Ge Hong (Baopu zi)

Ge Hong's Baopu zi neipian 抱朴子內篇 (Inner Chapters of the Book of the Master Who Embraces Simplicity), completed around 320 CE, provides a personal but extended overview of several Chinese religious traditions. At one end of this spectrum of traditions, Ge Hong places the "coarse and rustic practitioners" who devote themselves to healing methods, longevity techniques, divination, and magic. At the other end of the spectrum are alchemy and meditation, which in Ge Hong's views represent the culmination of the search for transcendence. Ingesting the elixirs enables an adept to obtain immortality, communicate with the gods, and expel the noxious spirits. Meditation on the True One and the Mysterious One similarly gives access to the divine world and affords control over gods and demons.

Guarding the One

The One has surnames and names, as well as clothes and colors. In men it is nine-tenths of an inch tall, in women six-tenths of an inch. Sometimes it is in the lower ☞ Cinnabar Field, at two inches and four-tenths below the navel. Sometimes it is in the middle Cinnabar Field, the Golden Portal of the Crimson Palace (jianggong jinque) below the heart. Sometimes it is in the space between the eyebrows: at one inch behind them is the Hall of Light (mingtang), at two inches is the Cavern Chamber (dongfang), and at three inches is the upper Cinnabar Field. This is deemed to be extremely important within the lineages of the Way (daojia). From generation to generation, they orally transmit the surnames and names [of the ☞ inner gods] after smearing their mouths with blood.

Book Icon Baopu zi, chapter 18. Translation published in Fabrizio Pregadio, Great Clarity: Daoism and Alchemy in Medieval China, 137 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006).


Meditation on the One

The One resides at the North Pole,
in the midst of the abyss.
In front is the Hall of Light (mingtang),
behind is the Crimson Palace (jianggong).
Imposing is the Flowery Canopy (huagai),
great is the Golden Pavilion (jinlou)!
On its left is the gang star, on its right the kui,
waves and breakers propagate in the void.
Mysterious excrescences overlay the cliffs,
vermilion herbs enwrap the hills;
on the rocks is white jade,
the Sun and the Moon spread their light.
There you go beyond fire and pass over water,
you cross the Mystery and go past the Yellow.(1)
Walls and gates intersect,
curtains and hangings are adorned with gems;
dragons and tigers are lined up on guard
and divine beings are at their sides.(2)


(1) Mystery (xuan) and Yellow (huang) are attributes of Heaven and Earth, respectively: "Mysterious and Yellow means the mingling of Heaven and Earth: Heaven is the Mystery and Earth is the Yellow" (Book of Changes, Explanation of the Sentences, sec. 4).

(2) This passage contains terms that appear in contemporary texts related to meditation and in later texts related to Internal Alchemy: Hall of Light (the upper Cinnabar Field); Crimson Palace (the middle Cinnabar Field); Flowery Canopy (the eyebrows and, again, the upper Cinnabar Field).

Book Icon Baopu zi, chapter 18. Translation published in Fabrizio Pregadio, "Early Daoist Meditation and the Origins of Inner Alchemy," in Benjamin Penny, ed., Daoism in History: Essays in Honour of Liu Ts'un-yan, 129 (London: Routledge, 2006). This quotation is expanded.


Benefits of Meditation

On land, the One keeps off the evil animals; in water, it sends away the crocodiles. You will not fear the wangliang demons or the poisonous insects. The demons will dare not come near you, and the blades will dare not strike. . . . In the shrine of a demon, in a mountain's forest, in a land infested by a plague, within a tomb, in a marsh inhabited by tigers and wolves, or in the dwelling of snakes, if you guard the One without distraction all evils will be expelled. But if you forget to guard the One even for a single instant, the demons will harm you.

Book Icon Baopu zi, chapter 18. Translation published in Fabrizio Pregadio, Great Clarity: Daoism and Alchemy in Medieval China, 138 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006).


