Symbols - What does heaven look like
Xian (Chinese: 仙/仚/僊; pinyin: xiān; Wade-Giles: hsien) is the Chinese word for a god. The xian was described by Victor H. Mair.
They are immune to heat and cold, untouched by the elements, and can fly, mounting upward with a fluttering motion. They dwell apart from the chaotic world of man, subsist on air and dew, are not anxious like ordinary people, and have the smooth skin and innocent faces of children. The transcendents live an effortless existence that is best described as spontaneous. They recall the ancient Indian ascetics and holy men known as ṛṣi who possessed similar traits.1994:376
The most well known use of the word of xiān is Bāxiān (八仙 "the Eight Immortals"). Other common words include xiānrén (仙人 sennin in Japanese, "immortal person; transcendent", see Xiānrén Dòng), xiānrénzhăng (仙人掌 "immortal's palm; cactus"), xiānnǚ (仙女 "immortal woman; female celestial; angel"), and shénxiān (神仙 "gods and immortals; divine immortal").
The possible etymologies of xian are Sino-Tibetan "shaman" in the linguistic sense and "ascend" or "mountain" in the character sense.
The word xiān is written with three characters 僊, 仙, or 仚, which combine the logographic "radical" rén (人 or 亻 "person; human") with two "phonetic" elements The oldest recorded xiān character 僊 has a xiān ("rise up; ascend") phonetic. The usual modern xiān character 仙, and its rare variant 仚, have a shān (山 "mountain") phonetic. For a character analysis, Schipper (1993:164) interprets "'the human being of the mountain,' or alternatively, 'human mountain.'
The earliest representations of Chinese immortals, dating from the Han Dynasty, portray them flying with feathery wings (the word yuren 羽人 "feathered person" later meant "Daoist") or riding dragons. In Chinese art, xian are often pictured with symbols of immortality including the dragon, crane, fox, white deer, pine tree, peach, and mushroom.
The Zhong Lü Chuan Dao Ji lists five classes of immortals:
- Guǐxiān (鬼仙—"Ghost Immortal"): A person who cultivates too much yin energy. These immortals are likened to Vampires because they drain the life essence of the living. Ghost immortals do not leave the realm of ghosts.
- Rénxiān (人仙—Human Immortal”): Humans have an equal balance of yin and yang energies, so they have the potential of becoming either a ghost or immortal. Although they continue to hunger and thirst and require clothing and shelter like a normal human, these immortals do not suffer from aging or sickness. Human immortals do not leave the realm of humans.
- Dìxiān (地仙—“Earth Immortal”): When the yin is transformed into the pure yang, a true immortal body will emerge that does not need food, drink, clothing or shelter and is not effected by hot or cold temperatures. Earth immortals do not leave the realm of earth. These immortals are forced to stay on earth until they shed their human form.
- Shénxiān (神仙—"Spirit Immortal"): The immortal body of the earthbound class will eventually change into vapor through further practice. They have supernatural powers and can take on the shape of any object. These immortals must remain on earth acquiring merit by teaching mankind about the Tao. Spirit immortals do not leave the realm of spirits. Once enough merit is accumulated, they are called back to heaven
- Tiānxiān (天仙—“Celestial Immortal”): Spirit immortals who are summoned to heaven are given the minor office of water realm judge. Over time, they are promoted to oversee the earth realm and finally become administrators of the celestial realm. These immortals have the power to travel back and forth between the earthly and celestial realms.
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