They recall the ancient Indian ascetics and holy men known as ṛṣi who possessed similar traits.196 The most famous Chinese compound 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 circa 200 CE Shiming, a Chinese dictionary that provided word-pun "etymologies", defines xiān (仙) as "to get old and not die," and explains it as someone who qiān (遷 "moves into") the mountains." Edward H.
Chapter 11 has a parable about "Cloud Chief" (雲 將) and "Big Concealment" (鴻濛) that uses the Shijing compound xianxian ("dance; jump"): Big Concealment said, "If you confuse the constant strands of Heaven and violate the true form of things, then Dark Heaven will reach no fulfillment. But if you try to know it, you have already departed from it.
Instead, the beasts will scatter from their herds, the birds will cry all night, disaster will come to the grass and trees, misfortune will reach even to the insects. Do not ask what its name is, do not try to observe its form.
"But when they have drunk too much, Their deportment becomes light and frivolous—They leave their seats, and [遷] go elsewhere, They keep [僊僊] dancing and capering." (tr.
James Legge) Needham and Wang (194) suggest xian was cognate with wu 巫 "shamanic" dancing.
They are immune to heat and cold, untouched by the elements, and can fly, mounting upward with a fluttering motion.
The transcendents live an effortless existence that is best described as spontaneous.
On the other hand, waidan (外丹 "external alchemy") techniques for immortality included alchemical recipes, magic plants, rare minerals, herbal medicines, drugs, and dietetic techniques like inedia.
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.
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