While reading on Taoism, I came across some people who became immortal through a variety of ways. Right now, some I remember are:

  1. White Peony successfully made Lü Dongbin ejaculate and absorbed his Yang essence. Later she cultivated herself and became immortal as well.

  2. Some people eat the Peaches Of Immortality and become immortal.

  3. Nezha was brought back to life by his teacher, Taiyi Zhenren, who used lotus roots to construct a human body for his soul. His reincarnation somehow turned out to be immortal.

  4. The Jade Emperor reached his status by cultivating Tao on the Bright and Fragrant Cliff for a long period of time.

What are all the ways to become immortal? Also, what is cultivating Tao and yourself?

4 Answers 4


Sun Wukong used multiple methods. These included gobbling up a bunch of Laozi's elixer pills, gobbling down all of the magic peaches before the big banquet he wasn't invited to, and slugging down all of the Jade Emperor's wine. (Although he was sort of an immortal before all that, having been born from a magic stone representing the merger of Heaven and Earth, and having cultivated his essence under the tutelage of an immortal who, wisely, declined to give his name...)

Wukong was also refined in Laozi crucible. (Laozi was trying to extract his elixer out of Wukong, but the process only made Wukong stronger, "hardening" him significantly.)

All of the demons he fights on his famous Journey, not having access to Heaven, seem to prefer the method of eating the Tang Priest, Xuanzang, who himself is an incarnation of the Golden Cicada. (Rumor had it that to eat the flesh of the Tang Priest would make one exceptionally immortal.)

There is another episode involving a Monastery with a tree that produces fruit that resembles like human infants. (The fruits have different potencies based on how many thousands of years they require to ripen.) If memory serves, Sun Wukong gobbled down a bunch of these as well.

You can validate all of this on Wikipedia, although I highly recommend reading an unabridged translation of "Journey to the West".

Regarding an exhaustive list of methods of achieving immortality, that would probably be worthy of a thesis. Although the textual sources for Chinese Mythology are somewhat limited, the task would likely also entail delving into a rich, oral tradition.

In terms of cultivation of the Tao, this can have many meanings. Most modern seekers seem to utilize Chi Gong and Tai Chi (the latter can be understood as a form of Chi Gong with more focus on practical, physical application.) Martial arts in general are considered a way of cultivating "internal power", which is sometimes referred to as "Chi" or "Ki", although the concept is quite nuanced, and variously interpreted. It's difficult to know with certainly how long Taoism has been associated with Chinese martial arts, but it's definitely goes back to at least the Ming Dynasty, which is where much of the more modern literature originates.

Cultivating conduct may also involve the concept sometimes known as "right action" as it relates to conduct. (There is definitely confluence of Buddhist and Confucian ideas in regards to Taoism, with the latter almost certainly exerting the greatest influence. Master Kong was more concerned with matters involving humanity/altruism ("ren") and filial piety (xiào), while Taoists tend to emphasize acting in accordance with nature, and may actually reject family in favor of solitude. Many Chinese hermits are traditionally Taoist practitioners, and the idea of an itinerant life was often embraced, with the intent of being free of cares, in part by rejecting worldly possessions and responsibilities. (The idea of physical immortality in Taoism is somewhat archaic at this point in history, although there are definitely still some folks out there who subscribe to it;)

It is worth noting that "Journey to the West" can, on one level, be read as an attempt to reconcile Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian ideas. For instance, the Jade Emperor is a Taoist deity who embodies Confucian ideals and acknowledges the supremacy of the Buddha. Wukong is Taoist deity retrieving a Buddhist sutra for the Confucian purpose of redeeming the souls of the ancestors.

In the most simple, modern terms, cultivation of the self and of the Tao can be understood as striving each day to be a better you, seeking balance and practicing moderation in all things. (This is similar to the Buddhist "middle way", but comes with the caveat that Taoists may sometimes seek extremes for various reasons, usually having to do with cultivating martial or magical power, nor do Taoists, in general, reject the pleasures of the flesh.)

