Jeff

What constitutes Taoist alchemy?

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I have been having a conversation with another member in the bums chat.  During the discussion, the question of what really constitutes "alchemy"?  Is alchemy just a generic word for "energy stuff", maybe like the word "tantra"? Or, does taoist alchemy imply a specific approach or specific techniques that are some how different than other traditions?

 

I would be interested in everyone's thoughts on the topic.

 

Thanks.

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Alchemy is very definitely a specific discipline existing within a wider context, part of that context is "energy stuff", but modern terminology like "energy stuff", not only do not do the matter justice, but is very misleading.  Unfortunately explaining this requires a lot of explanation and the need to let go of a great deal of modern misconceptions that are constantly read into older texts, and right now all I can do is point out that alchemy is a very specific application, and not some general term.  I will try to expand on this and have posted a lot of posts that bear on this problem and the confusions associated with it over many years, but it will take some time to organize a better response.

 

ZYD

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Yes. Finally. 

A Nei Dan thread. 

Probably going to be filled with:

No description of Ming practice. 

No description of prenatal qi.

A discussion on who translates correctly. 

 

Cool. 

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The way I see it alchemy is an old word that comes from the past, while a modern approach or translation would simply be changing the levels of awareness. In old times alchemy was a modern approach and was resembling that ages development of science which was the reason to compare it with the elements that belong to it such as "lead" "salt" etc. Now at this age alchemy falls a lot under mystical and rather complex tones which aren't as easy to understand and I think this is why some think its a special unique thing. I'm not trying to equate all traditions here but rather trying to understand the age it comes from which for me is important as this is exactly the place from which the masters of the art came to be realized and they explained it in the language they had at disposal. In modern times we have more resources at disposal and science already developed on its own course, scientists already discovered energy is the underlying base of the universe but understanding it with the mind and feeling there is energy in the universe its still a huge gap between so I'm not sure how much will the language of a particular age help to close that gap. One must tackle this for himself and in my opinion the more mystical words get the less we understand them in modern ages so better keep it simple and within our grasp as you cant really explain changing the levels of awareness if you aren't experiencing it yourself, true knowledge is in the doing.

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22 minutes ago, Apech said:

 

 

There are two alchemical traditions that I am aware of, the western one and the Daoist one.  The word alchemy itself is usually thought to be derived for the Arabic al-chemy, which means 'of Egypt' since the old name for Egypt was Kham or Khemet, meaning the Black Land.  There are alternative derivations including a Chinese one, but it is certainly true that western Alchemy began with Arabic scholars studying an interpreting Ancient Egyptian inscriptions and so on.

 

The Daoist term is Dan which means ‘pill or elixir’ - and there were two forms Wei Dan (External Alchemy) and Nei Dan (Internal Alchemy) - the latter using the terminology of the external alchemy to apply to inner energy processes (jung, qi and shen and so on).  Because of the language used it was natural for western scholars to assign the term alchemy to Wei Dan and Nei Dan especially as the goal of making the ‘pill or elixir’ was very suggestive of the ‘philosophers stone and elixir of immortality’ used in western alchemical schools.

 

This transfer of terms from outer alchemy to internal alchemy is the traditional historical narrative - but I would suggest that this is a misreading.  I think in more ancient times, in both Ancient China and Ancient Egypt the distinction between outer substances and spiritual energies and so on, didn’t exist.  But at some time people began to make these distinctions which led to the idea that there was outer alchemy and inner alchemy - rather than just alchemy itself.

 

So is alchemy a generic term for ‘energy stuff’? - well good choice of words (i.e. stuff) but I think no.  There is a certain view of the the world and of the human being (especially the body) needed for alchemy.  Nei Dan is a well defined process - although there are different schools of course - takes a particular view about the human makeup, how energy works and what to do with it (i.e. making the pill and so on) if you are not doing that then I don’t see how you could say you are doing Nei Dan (which is what most of us mean by alchemy).  Of course you might work with the Dan Tiens, feel qi and so on - so if you are going to be very, very broad about what Nei Dan is then at a pinch you might claim to be doing it I suppose - but you would be doing no more than laying the foundations i.e. the stage before stage 1 :) .

