grumpy man with a short fuse, he is also shown to be kind to the poor and ill.

According to legend, Li was a handsome young man before he achieved immortality. He was also known for his serious study of the Dao and was so devout and earnest that he impressed Shouxing, the deified Laozi, who returned to Earth and offered to be Li’s teacher.

It was under Laozi’s guidance that Li mastered the art of astral projection. Invited by Laozi to travel to Heaven, Li instructed one of his own pupils, Li Qing, to care for his physical body. Li Qing was told to cremate Li’s body if his spirit had not returned in seven days as this should be taken as a sign that Li Tieguai had achieved immortality and would no longer need his flesh and blood form.

Unfortunately, Li Qing mother fell ill while Li Tieguai’s spirit was in the Heavenly Realm. As the days passed and his Master still did not return, Li Qing felt more and more miserable, worried that he would not get to see his mother alive again. On the sixth day of his Master’s absence, Li Qing received word that his mother was at death’s door. The poor man convinced himself that Li Tieguai had achieved immortality and would no longer need his body, whereupon he carried out the cremation and then left for his home in a nearby village. Of course, no sooner had Li Qing left his Master’s house that Li Tieguai’s spirit materialised. To his consternation, he found that his body was no longer there for him to repossess.

Fearing that his spirit would disintegrated without a vessel, Li Tieguai searched for a suitable body to enter and came upon the fresh corpse of a beggar who had died of starvation. The beggar was both hideous and comical in appearance, and Li was initially disgusted by his appearance. However, as he was contemplating going in search of a more attractive body in which to spend the rest of his days, Laozi appeared to Li and advised him to ponder the importance of one’s material form. With that, Li realised that how he looked like was of no consequence, whereupon Laozi declared him ready to join the ranks of the immortals.

TieGwaiLiBefore he returned to Heaven, Laozi gave Li Tieguai two gifts: an unbreakable walking staff and a gourd filled with a magical potion that could cure the sick.

Li’s first act as an immortal was to visit Li Qing’s home and cure his mother.

This immortal is usually pictured with his staff and gourd. He is the patron of doctors and pharmacists, as well as beggars and cripples.


The Three Pure Ones

3 pure ones

The Three Pure Ones or Sanqing (三清) are the Trinity of Daoism. They are the pure manifestation of the Dao and the origin of all conscious beings. Their Chinese name has also been translated as the Three Pure Pellucid Ones, the Three Pristine Ones, the Three Divine Teachers, the Three Clarities, or the Three Purities.

Each of the Three Pure Ones represent one of the three essential fields of the body: jing (essence, the source of life), qi (energy or the force that allows us to move our bodies) and shen (spirit, the vitality behind jing and qi).

The Three Pure Ones are also manifestations of Primordial Celestial Energy. The first Pure One is universal or heavenly qi  (all the planets, stars and constellations as well as the force of creation and universal love).

The second Pure One is human plane qi (energy that exists on the surface of our planet and sustains human life).

The third Pure One is earth chi (all of the forces inside the planet as well as the five elemental forces).

As they are manifestations of energy, the Three Pure Ones are formless. However, to illustrate their role in Creation, they are often depicted as humans, sometimes dressed in robes of different colours that represent the kind of qi they manifest: Heaven (blue); human (red); and earth (green or yellow).

Chapter 42

Out of Tao, One is born;
Out of One, Two;
Out of Two, Three;
Out of Three, the created universe.
The created universe carries the yin at its back
and the yang in front;
Through the union of the pervading principles it
reaches harmony.

To be “orphaned,” “lonely” and “unworthy” is what men hate most.
Yet the princes and dukes call themselves by such names.
For sometimes things are benefited by being taken away from,
And suffer by being added to.

Others have taught this maxim,
Which I shall teach also:
“The violent man shall die a violent death.”
This I shall regard as my spiritual teacher.

~ ‘Chapter 42’, Daode Jing, translated by Lin Yutang

Continue reading “The Three Pure Ones”

The Teacher


Laozi (老子) or Laotzu was the philosopher said to be the author of the Daode jing (道德經), the fundamental text for the religion and philosophy of Daoism; the founder of philosophical Daoism and a deity in religious Daoism and Chinese traditional religions.

We don’t know if he really existed, but there are theories that say that he was teacher to Confucius. That, however, would have placed Laozi in the sixth century (BCE), whereas there exists a first century (BCE) version of the Daode jing.

One theory suggests that the Daode jing is a collection of sayings, compiled over several centuries, and that one of its authors is a teacher referred to naturally as Laozi, meaning ‘Old Master’.

Laozi’s personal name is said to be either Li Er (李耳) or Li Dan (李聃). Claimed by the Tang Dynasty emperors as the founder of their lineage, the sage was granted the title ‘Supremely Mysterious and Primordial Emperor’ or Taishang Xuanyuan Huangdi (太上玄元皇帝).

As a deity and religious personage, Laozi is known as the ‘Supreme Old Lord’ or Taishang Laojun (太上老君) and one of the Three Pure Ones.