I have been studying the two English translations of The Secret of the Golden Flower, a book translated first into English from Chinese by Cary F. Baynes in 1931 from the German translation by Richard Wilhem (foreward and commentary by Carl Jung), and then by Thomas Cleary from Chinese in 1991, with the (dubious) addition, “the Authoritative New Translation” over his name on the cover. I don’t read Chinese and therefore cannot interpret the value of the texts relative to a personal understanding of the original Chinese. The Cleary is brief and concise while the Wilhelm is more verbose and has more cumbersome but often more more appealing syntax.
In The Secret of the Golden Flower, we are seemingly given a dualistic cosmology that puts the transformative value of yang over it’s counterpart, yin. Yin and it’s psychophysicospiritual correlate, the po (associated with the Lung and with Metal in Chinese Medicine), is to be “subjugated” (Cleary’s translation) by the hun (associated with Liver and with Wood), correlated with the yang of the body. Overcoming darkness with light is not a motif unique to Daoist alchemy (Gnosticism, etc.). In a similar way, the “perceiving spirit” (Shishen) is to be brought to rest so the “original spirit” (Yuanshen), being more yang in nature, can take the throne as master of the dwelling.
“The celestial mind is like a house; the light is the master of the house.” – 1.12, Cleary
This is of course also given the fact that it’s alchemy we are dealing with here. The Cleary translation says “the turning around of the light is the ‘firing process’.”
“The ancients’ method of transcending the world, refining away the dregs of darkness to restore pure light, is just a matter of dissolving the lower soul and making the higher soul whole.” (Referring to hun and po) – 2.14, Cleary
The method of reversal (nifa) – the circulation or turning around of the light – is the primary psycho-alchemical tool in The Secret of the Golden Flower.
“The whole work of turning the light around uses the method of reversal.” – 1.11, Cleary
This turning, circulating, reversing, inverting, or returning process (all of which it’s descriptions have rendered in English), is the return to the Dao, to the Origin, to the Fundament. That analogous process in Hermetic alchemy is seen as an act of completion or purification (through separation and recombination, solve et coagula). In Daoist alchemy this alchemical method involves a return. The Daoist alchemists saw themselves as rewinding time rather than fastforwarding it. Our understanding that all things return to the Dao could imply that the source is the same regardless of how you get there. It’s a vortex, after all.
We are talking about information at the border between being and non-being, therefore polarity persists regardless of the recursiveness of the matrix. Language refuses to break down completely – perhaps this is why the Daoists wrote so much.
The Dao splits into yin and yang at the event horizon (the membrane) of the proton or of any information state. This is where the Dao is encircled by itself and where the first proton is born. It has occurred to me the possibility that what this book is talking about is in part the visualization of the surface of the proton. This process involves “seeing essence (xing)… the original face.” (Cleary)
I contend that this is the mysterious opening spoken of in Daoist alchemy. This opening is really the boundary condition that separates the implicate order from the explicate order.
Xing and ming
Xing is translated as “human nature”, “essence”, and “logos” by Wilhelm and “essence” by Cleary. In a footnote in Wilhelm’s the reader is encouraged to stretch one’s imagination to consider human nature as a cosmological principle of this magnitude. Perhaps a bit strange to think of the principle as antecedent to it’s manifestation, but alas. I would here invoke Genesis 1:28 – “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he was made.” In light of this, xing could be thought of as a fractal, organizing principle of archetypal scale (the kind of recursiveness that generates two mirrored hands and feet of five fingers and toes each, etc.).
In Daoism, Xing and ming are a mysterious principle pair. You can find these concepts translated, respectively, as consciousness and life, human nature and life, essence and life, or soul and energy. Regardless, it is clearly a dichotomy of form versus function, respectively. In both the Wilhelm and Cleary, ming is rendered as “life”. Xing is the energy from which the hun is derived. Ming is the energy of the po.
Ming is also translated as “destiny” and in the Chinese language, to “lose one’s ming” is to die. Ming shares a relationship with both qi and with jing, as well as with the body itself. Ming is yin because of it’s associated with the po and vise versa for xing, yang, and hun. Ming is said to rest in the Kidneys or in the lower dantian. Xing is said to rest in the chest or in the upper dantian and is associated with the Heart. Xing is also said to correspond to the personality and with the yang of the heart, or the emotions. The character for xing is a combination of xin (Heart-Mind) and sheng (generation).
Xing and ming also share correspondences, respectively, with Heaven and Earth, the Sky and the Light, the Heart-Mind and the Three Treasures, Li (fire) and Kan (water), and to the flame of a lamp and the oil that burns.
It is said that the objective of Daoist alchemy is to “bring one’s form (xing) to completion by means of the Dao” and “extend one’s life (ming) by means of practice.”
This image is from the 1962 edition (pg. 65) and it contains a footnote from Cary F. Baynes remarking that there is no reason not to include the residuals of “kuei” (gui) in the return to the Dao. This is a fantastic point, in light of my earlier remark that the text seems to value the yang ultimately over the yin.
The intellectual project I am embarking on is one of syncretism – I assume this same kind of correspondence can likely be found in other systems of thought and in other works on consciousness (the Upanishads, for instance). The very realm the Daoist’s enjoyed the most was the one where language breaks down and the ineffable seeks to express itself.
I suppose I’m not considered a Daoist insofar as the kind of gnosis I am after is one that is both expressible in words and visualizable, i.e. effable. The nature of the mystery does not 100% penetrate down to the level of human expression. It is, however, fundamentally an experience. The Daoist alchemists are not conceiving models of reality in order to build anti-gravitic crafts, they are doing it to experience first-hand the true nature of reality and become one with it. Mystical yet not without a firm grounding in the world as we know it.
“First establish a firm foothold in daily activities within society. Only then can you cultivate reality and understand essence.” – 1.7, Cleary
“You should know the great concealment
while you dwell in the marketplace.
What need is there of entering the mountains’ depths
and keeping yourself in stillness and solitude?” – Poem 5, Wuzhen Pian, Pregadio
…applied mysticism for the 21st century.