Iron-crutch Li (铁拐李/鐵拐李, PY: Tiěguǎi Lǐ, WG: T'ieh-kuai Li, Japanese: Tekkai) is sometimes said to be the most ancient of the Eight Immortals of the Taoist pantheon. He is sometimes described irascible and ill-tempered, but also benevolent to the poor, sick and the needy, whose suffering he alleviates with special medicine from his gourd bottle. He is often portrayed as an ugly old man with dirty face, scraggy beard, and messy hair held by a golden band, walking with the aid of an iron crutch.
He is also called Hollow-eyed Li (李孔目, Lǐ Kǒngmù) or Li Ningyang (李凝阳/李凝陽, Lǐ Níngyáng).
The legend says that Iron-crutch Li was born during the Western Zhou period, and was originally named "Li Yüan". He studied with Lao Tzu (founder of Taoism) and Goddess Hsi Wang Mu. He is said to have devoted 40 years to the practice of Taoist meditation, often forgetting to eat or sleep.
Before becoming an immortal, he was a very handsome man. However, on one occasion his spirit traveled to Heaven to meet with some other Immortals. He had told his apprentice to wait for seven days for his spirit to return; but after six days the student had to go home to attend to his sick mother, so the student cremated the body of Li Yüan. (In another version, the apprentice found Li Yüan's body not respond to any stimulus, and mistakenly assumed that the master had died.)
Upon returning, Li Yüan's spirit had to enter the only body available at the time, the corpse of a homeless beggar who had just died of starvation; who unfortunately had "a long and pointed head, blackened face, woolly and disheveled beard and hair, huge eyes, and a lame leg." Lao Tzu gave him a gold band to keep his hair in order, and turned the beggar's bamboo staff into an iron crutch to help his lame leg. Lao Tzu also advised him not to put too much emphasis on appearance.
Li Yüan then brought the apprentice's mother back to life using a magical potion. At night he makes himself so small that he can sleep inside his gourd bottle.
His characteristic emblems are the gourd bottle, which identifies him as one of the Eight Immortals, and his iron crutch. A vapour cloud emanates from the gourd, and within it is the sage's hun (soul); which may be depicted as a formless shape, or as a miniature double of his bodily self. Sometimes the hun is replaced by a spherical object representing the "Philosopher's Stone". He is sometimes shown riding on a qilin.
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