It is also notable that Taoist practitioners, in popular culture, tend to reject wealth and worldly status, and these aspects can be observed in Kungfu films and Wuxia films & novels. (The legendary film director King Hu directly commented on many of these subjects in numerous films, including "A Touch of Zen", "Dragon Gate Inn", "Raining in the Mountain" and "Come Drink with Me". In terms of Wuxia novels, I'd probably recommend starting with "The Deer in the Cauldron" by Louis Cha. Even the popular comic director Steven Chow touches on these subjects in films such as "Kung Fu Hustle" and "Shaolin Soccer". But these are just a few sources. You'll find these subjects deeply ingrained in a broad swathe of Chinese narrative both in the literary and cinematic mediums.)

  • Thank you for your answer but I have a few questions.Firstly,is it considered wrong/evil to steal someone Yin or Yang during intercourse?Also,is being a prostitiute(like White Peony) looked down upon?In addition to that,is it considered wrong/evil for Lü Dongbin,a sage/immortal,to lust after and eventually make love with White Peony? (I may have made some grammatical errors in this comment)
    – user1385
    Commented Oct 8, 2016 at 1:15
  • And how and why is Nezha immortal after his rebirth?
    – user1385
    Commented Oct 8, 2016 at 1:17
  • 1
    How does one become "exceptionally immortal"? Commented Oct 8, 2016 at 11:29
  • @Gibet Chinese mythology is different from Western Mythology. There's really not a huge amount of material and it's widely scattered. A lot of it resides in folk tales and the oral tradition. I respectfully, but strongly, disagree with you categorization of Journey as non-canonical and primarily Buddhist. As I mentioned, it's quite easy to to show that the book is in fact a reconcilement of Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian traditions.
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Oct 9, 2016 at 19:10
  • @Lauren Ipsum I pulled the term "exceptionally immortal" out of the air. What I was getting at is the idea that, many of these figures are already functionally immortal when they seek additional means to strengthen that condition, with Sun Wukong as perhaps the leading example.
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Oct 9, 2016 at 19:12

Here is a list of how the 8 Immortals did it:

He Xiangu "When she was about 14 or 15, a divine personage appeared to her in a dream and instructed her to eat powdered mica so that her body might become etherealised and immune from death. She did as instructed and also vowed to remain a virgin. She also gradually decreased her food intake. One day she ascended to Heaven in broad daylight and became an immortal."

Cao Guojiu "Cao's younger brother abused his relationship with the imperial family by bullying others and engaging in corrupt practices. Cao tried to persuade his brother to change his ways but he did not listen. In the meantime, he also used his family fortune to help the poor and tried to make up for his brother's misdeeds. One day, the brother was accused by other officials in the imperial court of corruption and abuse of power. Cao felt so ashamed and disappointed by his brother's misconduct that he gave up his official career and went to the countryside to lead a reclusive life. During this time, he met the immortals Zhongli Quan and Lü Dongbin, who taught him Taoist magical arts. After many years of practice and cultivation, Cao himself also became an immortal."

Li Tieguai "Li studied with Laozi, the founder of Taoism. He is said to have renounced material comforts and led a life of self-discipline as an act of religious devotion for 40 years, often going without food or sleep. Li lived in a cave in the early stage of his Taoist training. Laozi tempted him with a beautiful woman he had made of wood. After refusing to acknowledge the presence of this woman and therefore defeating his temptation, Laozi told him of his trick and rewarded him with a small white tablet. After consuming this tablet, Li was never hungry nor ill. Laozi tempted Li again with money. Some robbers had buried money in Li's field without knowing he was watching. Laozi approached him in disguise and told him he should take any money that came to him. After Li refused, saying that he did not care if he remained poor his whole life, Laozi rewarded him with another pill. This pill bestowed upon Li the ability to fly at amazing speeds. On one occasion, his spirit travelled to Heaven to meet other immortals. He had told his apprentice, Li Qing, to wait for seven days for his spirit to return. If he did not return by then, Li Qing was to burn the body because that meant that he had become an immortal; but after six and a half days Li Qing had to go home to see to his sick mother one last time before she died. Li Qing thus cremated Li Tieguai's body. He passed by a dying beggar on his way to his mother's but did not have time to bury him. Upon returning, Li Tieguai's spirit found that his body had been cremated and had to enter the only body available at the time was the corpse of the and ugly, homeless beggar with a lame leg who had just died of starvation. Laozi appeared and gave him a medicine gourd that could cure any illness and never emptied. Li then brought his apprentice's mother back to life using the liquid from his gourd. Li Qing was then dismissed as his apprentice, after being given a small pill and being told that he would work hard enough to become an immortal himself. This turned out to be true.

