Sebastian

Help Needed to Translate Alchemy Book

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Hey Dao Bums -

 

One of my friends currently studying in Taiwan at NTU is currently 1/3rd through translating Professor Ge Guolong's (戈國龍) 2010 book, "Ten Discourses on Daoist Alchemy". It's a an enlightening commentary on alchemy texts written by a professor of religion at the China Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. 

 

It's a major undertaking for my friend because the book is over 140,000 Chinese characters long. He has the backing of Red Pine, who most people on DaoBums will know, being the author of the best selling translation of the Tao Te Ching in English. Because this would take months of dedicated work, most likely in seclusion, he recently set up a Gofundme page in case anybody was interested in backing the project, and enjoying early access perks, things like that.

 

Personally, I'm very excited about it because the book is a bridge between philosophy and practice. From the samples I was shown, I found Professor Guolong's writing to be super clear, and a breath of fresh air compared to other esoteric alchemy manuals like "Taoist Yoga" for example. Instead of making you feel more confused, the text reads like an elucidation and makes alchemy directly understandable and accessible to the modern Chinese and now Western mind.

 

I can also highly recommend my friend as an outstanding translator (having lived in China for a decade), and a wonderful spiritual cultivator. I can also vouch for the value of these texts for your own cultivation. Here is an outline of the chapters for example, but you will find more information on his official page. 

 

Chapter outline

 

1.      Unsurpassed Destiny
2.      Illuminating the Mind to See Its True Nature 
3.      The Portal of the Mysterious Pass 
4.      Advancing the Fire and Gathering the Medicine 
5.      Empty, Nonexistent Qi 
6.      Dual Cultivation of Xing and Ming 
7.      Primordial Jing and Primordial Shen 
8.      Two Heavens and Earths 
9.      Going Back to the Root, Returning to the Source
10.    Universe and Individual, Interconnected 

 

As was posted in the Daoist sub-section, we really need more translators of Chinese texts like this. Think about how many of Master Nan Huai Chin's books still haven't been translated in English for example, and how valuable each and everyone is to our community at Dao Bums. The truth is there are no translators working on them. And the reason is that you need a very high level of Chinese and you also to be an advanced practitioner of these arts.  The market is so small that it's not even worth the time and effort from a financial standpoint for the people who meet this criteria. So when someone is motivated to take months out of his life to complete a project like this,  just so we all benefit, I think we should encourage it, at least as Dao Bums. Thumbs up from me.
 

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On 13.6.2019 at 2:28 PM, Sebastian said:

Hey Dao Bums -

 

One of my friends currently studying in Taiwan at NTU is currently 1/3rd through translating Professor Ge Guolong's (戈國龍) 2010 book, "Ten Discourses on Daoist Alchemy". It's a an enlightening commentary on alchemy texts written by a professor of religion at the China Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. 

 

It's a major undertaking for my friend because the book is over 140,000 Chinese characters long. He has the backing of Red Pine, who most people on DaoBums will know, being the author of the best selling translation of the Tao Te Ching in English. Because this would take months of dedicated work, most likely in seclusion, he recently set up a Gofundme page in case anybody was interested in backing the project, and enjoying early access perks, things like that.

 

Personally, I'm very excited about it because the book is a bridge between philosophy and practice. From the samples I was shown, I found Professor Guolong's writing to be super clear, and a breath of fresh air compared to other esoteric alchemy manuals like "Taoist Yoga" for example. Instead of making you feel more confused, the text reads like an elucidation and makes alchemy directly understandable and accessible to the modern Chinese and now Western mind.

 

I can also highly recommend my friend as an outstanding translator (having lived in China for a decade), and a wonderful spiritual cultivator. I can also vouch for the value of these texts for your own cultivation. Here is an outline of the chapters for example, but you will find more information on his official page. 

 

Chapter outline

 

1.      Unsurpassed Destiny
2.      Illuminating the Mind to See Its True Nature 
3.      The Portal of the Mysterious Pass 
4.      Advancing the Fire and Gathering the Medicine 
5.      Empty, Nonexistent Qi 
6.      Dual Cultivation of Xing and Ming 
7.      Primordial Jing and Primordial Shen 
8.      Two Heavens and Earths 
9.      Going Back to the Root, Returning to the Source
10.    Universe and Individual, Interconnected 

 

As was posted in the Daoist sub-section, we really need more translators of Chinese texts like this. Think about how many of Master Nan Huai Chin's books still haven't been translated in English for example, and how valuable each and everyone is to our community at Dao Bums. The truth is there are no translators working on them. And the reason is that you need a very high level of Chinese and you also to be an advanced practitioner of these arts.  The market is so small that it's not even worth the time and effort from a financial standpoint for the people who meet this criteria. So when someone is motivated to take months out of his life to complete a project like this,  just so we all benefit, I think we should encourage it, at least as Dao Bums. Thumbs up from me.
 

Hi!

 

When will this book be out?

 

best

Michael

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On 6/15/2019 at 10:19 PM, MIchael80 said:

Hi!

