《The Legend of the Five Immortals》
The Five Immortals Temple is located on top of the White Horse Mountain near the town of Bai Lin, in the Zhang Wang District, Hubei Province, China. It lies fifty kilometres west of the Wudang Mountain gate. The summit of the White Horse Mountain is called ‘Heavenly Horse Peak’ and it is one of the seventy-two peaks in the Wudang mountain range, rising 1058 meters above sea level. Five Immortals are piously worshipped here, reason for their shrine to be called the Five Immortals Temple.
The statues are adorned in Daoist clothes, each having an unique overall appearance and shape, each holding ritual instruments in their hands. Since there are numerous tales about them, only a brief introduction will be given here.
According to legend more than one thousand years ago during the turbulent wars of the Song and Liao dynasties, the country was immersed in the turmoil of battles and fighting, which led many people who were fleeing the calamities to land at the White Horse Mountain seeking shelter from the chaotic wars. Famines and diseases caused great suffering for the refugees. It was at this time when these five Immortals, all endowed with high wisdom, simultaneously came to the White Horse Mountain.
The Great Immortal Master deeply studied the Book of Changes and the Analects of Confucius – which encourage to follow heaven to protect the constants, humanity and forbearance. The Great Immortal Elder’s appearance was compassionate, affable, friendly, kind and charitable. He brought along with him a lot of grains he had bought elsewhere, as well as other foods and clothing, all of which he split amongst the refugees, saving the lives of many starving people. Where there are many people, there is also a lot of strife and disputes, and everyone is engaged in arguments. The Great Immortal Elder guided people through their sentiments and enlightened them through reasoning as to resolve the difficult situations and to leave their worries behind, as well as to dissolve strives and disputes. Thus he enabled everyone to show mutual forbearance, allowance, and to get along harmoniously. When he witnessed people hunting, he would personally step in and put a stop to it, not allowing them to harm animals at will, and equally educating them:
“The ten thousand living beings of Heaven and Earth together with humans are an integral whole,
thus one must have thoughts of compassion and pity.”
Moreover he put in great effort to rescue injured animals, heal and release them. Crowds of people upon seeing him would feel as if he was an elder of their own family. Many venerated him, and everyone was willing to listen, to follow his teachings, and to do as he said.
The Second Immortal attained the most advanced Gong Fu and Martial Arts Studies – he advocates the appliance of the martial virtues and physical strength to serve the people. The Second Immortal Elder was endowed with incomparable strength. He could effortlessly lift a stone that otherwise would take several people to raise. The treasured sword in his hand could by itself emit a humming sound. If the treasured sword was tossed far away, it appeared to have a life of its own and would fly back by itself. It was truly miraculous. At that time of tumultuous wars, robbing bandits were widespread murdering and looting everywhere. Whenever the Second Immortal Elder would receive news of robbers plundering, he would take the initiative and search for them, not allowing them to “Harm the Heavens and Injure Reason” again by committing atrocities, evil actions and misdeeds. He would make them start a new life. If at first the bandits would not listen to his advices and persuasions, he revealed to their eyes his awesome Gong Fu. Upon witnessing the Second Immortal Elder’s Gong Fu, they would turn terribly fearful and would then make evident they wanted to change their evil ways and return to the upright path by turning over a new leaf, never again acting on bad things. Although there were very many chaotic wars fought elsewhere, the refugees of the region of the White Horse Mountain were all able to remain peaceful and safe. That is why everyone calls the fortress on top of the mountain the “Stronghold of Great Peace.” Up to the present days its name has never changed.
The Third Immortal excelled in coursing qi, sitting in stillness and internal alchemy cultivation – he emphasizes the grasp on one’s life and the reversal of yin and yang. The Third Immortal Elder was proficient at the Yi Jing, Tai Ji, the Eight Trigrams divination, the refinement of the Elixir and cultivating the Dao. If someone’s family was in trouble and not knowing how to resolve it, or if someone had inquiries about the rain, clear weather, sowing or harvest, lost items, or if someone wanted to know if his life had calamities in store, or how to walk the path that lies ahead in life, they would all come to him seeking his divinations. There was no need for the arriving people to speak to him, since the Third Immortal Elder could at once take the person’s words out of their mouths, recapping the experiences of their entire lives. He was extremely accurate with it. He often told calamity-stricken people a method to resolve their misfortunes:
“You only need to do more meritorious deeds, help and care about other people
and subsequently major affairs will be turned into minor ones,
and minor affairs will be transformed into non-existence.”
Anyone who heard his method implemented it with all their hearts and might, and it was extraordinarily effective, as if it were a divine response.
The Fourth Immortal was proficient at distinguishing cause and effect lucidly and healing – he propagates to rescue humans and heal the heart.. The Fourth Immortal Elder was an expert at the medical arts. He could see the internal organs and the flow and circulation of Qi and Blood within the human bodies. At that time there were many ill people who would come to see him as doctor. The sick people did not need to say which illness struck them, since the Fourth Imortal Elder already would know which disease it was, and equally could he tell the sick person why they had protracted that certain ailment. At first he would set the requirement for sick people to change their own thoughts and their lifestyles, killing less life, eating less meat, keeping instead more of a vegetarian diet, as well as doing more charitable deeds. Afterwards, according to the patient’s condition, he would use Daoist medicine methods such as acupuncture, moxibustion, cupping, prick-bleeding, decoctions, wines, and teas to grant full healing. Within a short time sick people could achieve full recovery.
The Fifth Immortal Elder’s cultural and scholarly knowledge was very high and he was equally an expert of musical tunes, rhythms, songs and rhapsodies. When he played the zither or the horizontal flute, birds flying in the sky would deplane settling onto the trees and all sorts of animals would approach on the ground surrounding him to listen quietly to his performances. It was very magical. At these chaotic times of war many children had no way of going to school, so the Fifth Immortal Elder opened a study class on the mountain. He taught them the basics and fundamentals of good conduct in society and the theories and knowledge of the natural world. Many grown-up adults also received transformative enlightenment through his teachings and guidance.
After the wars were over, the country restored its peace and the Five Immortals suddenly withdrew into an unknown direction. Later generations all said they were Spirit Immortals from heaven that descended to the ordinary world to rescue and aid the refugees. In order to show them gratitude and to commemorate them, the Five Immortals Temple was built inside the Great Peace Stronghold on the mountain. Temple halls dedicated to Guan Yin – the Bodhisattva of Compassion -, to Li Shan Lao Mu – the Elder Mother from Mount Li -, to Cai Shen – the God of Wealth -, to Ling Guan – the Guardian God – were also built on the mountain, furthermore the Jade Temple for the Perfected Warrior Zhen Wu and the Temple of Tai Shan were constructed.
The Immortals teach people to cultivate their heart-mind, to nourish their innate nature and to shape their integrity. Since they frequently display their supernatural powers in the world to help people in need, crowds of people from all around the area often climb up the mountain to make them sacrificial offerings. It takes about 50 minutes on foot from the small village at the bottom of the mountain to climb up to the temple. The villagers usually regard this Daoist ritualistic place as a center for prayers, for physical protection, that dispels disasters and avoids hardship. They consider the Five Immortals to be the protector gods of their families and relatives. During special holidays they climb the mountain to express their respect and reverence or to donate daily necessity products to the Daoists. They also worship The Great Sovereign Of the Northern Heaven Xuan Wu at the peak.