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Lu Tung Pin, Taoist Immortal

The Oil Seller


Kwok Man Ho
Joanne O'Brien

The Eight Immortals of Taoism appear in shrines and figurines throughout China to this day. Symbolic of the eight primal trigrams of the ancient oracular device known as the I Ching, they travel the world inflicting lessons and getting into mischief.

The following tale concerns the most popular of the Immortals, Lu Tung Pin, ever armed with sword and fly swatter and associated with medicine, aid to the poor, and the Taoist "Elixir of Life," a kind of liquid version of the Philosopher's Stone sought by the ancient alchemists.

The tale may be read as a parable of what we all tend to do with the "oil" of meaning and energy bubbling up from the depths of the psyche--namely, desire the magic without paying the fair price: getting to know ourselves; as an example of how the costume jewelry marketplace we call the world treats its more precious gemstones; or just as a good old story.

The translation is by Kwok Man Ho and Joanne O'Brien from The Eight Immortals of Taoism: Legends and Fables of Popular Taoism; I have made stylistic modifications to their text. -Craig Chalquist


Spacer Lu Tung Pin liked to travel about in disguise to test the honesty of people on Earth. It was always his joy to give to those who had integrity the understanding of the Tao and the chance at immortality.
Spacer One day he decided to sell oil. Dressing himself up accordingly and carrying his barrels, he set off to find anyone who would accept his measure of oil for a fixed and fair price.
Spacer At first he was very hopeful and journeyed to a nearby city to sell his wares. The first house he approached was a grand place, and he knocked at the main door. The doorman opened it and scowled.
Spacer "What do you want?" he demanded.
Spacer "To sell you a little oil," replied Lu Tung Pin.
Spacer "Then get around to the back door. Only gentlemen come through this door." And so saying he kicked Lu Tung Pin down the stairs.
Spacer Picking himself up, Lu Tung Pin trudged around to the back door. But the doorman had already told the kitchen staff about the oil seller who had come to the front door. When Lu Tung Pin knocked, he was treated as a joke and the trash was tipped over him. Filled with anger, Lu Tung Pin was tempted to level the house and everyone in it. But he decided to leave them to their own foolish ways.
Spacer Over the next few days, he tried to sell his oil in the marketplace. Everyone wanted to barter with him but when he told them that the price was fixed, no one would believe him. They were sure that he was trying to trick them, so they would not buy.
Spacer Lu Tung Pin soon tired of the city and thought that he might be better off in a smaller place. So he travelled to a nearby town and sought the smartest-looking house. Remembering his painful experience in the city, he knocked at the back door. A friendly young woman opened the door and asked what he was selling. He told her he was selling oil.
Spacer A gruff voice sounded from within the house:
Spacer "Who is at the door?"
Spacer The young woman looked frightened and said it was an oil seller. "Tell him to come in" ordered the voice.
Spacer When Lu Tung Pin came inside, he saw the biggest man he had ever seen, seated at a table.
Spacer "How much are you charging for your oil?" asked the man.
Spacer When Lu Tung Pin told him, he frowned and said, "I'll give you half your price." When Lu Tung Pin refused, he said, "Then I will take it anyway," and he rose to his feet with a menacing look.
Spacer Lu Tung Pin was not sure what to do. He could see the woman was very frightened, so he decided to face up to this bully.
Spacer Pulling out his fly swatter, Lu Tung Pin waved it in the giant's direction. With a loud bang, the giant disappeared. Bowing politely to the terrified woman, he made his way out of the house and decided that perhaps the town was not the right place for him either. So he went to the local village.
Spacer But he fared no better in the village. People tried to trick him or simply ignored him.
Spacer Eventually, after weeks of wandering and trying to sell some oil, he came at last to an isolated country lane. As he passed a tiny tumbledown farm, a woman ran out to him:
Spacer "Please can I buy some oil from you, for I have almost none left?"
Spacer Lu Tung Pin hesitated. He was afraid that the woman would not have enough money to pay the fair price. But he had to stick to what he had agreed to with himself. So he named the price.
Spacer To his astonishment and delight, the woman agreed and ran back to get the money.
Spacer He followed her and saw the poverty of her house and little farm.
Spacer As she collected the coins, Lu Tung Pin took a few grains of rice and threw them into the well. Then he turned, received the money, and gave the woman her oil. With that he wished her well and went on his way.
Spacer Later that day, the woman went to draw water from the well--and found that the well did not give her water, but wine. She drew another bucketful. More wine! She soon discovered that whenever she drew water, she got wine.
Spacer Within weeks she opened a wine shop. People came from miles around to buy her wine, for it had a most wonderful taste. Within a short time, she was able to rebuild her farm and within a year or so, she was one of the wealthiest people in the area and much sought after by the local eligible bachelors. And all this came about because she had integrity.

Posted with permission Craig Chalquist's website

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