 

When will this book be out?

 

best

Michael

 

Hi Michael,

 

Sorry my delayed response on this.  I was told it would roughly coincide with when the funding will be received. This makes sense because they are currently at 1/3rd of the funding, and 1/3rd through the book. But in terms of actual date, I would refer you to the GoFundMe page where you can directly ask questions.

 

And also, just to confirm, 1/3rd of the book is already out to people backing the project. So you can get immediate access to chapters 1,2, and 3 depending on if you make a tier 1,2 or 3 donation. This is a little bit like Kickstarter perks. These chapters specifically have already been written.

  •  Unsurpassed Destiny - a discussion of how one comes to have an affinity with Daoist practice and the implications of such a life destiny
  •  Illuminating the Mind to See Its True Nature - an exploration of the mind training common to and central to all Daoist inner alchemy schools, as well as that which links these traditions to Chan/Zen Buddhism (the title of this chapter is a well-known Chan Buddhist concept)
  • The Portal of the Mysterious Pass - a further exploration of mind training with an emphasis on explaining the uniquely Daoist concept of “the mysterious pass”

When the book is finished for everyone to peruse, I will update this thread.

 

Hope it helps,

Seb

   

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The translator referenced here has been a personal friend of mine for some years now, and asked me if I would post on this. As long timers here know, I said I would never post here again, so that should give some idea of my regard for the person in question. He is someone who I have spent a fair amount of time around here in Beijing, so I can vouch for his credentials directly.

 

Most importantly, this is something that I believe can benefit a lot of people, and that is why I am happy to lend my support to it.

 

So, why participate? What qualifies this person to translate these kinds of works?

 

Firstly, he has completed a degree course in TCM at a prestigious university in Beijing, in the Chinese language. He is now doing post graduate studies in Taiwan, again in the Chinese language. Anyone who knows anything about TCM knows that it is inseparably connected to Daoist thought and principles. Someone who sincerely studies Chinese medicine is also doing so the same in respect of the Dao.

 

Further to his academic studies, my friend has also sought out capable and qualified experts in Chinese medicine, at his own personal expense in time and money (and continues to do so.) He has always shared what he has learned with others, and not just kept it to himself. I can personally testify to his skills and sincerity.

 

He is a practicing, lineage Daoist. He has teachers who are authentic lineage members. Not theorists, faux philosophers, or lightweight intellectual dandies, but people who live and breathe the Dao. People who drink deeply from the well, not the typical shallow draught brigade. 

 

As if full time studies were not time consuming enough, in the years that I have known him, he has always been busy helping numerous people with numerous problems, from medical issues, to spiritual assistance from authentic, legitimate Daoist lineage masters. This is something he continues to do. 

 

I know the subject of college tuition fees is a thorny one. Those who have worked to pay their own way through college know how hard this is. Imagine doing so in a foreign country and culture. There are some who feel they should get something for nothing, but ultimately someone has to pay. People have bills to cover, not to mention their own precious time to use wisely.

 

There has been, and continues to be, much debate over what Daoism is, and is not. I would think anyone who sincerely wants to know would jump at the chance of supporting a person who sincerely wants to share this knowledge; a person who has the academic and intellectual ability to do so, and who has access to recognised, lineage Daoist masters who can advise and guide on the important details.

 

My friend could easily just read these books and enjoy them for himself. He doesn't personally need to translate them, and he already has well paying translation work. Translating obscure texts doesn't pay anything like what commercial work does, and not many translators actually have a clue about this kind of material. This is a great opportunity for people who don't have Chinese language skills and access to authentic sources. I would urge people to take it. If not, then it is a real loss for non-Chinese speakers, and real understanding of these subjects will remain privy to only a small number of people.

 

I'm returning to my self-imposed exile, so please direct any questions you have to the OP.

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On 7/1/2019 at 1:20 PM, mjjbecker said:

The translator referenced here has been a personal friend of mine for some years now, and asked me if I would post on this. As long timers here know, I said I would never post here again, so that should give some idea of my regard for the person in question. He is someone who I have spent a fair amount of time around here in Beijing, so I can vouch for his credentials directly.

 

Most importantly, this is something that I believe can benefit a lot of people, and that is why I am happy to lend my support to it.

 

So, why participate? What qualifies this person to translate these kinds of works?

 

Firstly, he has completed a degree course in TCM at a prestigious university in Beijing, in the Chinese language. He is now doing post graduate studies in Taiwan, again in the Chinese language. Anyone who knows anything about TCM knows that it is inseparably connected to Daoist thought and principles. Someone who sincerely studies Chinese medicine is also doing so the same in respect of the Dao.

 

Further to his academic studies, my friend has also sought out capable and qualified experts in Chinese medicine, at his own personal expense in time and money (and continues to do so.) He has always shared what he has learned with others, and not just kept it to himself. I can personally testify to his skills and sincerity.

