Complete Reality Daoism
Daoist Sage: Dragon Gate Master Du Xinling (杜信灵); White Cloud Temple, Beijing. Photo by P A Kelly 1988
'The inner teachings of Daoism'
(Extracts from: a condensed version of 'Understanding Reality')
By Chang Po-tuan 10??; commentary by Liu I-Ming 1808
On symbolic language.
The ancient classics on the the science of cultivating reality often speak of the path of non-doing, but seldom speak of the path of doing. The classic 'Understanding Reality' says: "Before you have refined the restored elixir, do not go into the mountains; in the mountains nothing within or without is real knowledge. This ultimate treasure is in everyone - it is just that the ignorant do not fully recognise it." It also says " Beginning by doing, no one sees; when non-doing is reached, everyone knows. Only seeing non-doing as the essential marvel, do you not realise that doing is the foundation?" Doing and non-doing each have their time. Essence and life must be cultivated as a pair; the work requires 2 phases. the first of these is doing by which one comprehends life; next comes non-doing by which one comprehends essence. The ignorant who do not know this, without having found what essence, life and cultivating the Dao are, learn some auxiliary methods, roundabout routes and minor techniques, then immediately go into the mountains to practise quiet sitting, shutting off their senses and stilling their minds, and consider this to be non-doing. This is a mistake.
To help people in the earlier stages of the Way, Wei Po-yang (1?? AD) composed the Triplex Unity using images to present the imageless and forms to allude to the formless.
This was the beginning of the term 'gold elixir' and the technical symbolism of lead and mercury, dragon and tiger, cooking and refining, and so on. Later, many realized people composed treatises to expound the subtle principles, all based on the Triplex Unity.
However, many who later read these texts did not look deeply into the meaning of the symbols. Seeing talk of gold, lead, mercury, cauldron and fire, they thought it referred to the preparation of potions and drugs to ingest and they took to chemistry. Seeing talk of dragon and tiger, raven and rabbit, they thought it referred to internal organs and they took to visualization exercises. Seeing talk of yin and yang, male and female, they thought it referred to human relations and they took to sexual yoga. Seeing talk of natural and reverse processes, they thought it referred to instinctive functioning and they took to energy circulation practices. Seeing talk of doing to cultivate life they thought it meant exercise and took to physical practices (qigong). Seeing talk of non-doing they thought it meant mental quiescence and took to quietism.
These and other schools arose bringing little benefit and even detriment, to essence and life. Symbols are representations, speaking of one thing to allude to something else. All great teachings use metaphors to illustrate principles. When you get the image forget the words; when you understand the intent then forget the image; then you will be close to the reality.
On going along and reversal.
Everyone in the world knows the path of going along, but not the path of reverse operation. What is going along? It means going along with natural process. What is reversal? It means reversal of natural process. Going along with natural process gives birth to humans and other beings, the cycle of birth, aging sickness and death never ceasing. Reversing the natural process produces enlightened adepts who are neither born nor perish, having a lifespan equal to that of the universe.
Ordinarily, after people are born, as they grow up they become imbued with temporal conditioning; inwardly, emotions and desires distract them from reality, while outwardly objects and events tax their bodies. They take the false to be real, take the aberrant to be correct, take misery for pleasure; following their desires to any lengths, they deplete their original vitality, energy and spirit almost to the point of exhaustion, and thoroughly obscure their inherent round and bright true essence, unwilling to stop until they die. Thereafter they undergo birth after birth, death after death, sunk for myriad aeons; this is what is called throwing oneself to one's death even without having been called by the king of death.
People of great wisdom reverse the operation of the natural process...they make temporary use of things of the world to practice the celestial Dao...they uproot the mundane senses...and sweep away all acquired influences...Restoring original being, they avoid compulsive routine, transcend the lower worlds and become incorruptible.
But the secret of this celestial mechanism of practising reversal in the midst of accord, must be understood internally under the guidance of a true teacher, for it cannot be known through arbitrary guesswork or bright ideas. Unscrupulous people all over the world use their own meager light and narrow views, memorize a few sayings, ponder a few mystical stories and think they know the Dao; seeking no further for guidance, they become charlatans, self-appointed preachers who are blind themselves and take in others who are blind.
Also, sincere mixed-up people who cannot discern truth, go from one false teacher to another learning a few minor techniques and imagine they have the Dao. They perform various practices at random: some consider the practice of reversal to be the descent of the energy in the heart and ascent of the energy in the genitals; some consider it to be the circulation of energy up the spine and down the front; some consider it to be sending the energy up to boost the brain; some consider it to be taking sexual energy from young women or men; some consider it to be controlling the breath to steady the spirit.
There are many such auxiliary methods, side doors and false paths. What people do not realize is that 'reversal' means going back to the spiritual origin of life, not these various practices in the physical sphere. Although the true method is called reversal, in fact it is action in natural accord with Dao.
On Internal Alchemy.
When the alchemical classics and writings of the masters speak of gathering and refining substances to make gold, they are referring to primordial, formless, immaterial realities, not to mundane external substances and not to physical substances in the human body. The 3 treasures (jing, qi and shen) are not material, but formless realities. As an ancient adept said: the true vitality (jing) is not sexual vitality, the true energy (qi) is not metabolic energy, the true mind (shen) is not the thinking brain (including its quietly watching state). Those who ingest external substances or who are obsessed with the body in their search for truth, should wake up when they hear this.