 

Western Alchemy is similarly specific and is one branch of Hermetic Science (the others being Astrology and Theurgy) - it relies on a world view based on elements, planetary forces and the combination, distillation, sublimation and transformation of substances in a psycho/spiritual process.  Again you might say, well I’ve done some energy work with elementals and so on … but unless you have embarked on the ‘Great Work’ then you can hardly say you are an alchemist.  But you could say that you have an alchemical approach perhaps.

 

I don’t want to be prescriptive - cos this is DaoBums - but I do think to claim this word some certain basics have to be in place.

 

I see the word ‘tantra’ has been tossed into the frame also - that also definitely does not mean ‘energy stuff’ - but perhaps it's going to get very confusing to address both at once.

 

Anyway my thoughts.

 

If you want to learn another language you can go to another country and learn it directly by being surrounded with the people that talk it. The same goes for energy practices you just learn it be silently being present around masters of the art witnessing what they do. But if you go to India to learn Chinese you won't really benefit from it and this is what I think happens to people that try to do energy practices by reading books that come from old ages, they understand something alright even within their bodies but is that really it? If I remember Taoist Alchemy goes on for more then 9 years of practice and then you are achieved probably meaning you are an "immortal". Some hindu gurus got enlightened in 1 day and they believe they are immortal too. Both can't be the same that's for sure.

 

If there are serious practioners of Taoist alchemy here on board or masters of the art I would like to ask one question. Since the book material I've encountered has lots of practices in them what is the most single important technique of the practice?

Thanks

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On 9/20/2017 at 0:21 PM, Baloony said:

 Since the book material I've encountered has lots of practices in them what is the most single important technique of the practice?

Thanks

Here's what I think based on some of the more hardcore teachers who've written here.

 

Beyond the basics, in the tradition Chinese esoteric schools, you go level by level.  As you learn and master one art over years or decades, you go on to the next.  Thus the most important technique is the one being taught, once mastered you move onto the next, which may be doing it longer or wholly different. 

 

There may not be a single important technique, since techniques change as your grow.  So the cliche answer imo, isn't a technique, but dedication and integrity in the practice. 

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And, building on the above, a teacher to guide you through the levels. 

 

But some claim reading the right classic will be the same as having a teacher. Others disagree...... 

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2 hours ago, Baloony said:

If there are serious practioners of Taoist alchemy here on board or masters of the art I would like to ask one question. Since the book material I've encountered has lots of practices in them what is the most single important technique of the practice?

Thanks

 

I'm not a master and I'm not sure whether I could be regarded as a serious practitioner, but I can cite what masters Wang Liping and Damo Mitchell say about this:

sitting still in a crossed legs position on the floor every day for 60+ minutes

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38 minutes ago, idquest said:

 

I'm not a master and I'm not sure whether I could be regarded as a serious practitioner, but I can cite what masters Wang Liping and Damo Mitchell say about this:

sitting still in a crossed legs position on the floor every day for 60+ minutes

Ah, but is that all, or part of mastering the basics?  For example I have one of Wang Lipings books and its gets pretty sophisticated pretty quick. 

 

I can't help thinking a teacher is a giant help in this.  I did a martial art, Aikido and there are dozens of books on it, but without a teacher and dojo, it'd be real easy to fool oneself. 

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I take a broader view of Alchemy because the daoist tradition does as well.   The step-wise march from external alchemy to inner alchemy is several fold and at least a thousand years of modification.  So, just as Daoyin is the precursor to Qigong, external alchemy is the precursor to inner alchemy... but lest we neglect what happens inbetween, then we end up only describing alchemy based on about year 1200 A.D. onward.   And something was completely dropped by modern times.

 

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/daoism-religion/

Quote

 


make clear that Shangqing incorporates earlier traditions, but reorganizes and ranks them in a different way compared to the past: meditation is now the main practice, and even alchemy is modified to include processes that cannot take place in the laboratory but only within the adept’s own person.

