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I don't think I understand the concept of "immortality" in Taoism. We're talking about physical immortality if I'm not mistaken? I can't reconcile the idea with the way Nature works. I get longevity, but has there ever been a Taoist that has attained immortality, or is it simply thought of as an ideal. It's a stumbling block for me and I would give loads of appreciation if someone could point me to a reasonable explanation. Thanks :)    

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Generally it is recognized that  the bodies of even great adepts will break down at some point, but if the three treasures are properly cared for and the mind is in accord with the Dao, the personality will somehow continue spiritually without dissolving and enduring another rebirth. And there is not such a sharp distinction between physical and spiritual.

Edited by SirPalomides
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Liberation from the death sentence of material existence is but one aspect of becoming a "xian" ;)


I've got stashed in my journal some reflections on the word itself:


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An excerpt from Damo's White Moon on the Mountain Peak might help you here. It's a great book. 



A way to understand the different levels of attainment possible within the Daoist alchemical tradition is to look at the various terms outlined within the classics. The basic levels of attainment were listed as the ‘vulgar people’, ‘the natural people’, ‘the sages’, ‘the Zhen Ren’ and the ‘immortals’. 



The ‘vulgar people’ is the rather non-politically correct term given to those people who do not follow the way of Dao. I always put the use of this term down to the unusual sense of humour of the early Daoists rather than a scathing attack on other people’s way of living. It is said that the ‘vulgar people’ do not know the ways of preserving their health and so shorten the length of their Ming. They abuse themselves with wine and bad food while dividing themselves from the cycles of nature.



The ‘natural people’ are those who change their lifestyles to live more healthily. They eat what is right for their body and learn how to live in accordance with the energetic cycles of nature. It is said that they align themselves with the rhythms of the moon and live with the seasons. This level of attainment can be achieved through following the principles of Yang Sheng Fa and adopting a regular practice of Qi Gong or a similar art such as Yoga. It is said that ‘natural people’ live long and healthy Mings.



The ‘sages’ are those who have managed to adapt their lifestyles to fit in with the rhythms of nature and the wider cosmos. They have freed their consciousness from the shackles of the acquired mind and so have freed the virtuous De from deep within. Emotional states of division are no longer a part of their being. They do not follow the cultural trends of normal society and thus are free from the development of acquired states. They are also aware of the profound empty state of reality and so live in a state of Wuji a lot of the time. They are said to live well past the age of 100 years and actualize the potential of their Ming. These were said to be the main transmitters of the alchemical tradition down into the Daoist sects.



The ‘Zhen Ren’ are the transcended humans we have discussed previously. This is a stage of attainment beyond the level of a sage. The Zhen Ren are said to be able to travel freely to any time or location in space with only the projection of their Shen. They are the masters of spirit travel and the holders of the knowledge of the universe. Many super-normal abilities are theirs and their lifespan is long and healthy. Despite this, they are still Earth-based beings and as such still a part of the cycle of transmigration which all life is subject to within the Eastern wisdom traditions.



The ‘immortals’ are those who are said to have attained the stage of freeing themselves from the bonds of the cycle of transmigration. The Daoist method of doing this was to master the process of Nei Dan, alchemical conversion of the substances of Xing and Ming within their being. The immortals are said to hold the poles of Yin and Yang within their being and to have mastered the nature of reality. The immortals are then divided into several sub-types: ‘Earthly immortals’, ‘ghost immortals’, ‘spirit immortals’ and ‘Heavenly immortals’. Note that, beyond this, some traditions divide the categorization of immortals still further into different sub-sections. In my opinion, though, this kind of further analysis of ‘immortal-types’ is somewhat academic!


Earthly Immortals

The ‘Earthly immortals’ were those immortals who were said to have consolidated their Ming to such a level that they were beyond the usual limitations of biological ageing processes. They could live for hundreds, if not thousands, of years without showing any obvious signs of ageing. Many of the emperors of ancient China are said to have sought out this level of attainment and some are said to have died in the pursuit of this goal through dangerous means. Mastery of this level must involve being able to control the movement of the congenital into the acquired Jing to such a level that the developmental processes of Jing are put into stasis. These beings are still rumoured to live in many of the mountains throughout China and South East Asia, and it seems that many of the local villages in the rural regions of China had ‘urban legends’ of the immortals of ancient times still living up in the nearby mountains. On the point of their death, which they choose, the Earthly immortals are said to dissolve into the light of the diamond or rainbow body and move into the immortal realm.


Ghost Immortals

The rather forlorn-sounding ‘ghost immortals’ are those who have fallen into the path of delusion somewhere in their practices. Although the Xing was taken to the stage of being able to live independently, the practitioner still had acquired bonds to the lower realms of Ming. Upon freeing themselves from the body they became divided from the process of transmigration but ended up being stuck on the Earthly realm rather than being transported up into the immortal realm. They basically then live as a kind of ‘light being’ which can never move beyond their current attachment to the realm of existence. This is considered something of a mistake in the practice of Nei Dan!


