The Eight Immortals
Taoism has an inextricable link with stories and practices relating to Immortality, such as the Eight Immortals. It would be ignoring a fundamental part of Taoism to ignore this. What is beyond denying is that Taoist practices keep you youthful in both appearance with a supple body, into old age. Maybe we all age but this does it really have to happen in a painful and degrading way, or can it can happen with grace, beauty and style?
History of Immortality
Immortality has been recorded in practically every culture around the world. The search for the Fountain of Youth or Elixir of Life if a common theme in folk tales. My former tai chi teacher recounted to me the tale of Genesis explaining it as being about the battle between the 'gods' (people who had become immortal) and a new tribe of people created by the one true God. A deep reading of the passages of the Bible/Torah/Koran in this light are pretty interesting and the Bible does contains characters who don't die (Enoch, Moses, Elijah, Jacob, Jesus).
The idea of Spiritual Immortality is central to practically every religion and spiritual belief. People have always wanted to know more, asking themselves: Do we have soul / spirits? What happens after we die? How can we affect the outcome? Wars have been fought and genocide committed over these matters. Admittedly this has largely been due to certain people using this to control populations. It's inevitably part of being human to look at the stars and wonder what is out there and what happens when we die.
The Search for Eternal Youth
Legends of Immortality
Taoism is full of stories of immortality. The gods of Taoism are people who achieved immortality. The Eight Immortals are all humans who achieved immortality. They did this through Inner Alchemy practices, cultivating virtue and chi and transforming sexual energy into spiritual energy. The Queen Mother of the West, Xi Wang Mu, is one of the most highly regarded of Taoist immortals, in particular she is revered by Taoist women, because she transcended mortality and Confuscionist oppression (sexism/patriarchy). Legend has it that once she was a mortal and she transcended mortality through alchemy practices and now sits in a palace of perfection of the mythical Kunlun mountain, holding court with deities and distributing peaches of immortality, which she picks from her magical orchard, to the worthy. She is the guardian of all Taoist women and is looked to for guidance by Taoist women still today. Perhaps we all age, but we have a choice about how to do that and it does not have to be the fate that so many are meeting these days. The story is also an analogy for overcoming the repressive nature of any society, the struggles of life, and in particular the difficult positions of women. It is about empowerment and destiny. Taoist practices are about reawakening chi flow to nourish the body and reversing cell degeneration to living as long as possible.
The 250 year old man
The idea of immortality might seem mythical but more recently, Li Ching Yuen lived 256 years. He was a herbalist and practiced chi kung. There are many examples people who make it to around 150, most of them far away from western society, but why are we settling for a life expectancy of only 80 in a country with supposedly the best medicine ever?
Master your own Health
Certainly, we have a far greater control over our health than often is admitted. People habitually give away their power, feeling disempowered to care for themselves because of the genetics narrative that seems to have convinced a lot of people that there health is purely down to genes. Scientists now realise genes switch themselves on and off, and this is controlled by our thought processes. For most people genetics plays a pretty minor role in their health and they would benefit greatly from chi kung (energy work) practice.
A Worldwide Concept
Spiritual Immortality is an idea that most cultures in the world are pretty happy to accept. In fact the idea of life after death has commonly been used to control the behaviour of people. Taoists believe that in our lifetimes we have a moral duty to the best people we can be, including in the physical sense that we should be healthy with a strong energy body, as this is the basis of balanced thoughts. It is interesting that most religions ignore the importance of physical health. Taoist sees the three bodies: physical, emotional and spiritual, and being inextricably connected and so being physically well is the path to spiritual health, in the same as how a house should have a solid foundation. This strong energy, cultivated through the physical body would then help us to break free of the cycle of reincarnation and ascend into the violet light of the cosmos to take a place in the Universe.
Taoist practice aims to cultivate an immortal fetus in our lower tan tien as a spiritual practice and in preparation for the afterlife. This is a spiritual process and the reason why the importance of being virtuous is emphasized is that the fetus wants to be around virtuous and balanced energy. It is said that when we circulate our microcosmic orbit nine time, a drop of elixir is deposited in the elixir field of the tan tien. With practice this grows into a new being for us to inhabit after death.
Our Souls and Spirits
Taoists describe each human as having two souls, a heavenly soul called the Hun which lives in the Liver (we have 3 hun) and an earthly or animal Soul called the Po that lives in the Lungs (we have 7 of these). Technically speaking that is 10 souls, and some can go missing, especially when passed out under the influence of substances, a major cause of mental illness. Then we have a Shen spirit in our Hearts, which is about our connection and vitality, it is our spirit or mind. In the Spleen lives our Yi or Intenion, and the Zhi or Willpower lives in the Kidneys. Also there is a spirit a meter above our heads, one a meter below, and one behind each knee, these ones stabilise us. In the fusion practices taught by Mantak Chia, we can learn to create a strong energy body so that at death, all the souls and spirits can stay in the energy body and ascend into the Universe. The illustration above shows 7 po souls crossing into the underworld and the drawing below depicts the 3 hun and 7 po.
Is Physical Immortality Possible?
Like most mythology, Taoism is full of stories of physical immortality and supernatural states of being. To the educated logical western brain these are pure fantasy. Anthropologists would see these stories as analogies of the human condition. I have no doubt there is something very powerful in Taoist practices that reverses cell degeneration because I have experienced it myself. Taoist meditation involves activating the seven glands and so there is a lot of massage of the breasts, testicles, ovaries and genitals, even if you are practicing celibacy. These massages activate the glands and when the glands, in particular the thymus, we are restored to a youthful state and cell degeneration is reversed. One only needs to walk around Tao Gardens in Chiang Mai to see this. People have an ageless beauty to them, and it's very striking.
Can I become Immortal?
This idea might be controversial, but there are people working towards it. I asked Mantak Chia is physical immortality is possible and he said 'Why not?'. He also refers to it as a possibility in some of his books. I am experimenting with the idea which I became interested in when I saw Taoist practices reversing signs of ageing in myself. I asked myself, if this can happen, where is the limit? That's another question pertinent to human existence: who limits us and where do we limit ourselves?
How is it possible?
Immortality is about gaining complete control of your physical, mental, energetic and spiritual functions. You cultivate chi and virtues and reach such a high level of focus that you are in control of every cell of your being. Personally I noticed that when I started to practice seriously, especially using jing energy to heal my body, my wrinkles and grey hairs disappeared, my skin became softer and people commented that I looked vibrant and younger. Practices like breast massage to divert sexual hormones to the other glands literally reverse cell degeneration. Tai chi allows the practitioners to literally charge and energise their body. This is why Taoist practitioners tend to have a youthful glow and ageless appearance into old age.
Master Chia is 73 years old and practices chi kung, tai chi and Taoist meditation.
Aisha Sieburth, senior UHT instructor is in her 50's and radiates youthful exuberance and endless energy.