 

 

 

http://abodetao.com/daoism-and-the-origins-of-qigong/

 

Quote

 


This Dao, in the Daoist context, however, is not just a flow of energies, but populated by gods, spirits, and other supernatural entities. As the practitioner becomes more attuned to his life and body as the universe, he or she also comes to actively perceive the gods and spirits as inhabitants of the human body. The body and thus the self becomes increasingly a microcosmic replica of the starry heavens above, full of palaces and chambers, towers and terraces, gods and immortals. The deities who reside in the paradises of the other world are as much at home in the adept’s body, and again—as through the ingestion of the five sprouts—the adept comes to cosmicize his or her self, expanding identity into a larger sphere.

 

Along the same lines, the Daoist transformation of the self in the process of inner alchemy, reaching from essence through energy to spirit and the emptiness of the Dao, has become part of modern Qigong discourse and many techniques of inner alchemy are actively applied in practice. Not only perceiving of the body as an entity of qi-flow and a replica of the universe, adepts of inner alchemy take active control of the energies and, through the systematic circulation and collection of qi, transmutate the body into a cauldron for the growth of an inner elixir. Starting from a tiny seed, it blossoms forth and gives rise to the immortal embryo, which then, over ten months of intense meditation, grows to completion. A primordial light begins to shine through the entire body, and adepts enter a state of deep absorption, allowing the tenuously growing spirit embryo to grow to fullness and take on a life of its own—moving about the heavenly realms in a new variation of the ecstatic soul journeys of Daoists of old.

 

 

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daoist_meditation

 

Quote

 


The Daoist school of Shangqing "Highest Clarity" traces its origins to Wei Huacun (252-334),

 

The practices they describe include not only concentration on the bajing 八景 (Eight Effulgences) and visualization of gods in the body, but also active interaction with the gods, ecstatic excursions to the stars and the heavens of the immortals (yuanyou 遠遊), and the activation of inner energies in a protoform of inner alchemy (neidan). The world of meditation in this tradition is incomparably rich and colorful, with gods, immortals, body energies, and cosmic sprouts vying for the adept's attention. (Kohn 2008a:119)

 

 

This suggests the protoform of inner alchemy.

 

 

 

Quote

 


Under the Song Dynasty (960–1279), the Daoist schools of Quanzhen "Complete Authenticity"

 

Along with the continued integration of meditation methods, two new visualization and concentration practices became popular (Kohn 2008a:119). Neidan "inner alchemy" involved the circulation and refinement of inner energies in a rhythm based on the Yijing. Meditation focused upon starry deities (e.g., the Santai 三台 "Three Steps" stars in Ursa Major) and warrior protectors (e.g., the Xuanwu 玄武 "Dark Warrior; Black Tortoise" Northern Sky spirit).

 

During the Yuan Dynasty (1279–1367), Daoists continued to develop the Song period practices of neidan alchemy and deity visualizations.[/quote]

 

 

 

By the time we get to what is often called 'Dual Culivation of MIng and Xing' (many threads here),  spirits and gods are absent.  the goal is to eventually create the self as spirit...  maybe one can see how far from the tree the apple has fallen.

 

Each turning of the wheel simply removes one part and creates a new way. 

 

 

 

 

PDFs:

The Way of the Golden Elixir by Fabrizio Pregadio

 

 

Edit: Fixed PDF link at bottom.

 

 

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5 hours ago, dawei said:

I take a broader view of Alchemy because the daoist tradition does as well.   The step-wise march from external alchemy to inner alchemy is several fold and at least a thousand years of modification.  So, just as Daoyin is the precursor to Qigong, external alchemy is the precursor to inner alchemy... but lest we neglect what happens inbetween, then we end up only describing alchemy based on about year 1200 A.D. onward.   And something was completely dropped by modern times.

 

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/daoism-religion/

 

 

....

 

 

 

I don't think you can describe it as a 'step-wise march' - quote from your link:

 

Quote

The shift of focus from ritual to cosmology also paved the way for the development of Neidan. However, the roots of Neidan are multiple, and it would be reductive to see it as a mere transposition of Waidan to an “inner” plane: Neidan owes its origins to meditation methods on the inner gods more than it does to Waidan (Pregadio 2005). To summarize a complex phenomenon, Waidan terminology and imagery were combined with concepts and emblems drawn from the cosmological system according to the model of the Cantong qi, and with elements inherited from the early meditation practices. This necessarily caused the disappearance of the inner gods themselves: incorporating them into Neidan would require an impossible “re-mapping” of the inner pantheon onto a different cosmological model. The only, but major, exception is the Red Child, the innermost deity of early Daoist meditation (see §9.1). When he reappears in Neidan, however, the Red Child is no longer a god possessed by all human beings: he is now an image of the “embryo” generated by means of the alchemical practice.