Lan Caihe "Lan was said to have been in a drunken stupor when they left the human world by riding on a celestial swan or crane into Heaven. One legend says that they became an Immortal with the help of Sun Wukong, who transferred 500 years of magical powers to them." [Note: "they" is used as the gender neutral singular pronoun, and Lan is androgynous.]

Lü Dongbin "A story has it that when in Chang An, Lü was tested by Zhongli Quan ten times before Quan took him in as a disciple and Lü subsequently became immortal." Lü's Ten Trialsshow Lü him to be an exceptional person, both in virtue, humanity, courage and constitution, certainly worthy of immortality.

Han Xiangzi There doesn't seem to be a specific story as to how Han achieved immortality, aside from being a student of the magical arts under Lü Dongbin.

Zhang Guolao "A strong believer in the magic of necromancy, he was also known to be a master of qigong and could go without food for days, surviving on only a few sips of wine." The implication is that he he studied and practiced to the point where he achieved immortality.

Zhongli Quan "There are two stories that depict how he became one of the immortals. In the first, it was in his continuous use of the immortal powers and his magical fan that eventually caused his descent into the shimmering cloud of the immortals. In the second, he was meditating near a wall of his hermitage when all of a sudden it collapsed. Behind the wall was a jade vessel that took him as an immortal to the shimmering cloud."

This is pretty good summation of the overall concepts:

"The Eight Immortals are examples of how all can obtain immortality. Most of the immortals were common folk who attracted the attention of the gods through suffering unjust treatment, without complaint, and gave more to others than themselves. They were admitted to eternal life as a reward for their acts on earth and bearing gifts to the Old Man of the South Pole, the god of longevity. 'The path to immortality includes achieving physical and spiritual harmony through meditation, diet, exercise, breath control, and the use of herbs. To achieve this state, one also had to eliminate all disease and evil from the body and spirit'."

[You can find the text and citations for this summary here]

I basically lifted this from Wikipedia. Many, but not all, of the quotes have citations there. However, all of the stories are consistent with what I've read, seen, and had recounted to me.


Legend of the White Snake is definitely worth mentioning, as it is one of the most well known Chinese folk tales. Madame Whitesnake has been the subject of numerous traditional operas, and widely fictionalized in all narrative mediums.

"Lü Dongbin, one of the Eight Immortals, disguises himself as a man selling treats at the Broken Bridge near the West Lake in Hangzhou. A boy called Xu Xian buys some of the treats from Lü Dongbin without knowing that they are actually immortality pills. The boy does not feel hungry for the next three days returns to ask why. Lü Dongbin laughs and carries Xu Xian to the bridge, where he flips him upside down and causes him to vomit the immortality pills into the lake. In the lake, there is a white snake spirit who has been practising Taoist magical arts in the hope of becoming an immortal after centuries of training and cultivation. She eats the pills and gains 500 years' worth of magical powers."

This is the jumping off point for the story, which is very old, and existed in the oral tradition long before being recorded. (The earliest textual source for the story appears to be in 1624 during the Ming Dynasty, although the traditional operas seem to have the most influence in terms of defining the story.) Thus there have been many variations and transformations, both in terms of the details and meaning of the legend.


Also worth to mention the Phoenix-method, as per Tao. Its gives full rebirth capacities, although it is somewhat hard way...

You can read about the Phoenix and the Dragon for example in Universal Root Myths by Mario Rodríguez Cobos (Silo), although this work is itself an interpretation from older sources which you will find referenced there.