 

He is a practicing, lineage Daoist. He has teachers who are authentic lineage members. Not theorists, faux philosophers, or lightweight intellectual dandies, but people who live and breathe the Dao. People who drink deeply from the well, not the typical shallow draught brigade. 

 

As if full time studies were not time consuming enough, in the years that I have known him, he has always been busy helping numerous people with numerous problems, from medical issues, to spiritual assistance from authentic, legitimate Daoist lineage masters. This is something he continues to do. 

 

I know the subject of college tuition fees is a thorny one. Those who have worked to pay their own way through college know how hard this is. Imagine doing so in a foreign country and culture. There are some who feel they should get something for nothing, but ultimately someone has to pay. People have bills to cover, not to mention their own precious time to use wisely.

 

There has been, and continues to be, much debate over what Daoism is, and is not. I would think anyone who sincerely wants to know would jump at the chance of supporting a person who sincerely wants to share this knowledge; a person who has the academic and intellectual ability to do so, and who has access to recognised, lineage Daoist masters who can advise and guide on the important details.

 

My friend could easily just read these books and enjoy them for himself. He doesn't personally need to translate them, and he already has well paying translation work. Translating obscure texts doesn't pay anything like what commercial work does, and not many translators actually have a clue about this kind of material. This is a great opportunity for people who don't have Chinese language skills and access to authentic sources. I would urge people to take it. If not, then it is a real loss for non-Chinese speakers, and real understanding of these subjects will remain privy to only a small number of people.

 

I'm returning to my self-imposed exile, so please direct any questions you have to the OP.

 

Hello "mjjbecker". I would like to ask you for something unrelated. Do you have an email address or can you activate the PM for a while in order to send you my message?

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Really interesting, thank you for sharing!

 

Everyone should note that sponsoring authentic Dharma or cultivation texts' translation and publishing is an excellent merit. The chief benefit is that in future lifetimes you will be able to receive such texts yourself.

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On 7/1/2019 at 6:20 PM, mjjbecker said:

Translating obscure texts doesn't pay anything like what commercial work does, and not many translators actually have a clue about this kind of material.

 

Hi mjjbecker,

 

Can obscure texts be translated? Will 'translation' be a misnomer re content and context when it comes to obscurity?

 

Will 'interpretation' be more realistic?

 

Why are some texts made obscure in the first instance?

 

- Anand

 

Edited by Limahong
Correction

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On 8/9/2020 at 6:49 AM, Limahong said:

Can obscure texts be translated?

 

Hi All,

 

How do/can I translate this...?

 

?imw=512&imh=512&ima=fit&impolicy=Letterbox&imcolor=%23000000&letterbox=true

 

 

- Anand

 

 

Edited by Limahong
Enhancement

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23 minutes ago, Limahong said:

 

 

How do/can I translate this...?

 

 

You were spot on in your previous post. 

It's interpretation as well as translation, and to have a useful interpretation, the translator have to be inside a living tradition. 

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I got this interesting update from GoFundMe:

 

Quote

Just want to let everybody know that Purple Cloud Press has just published "The 49 Barriers of Cultivating the Dao," which is a based upon Qing dynasty Longmen Daoist master Liu Yiming's "Tong Guan Wen" (劉一明道長所著的《通關文》), but includes extensive commentary delivered by Master Li Xingde, currently abbot of Five Immortals Temple on White Horse Mountain, which is close to Mount Wudang in Hubei province in China.

I wrote a preface for this book that includes translations of a few ancient poems on inner alchemy, part of which can be seen on Amazon's preview, which is here: https://www.amazon.com/49-Barriers-Cultivating-Dao/dp/B08RC71226

(For the record, I've got no financial stake in this book. I heartily recommend it to anybody looking for an in-depth discussion of the challenges that arise on the cultivation path!)

 

 

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https://www.gofundme.com/f/translation-of-ten-discourses-on-daoist-alchemy?viewupdates=1

 

The rough draft of chapter 7 is finished! Below is a brief excerpt where Professor Ge presents a plainspoken explanation of an internal alchemy teaching that tends to elicit quite a bit of concern, confusion, and even obsession amid those who are curious about Daoist meditation (especially the young fellas).

As I start on chapter 8, I humbly any supporters who belong to Facebook groups or message boards where other members might be interested in reading "Ten Discourses on Daoist Alchemy" to please consider sharing a link to this page. The rough draft of chapter 7 is 15,000+ words long and took over 50 hours to complete. This means I've still got another ~200 hours of translation left to do, and *then* I've got to hire a proofreader! Still a long way to go. I thank you in advance for considering spreading the word.

_______________________

Except from Chapter 7, "Primordial Jing and Primordial Shen" (italics in the text can't be reproduced here):

We need to examine the principles that underlie “refining jing to transform it into qi,” in order to be sure about what “jing” means in the context of this work. Many people misunderstand this concept, and as a result they conflate the later heaven jing related to reproduction and primordial jing. Because later heaven jing has already turned into a substance with a physical form, it is no longer possible to directly transform it into qi. It is already “old,” and therefore cannot be used in inner alchemy. If anybody states that this unclear form of jing can be transformed into some kind of qi, he or she is pointing to a side door leading towards a crooked path. Even a worldly scientist with no knowledge of Daoism can tell that this is impossible, because the principles behind such a practice are illogical.