 

 

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Seeing as how Daoist practices tend to do things differently than other practices, and have their own methods of doing things in general, I would absolutely say that Daoist Alchemy has its own set of practices as unique from other "alchemy" practices. The endpoints may be comparable, but I'm sure the methods are different.

 

As far as it being "energy stuff", I feel like it is and then again is not just "energy stuff". It most likely occurs on an extremely subtle level, so in that respect is like "energy stuff" in that it's a subtle energy practice. But on the other hand, is so much more inconceivably subtle than just "energy stuff" that it's almost beyond compare.

 

From a practical standpoint, at least for me personally, it's barely even worth talking about since I'm so far away from being able to sense (let alone control) those types of subtle energies. Even with an instruction manual right in front of me, I wouldn't be able to actually perform the steps beyond a complex visualization practice.

 

So yeah, that's where I'm at with that.

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After reading the above comprehensive discussion all I’d like to add is that in my experience the shen ming 神明 are real and openness to them is vital! For me, thinking of them as energies is far too clinical to reflect their awesomely ineffable totality; a totality that embraces a level of compassion and wisdom way outside and beyond anything that exists in human form. 

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Although I don`t claim any expertise, I`ll share my opinion: "energy stuff" and alchemy are not the same.

 

Energy stuff is you staying in your bedroom, rearranging the furniture and cleaning up a bit.  You change the energy, the feng shui, so that with any luck it`s a more pleasant place to hang out in and you can get a better night sleep.  Alchemy is leaving the bedroom and going down to the basement where you discover a hidden trap door underneath the floorboards that leads to the center of the earth.

Edited by liminal_luke
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On 9/20/2017 at 6:56 PM, Mudfoot said:

Yes. Finally. 

A Nei Dan thread. 

Probably going to be filled with:

No description of Ming practice. 

No description of prenatal qi.

A discussion on who translates correctly. 

 

Cool. 

 

Agree, the guys should come up with detailed practical steps, right? And ... that wont happen ... lol ... :ph34r:B)

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Is this the version from Taoist yoga? 

 

And then you have a version in White moon on the Mountain peak, and one in Daoist internal alchemy by JAJ. 

 

And...... 

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Great thread!

 

On 21/09/2017 at 4:12 AM, dawei said:

So, just as Daoyin is the precursor to Qigong, external alchemy is the precursor to inner alchemy...

 

 

This has to be wrong, no?

To me makes more sense the other way around. External alchemy seems to have picked up on the words used by inner alchemy?

 

"Ignorant people who do not know this cast iron crucibles, build clay stoves, and fire metals and minerals, vainly imagining that they will form the elixir in this way." Liu Yiming

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Not so much about creating extreme heat in the LDT in this method? 

 

Must admit I only glanced through Taoist Yoga,  and JAJ have a multitude of exercises. 

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What constitutes Taoist alchemy?

 

Many taoist alchemy systems seem to be more or less successful mash-ups of taoist and buddhist (tantra, dzogchen) practices.

In my current opinion, the core of taoist practice is the replenishment of jing (pre-heaven energy, ming, essence).

If jing replenishment is achieved and consequently the jing saturation of the matrix of the physical body reaches certain high levels above the initial level at birth, certain levels of immortality can be achieved.

 

Edited by Wells

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The heat in lower abdominal is only one of the possible signs of jing to qi transformation. THere could be warm sensation, movement, or light.

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1 hour ago, Apeiron&Peiron said:

This is also the same version you can find in JAJ. JAJ basically rehashed Taoist Yoga. I haven't read Damo Mitchell. 

 

But, you wanted practical steps.

 

Here they are. And they're free....

 

JAJ IA book a lot of stuff in there. I can find similarity to methods M. Chia and Michael W. teaches. What is your opinion?

