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Profile of Lu Dongbin (Lu Tung Pin)

Patron of Taoist Inner Alchemy

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The most well-known of the Eight Immortals – and sometimes portrayed as their leader - is Lu Dongbin (also spelled Lu Tung-Pin), who is considered, in various contexts, as the patron of jugglers, magicians, barbers and neidan: a true Renaissance man!

Lu Dongbin’s emblem is the magic two-edged sword, which dispels evil spirits, and gives him the power of invisibility. He’s also frequently shown carrying a fly-whisk, and is dressed and honored as a scholar. He’s known for being a “ladies’ man” and for being prone to bouts of drunkenness.

As befitting an Immortal, Lu Dongbin's early life was filled with auspicious events. At the moment of his birth, for instance, the room was filled with a wonderful fragrance, and lovely, supernal melodies. Lu's life, however, was not without its difficulties. Twice he attempted to pass a top-level civil service exam, but failed. Yet, befitting an Immortal, this failure was transformed into the greatest of gifts. The story of this transformation is known as the "Yellow Millet Dream."

In the story, Lu Dongbin meets up with an old man who, unbeknownst to him, is his destined teacher, Zhongli Quan. The young Lu has just put on a pot of millet, to cook. The old man takes out a pillow, and invites Lu to take a nap. As he sleeps, Lu Dongbin dreams that he did indeed pass his civil service exam, rose to fame, and (in certain versions of the story) married a beautiful woman, with whom he had wonderful children. But then, in the dream (in certain versions of the story), he is accused of crimes, loses his position and all his wealth, is betrayed by his wife, and his children die.

When he wakes from this dream - in which he had lived an entire life, rising to fame then descending into poverty and despair - he discovers that his millet is not yet cooked. The insights born of this experience lead Lu Dongbin to become a disciple of Zhongli Quan, and enter the path of the Tao.

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