His name is Lü Yán, with Yán being the given name. Dòngbīn is his courtesy name. He is called Master Pure-Yang , and is also called Lü the Progenitor by some Daoist. He was born in Jingzhao Prefecture around 796 C.E. during the Tang Dynasty. He is depicted in art as being dressed as a scholar and he often bears a on his back that dispels evil spirits.
Birth and Early Life
When he was born, a fragrance allegedly filled the room. He was very intelligent since childhood. According to one story, still unmarried by the age of 20, Lü twice tried to take the top-level civil service exam to become an official, but did not succeed.
Yellow Millet Dream
One night when Lü Yan was in Chang'an or Handan , he dozed off as his yellow millet was cooking in a hotel. He dreamed that he took the imperial exam and excelled, and thus was awarded a prestigious office and soon promoted to the position of vice-minister . He then married the daughter of a prosperous household and had a son and a daughter. He was promoted again to be the prime minister. However, his success and luck attracted jealousy of others, so he was accused of crimes that caused him to lose his office. His wife then betrayed him, his children were killed by bandits, and he lost all his wealth. As he was dying on the street in the dream, he woke up.
Although in the dream, eighteen years had passed, the whole dream actually happened in the time it took his millet to cook. The characters from his dream were actually played by Zhongli Quan in order to make him realize that one should not put too much importance on transient glory and success. As a result, Lü went with Zhongli to discover and cultivate the /Tao. This dream is known as "Dream of the Yellow Millet" and is described in a writing compiled by Ma Zhiyuan in Yuan Dynasty.
In volume 82 of 's Li Fang 's ''Extensive Records of Taiping'' , an earlier version of the story, Lü Dongbin was replaced by Student Lu , and Zhongli Quan by Elder Lü .
The exact age of Lü Yan when this incident occurred varies in the tellings, from 20 years of age to 40.
Lü Dongbin is usually portrayed as a scholarly, clever man with a genuine desire to help people obtain wisdom/enlightenment. However, he is often portrayed as having some character "flaws", not an uncommon theme for the colorful Taoist immortals, all of whom in general have various eccentricities:
*He is said to be a ladies man, even after becoming an immortal - and for this reason he is generally not invoked by people with romantic problems. This may also relate to some of the .
*He is portrayed as having bouts of drunkenness, which was not uncommon among the often fun-loving Eight Immortals. This also parallels several Taoist artists renown for their love of drinking.
*One story relates that early on after becoming immortal, he had a strong temper as a "young" Immortal, even deforming a riverbank in a bout of anger.
Lü Dongbin was once taught by his teacher Zhongli Quan an alchemy method that could turn ordinary stones to some kind of gold, which could be used as currency in ancient China. But this kind of gold will usually turn back to stone in about five hundred years. Lü didn't use this method because he felt it could be unfair to the person who gets the gold five hundred years later. This is usually seen as illustrating his understanding of the Tao and his ethics. Zhongli Quan is supposed to have expressed admiration for his student to come to such a conclusion.
Lü's teacher Zhongli Quan became an immortal and was about to fly to heaven, while saying to Lü that if he kept practicing the Tao he would also be able to fly to heaven himself some day. Lü Dongbin replied to his teacher that he'll fly to heaven only after he enlightens all the sentient beings on earth. According to the book "The Eight Immortals Achieving the Tao ," in his previous incarnation, Lü Dongbin was the teacher of Zhongli Quan.
Stories and Legends
Since the Northern Song Dynasty, there have been many stories and legends that attribute to Lü Dongbin. The stories were usually about Lü helping others to learn the Tao. According to the official History of the Song Dynasty , Lü was seen several times visiting the house of Chen Tuan , who was believed to be the first person to present to the public the Taijitu.
The kindness of Lü Dongbin is demonstrated in the Chinese proverb "dog bites Lü Dongbin" , which means an inability to recognize goodness and repay kindness with vice. Some say that the original proverb should actually be "苟杳呂洞賓，不識好人心," stemming from a story about the friendship between Gou Miao and Lü Dongbin, who both did great favors to the other and yet it seems like a disservice initially, signifying the importance of having faith in one's friends.
According to Richard Wilhelm, Lü was the founder of the School of the Golden Elixir of Life , and originator of the material presented in the book "Tai Yi Jin Hua Zong Zhi" , or The Secret of the Golden Flower.
Lü is also a very productive poet. His works were collected in the "Quan Tang Shi" .
According to the Taoist book "History of Immortals" , Lü is the reincarnation of ancient Sage-King "Huang-Tan-Shi" .