Sunday, January 02, 2011


For thousands of years, people have searched for immortality.

The best recorded example of such a search was that of Shi Huangdi, the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty. According to Sima Qian, the Grand Historian of the Han Dynasty, this emperor sent large groups of young girls and young boys to accompany the Daoists on two separate occasions in search for the mythical Peng Lai Island where immortals are rumored to live, and to bring back the elixir (of immortality or life) for him to drink.

For many including the Chinese, immortality means long life and not getting old, for others, immortality means having their (good) names etched into history or legacy.

Immortality conveys a deeper meaning to those who cultivate Tao and/or practise neidan (inner alchemy). It is not only about having a long life and not getting old, it is also about living on forever.

To live on forever is a difficult concept for people to understand and accept. Since everyone will eventually die, how can anyone live on forever, they wonder or ask?

To have a better understanding of this living forever, we turn to a definition of immortality and how one can achieve it by the great sage, Laozi in Chapter 16 of his Tao Te Ching and my simple translation follows:

Tao Te Ching Chapter 16

Achieve utmost emptiness, guard assured stillness.

(Even if) myriad things no longer active, I continue to observe return.

Man and things flourish, each will return to its root.

To return to the root require stillness, stillness brings return to destiny.

Returning to destiny is the principle; knowledge of this principle means understanding.

Not knowing this principle, delusions and disasters arise.

Know and accept the principle, upon acceptance one can be impartial, impartiality accords with completeness. Completion accords with Heaven. Heaven accords with Dao.

Dao last forever, without body, no death.

[Allan Lian]

In case, some readers still do not get it, Laozi defined celestial immortality in the final verse of Chapter 16.

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