How would you like to suggest to use that book?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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With the light, I must say that I've met very diligent and hard working students of the art who after many years of practice still were not able to see the light. What I want to say is that focusing on the light could be discouraging for sincere students in such cases. There is plenty of work that can be done without working with light. I mean, light is good and is a very important part of the practice, but it is not a single focus of the practice - IMO anyway.

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On 9/20/2017 at 11:50 AM, Jeff said:

I have been having a conversation with another member in the bums chat.  During the discussion, the question of what really constitutes "alchemy"?  Is alchemy just a generic word for "energy stuff", maybe like the word "tantra"? Or, does taoist alchemy imply a specific approach or specific techniques that are some how different than other traditions?

 

I would be interested in everyone's thoughts on the topic.

 

Thanks.

 

Alchemy implies transformation. In that sense, Daoist alchemy and tantra are comparable. 

 

The word alchemy, as used in Daoist practice, does relate to working with energy but it is not a generic term for "energy stuff." For example, there are lots of Daoist energetic practices (taijiqun, qigong) which are not necessarily a part of alchemical methods.

 

Daoist alchemical methods and Buddhist tantric methods include working with energy centers (dantians/khorlos/chakras) and paths (jingmai/tsa/nadi) and the subtle energy (qi/lung/prana). While Daoist and tantric terminology and paradigm are somewhat different, the parallels are clear, especially if you have the chance to practice each under the guidance of a master. 

 

We need to be a little careful with knowledge and experience gained solely from books and self-exploration.

There is far more to cultivation than information and an experienced guide is essential.

 

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To begin one must develop great character and uprightness to even pass the first gate. All involvement with life must be set in order and harmonious. Not everyone is in a position to practice neidan or the time is just not right to begin the practice.The body must be in excellent shape with no weakness or illness. This is the importance of Chi Gung, Tai Chi Kung Fu. the foundation is fortified before beginning neidan.

 

When one method is verified it is forgotten and move to the next method, all steps must be verified.

 

This is part of one method below 

 

one must seek seclusion.

One must be in a chamber of tranquillity and sit upright. With the spine straightened and every single bone of the vertebrae vertical Qi and blood can flow easily and communication can be established. Tuck in the chin and tilt the tailbone inwards. Place the tongue on the upper palate and refrain from closing the eyes completely. One must leave a thread of light entering the eyes in order to avoid falling into ‘Lost Oblivion’.

One must return one’s observation and illuminate the inside, concentrate one’s spirit and enter to the grounds of the ‘Gate of life"

 

One must empty the heart and concentrate one’s spirit, non-attached to form and appearance, not falling into a vain death. The void soul is not obscure and not confused, non-existent and no non-existent. Hold steadfast and nourish as if planting a fragile seed and silently and motionless illuminating, in stillness and without disorder. The spirit luminescence, the void soul is the light of illumination

 

If one during the daytime pursues one’s stocks, one’s heart being un-calm and un-settled, one’s mind-horse not being tied up, what is the use of spending three to four hours every day at night on this Skill?
If one is impeded and entangled in worries, being worn off by work and fatigued from earning money.
If one at daytime refines the self in the dusty society and at night time one practices sitting meditation, is this not meaningless?

 

 

The heart-mind stops below the navel,
this is called ‘Concentrating the Spirit’.
The Qi is hidden away and hibernating below the navel,
this is called ‘Embryonic Breathing’.
The heart and breath are completely subdued to the storeroom below the navel.
Preserve this purity and tranquillity naturally, this is called ‘Non-oblivion’.
Follow this purity and tranquillity naturally, this is called ‘Non- assistance’.
Always regard the empty void as place to hide the heart-mind, i.e. put all thoughts in here.
Regard the dark and silent as the home for resting the Spirit.
Not a single thought arises, not a single though is born, and the thoughts are at rest.
This process is repeated; three-fold and two times, repeatedly settling, repeatedly sinking, many times over and over. This notion has nothing to do with the microcosmic orbit.
The heart-fire descends symbolizing the sinking of one’s thoughts to the lower Cinnabar field.
The thoughts and the intent are retrieved to the lower Cinnabar Field,

If one’s thoughts and heart-fire are on the outside, how is one able to ever bring the kettle to a boil?

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