We have to distinguish ordinary jing and primordial jing, but there is a somewhat tricky point we need to be clear about in order to do so. The jing that is refined in inner alchemy is primordial jing. Primordial jing is a relatively subtle form of energy or sustenance found in the human body, and it needs be made to transform into qi, which is an even more subtle and rarefied form of energy. This process is in some ways akin to cooking—when we put ingredients into a pot and add heat, the ingredients will start to steam, meaning that the substances that had been in a liquid state are turning into gases. The tricky point where this analogy breaks down lies in the fact that that primordial jing is formless; it is only akin to a fluid, but it not actually something in the liquid state of matter. Similarly, qi is merely analogous to something in the gaseous state, because it is something that flows throughout the body, but it is not actually a gas. Nevertheless, we use this analogy because when “fire” (which represents the effects created by consciousness) and “wind” (which represents the effects created by the breath) are regulated in tandem, jing can transform into qi, which means that jing transmutes into a more sublime form of energy. That is the meaning of “refining jing to transform it into qi.”

Even though primordial jing is distinct from later heaven, corporeal jing, the two are nevertheless closely related. For this reason, if we are to practice internal alchemy, it is necessary to moderate our desires, which means reducing the exhaustion of our sexual energies as much as possible. What principle underlies this statement? Primordial jing is the basic energy of life. If it is called to do so, it will fulfill its function by turning into the body’s sexual fluids and energies. Turning into reproductive jing is the route that primordial jing commonly takes, and as this happens it gets used up. Thus, if we constantly consume our reproductive essences, at the same time our primordial jing will constantly transform into corporeal jing, which means that we will lack the basic ingredient for the alchemical work of “transforming jing to turn it into qi.”

Conversely, if we sublimate and refine primordial jing before it has undergone the process of turning into post heaven, physical jing, it will become a higher level energy. Simultaneously, that change will reduce the strength of the impetus that pushes primordial jing to go in the direction of becoming bodily jing. The natural result of this process is to transform sexual energies as well as reduce the rate at which they are consumed; both outcomes are closely intertwined.

Edited by virtue

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An update from June 13, 2021 excerpts chapter 8. It really makes clear that the true accomplishment of Neidan is not mundane by any measure.

 


 

Humans, born of heaven and earth, ultimately come from the single qi of primordial pure yang. This qi is the qi of great harmony. It is the limitless indivisible that fills all space.

Humans are sculpted by yin and yang, and thus our bodies of blood and flesh are born. Though this yin and this yang come after taiji, they are still true yin and true yang, free of dreg or residue, and still close to the primordial qi of the great harmony.

Once a person is born, one’s qi is constrained and one is deluded by external objects and phenomena. All of the yin and yang in one’s physical body transforms into the shen of cognition and perception; into the qi of breathing and movement; and into the jing of sex between husbands and wives. Then there is only yin but no yang. This qi cannot be used as a “medicinal ingredient,” so how could it then become the elixir?

It is clear that later heaven jing and qi are but dross; they are residual substances. Nevertheless, in cultivation one cannot but make use of them in order to enter the gate. But be that as it may, the formation of the elixir makes no use of them whatsoever. Thus: those who use that which has shape and form cannot create the grain of golden elixir that is empty and nonexistent.

If a person cultivates hsing by vainly refining his or her temperament, and, in the cultivation of ming, refines only his or her flesh-and-blood life, it cannot be said an elixir cannot be created. Yet, even if such a person does create an elixir, it will only be an illusory elixir, and he or she will plummet into the dens of foxes and into the ranks of snakes and rats. Unable to avoid angering the gods, struck down by thunderclaps, he or she will never again be able to obtain a human body. How is this not tragic?

Outstanding people fully recognize that the great way of the golden elixir is achieved via clear, numinous qi. But clear, numinous qi does not return to us of its own accord, so one must make use of the true yin and true yang within one’s own body, and then one will be able to summon this qi to come and gather. When the ancients spoke of the “the homogenous two-eight substances,” they were speaking of true yin and true yang.

It is especially important to know that primordial qi is fundamentally without any markers that can be searched for, and that it has no location that can be guessed at. How, then, does one seek it and glimpse it? Only by this: it is at the moment when the true yin and true yang in one’s own body become active that primordial qi has entered the body. One must then seize and take charge of the numinous mercury and yin jing in one’s own body, and allow them to naturally congeal into the elixir.

An ancient immortal thus said: “Those who cultivate the Dao must first know that there are two heavens and earths, and two yins and yangs. Only then can one begin the work.”

What is that which is called “two heavens and earths?”

None other than prior heaven and later heaven.

What is referred to by “two yins and yangs?”

