Monday, May 16, 2011

Patriarch Lu Dongbin (Lu Chunyang)

Patriarch Lu Dongbin aka Lu Chunyang
(Image: Nipic.com)

According to the Taoist tradition, the Birthday of Patriarch Lu Chunyang (呂純陽祖師聖誕 Lu Chunyang Zushi Shengdan) is observed on the 14th day of the 4th Chinese lunar month. Lu Chunyang (呂純陽), whose name means Lu of Pure Yang, is better known by his popular name Lu Dongbin (呂洞賓). He is a well known character in secular Chinese culture and is one of the famous Eight Immortals (八仙 Baxian), a group of Taoist transcendents known to possess magical powers for miracle working and banishing malevolent influences.

Lu Dongbin is also called The Son of Pure Yang (純陽子 Chungyang Zi) but he is popularly known as simply Patriarch Lu (呂祖 Lu Zu). He personally called himself The One Who Returns to the Tao (回道人 Huidao Ren), but he possesses various honorific titles that were bestowed upon him by different emperors throughout history including Perfected Man of Miraculous Supranormal Powers (妙通真人 Miaotong Zhenren), Perfected Lord Pure Yang Who Teaches Orthodoxy and Exhorts to Deliverance (純陽演正警化真君 Chunyang Yanzheng Jinghua Zhenjun), and Imperial Lord Pure Yang Who Teaches Deliverance and Inspires Trust in his Protection (純陽演化孚佑帝君 Chunyang Yanhua Fuyou Dijun). In the Complete Reality (全眞 Quanzhen) school of Taoism, Lu Dongbin is considered one of the Five Northern Patriarchs (北五祖 Bei Wuzu).

Lu Dongbin is always depicted as a gentlemanly scholar with a long wispy beard. He carries a sword on his back which he uses to banish evil forces. He was renown as a slayer of demons and monsters, and his sword when thrown can transform into a dragon. He also carries either a gourd, which symbolizes health and longevity because it contains the elixir of immortality, or a fly whisk which represents the sweeping away of ignorance and negative mental defilements. As a Taoist transcendent, he of course has mastery over the powers of transformations and miracles. He was also known for always wanting to help others acquire wisdom and achieve spiritual enlightenment.

Lu Dongbin carries a demon slaying sword and a fly whisk used for sweeping away ignorance
(Image: Source unknown)

Born on the 14th day of the 4th lunar month in the year 798 CE during the Tang dynasty, his secular name was Lu Yan (呂巖). He aspired to become a government official, but he repeatedly failed the imperial civil service examinations. Once while staying at an inn, he met his future Taoist master, Han Zhongli (漢鐘離), also one of the famed Eight Immortals. He was finally awakened to follow the path of Taoist cultivation after he experienced the Yellow Millet Dream (粱夢 Huangliang Meng). While waiting in the inn for his millet to cook, he fell asleep. He dreamt that he succeeded in passing the civil service examinations with flying colors and was given a distinguished position in the government. He then married the lovely daughter of a wealthy family and had two beautiful children with her. He continued to succeed at his job and won many more promotions. He was very happy, but he attracted the jealousy and contempt of some of his peers. He was then set up and accused of deeds that he did not commit. He finally lost his job and all his wealth. His wife left him and his children were killed by criminals. He ended up an impoverished man dying in the street. Right before he died, he woke up to find that his millet was ready to eat. The events in his dream spanned almost 20 years, but the dream itself happened in the duration of time that it took for his millet to finish cooking. The dream was actually manifested by Han Zhongli to teach him that worldly success and happiness are only impermanent and that they should not become an obstacle to his spiritual advancement. Lu Dongbin then gave up the idea of becoming a government bureaucrat and followed Han Zhongli to practice spiritual cultivation. Later, he attained the Way (i.e. achieved Taoist transcendence) and like the stories of many other Taoist immortals, he “ascended skyward to heaven in broad daylight.”

A wood block print of Lu Dongbin
(Image: Source unknown)

There are many stories and legends about Lu Dongbin, but according to records, he is known for the following ideas and achievements: He reformed the dangerous practice of external Taoist alchemy (i.e. seeking immortality by ingesting herbs, minerals, and elixirs refined from external substances and elements like gold, silver, and mercury) to the practice of internal Taoist alchemy (丹術 Neidan Shu) which is instead a system of meditative techniques to cultivate the body’s inner energies to promote longevity and health; He advocated the integration of both Taoist and Buddhist practice; He advocated the integration of both nourishing the body and cultivating the mind (spirit); He was the founder of the Eight Immortals Swordplay style (八仙劍法 Baxian Jianfa) which is a martial arts treasure of Wudang Mountain.

A wood block diagram from the treatise Secret of the Golden Flower authored by Lu Dongbin’s student,
Wang Chongyang, depicting the birth of the “immortal fetus” in the practice of internal alchemy
(Image: Secret of the Golden Flower 太乙金華宗旨)

There is also an interesting story from the Buddhist tradition called Lu Dongbin Unleashes his Sword to Cut Down Huanglong (呂洞賓飛劍斬黃龍 Lu Dongbin Feijian Zhan Huanglong). It was told by Zen Master Hsu Yun (虛雲 Xuyun), an enlightened master universally recognized by all Chinese Buddhists as being the greatest Zen monk of the 19th and 20th centuries. It was not uncommon for Taoists and Buddhists to run into one another in the vast religious landscape of ancient China, and this was one of those encounters. The legend is about how Zen Master Huanglong enlightened Lu Dongbin who, up until their meeting, still suffered from egoism even though he was already a Taoist transcendent. It is said that out of all the Eight Immortals, Lu Dongbin was one of the wildest ones. At one time, he was flying over a Zen monastery located on Lushan and showing off his powers. He observed a purple cloud over the monastery which indicated that something deeply sacred was occurring beneath it. Lu Dongbin wanted to see what was going on, so he transformed himself into a Buddhist monk and entered the main hall of the monastery. The abbot, Zen Master Huanglong, was about to deliver a teaching, but he stopped and said, “I will not give my discourse today because there is a Dharma thief in our assembly.” Lu Dongbin then changed back into his actual form and stepped forward. He arrogantly asked the master, “Please explain to me what is meant by the Buddhist saying ‘A grain of corn can contain the universe, and mountains and rivers can fit into a small cooking pot.’” Zen Master Huanglong laughed and called him a “corpse guarding demon” (i.e. one who is attached to his physical body which is actually something impermanent). Lu Dongbin did not understand that the actual nature of all phenomena is characterized by emptiness. He still held onto the erroneous view that the self was something real and permanent. Lu Dongbin told Huanglong, “My gourd is filled with the elixir of immortality.” Huanglong then said “Even if you are able to live for eighty thousand (i.e. countless) aeons, you still cannot avoid falling into the void!” This angered Lu Dongbin so he unleashed his magical sword and threw it at Huanglong. The Zen master merely pointed his finger at the sword and it dropped to the ground. Lu Dongbin attempted to retrieve his sword but it wouldn’t move. He was astonished that a Zen master could be so powerful. He dropped to his knees in respect and pleaded with Huanglong to enlighten him. Huanglong then explained that the mind that gives form to what it labels “a grain of corn” is the same mind that gives form to what it labels “the universe.” All things and concepts are actually mind-created. To attain true enlightenment, one must relinquish all mental fabrications which include concepts, judgments, differentiations, opinions, and ego. Lu Dongbin pondered on this profound teaching and became awakened. He was thereafter also made a Dharmapala (guardian of the Buddhist teachings).


Text © 2011 Harry Leong

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