The Secret of the Golden Flower


The Secret of the Golden Flower is probably the best-known work on Taoist Internal Alchemy outside China. The text, especially renowned for its teaching on “reversing the light” (huiguang, sometimes translated as “circulating the light”), probably dates from the late seventeenth century. Although, after Richard Wilhelm’s translation, it has usually been called Secret of the Golden Flower, its title actually means Ancestral Teachings on the Golden Flower of Great Unity.

There are several versions of the Secret of the Golden Flower, none of which can be considered as the “authentic” one. The selections below are translated from the version found in the Daozang xubian (Sequel to the Taoist Canon). This version belongs to the Longmen (Dragon Gate) lineage, and in particular to its Jingai branch, which regards the Secret of the Golden Flower as the main text on the cultivation of inner Nature (xing).

These selections are quoted from:

Taoist Internal Alchemy

Taoist Internal Alchemy: An Anthology of Neidan Texts

Fabrizio Pregadio

This anthology presents complete or partial translations of sixteen important works belonging to the Taoist tradition of Neidan, or Internal Alchemy. The selections are representative of the main Neidan lineages and branches. Read more.

From The Secret of the Golden Flower (Jinhua zongzhi 金華宗旨)

Chrome bullet   Transmission from Master to Disciple

Fundamentally, the Way is not hidden, but the transmission from Heart to Heart is extremely secret. And it is not only secret: if it is not transmitted from the Heart and received by the Heart, it can be neither transmitted nor received. The oral transmission is assuredly wondrous, but the understanding can hardly be complete. How much more could this be true if it is displayed in writing? Therefore the Great Way of the Most High upholds the transmission from Heart to Heart: it is transmitted and received in an invisible way. The understanding occurs unexpectedly. Neither can the master fix a time to transmit it to a disciple, nor can the disciple fix a time to receive it from a master. If one is truly faithful and utterly pure, as soon as the opportunity arises the spirits [of the master and the disciple] merge with one another and [the transmission] occurs clearly and unexpectedly. Sometimes they look at each other and smile together, other times one receives it in tears.

Chrome bullet   The One Opening of the Celestial Heart

Now, the One Opening of the Celestial Heart is neither within nor outside the body. It cannot be opened by fumbling around it, and can only be silently maintained (cun) in order to tend to it. If you want to know how to maintain it, there is nothing beyond these words: “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.”(1) It is what the books on the Elixir refer to as “so”, saying that it is not “so” and yet it is “so.” It is just “thus”. Once it is opened, it remains forever open. As for the practice, it consists only in two words: “maintaining sincerity” (cuncheng).


1. This famous statement comes from the Buddhist Heart Sutra.

Chrome bullet   Inverting the Radiance

What the saints have transmitted to one another is nothing but inverting the radiance (fanzhao). It was called “knowing where to stop” (zhizhi) by Confucius, “contemplation of the mind” (guanxin) by the Buddha, and “inner contemplation” (neiguan) by Laozi, but all of them are this method. However, although people can pronounce the words “inverting the radiance,” they cannot attain it: they do not know the meaning of these words. “Inverting” means that the knowing, conscious mind returns to the initial point in which neither form nor spirit are yet manifested. Within one’s own six-feet [body], one turns around and seeks the body before the birth of Heaven and Earth. People nowadays sit idly for a couple of hours, glance back at their own selves, and call this “inverting the radiance.” How can they have results?


© Fabrizio Pregadio and Golden Elixir Press 2023