It is like this: when one is meditating, one must have something within the later heaven physical body that can be relied upon as a starting point. Well, exhalations and inhalations are yin and yang. Yin and yang originate in the qi of oneness; when the qi of oneness dissipates, it becomes yin and yang—in and out breaths are of ordinary yin and ordinary yang. So, when students meditate, they must first regulate the external breath, in order to elicit the primordial breath of Realized Humans.

In the harmonizing of the external breath, in the beginning one must give priority to intention. Mencius said: “Will, it is the commander of qi.” An ancient immortal said: “If one wishes to complete the cultivation of the nine turns, one must first refine the self and manage the heart.” It is thus clear that rightening the heart and making one’s intent sincere is the basis of cultivation.

To regulate breathing, one lets one’s eyes observe the center of the dantian, and lets the breath descend into yinqiao. Lift the qi of yinqiao so that it enters the yellow court; then, use the breath to cause the yin jing in the purple palace to descend so that it meets the dantian. All of this involves ordinary yin and ordinary yang.

After doing this for some time, yin jing and yang qi will blend together and congeal within the earthly cauldron of the dantian. Naturally, yin essence will transform into the essence of the jing of true yang, and ordinary qi will transform into the qi of true yin. Vigorous and flourishing, they will fill one’s entire body. All of this involves true yin and true yang; primordial qi is not far off.

All of you should know that primordial qi is fundamentally formless and unconditioned. That which is vigorous and flourishing is true yin and true yang; it is not the universe’s primordial qi. If one refers to true yin and true yang as though they were the universe’s primordial qi, one has strayed far from the Dao.

Know this: when, from within the vigorous and flourishing, there comes that which is placid, tranquil, still, and serene, this marks the returning of primordial qi. It is not separate from yin and yang; yet, it does not mingle with yin and yang.

My teacher instructed us that, each time we sat to meditate, it was necessary to have an experience of peacefulness, naturalness, and contentment, as only in this way could we glimpse our original faces. We could not become fixated upon primordial qi and see it as some kind of object. This was the correct way to practice.

When my teacher transmitted these mysteries, it could be said that she fully revealed the profound essentials, as though she dug out her own heart and liver to put on display for her students. Students, you must really put this into practice. Be like Dong Zhongshu, who said: “Be straight upon your path and do not scheme for personal benefits; understand the way and do not fuss over gain and loss.” This is the correct way to practice.

As for whether or not there will be results: do not expect results, do not become elated or despondent because you gain or lose. This is how you approach the Way.

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The first draft of chapter 9 is finished, bringing this project one step closer to completion. Only chapter 10 and Ge Guolong's postscript remain. Donations are still deeply appreciated, especially to help with the potential costs associated with hiring a proofreader to help with the many rough edges that surely mar this translation. My thanks go out to the many people who have helped bring this project so close to the finish line.

 

A sample from chapter 9 is below:

 

_______

 

The Green Pine Temple here in Hong Kong belongs to the Complete Reality school of Daoism. The original spirit of this tradition was embodied by its founder, Wang Chongyang. Wang Chongyang taught that to cultivate the Dao is to seek “complete reality.” This work is not accomplished through any sort of external rituals, but through making jing, qi, and shen whole, which makes whole both one’s life as well as the brightness of one’s fundamental essence. Wang taught his students to transcend all external concerns such as success, fame, wealth, and rank, and instead to return to the home of the heart. In Daoism, this process is described by the term that serves as the title for this chapter: “Going back to the root, returning to the source.”

 

To go back to the root and return to the source is to trace backwards to where our lives originally came from—the Dao—in order to obtain harmony and liberation therein. Once our later heaven lives take shape, the tendency of our jing, qi, and shen to dissipate outwards takes us further and further away from the source. Going back to it liberates us.

 

There is a well-known phrase that expresses the underlying principles of internal alchemy: “Go with the current and remain mortal; counter the current and transcend.” This phrase alludes to the two directions that the universe’s evolution unfolds in, as well as the two directions in which the skill we develop in cultivation can take us. Daoist cultivation’s worldview, life outlook, and basic theory of how to practice are all included in this phrase’s two main ideas, going with the current, and going against the current.

 

It is important to be aware that the notion of going with and against the current apply to specific contexts. If one is not clear about what these contexts are, there is a risk of developing a warped understanding of the teachings. For instance, Laozi, one of Daoism’s ancestral teachers, stated “the Dao follows its intrinsic nature.” Given that the Dao was originally said to “follow its intrinsic nature,” some scholars hold that internal alchemy amounts to a revolution in Daoist thought, in which the old teaching of following intrinsic nature was replaced with one of “going against the current.” However, scholars who think this way are operating on the basis of a major misunderstanding, which stems from the fact that they are unclear as to the frames of reference in which following the current and going against the current apply.