Spirit Immortals

‘Spirit immortals’ have consolidated their Shen to the point of being able to live independently of the body through mastery of the golden embryo and the practice of the diamond or rainbow body. Despite this, they are only really immortals in that they are separated from the process of transmigration for a very long time. Their Xing and Ming were cultivated to the point of being able to escape the cycle of rebirth, but they never truly opened up the full connection to Dao through the purification of their Xin. They are said to exist within the realm of pure spirit for potentially hundreds of years but then inevitably begin to be drawn back into the cycle of existence once again.

Heavenly Immortals

‘Heavenly immortals’ are those who are said to have truly attained immortality. They have purified the true consciousness and freed themselves form the bondages of both Xing and Ming. After a long life of vibrant health and wisdom, they fully attain the golden embryo and move into the various layers of the immortal realm, free from the cycle of rebirth. Very few are said to have attained this level of skill.


The above discussion of the levels of immortals brings us to an important aspect of alchemical training. Although the mind may be stilled to the point of bringing the spirits in to form the light of Yuan Shen, this does not mean that the acquired mind has been shed. This is an important facet of work that needs to be made clear. This stage of true consciousness is called realization by some, enlightenment by others. Whatever term you choose to apply to this state of being, remember that it really is a stage which can always be taken further. Further exploration and dissolving of the layers of the acquired mind can always be done; allow the light of Yuan Shen to ‘burn’ through these layers until all that is left is a concept of ‘no self’. This is truly a lifetime’s work, if not more.

Whether or not you wish to believe these stories is completely up to you. These are the beliefs of the people who put together these systems, but not all members of the Daoist sects agree that these levels of attainment are even possible. Many do not believe in immortals and some do not even believe in the existence of the spirits at all. In my own experience, many aspects of Daoism are not as metaphorical as modern scholars seem to think, but that is only my opinion. An obvious example of this would be many teachers’ opinions of what you are working with during alchemical training. To some, ‘true silver’ and ‘true gold’ are simply metaphors for different aspects of mind. They state that wisdom arises and that is the stage of attaining the alchemical pill, but I wholeheartedly believe that they have missed the point. For each and every aspect of consciousness there is an energetic resonance and, beyond this still, a spiritual component. It may be true that wisdom is discussed within the alchemical classics, but this is not the level of perception we must attain for Nei Dan practice.

We should strive to locate the energetic patterning of wisdom and then go deeper into the spiritual component of this aspect of consciousness. This will then take us to the level of working with the lights that exist at the core of our being. This is the level of true internal alchemy and the gateway to the most fascinating aspects of the Daoist tradition.



Hope that helps! :) 

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To throw a wrench in here, the Tai Shang Gan Ying Pian (a hugely popular treatise in Chinese religion) teaches you can achieve immortality by accumulating good deeds.



Seek virtue and eschew vice,

Be righteous without hypocrisy,

Delight in charity and mercy,

In loyalty and filial piety,

Cultivate good character then

Convert others to goodness,

Succor the orphaned and pity

The widowed, esteem the elderly

And cherish the young, fail not

To protect the flora and fauna.

Be a well of kindly sympathy,

A harbor of vicarious joy,

Neither deny the needy nor

Ignore those mired in peril,

Abstain from schadenfreude

And exalt not your own glory,

Never prate the scandals of others

But skillfully discourage vice

And encourage virtuous deeds!

Take little but grant much,

Be patient in humiliation,

Modest in acclamation,

And generous without desire

For recognition and recompense,

Refrain from revoking what

Has been bestowed upon others.

All who abide by such virtues

Are revered by men, blessed by

Heaven and graced with fortune,

Impervious to evil and guarded

By a host of celestial gods,

Their every move is successful

And Immortality is their right—

With 300 good deeds, they become

Demigods ; with 1300 good deeds,

They attain Heavenly Immortality!


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Thanks for all of the replies. I particularly found anshino23's excerpt from the Damo book  helpful. I looked up the book and thought it looked very interesting if a bit advanced for my own needs. He also has some youtube talks that seem engaging and easy to follow. 


Of course, I have my own thoughts on immortality, but I was more interested in a daoist perspective and even then, sources seem to vary widely.


On 12/30/2019 at 12:07 PM, GSmaster said:

Living on higher planes does not mean, you will be living in HEAVEN and PEACEFULLY. You may well get trapped by some demons and used as a livestock, or get imprisoned and tortured for hundreds of years.


Yes, this seems about right. Just another step in the journey and it may get rougher than this sweet earthly existence ;)    

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