Wei Boyang was a renowned alchemist of the East Han Dynasty (25 A.D – 220 A.D), and was born of noble lineage. He was interested in the pursuit of Taoist magical arts and dedicated his life to the hoing of his skills.
One day, he decided to take three of his disciples with him into the mountains, on a quest to perfect the immortality pills he had been attempting to create.
Wei was aware that some of his disciples were not of strong faith.
Once the pills were perfected, he told them, “We better try the pills on a dog first. If the dog flies up to the heaven, then we can take them too.” He fed the dog a pill and the dog died on the spot.
Wei turned to the disciples and said, “ I was worried that the pills might not work. They were made correctly but the dog died after eating them. It must be that my creation of the pills was against the will of heaven. If we take the pills, we too will die. Now, what should we do?”
A disciple asked, “Master, are you still going to take the pill?”
Wei answered, “By leaving my family behind when I went into the mountains, I violated my society’s tradition. Now that I have not attained the Tao, I am too ashamed to go back. Whether I live or die, I have to take the pill.”
And with that, he swallowed the pill, and almost immediately dropped down dead.
The disciples looked at each other and didn’t know what to do. Only one disciple said, “To me, our Master wasn’t someone ordinary. What has died may not be his true self.”
He then also took the pill, and just like his master before him, dropped to the floor, dead and lifeless.
The other two disciples discussed what they should do next.
“We came here to seek immortality, now that we know that the pill will kill us, what good will it do for us to take it,” the first disciple said to the other. “If we don’t take the pills, we will have a few more decades to live.”
So, the two remaining disciples, in agreement, did not take the pills, and instead left the mountains to seek out coffins for Wei and the deceased disciple.
After they left, Wei stood up and coughed up the pill. He placed it in the mouth of the disciple and then in the mouth of the dog. Both immediately returned to life. The disciple, whose name was Yu, took Wei’s hand and together they flew up to the heavens. But, before they left, they wrote a letter to the two disbelieving disciples, explaining their achievement and asked a passer by to deliver it to them. Upon receiving the letter, the two disciples were immersed in regret.