The specific section is as follows:

Universal Root Myths

V. Chinese Myths

The Dragon and the Phoenix

When the waters were not yet under control and the overflowing rivers inundated the fields, the mother goddess gave birth to beneficent offspring, who began to give order to the chaos of the times. The brilliant dragons sailed through the waters and the sky as they brought under control the rivers and lakes, the sea and the clouds. On high they roared, as with tiger paw and eagle talon they rent the curtains snapping in the great gusts of wind, unleashing the rains. They gave the rivers their courses, contained the lakes, and gave depth to the seas. They made the caverns from which water gushes forth, and they made the subterranean channels through which the water flows great distances, to later spring suddenly to the surface, untouched by the scorching sun. They traced the lines that run through the mountains and allow the energy of the Earth to flow, balancing the health of that gigantic body. And more often than not they had to struggle with problems provoked by gods and men, busy with their irresponsible strivings. Smoke would pour out from between their jaws, a life-giving and humid mist, a creator of unreal worlds. With their scaly, serpentine bodies they would cut through the storms and cleave the typhoons. Against their powerful horns and sharp teeth no obstacle could endure, no entanglement could stand. And they were much given to appearing to the mortals. Sometimes they would appear in dreams, sometimes in grottoes, sometimes along the shores of lakes—particularly those places where it was their custom to hide their crystalline dwellings, whose beautiful gardens were adorned with sparkling fruits and the most precious stones.

Immortal Long, the celestial dragon, always placed his activity (his Yang) at the service of the Tao, and the Tao recognized this, allowing him to be in all things, from the largest to the smallest, from the great Universe to the least particle. Everything that has lived has lived thanks to Long. Nothing has remained immutable save the unnamable Tao; even the silently nameable Tao is transformed, thanks to the activity of Long. And not even those who believe in Heaven and Hell can ensure their permanence.

But Long loves Feng, the Phoenix bird who concentrates the seed of things, who contracts that which Long extends. And when Long and Feng are balanced, the Tao shines like a pearl bathed in the purest light. Long does not struggle against Feng—because they love each other, they search for each other, making the pearl shine. Because of this, the wise arrange their lives according to the balance between the Dragon and the Phoenix—the images of the sacred principles of the Yang and the Yin. The sages position themselves in the empty place, searching for equilibrium. The wise understand that non-action generates action and that action generates non-action. May the beating hearts of all living things and the waters of the sea, the day and the night, the winter and the summer, follow the rhythm marked for them by the Tao.

At the end of this age, when the Universe will have reached its greatest extension, it will contract once again like a falling stone. Everything, even time, will invert, returning to the beginning. The Dragon and the Phoenix will meet again. The Yang and the Yin will interpenetrate; so great will be their attraction that they will absorb everything into the empty seed of the Tao. The sky above, the Earth below—with this the creative and the receptive are determined, with this the changes and transformations are revealed.[8] But no one can really know how things have been or how they will be, and if someone did know they would not be able to explain it.

So it is that: To know that you do not know is best; he who pretends to know when he does not, has an infirm mind. He who recognizes an infirm mind as infirm does not have an infirm mind. The mind of the wise is not an infirm mind, because the wise recognize the infirm mind as infirm.

  • 1
    Can you elaborate? What does the phoenix method exactly do? What makes it hard? What stories include the Phoenix method?
    – bleh
    Commented May 27, 2017 at 21:42
  • 1
    Is is easy in theory, hard in practice. It just needs to burn yourself to reborn, so going through death also. You can lookup references also if you want, on the web, to find its origin is maybe not easy, but sure you can read about phoenixes here-and-there. You can find many images too if you search for it. If you find something interesting please share with us!
    – Ho Zong
    Commented May 27, 2017 at 21:58
  • 1
    Could u provide some references please?
    – user1385
    Commented May 27, 2017 at 23:51
  • You can read about the Phoenix (and the Dragon) for example in "Universal Root Myths" by Mario Rodríguez Cobos (Silo), although it is already an interpretation from older sources. You can find it here and you can follow the references in the book: silo.net/en/collected_works/universal_root_myths
    – Ho Zong
    Commented May 29, 2017 at 15:43
  • 1
    I could only copy the text here, from the mentioned work, as did not found it on the web as a page - otherwise I would have been linked it already. But it is much longer than allowed, so I try to extract the interesting and relevant part about the Phoenix, in next comment. It is very short part of the whole story about the Dragon and the Phoenix - it is worth to read it, I do not want to split it into many comments and overflow with it. Hope you agree. Although Tao needs no references, as You are Tao, too. And me of course. Who else to refer?
    – Ho Zong
    Commented Jun 1, 2017 at 21:24