Nourishing Life

In everything pertaining to Nourishing Life, one should listen much but incorporate the essential, look wide but choose the best. One cannot rely on one's bias to a single practice. Moreover, the danger is that those who devote themselves to one of these practices trust only their discipline of choice. Those who know the arts of the Mysterious Woman and the Pure Woman say that one can transcend the world only through the arts of the bedchamber. Those who are expert in breathing say that one can extend the number of years only through circulation of breath. Those who know the methods for bending and stretching [their body] say that one can avoid aging only through daoyin. Those who know the methods based on herbs and plants say that one can surpass any limit only through medicines and pills. When the study of the Dao does not bear fruit, it is because of biases like these.

Book Icon Baopu zi, chapter 6. Translation published in Fabrizio Pregadio, Great Clarity: Daoism and Alchemy in Medieval China, 134-35 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006).


Herbal Drugs

Those who do not obtain the Golden Elixir, and only ingest medicines of herbs and plants and practice the minor arts, can extend the number of one's years and defer the time of death, but cannot obtain immortality. Some only know how to ingest herbal medicines, but ignore the essential arts for inverting the course of aging: they entirely lack the principle of long life. Others do not understand how to wear the divine talismans at their belt, how to make charms and observe the precepts, how to meditate on the deities within themselves, and how to guard the True One (zhenyi): they can merely prevent internal ailments from arising and wind and humidity from hurting them. If a noxious demon, a powerful evil, a mountain sprite, or a poison in the water suddenly harms them, they are dead. Some do not obtain the methods for entering the mountains (rushan), and let the mountain deities bring calamities to them. Goblins and demons will put them to test, wild animals will wound them, poisons from pools will hit them, and snakes will bite them. There will be not one, but many prospects of death.

Book Icon Baopu zi, chapter 14. Translation published in Fabrizio Pregadio, Great Clarity: Daoism and Alchemy in Medieval China, 130 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006).


The "Minor Arts"

It is clear that if the present-day coarse and rustic practitioners do not obtain the great methods of the Golden Elixir, they will not obtain a long life. They may be able to heal illnesses and bring a dead person to life again, to abstain from cereals and be free from hunger for many years, to summon gods and demons, to be sitting at one moment and then rise up and disappear, to see one thousand miles away, to reveal the rise and fall of what is obscure and hidden, and to know the fortunes and calamities awaiting what has not yet sprouted. All this, however, will be of no advantage to increase the length of their life.

Book Icon Baopu zi, chapter 14. Translation published in Fabrizio Pregadio, Great Clarity: Daoism and Alchemy in Medieval China, 126 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006).


Script of the Three Sovereigns and Charts of the True Forms of the Five Peaks

I heard my master Zheng [Yin] say that among the important writings on the Dao none surpasses the Inner Script of the Three Sovereigns (Sanhuang neiwen) and the Charts of the True Forms of the Five Peaks. The immortal officers (xianguan) and the accomplished men (zhiren) of antiquity venerated the methods expounded in these writings, considered them to be secret, and transmitted them only to those destined to become immortals. They handed them down only once in forty years, after one made an oath by smearing one's mouth with blood and established a bond by offering gifts [to one's master]. . . .

The Three Sovereigns says that if a household possesses this scripture, one can keep off evil and the noxious demons, quell the unhealthy pneumas (qi), intercept calamities, and neutralize misfortunes. If someone is on the point of death because of an illness, let him hold this text and, provided he has full faith in its methods, he will not die. If a woman is having a difficult delivery and is in danger of exhausting her vital force, let her hold this text and her child will be born immediately. If a practitioner who wishes to search for long life enters a mountain holding this text, he will keep off tigers, wolves, and mountain sprites. The five poisons and the hundred calamities will dare not come near him, and when he crosses a river or a large expanse of water, he will avoid crocodiles and halt wind and waves. If one obtains this book, one can carry out transformations and start any activity without inquiring about proper places or propitious times. One's household will not know calamity or adversity.

Book Icon Baopu zi, chapter 14. Translation published in Fabrizio Pregadio, Great Clarity: Daoism and Alchemy in Medieval China, 127-28 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006).