The Golden Elixir Taoist Alchemy Masters and Texts Awakening to Reality

Awakening to Reality (Wuzhen pian)

Poem 3

Wuzhen pian

Reproduced from:

Awakening to Reality: A Taoist Classic of Internal Alchemy

Translated by Fabrizio Pregadio
Golden Elixir Press, 2009
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The Wuzhen pian (Awakening to Reality) is one of the most important and best-known Taoist alchemical texts. Written in the 11th century, it describes in a poetical form several facets of Neidan, or Internal Alchemy. Read more on this book.


1 學仙須是學天仙,惟有金丹最的端。 3 二物會時情性合,五行全處龍虎蟠。 5 本因戊己為媒娉,遂使夫妻鎮合歡。 7 只候功成朝北闕,九霞光裏駕翔鸞。


1If you study immortality,
 you should study celestial immortality:
 only the Golden Elixir
 is the highest principle.
3When the two things meet,
 emotions and nature join one another;
 where the five agents are whole,
 Dragon and Tiger coil.
5Rely in the first place on wu and ji
 that act as go-betweens,
 then let husband and wife
 join together and rejoice.
7Just wait until your work is achieved
 to have audience at the Northern Portal,
 and in the radiance of a ninefold mist
 you will ride a soaring phoenix.

Notes on Poem 3

In this poem, Zhang Boduan uses traditional images to describe the main features and benefits of the Golden Elixir. There are several grades of transcendence, but for the very fact of being graded, they pertain to the realm of relativity in which we live. Only "celestial immortality," says Zhang Boduan, grants complete transcendence, the removal of distinctions between the precelestial and postcelestial domains. Fulfilling the Way of the Golden Elixir is analogous to ascending to Heaven as an immortal and having audience with the highest deities.

1. If you study immortality. The word translated as "immortality" (xian) means, more precisely, "transcendence." In the view of the Awakening to Reality, celestial immortality is the highest degree of realization. Taoist texts contain several descriptions of the grades of transcendence. For example, the Zhong Lü chuandao ji (Records of the Transmission of the Dao from Zhongli Quan to Lü Dongbin), a work probably dating from the 10th century, states in the section entitled "On True Immortality": "Immortality is not of one kind only. . . . There are five degrees of Immortals, namely, the demon immortals (guixian), the human immortals (renxian), the earthly immortals (dixian), the spirit immortals (shenxian), and the celestial immortals (tianxian)."

Translations from the Wuzhen pian

Poem 3

Poem 3, Comm. by Liu Yiming

Poem 7

Poem 7, Comm. by Liu Yiming

Related pages

Materials on the Wuzhen pian

Alchemical Texts

Taoist Texts

3. When the two things meet, emotions and nature join one another. The "two things" are, fundamentally, True Yin and True Yang. Inner nature (xing) is essentially pure and unaffected by phenomena or events of any kind. Emotions (qing, a word also translated as feelings, sentiments, or passions) are often impure and tend to disjoin from one's nature, to the point that they may become uncontrolled. According to many Neidan texts, the separation of inner nature and emotions is a feature of the conditioned state in which we live. Only when True Yin and True Yang merge can one's inner nature and emotions be not independent of one another, but in agreement with one another.

I announce to all of you
who study the Dao:
if you do not understand Yin and Yang,
do not fiddle around.

Book Icon Wuzhen pian (Awakening to Reality, ca. 1075), poem 12

The Chinese view of "emotions" is more complex than it might at first seem. Emotions are not seen as merely psychological phenomena, but rather as pertaining to the sphere of existence, of one's being in the world as an individual entity. For this very reason, emotions are often at odds with one's inner nature, which is inherently transcendent. When emotions and inner nature join one another, emotions turn into qualities — personality, temperament, attitudes — that allow a person to express his or her inner nature in life, according to his or her individuality.

4. Where the five agents are whole, Dragon and Tiger coil. The five agents are Wood, Fire, Soil, Metal, and Water (see ☞ tables 2 and 3). They represent the differentiation of the One into the many, and the diverse qualities taken on by Original Breath (yuanqi) in the conditioned state. Soil is an emblem of the original unity of the five agents. "The five agents are whole" refers to the reversal to unity, which is performed first by reducing the five agents to three, and then to one (see Poem 14). Therefore the undividedness of the five agents is analogous to the joining of Yin and Yang.

The Dragon stands for True Yin within Yang, also symbolized by the inner line of the trigram Li ☲, and the Tiger stands for True Yang within Yin, also symbolized by the inner line of Kan ☵. They are the "two things" mentioned in the previous line. Kan ☵ and Li ☲ are born from the union of Qian ☰ and Kun ☷, the True Yang and True Yin of the precelestial state. To generate the world, Qian entrusts its creative essence to Kun, and becomes Li; Kun receives the essence of Qian to bring it to fulfillment, and becomes Kan. In Neidan, Kan and Li newly join together ("coil") and return their essences to one another. Symbolically, this liberates True Yin and True Yang from their residences in the conditioned state, and reestablishes the original pair of trigrams, namely Qian and Kun.

5. Rely in the first place on wu and ji that act as go-betweens. Wu and ji are the two celestial stems related to the agent Soil (see ☞ table 4). Soil, which is placed at the center, is an emblem of the One giving birth to multiplicity. To generate the "ten thousand things," the One first divides itself into the Two, or Yin and Yang. The stems wu and ji respectively represent the Yang and the Yin halves of Soil, or the One.

In the human being, Soil is associated with the intention (yi), the faculty of focusing the mind on a goal or an object. In Neidan, the True Intention (zhenyi) brings about the union of Yin and Yang. This is possible because intention, just like Soil, embraces both Yin and Yang, or wu and ji. For this reason, wu and ji are often said in Neidan texts to be the "go-betweens" (meiping) that allow the conjunction of Yin and Yang.

6. Then let husband and wife join together and rejoice. Husband and wife respectively stand for the Yang and Yin principles, which join to generate the Elixir.

7-8. Just wait until your work is achieved to have audience at the Northern Portal, and in the radiance of a ninefold mist you will ride a soaring phoenix. The expression gong cheng, translated above as "your work is achieved," can also mean "your merit is complete." — The Northern Portal (beique) is the gate of Heaven, and an emblem of the Center: the symbolic center of Heaven is at due North.

The imagery of these lines is similar to the one found in this passage of the Cantong qi (The Seal of the Unity of the Three, chapter 8):

With the Way completed and virtue fulfilled,
withdraw, stay concealed, and wait for your time.
The Great One will send forth his summons,
and you move your abode to the Central Land.
Your work concluded, you ascend on high
to obtain the Register and receive the Chart.

The last line of the Cantong qi passage refers to receiving consecration as an Immortal.