 

There is, in fact, no contradiction between ideas such as “go backwards against the current to become an immortal” and “the Dao follows its intrinsic nature.” Quite the opposite, the two teachings share the exact same essential meaning. The concept of “intrinsic nature” has two layers of meaning. One of these layers points to the realm of intrinsic nature realized by sages. This is the realm of wuwei, where one’s essential nature is integrated with that of the Dao itself. But there is another context in which the term “intrinsic nature” is used, in this case to describe ordinary people doing whatever comes naturally to them. When used in this way, “intrinsic nature” refers to people’s habituated characters; in this sense, “to follow nature” means to float along with the force of karma. If I was prone to getting drunk or taking drugs, I could very well ask, “aren’t I just following my nature? Aren’t I just going with the flow?” While that may be the case from a certain standpoint, this is not the type of “following intrinsic nature” that pertains to Daoist cultivation.

 

Just memorizing the lexicon of Daoist practice is not enough—one needs to directly experience its real meaning. Some people latch onto superficial meanings, thinking until the end of their days that “the Dao follows its own nature” means having carte blanche to live a life of debauchery, because that’s “just being natural.” The truth is that one must have reached a very high stage in cultivation to be able to follow intrinsic nature. At this stage, all the pretense, scheming, and divisiveness of the later heaven mind are gone. This is not a stage where one just goes along with spontaneously-arising human desires; rather, it is the stage of flowing with the self-arising suchness of the Dao.

 

_________

 

The prior heaven realm must be awakened to; the qi of habit in the later heaven realm must be refined; these two tasks must be accomplished in an integrated manner.

 

Gradual practice is a process of cleansing the heart, which is sometimes described in Daoist literature as “letting the human heart die so that the heart of Dao can come to life.” It was in reference to this process that Wang Chongyang called himself a “living dead man” and even named one of the places where he meditated “the Tomb of the Living Dead Man.” “Living” meant that he was, of course, still alive, but what had “died” was his “human heart.” This was another way of saying that he was no longer a captive of later heaven, self-centered thinking.

 

In Daoist circles one sometimes hears the phrase, “If you don’t want to die, then you’ll have to perish.” This meaning of this phrase is, “So you want not to die? You want to become a Daoist immortal? Well fine, that’s simple—the only thing you have to do is get your later heaven human mind to die!” Once the so-called human mind is gone, prior heaven original nature comes to life; the “heart of Dao” is then active, and because it is eternal, one can be said not to die.

 

This teaching is another place where the concepts of going with or against the current apply. To go with the current is to follow the “human heart,” which means having a mind that is prone to scattering itself outwards as it attempts to clutch onto this or that object or phenomenon. To go against the current requires dismissing the human heart, so that one can return to one’s prior heaven nature.

 

However, it needs to be clearly stated that what “letting the human heart die so that the heart of Dao can come to life” really describes is a result of practice, but not a way to practice. In terms of actual practice, the “human heart” and the “heart of Dao” are not two separate things that can be set against each other. One should not actually try to reject one’s human mind while chasing after the “Dao mind.” What these Daoist teachings describe is the awakening of wisdom, not an internal war waged against the ego. One has to realize what the human mind is at its base, not stubbornly struggle against it. The only correct way to “let the human mind perish” is to recognize that it is, by its very nature, empty. Suppressing, rejecting, or struggling with any aspect of one’s mind is mistaken practice.

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Quick update--

 

I've been busy reworking some of the early chapters of this translation, which I started in 2017. Between then and now I've completed the coursework and thesis research for an MA in Chinese literature at National Taiwan University (which has required more hours of reading Daoist and Buddhist texts than I care to count), translated three other books, published two pieces of writing in Chinese, translated several modern Taiwanese short stories and numerous pieces of classical Chinese poetry into English, and generally gotten a lot better at what I do. The first three chapters need a lot of work, but I'm about 2/3 of the way through, and I'm pleased to see that I'm now a much better translator than I was four years ago, even if cleaning up my old messes is taking forever.

 

I also recently went back and translated Ge Guolong's short introduction to the book, which I'll paste below. Thanks once more to everybody whose help has kept this project slowly chugging along.

 

Introduction

 

Daoism’s classic texts are extremely numerous. With so many other ancient writings to choose from, why base a book on discussions of ten chapters from Huang Yuanji’s Oral Record from the Hall of Joyous Teaching? I chose to do so because, both in terms of its contents and its manner of presentation, Huang Yuanji’s book is highly unique. The reasons I believe this deserve a brief explanation.

 

The classic writings of Daoism can be divided into numerous categories. One of those categories is books created through planchette writing—these are books that were received through communication with the spiritual realm. Many internal alchemy writings dating to the Ming and Qing dynasties were transmitted from Ancestor Lü Dongbin in this way. Books of this sort were not penned by specific individuals, and rather came about through communication between people of this world and beings existing in formlessness. Sometimes their contents are not especially clear, and have a “stream of consciousness” quality to them.

