The Golden Elixir Taoist Alchemy Articles

Articles on Taoist Alchemy

Main Principles

Jindan (Golden Elixir)

"Modern studies usually refer to the Chinese arts of the elixirs as Waidan (External Alchemy) or Neidan (Internal Alchemy), but the authors of alchemical texts often call their tradition the Way of the Golden Elixir . . ." (Fabrizio Pregadio, from The Encyclopedia of Taoism)

Yin and Yang in Internal Alchemy

One of the basic principles of Chinese Internal Alchemy consists in using two elements that by themselves summarize the entire alchemical Work. The two principles are Yin and Yang, but can be symbolized by West and East, Metal and Wood, Dragon and Tiger. . . .(Isabelle Robinet, from The World Upside Down)

"Reversal" in Internal Alchemy

Internal Alchemy, or Neidan, is a technique of enlightenment whose earliest extant written records date from the 8th century. It appeals both to rationality, which gives order to the world, and to what transcends rationality: the unspeakable, the Totality. . . .(Isabelle Robinet, from The World Upside Down)

The Language of Internal Alchemy

For the alchemical masters, saying is not enough. They want to show. They must actively urge their disciples to walk along the same path and find out by themselves. Li Daochun (late 13th century) says: "I would like to show you directly [the meaning of my discourse], but I am afraid that you will not believe me. . . .(Isabelle Robinet, from The World Upside Down)

Texts and History

Introduction to The Seal of the Unity of the Three (Cantong qi)

The Zhouyi cantong qi (The Seal of the Unity of the Three in Accordance with the Book of Changes) is the main Chinese alchemical scripture. According to the traditional account, the legendary Han immortal, Wei Boyang, wrote it after reading the Longhu jing (Scripture of the Dragon and Tiger). . . .(Fabrizio Pregadio, from The Seal of the Unity of the Three)

The Alchemical Model of the Cantong qi

The alchemical discourse of the Cantong qi revolves around Lead and Mercury. Its basic principles are simple and straightforward, and proceed directly from its views on the relation between the Dao and the "ten thousand things" (wanwu). . . .(Fabrizio Pregadio, from The Seal of the Unity of the Three)

Two Biographies of Wei Boyang

Wei Boyang was a native of Wu (present-day Jiangsu, and parts of Anhui and Zhejiang). He was the son of a high-ranking family, but by nature was devoted to the arts of the Dao. Later he retired on a mountain with three disciples in order to compound the divine Elixir. . . .(Fabrizio Pregadio, from The Seal of the Unity of the Three)

Internal Alchemy and the Awakening to Reality (Wuzhen pian)

Awakening to Reality (Wuzhen pian) is one of the most important and best-known Taoist alchemical texts. Written in the 11th century, it describes in a poetical form, and in a typically cryptic and allusive language, several facets of Neidan, or Internal Alchemy. . . .(Fabrizio Pregadio, from Awakening to Reality)

The Northern and Southern Lineages of Neidan

Beizong and Nanzong are the two main lineages that emerged in the history of Neidan (Internal Alchemy) between the 11th and the 13th centuries. This article contains a concise description of the lineages themselves and of their main teachings. . . .(Fabrizio Pregadio, for the Golden Elixir website)

Human Being and Human Body

Cinnabar Fields

The Cinnabar Fields, or dantian, are three loci in the human body that play a major role in breathing, meditation, and Neidan (Internal Alchemy) practices. Located in the regions of the abdomen, heart, and brain, but devoid of material counterparts, they establish a tripartite division of inner space. . . .(Fabrizio Pregadio, for the Golden Elixir website)

Neijing tu (Chart of the Inner Warp)

The most famous Daoist picture of the human body is the Chart of the Inner Warp (Neijing tu), whose main version is drawn on a stele, dating from 1886, now found on the walls of a building in the Abbey of the White Cloud (Baiyun Guan) in Beijing, on a stele next to the Xiuzhen tu (Chart for the Cultivation of Reality). . . .(Fabrizio Pregadio, for the Golden Elixir website)

Xiuzhen tu (Chart for the Cultivation of Reality)

The Chart for the Cultivation of Reality (Xiuzhen tu) has been transmitted in different exemplars from the early 1800s onwards. The one reproduced here is found at the Abbey of the White Cloud (Baiyun Guan) in Beijing, on a stele next to the Neijing tu (Chart of the Inner Warp). . . .(Fabrizio Pregadio, for the Golden Elixir website)

A Japanese Alchemical Chart of the Human Body

The Japanese alchemical chart of the body reproduced below is entitled Shūshin kyūten tandō zu, or Chart of the Way of the Elixir in Nine Cycles for the Cultivation of Reality (the Chinese reading of the title is Xiuzhen jiuzhuan dandao tu). . . .(Fabrizio Pregadio, for the Golden Elixir website)

Practice

The Four Stages

In the Zhong-Lü tradition, the description of the alchemical practice is generally divided into four stages: (1) Laying the foundations; (2) Refining Essence to transmute it into Breath; (3) Refining Breath to transmute it into Spirit; (4) Refining Spirit to return to Emptiness. . . .(Wang Mu, from Foundations of Internal Alchemy)

Laying the Foundations

The expression "laying the foundations" is a metaphor often used in the alchemical texts. To build a house, one must first lay the foundations. Only when the foundations are stable and firm is it possible to set pillars and beams in place, and arrange bricks and tiles. Refining the Internal Elixir is based on the same principle. . . .(Wang Mu, from Foundations of Internal Alchemy)

The Three Barriers

In the ascending path along the Control vessel, three points are arduous to overcome. The alchemical texts call them "barriers" (or "passes," guan). Xiao Tingzhi (fl. 1260-64), a fifth-generation disciple of Zhang Boduan, wrote in his Jindan wenda (Questions and Answers on the Golden Elixir):  . . .(Wang Mu, from Foundations of Internal Alchemy)

"Superior Virtue" and "Inferior Virtue"

At the stage of "laying the foundations," there are differences of initial conditions, age, and physical constitution. The practices, therefore, differ according to each individual. With regard to this point, the alchemical texts distinguish between "superior virtue" (shangde) and "inferior virtue" (xiade). . . .(Wang Mu, from Foundations of Internal Alchemy)

Terminology

Chinese-French Glossary of Chinese Alchemy

This Chinese-French glossary contains about 250 terms of Waidan (External Alchemy) chosen among the most common names of substances, instruments, operations and other basic terminology. Many of these entries and meanings also apply to Neidan (Internal Alchemy). . . .(Fabrizio Pregadio, for the Golden Elixir website)