Jesus in a China Cave

Lǚ Dòngbīn (呂洞賓)

Lu Dong Bin, the Jesus figure of the Tang Dynasty

A sculpture of Lu Dong Bin (also called Lu Yan, and Lu Tung Pin) is in Dazu, China among the caves of Baishan. I have identified his historic figure as direct evidence of Christianity in the Caves of China where there is syncretistic evidence of several religions fused together in caves where Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism has long been recognized. It has been my thesis that Christianity should also be evident in these caves too as Christianity was a major religion and contributor to the culture of the Tang Dynasty.

Lu Dong Bin was born in 755 AD in Shanxi during the Tang Dynasty. He was educated as a physician possibly in a Syriac Christian family that lived in Xian. At the age of 26  he is said to have participated in the creation and erection of the Nestorian Monument in the capital city (781AD). The Emperor directed Adam (Jing Jing) to seek out Buddhist and Taoist experts to assist in the translation of the Gospels and the writing of Sutras. Lu Dongbin had a major hand in the writing of the Messiah Sutra On theTrinity.

He was an exceptionally bright student and became a member of the government although late in life as he failed the civil examination several times.

His fame was so great and his compassion for the poor was so extraordinary that both Buddhist and Taoist contemporaries incorporated him into the pantheon of Chinese deities. He died in the year 805 AD. By 892 AD his visage was carved into the Baishan Caves of the Dazu region south of Xian.

Not long after his death he was raised in Chinese consciousness to become a saint as the leader of the Eight Immortals of Taoism. He is credited to have founded a school of Taoism called the Religion of the Elixer of Life. Asian Christianity was absorbed into the Taoist sect established by Lu Dong Bin.

There are several reasons to believe that Christianity was absorbed into Taoism and continued to exist in Chinese culture. Legends about the life of Lu Dong Bin emerged in later dynasties ascribing several miracles stories to him. He is credited with changing water into wine, raising a child from the dead, casting out demons, making the blind to see and the lame to walk, walking on water, and had a miraculous birth. These stories seem to have been transferred from the Christian Gospels to the biography of Lu Dong Bin making him the “Jesus” of the Tang Dynasty.

Other aspects of Christianity attributed to Lu Dong Bin are the following:

  1. Associated with the drinking of wine(Jesus was called a wine-bibber)
  2. Having bouts of anger (the way Jesus turned the tables of the moneychangers)
  3. Rejected the material life (Jesus left his family to become a wandering preacher)
  4. He was unmarried as a young man when it was expected for him to be married.
  5. Associated with loose women. (Jesus was associated with prostitutes)

Asian Christians from the Middle East spawned competition for attention from the Tang leaders. Buddhists, Taoists, and Christians madly imitated each other. We have many examples of practices that were borrowed from each other to demonstrate superiority.

  1. A ceremony of light almost identical to the Easter Vigil liturgy is credited to Lu Dong Bin.
  2. Inner alchemy, and idea from the West  promoted the idea of the Kingdom of God within.
  3. Followers were called people of the Way as were Christians.
  4. All  foretold of future events and the end of times.

Taoism was founded by Lao Tzi in the fifth century BC with the writing of the I Ching. It had fallen into disrepute during the rise of Buddhism in China. Lu Dong Bin reformed and reinvigorated the ancient religion by fusing it with Christian ideas.

Lü Dongbin is usually portrayed as a scholarly, clever man with a genuine desire to help people obtain enlightenment. Unlike Jesus of the Gospels he left behind writings. His poetry is among the greatest of the Tang Dynasty along with Tu Fu, and Li Po.

Two of his famous poems are the following:
The Worn Cushion

People may sit till the cushion is worn through,
But never quite know the real Truth:
Let me tell about the ultimate Tao:
It is here, enshrined within us.

What is Tao?

What is Tao?
It is just this.
It cannot be rendered into speech.
If you insist on an explanation,
This means exactly this.

In our age, the famed psychologist Carl Jung was astonished when he read the book on the Golden Flower written by Lu Dong Bin  recognized that many of his ideas he thought to be original were created by Lu Dong Bin and thousand years earlier. He wrote a commentary on the book pointing out confirmation of his theory on the collective unconscious.

“Our text promises to ‘reveal the secret of the Golden Flower of the great One’. The Golden Flower is the light, and the light of heaven is the Tao. The Golden Flower is a mandala symbol which I have often met with in the material brought me by my patients. It is drawn either seen from above as a regular geometric ornament, or as a blossom growing from a plant.”

“When my patients produce these mandala pictures it is, of course, not through suggestion; similar pictures were being made long before I knew their meaning or their connection with the practices of the East, which, at one time, were wholly unfamiliar to me. The pictures came quite spontaneously and from two sources. One source is the unconscious, which spontaneously produces such fantasies; the other source is life, which, if lived with complete devotion, brings an intuition of the self, the individual being. Awareness of the individual self is expressed in the drawing, while the unconscious exacts devotedness to life.”

The stone image of Lu Dong Bin has evidence of Persian (Nestorian Christian) influence figured in the angel wings rising from his back. On his chest is a Cross similar to crosses found on Syriac gravestones in Quanzu in southern China. The identification of this Asian Christian is the first direct evidence in the syncretistic blend of deities so unique and wonderful in China.

Lu Dongbin transformed into a Taoist immortal


P. Y. Saeki, a Japanese historian of Nestorian Christianity in Asia, in 1935 first posited that Lu Dong Bin as one of the Eight Immortals may have been an influence of Nestorian Christianity. He was unaware of the sculptures of Dazu n Chongqing China.

About daleinchina

Chongqing University of Arts and Sciences.
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