 

Another category of books was written by ancient scholars who researched deeply into Daoism. Reading huge numbers of books, they became profoundly versed in the Daoist thought. Their knowledge allowed them to write “classics” of their own, as well as to write commentaries on various important texts. The books they wrote were strong on theory and presented ideas quite systematically. However, these writers did not necessarily go deeply into Daoist practice. Often, they were members of the literati whose intellectual cultivation allowed them to write eloquently about things they had not in fact directly experienced. These scholastic commentators on the Dao are sometimes likened to people who write books on military strategy without having experienced combat.

 

A third category of Daoist books contain the words of highly accomplished Daoist adepts—some were written by these masters themselves, and others by people who collected their sayings. The knowledge presented in these books comes from people who personally experienced Daoist practice, instead of those who thought about or imagined it. Moreover, compared with the aforementioned books that came about by using planchette writing to communicate with the heavenly realms, these books come across as more down to earth. They can serve as guides for actual practice. In my opinion, their ability to assist readers with their cultivation makes them incredibly valuable.

 

Yet another category of Daoist books consists of books of poetry and verses written by earlier masters. Titles in this category include voluminous works of poetry by the ancestral founders of the Complete Reality school of Daoism, as well as Zhang Boduan’s Awakening to Reality. These writings are so full of coded symbols that one can study them for a very long time without gaining a clear idea of what they are meant to express. So much skill is required for one to be able to decipher these collections of verse that they sometimes feel aloof and vague.

 

The Oral Record from the Hall of Joyous Teaching happens to be a book with none of the shortcomings of the categories listed above. Its greatest merit lies in the fact that this book consists of transcripts of Huang Yuanji’s discourses, taken down by his disciples. From what they recorded, it is clear to see that Huang was not just an authentic Daoist cultivator, but one who had reached quite a high level of realization. Many of the most important classics from different religions were also records of oral teachings given by great masters. Because the words such books contain came from the mouths of accomplished adepts, their very existence is capable of lending power to those who encounter them. Moreover, because these teachers were actual practitioners, the words they spoke were based in real experience, not imagination or academic knowledge.

 

The Oral Record presents extremely profound information in a simple manner. Although its time period means that it was written in classical Chinese, Huang Yuanji was clearly teaching in the colloquial language of the day, yielding a text that is quite accessible and easy to understand. However, even though the book is written in a plain manner, there is nothing shallow about its contents. It contains teachings on the entire process of Daoist inner alchemy cultivation, ranging from building a foundation to the highest levels of practice. It also includes authentic explanations of fundamental theories as well as methods needed to actually start walking the path. In other words, this is a text that equally emphasizes both theory and practice.

 

Some books are heavily pitched towards theory, but they give little insight into how one should actually practice. Other books place a lot of emphasis on the particulars of practice, to the point that they are essentially step-by-step training manuals. Such manuals do not take the reader deeply into the principles upon which practice is based. It is crucial for those of us with an interest in internal alchemy to keep in mind that Daoism’s principles and its practices must be learned side by side in order for there to be any hope of success.

 

If one only has an idea of cultivation as a defined system of practices, but does not thoroughly understand the principles that inform cultivation, then one will practice as though blind, because one will have no idea where one is supposed to be going. Practice without a clear sense of destination becomes mechanical, and it will not allow one to enter into the higher stages. This is because is Daoist cultivation cannot be brought to fruition through mechanistic processes. What is required for real accomplishment is an elevated level of consciousness and self-awareness. Of course, if one merely nods along knowingly with the above warning, without engaging in any actual practice, then one will be just like the ancient literati who did nothing but probe into all kinds of theories. Filling one’s head with new things to think about will not bring one any closer to the path.

 

In terms of both theory and practical instructions, the teachings in the Oral Record are very comprehensive. The book reveals a wealth of critical cultivation instructions in an open, unguarded manner. These instructions were revealed in the context of the needs of the disciples Huang Yuanji was addressing when he taught, making them highly applicable in real situations.

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Somewhere in between freelance translation projects, writing my master's thesis in Chinese (topic: the historical reception of Weng Baoguang's commentary on Awakening to Reality and the misinterpretations of his and other early alchemists' symbolic language that led to the creation of so-called "sexual alchemy" hundreds of years and three dynastic periods after his death... dry as hell, but hopefully useful to anybody who's ever been told by a sexual predator posing as a spiritual guide "you need to have sex with me so I can 'transmit' the Dao to you" or some such nonsense--I actually know people who have received such nauseatingly deranged propositions, so turn and leave if you're ever so unfortunate as to hear these words, and don't hesitate to deliver a forceful knee to the utterer's testicles if he doesn't shut his face and get out of your way), and enjoying the holidays, I managed to finish a complete second draft of the Ten Discourses. It still needs an editor's discerning eye, but I weeded out a lot of errors and made big improvements to the early chapters, which I translated way back 2017 and early 2018. I'll probably do another run through for a third draft in the springtime. In the meantime, here is an excerpt from chapter three:

 

҉

 

Cultivating to such a level is not easy. And yet, despite being difficult, it still simply starts from the thought occupying the present moment. We must grasp ahold of thought in the present moment, inspect it, and become its master. When our skill has evolved, we will arrive at the realm of self-fulfilling wisdom rooted in absolute reality and perfect, self-aware clarity. This is the stage of being spiritually connected to the universe, what Huang calls “integrity equaling heaven and earth.”

