secret of the golden flower

Good and bad come from your own mind. But what do you call your own mind, apart from your actions and thoughts? Where does your own mind come from? If you really know where your own mind comes from, boundless obstacles caused by your own actions will be cleared all at once. After that, all sorts of extraordinary possibilities will come to you without your seeking them.
—  Zen Master Dahui Zonggao(1089–1163)
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Taoist Origins of Alchemy and Circulation of the Light


“Taoism goes back to the days of the guilds of smiths, custodians of the most wondrous of the magic arts and the secrets of the primal forces. It was in Taoist and neo-Taoist circles that alchemical techniques were propagated….

Their ideas of longevity and immortality belong to the sphere of mythologies and folklore which is virtually universal. The notions of the ‘herb of immortality,’ of animal or vegetable substances charged with ‘vitality’ and containing the elixir of eternal youth as well as the myths concerning inaccessible regions inhabited by immortals, are part of a primitive ideology going far beyond the confines of China…

“Chinese alchemy was built up, in so far as it is an autonomous discipline, by utilizing: traditional cosmological principles; myths connected with the elixir of immortality and the immortal saints; techniques pursuing the prolongation of life, beatitude and spiritual spontaneity….

There is a very obvious and close connection between the ‘preparation of gold,’ the ‘drug of immortality’ and the ‘evocation of the Immortals.’"

Han dynasty historian, Ssu-ma Ch’ien lived in the first century 145-86 BCE. In Records of the Historian he recounts how Taoist master sage, Lao Tsu, “having lived in Chou for a long time, realized it was in decline and left. As he reached the pass, the pass-keeper, Yin-hsi, said, ‘You are about to retire. Please try your best to write a book for me.’ Thereupon Lao Tsu wrote a book in two parts, expounding the ideas of the Way and its virtue in over 5000 words and then [he] departed. None knew how he ended. Probably Lao Tsu lived to be more than one hundred and sixty years—some say more than 200 years—because he practiced the Way and nourished his old age.” Pass-keeper Yin-hsi became Master Yin-hsi, inspired by the teachings Lao Tsu had written for him in the Way of Things, the Tao te Ching. From it master Yin-hsi developed a method to keep one in harmony with Tao. He called it The Secret of the Golden Flower.

The Secret of the Golden Flower advances the Taoist “premise that the cosmos and man, in the last analysis, obey the same law; that man is a microcosm and is not separated from the macrocosm by any fixed barriers. The very same laws rule for the one as for the other, and from the one a way leads into the other. The psyche and the cosmos are to each other like the inner world and the outer world. Therefore man participates by nature in all cosmic events, and is inwardly as well as outwardly interwoven with them. …The fundamental idea is that Tao, though itself motionless, is the means of all movement. [And life is] the multicolored play of nature which cannot evade the laws of the Tao.“

The Taoists believed, and the secret doctrine proposed, that human consciousness is of two natures.

Body-consciousness is stimulated to react by phenomena and is bound to the laws of physics. It is the emotional consciousness awakened by the five senses through unreflecting reactions to impressions received from the external world. Spirit-consciousness prevails when body-consciousness is quiet.

Psychic energy and vital energy flow out from the individual into the phenomenal world. Vital energy is exhausted at death. Body-consciousness is linked to organic processes and decays returning to the earth. Spirit-consciousness is linked to intellect and imagination and powered with psychic energy. At death it rises from the earth then failing to maintain its energy output, dissipates, or its energy is drawn into the common reservoir of life energy. The master of the Pass reasoned that reversing the direction of energy flow from outward to inward would prolong life. He called the process of reversing the flow of psychic and vital energies, “Circulation of the Light.”

Circulation of the Light:

“The work on the circulation of the light depends entirely on the backward-flowing movement, so that the thoughts are gathered together. …When the light circulates, the energies of the whole body appear before its throne. …You have only to make the light circulate: that is the deepest and most wonderful secret. The light is easy to move, but difficult to fix. If it is made to circulate long enough, then it crystallizes itself; that is the natural spirit-body. In carrying out this fundamental principle you need to seek for no other methods, but must only concentrate your thoughts on it. When the light is made to move in a circle, all the energies of heaven and earth, of the light and the dark, are crystallized.

“…When one begins to apply this magic it is as if, in the middle of being, there were non-being. When in the course of time the work is completed, and beyond the body there is a body, it is as if, in the middle of non-being, there is being.

…There develops the seed pearl. It is as if man and woman embraced and a conception took place. Then one must be quite still and wait. The circulation of the light is the epoch of fire.

“…In the midst of primal transformation, the radiance of the light is the determining thing. The radiation and dissipation of spiritual consciousness is chiefly brought about by this energy when it is directed outward. Therefore the Way of the Golden Flower depends wholly on the backward-flowing method. The decision must be carried out with a collected heart, and not seeking success; success will then come of itself.

“…As soon as the heart stirs, there develops breath-energy. Breath-energy is originally transformed activity of the heart. …Since heart and breath are mutually dependent, the circulation of the light must be united with the rhythm of breathing. …Although the breath that flows in and out through the nose is not the true breath, the flowing in and out of the true breath takes place in connection with it.”

By the ninth century The Secret of the Golden Flower had generated the “Religion of the Golden Elixir of Life.”

Practitioners of this esoteric and secret religion were met with tolerance and favor during the T’ang dynasty. But over time, as it became more popular, adepts were accused of political intrigues. Adherents were persecuted by hostile governments. In 1891 fifteen thousand members of the Religion of the Golden Elixir of Life were murdered by Manchu hirelings.

From the third century BCE. to the third century CE. Taoist adepts inspired by the Secret of the Golden Flower sought to produce a substance that would turn base metals into gold and give men immortality. This philosopher’s stone created by artful diligence in the kitchen was to be crushed “into a marvelous powder, a gold dust which ‘spread mistily like wind driven by rain’ through the five organs. The universal medicine freed its owner from all worldly miseries. New teeth would grow, dark hair would cover the old man’s baldness, and his sick wife would regain perfect health.“