Iron Crutch Li left with Supreme Old Lord on a celestial visit to various paradises. During the journey, Supreme Old Lord taught him more about cultivating the Tao. As Iron Crutch Li was anxious to return to his body, he sought Supreme Old Lord’s permission to go back.
Supreme Old Lord smiled and let him return after saying these words to him: “Avoid taking grains with the exception of wheat. The carriage is light and the path is familiar. Wanting to return to the old body, only to get a new one.” Supreme Old Lord already knew that Iron Crutch Li was unable to return to his original body.
It was the seventh day when Iron Crutch Li returned. He came to the cottage to look for his body, only to find it gone. Even his disciple Yang Zi was nowhere to be seen. When he turned around, he saw some wood on the ground with some ashes. He realized his body had been cremated.
He looked for a new body in the mountains, and he found the body of a man who had died of hunger. Supreme Old Lord’s parting words to him came to his mind: “Wanting to return to the old body, only to get a new one.”
“This must be my new body,” he said to himself. “Since this is my destiny, I shall not blame anyone.” Iron Crutch Li took possession of this body and assumed the look of a scruffy man with a limp.
Resolving resentment by reviving Yang Zi’s mother
Iron Crutch Li found out that Yang Zi’s mother had passed away, and it was because of his mother that Yang Zi had failed to keep his word to guard his master’s body. Iron Crutch Li felt obliged to bring Yang Zi’s mother back to life, since Yang Zi did not get to bid his mother goodbye before she breathed her last. Leaning on a crutch for support, he proceeded to Yang Zi’s place with a calabash on his back.
Yang Zi felt that he was an undutiful son, as he did not rush home to his mother the minute he learnt that she had asked for him on her deathbed. He also thought he was a traitorous disciple, as he did not keep his promise to his master. He was ashamed of himself and was overwhelmed with guilt and remorse, much as Iron Crutch Li expected. Iron Crutch Li fed Yang Zi’s mother an elixir. In just a short while, the colour was back in her face, and she came back to life. The elixir from the immortal worked miracles.
Demoted to the mortal world for releasing green buffalo
After Iron Crutch Li brought Yang Zi’s mother back to life, he returned to Supreme Old Lord’s celestial palace. One day, while Supreme Old Lord was out, Iron Crutch Li suggested jokingly to the celestial boys, “What do you say we take turns riding the green buffalo?” The celestial boys were delighted.
Iron Crutch Li loosened the leash and was about to mount the green buffalo when the beast, horrified by his repulsive looks, broke free from the leash and ran away.
Supreme Old Lord returned to his abode only to find out that his mount had gone down to the mortal world. He could foresee the trouble it would create. Iron Crutch Li had to be punished. He was demoted to the mortal world for 100 days before he could return to the celestial palace.
Testing a student’s will to practise Taoism
To atone for his sin, Iron Crutch Li turned himself into an old man and combed the market of Runan City with a calabash of medicine on his back. He gave medicine to sick people whom he met, and the medicine worked wonders. Recovery was instant.
When the market was over, Iron Crutch Li would jump into the calabash and disappear. An official named Fei Changfang, who managed the market, happened to witness the incredible scene from a high floor of a building one day. The following day, he treated Iron Crutch Li to a feast.
Iron Crutch Li’s calabash may have been small, but inside it was a world of its own. There were towers and pavilions, and it was bright and spacious. Iron Crutch Li and Fei Changfang jumped into the calabash together to enjoy refreshing wine and good food. Fei had always been eager to practise Taoism, but he feared objection from his family.
Iron Crutch Li turned half a bamboo stick into Fei’s image and told Fei to hang it up at the back of his house. His family saw the image and thought Fei had hanged himself. They buried the fake body, and meanwhile the real Fei followed Iron Crutch Li to the mountain. He had to step on thistles and be surrounded by tigers by himself, but he displayed no fear.
Iron Crutch Li tested Fei’s determination to practise Taoism by hanging a huge rock over Fei’s bed with a frayed rope. Some mice came in the night and started chewing the rope. It looked like the rope would snap and the rock would fall at any time, but Fei was not moved. Iron Crutch Li was pleased. “He’s a promising disciple.”
He tested Fei again the following day by asking him to eat stools in which three worms were squirming. The stools stank to high heaven, and Fei was utterly disgusted. Iron Crutch Li sighed and said: “You were so close to attaining enlightenment. Yet you actually failed such a simple test. What a pity!”
When Fei bade Iron Crutch Li goodbye to return to his hometown, the latter gave him a bamboo stick to ride on. In just a short while, Fei was home. Iron Crutch Li also gave him an amulet to command the deities in the mortal world.
Iron Crutch Li spent 100 days in the mortal world to atone for his mistake before he returned to the celestial palace. From then on, he was an immortal and roamed the celestial realm freely.