History Of Taoist Alchemy

History Of Taoist Alchemy Cover External alchemy. The extant waidan sources suggest that the two main methods outlined above acquired progressive importance in the history of the discipline. In the Scripture of the Nine Elixirs (Huangdi jiuding shendan jing) and other texts dating from the first centuries CE, cinnabar is never the main ingredient of an elixir, and the lead-mercury compound -- sometimes replaced by refined lead alone -- either is used only to make a mud that is spread on the crucible to prevent it from breaking when it is heated, or is placed at the bottom of the crucible together with other ingredients. In the methods of the Nine Elixirs, the ingredients undergo cycles of refining in a hermetically sealed crucible. This process consists in a backward re-enactment of cosmogony that brings the ingredients to a state of prima materia. The elixir can finally be transmuted into alchemical gold by projecting a minute quantity of the native metal on it. Important details on the early phase of Chinese alchemy are also found in portions of the Baopu zi neipian, written around 320 CE. Its descriptions of processes that can be compared with extant sources are, however, often abridged and sometimes inaccurate. During the Tang dynasty, the waidan tradition reached one of its peaks with Chen Shaowei (beginning of the eighth century), whose work describes the preparation of an elixir obtained by the refining of cinnabar. Each cycle yields a "gold" that can be ingested, or used as an ingredient in the next cycle. In the second part of the process, the final product of the first part is used as an ingredient of a "reverted elixir." Among the representative texts of this period are several collections of recipes, of which one of the most important was compiled by Sun Simo. The first half of the Tang dynasty also marked the climax of contacts between China and the Arabic world. These exchanges may be at the origin of the mediaeval word alchymia, one of whose suggested etymologies is from middle Chinese kiem-yak (the approximate pronunciation of mod. jinye, or "Golden Liquor") with the addition of the Arabic prefix al-. Internal alchemy. While the Tang period is sometimes defined as the "golden age" of external alchemy, it also marked the stage of transition to internal alchemy. Among the forerunners of internal alchemy is the Shangqing (Supreme Purity) tradition of Taoism. Based on revelations of the late fourth century, this school attributed particular importance to meditation, but also included the compounding of elixirs among its practices. The relevant sources exhibit the earliest traces of the interiorizazion of alchemy. Among the texts used in this school is the Huangting jing (Scripture of the Yellow Court), a meditation manual often quoted in later neidan texts. The shift from external to internal alchemy, sometimes regarded as due only to the multiplication of cases of elixir poisoning, or to the influence of Buddhism, requires further study to be properly evaluated. In internal alchemy, the adept's entire person performs the role that natural substances and instruments play in external alchemy. In doing so, this discipline avails itself -- in ways and degrees that vary among different subtraditions -- of traditional Chinese doctrines based on the analogies between macrocosm and microcosm, of earlier native contemplative and meditative disciplines, and of notions shared with Buddhism. In Song and Yuan times, the history of neidan identifies itself with the lines of transmission known as Southern Lineage (nanzong) and Northern Lineage (beizong, usually known as Quanzhen). The respective initiators were Zhang Boduan (eleventh century) and Wang Chongyang (1112-1170). Both lineages placed emphasis on the cultivation of xing and ming, which constitute two central notions of internal alchemy. Xing refers to one's original nature, whose properties, transcending individuality, are identical to those of Emptiness and Non-being. Ming denotes the "imprint," as it is, that each individual entity receives upon being generated, and which may or may not be actualized in life (this word also means "destiny" or "life," but neither translation covers all the implications in a neidan context). The Northern and Southern lineages, and subtraditions within them, were distinguished by the relative emphasis given to either element. The textual foundation of the Southern Lineage was provided by the Zhouyi cantong qi (Token for Joining the Three in Accordance with the Book of Changes) and the Wuzhen pian (Awakening to Reality), a work in poetry by Zhang Boduan. During the Ming and Qing dynasties the neidan tradition is known to have divided into several schools, but their history and teachings are still barely appreciated. One of the last greatest known masters of this discipline was Liu Yiming (eighteenth century), who in his works propounded an entirely spiritual interpretation of the scriptural sources of his tradition.

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