 

“Wisdom rooted in absolute reality,” called bhutathata in Sanskrit, is a Buddhist term. There are ten appellations for buddhas, one of which, Tathagata, refers to this wisdom. In Chinese, bhutathata is written as “ru ru.” The first ru refers to the fundamental reality of all phenomena; two ru’s together implies manifesting in accord with this fundamental reality, without any of the striving and clinging that grow out of an individuated, distinction-making mind. It from this wisdom that all supernormal, marvelous capabilities can appear of their own spontaneous accord.

 

Unfortunately, due to lack of alertness and awakeness that characterizes us as ordinary people, when the mysterious pass stirs and the prior heaven state reveals itself to us, we invariably miss the opportunity to make use of it. In actuality, even without any cultivation whatsoever, there are many points in a human life when the mysterious pass appears. But since we do not know what it for what it is, we do not fully experience it.

 

For instance, when a flash of inspiration comes to a poet whose writers block had prevented him or her from finishing a poem, that moment of inspiration represents an opening of the mysterious pass. Similarly, imagine a scientist who has hit a solid brick wall in his or her research that no amount of scouring the mind can overcome. If he or she finally gives up puts everything down, prior heaven original nature might suddenly reveal itself with a bright flash of insight, making everything about the conundrum crystal clear. “Ah-hah” moments, too, indicate the activity of the mysterious pass. However, the scientist uses the activity of his or her mysterious pass to make breakthroughs in research, and the poet uses it to write poetry—they do not put the mysterious pass to use to cultivate the Dao. When artists and others use their inspiration to undertake creative efforts, they forego the opportunity to cultivate the Dao. Their inner light only flashes momentarily, and thus it does not become a source of nourishment for their minds.

 

It is not only poets, artists, and scientists who have such experiences from time to time—all people do. Imagine one morning you awaken and the weather is perfect, like it is in Hong Kong in January, or springtime in northern China, when the warmth of the season coaxes the flowers into bloom. A gentle wind lightly brushes past you as you get out of bed, and your mind is totally free of any errant thoughts or fantasies. Your mood is already good, and you suddenly feel a sort of deep joy well up from within. At this moment, your later heaven self temporarily subsides and the prior heaven state appears to you. Yet, in a flash it is gone without you even realizing what it was. Before you know it, you are already thinking about what you need to do today, and soon enough all of the rest of your worldly affairs enter your mind. Just like this, you miss out on the mysterious pass.

 

Because the mysterious pass is incredibly subtle, we must be always alert to the states of our own minds, constantly observing our thoughts’ vacillations between delusion and awakening. We cannot slack off. We have to be persistent, always mindfully nurturing our marvelous, empty-yet-sentient essence. It is this which is the essence of our minds; it is this which is our true nature. If we persevere, we will gradually make progress. With progress, the mysterious pass will appear more and more frequently, and our opportunities to enter it will become more and more numerous.

 

҉

 

Huang Yuanji goes on to explain that the mysterious pass is the primer for practicing Daoist internal alchemy. As though it were an electric outlet that gives electricity the moment one plugs into it, its appearance presents an extremely crucial opportunity. But Huang stresses that we must not limit ourselves to searching for the mysterious pass within very advanced stages of samadhi and tranquility. Rather, we should try and experience it in our daily lives. Doing so is a bit like the Confucian saying that Huang Yuanji borrows, “I wish for benevolence, and here benevolence is.” When Confucius said this, he meant that the state of being a person who acts benevolently is never far away from any of us. Rather, as soon as we contemplate being benevolent, then within the span of time it takes to have that thought, benevolence comes to us.

 

Confucianism has another saying, “without leaving everyday human relations, I travel directly to the time before prior heaven was drawn.” Because the Dao is not distinct from daily life, within mundane living we can directly arrive at the prior heaven state that is like an untouched canvass. If we conclude that the Dao can only be found by cultivating in a deep state of tranquility or samadhi, then there will be no way for the Dao to be expressed in and merge into oneness with our daily lives. Moreover, even if we can reach highly advanced states when we sit in meditation, so long as we are still susceptible to plunging back into mental chaos during the rest of our daily activities, then our cultivation is unreliable. The time we can spend meditating is, after all, limited. Far more of our time must be spent experiencing life.

 

After Huang Yuanji quotes Confucius, he describes “heavenly primordial oneness qi’s original face.” The original face of heavenly primordial oneness qi can be experienced in our daily lives, as well as in states of tranquility and concentration, when we are unknowing and unperceptive, not thinking of what is to come nor what has passed, our minds simply quiescent in the here and now. Although, at such times, our minds are empty of thoughts, within this tranquility there remains...

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戈國龍的丹道十講確實寫得不錯,很有參考價值,我也買了好幾本他的書,他的新譯樂育堂語錄也寫得蠻好的。

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