Awakening to Reality – “Inversion” and the generation of the Elixir. Alchemy offers a way to return to the state of Unity.
“Inversion” and the generation of the Elixir. Alchemy offers a way to return to the state of Unity. In its view, the forward movement (shun, lit. “continuation “) from the Dao to the ten thousand things can be compensated by a reverse, backward movement (ni, “inversion”) . The inversion process is represented in internal alchemy in several different ways, each of which uses different images and terms. The most common formulation refers to Essence (jing), Breath (qi), and Spirit (shen). The Dao, which fi rst selfmanifests as pure Spirit, issues its Breath, which in turn coalesces into 7
Awakening to Reality Essence, the seed that gives birth to the world.’n Human beings are composed with the same three elements. Accordingly, in its most typical codification, the alchemical process is based on the progressive refining of those components. The re fining occurs in an inverted sequence, which reintegrates each component into the previous one:
(I) Refining Essence into Breath
(2) Refining Breath into Spirit
(3) Refining Spirit and reverting to Emptiness
The Elixir itself is also described with different terminology: it may be called the One Breath of the Dao, Pure Yang, Gold, Lead, and with literally dozens of other appellations}’ Liu Yiming (1734-1821), in a passage of his commentary to Awakening to Reality translated in the present book, writes that “there is no other Golden Elixir outside one’s fundamental nature,” and that “every human being has this Golden Elixir complete in himself.”
Once the world is generated, it is subject to the laws of the cosmic domain. Neidan texts constantly bring this domain to the fore , and explain its features by means of the standard Eastern cosmological system. It would be virtually impossible to understand the language and imagery of Awakening to Reality, and of internal alchemy in general, without acquiring a basic familiarity with this system.
For example, the five agents are used to represent how the original One Breath issued from the Dao takes on five main different modes in the cosmos; but the central agent, Soil, represents the One Breath itself, and the process that occurs in internal alchemy has been be described as the reduction of the agents to one, namely, Soil. The individual items in any set of emble ms-for example, the individual agents in the set of the five agents-can be thought of as “categories” to which all phenomena and events in the cosmos can be assigned. The emblems themselves are entirely abstract; they gain meaning only in relation to one another, and in connection with the types of entities and phenomena that they represent. This implies that the author of a text can mention any of these emblems, and immediately bring up all of the associated entities.
In internal alchemy, Wood represents True Yin, and Metal represents True Yang. Accordingly, the ingredients of the Elixir are often referred to Wood and Metal. The same, howeve r, is true of Water and Fire, respectively. In addition, internal alchemy assigns a crucial role to Soil. Being placed at the center, Soil stands for the source fr om which the other four agents derive , and therefore guarantees the conjunction of the world of multiplicity to the original state of Unity. One of the typical representations of the alchemical process (also mentioned in Awakening to Reality, see Poem 14) is the reduction of the five agents to three and then to one. The whole process happens by the virtue of Soil, which acts as “mediator” between True Yin and True Yang and makes their conjunction possible.
In a strict sense, as we have seen, alchemy consists in the recovery of the One Breath prior to Heaven, symbolized by True Lead. The adept rises through the different states of Being until he reaches the highest point, Non-Being or Emptiness; this is typically done by means of the alchemical practice, in the ways briefly outlined above.
The alchemical practice prepares one to enter that state: the fi nal stage, “refining Spirit and reverting to Emptiness,” requires non-doing
Awakening to Reality be performed. At that point, the way of seeing radically changes. The One Breath prior to Heaven has at last been found; not only does it not need to be sought any longer, but continuing to seek it would be harmful. For the first time, the focus shifts from Lead to Mercury: one should decrease Lead and augment Mercury, bestowing the qualities of the newly found Gold to what once appeared as corrupt matter. The world to which one returns is entirely different from the world that had been left behind. The alchemical practice has brought it back to be what it is: one with the One Breath.
If you study immortality, you should study celestial immortality. The word translated as “immortality” means, more precisely, “transcendence.” In the view of Awakening to Reality, celestial immortality is the highest degree of realization.
“Immortality is not of one kind only …. There are five degrees of Immortals, namely;
the demon immortals
the human immortals
the earthly immortals
the spirit immortals
and the celestial immortals
Where the five agents are whole. Dragon and Tiger coil. The five agents are Wood, Fire, Soil, Metal, and Water. They represent the differentiation of the One into the many, and the diverse qualities taken on by Original Breath (yuanqi) in the conditioned state. Soil is an emblem of the original unity of the five agents. “The five agents are whole” refers to the reversal to unity, which is performed fi rst by reducing the five agents to three, and then to one. Therefore the undividedness of the fi ve agents is analogous to the joining of Yin and Yang. The Dragon stands for True Yin within Yang, also symbolized by the inner line of the trigram Li and the Tiger stands for True Yang within Yin
The whole world recklessly tries to subdue Lead and Mercury; when will they be able to see Dragon and Tiger submitted? “Making Lead and Mercury subdue ” and “making the Dragon and the Tiger submit” both refer to allowing Yin and Yang to join one another.
Once you know that your longevity equals that of Heaven and Earth. True longevity is immortality, or transcendence.
Finding True Yin and True Yang and joining them with one another is not difficult, provided that one models one’s operation on the operation of the Dao, and lets one’s behavior and activity to be guided from the innermost center.
The fo ur images and the five agents all avail themselves of Soil. The expression “four images” (sixiang) in this sentence can be understood in two different but equivalent ways. In the fi rst sense, the four images are the Ver milion Bird, the Dark Warrior, the White Tiger, and the Green Dragon. These are the emblems of the four “external” agents, namely Fire, Water, Metal, and Wood, respectively
The central agent Soil represents the Unity that gives origin to and underlies multiplicity. The other four agents and the four trigrams represent the state of multiplicity.
The Center and the North are closely related to one another: the cosmic North, represented by the Pole Star or by the Northern Dipper, is the Center of Heaven. Water is, moreover, the first agent to be generated in the “cosmogonic sequence” of the fi ve agents (Water – Wood – fire -Soil -Metal). The refined numinous substance is difficult fo r us to comprehend. The “refined numinous substance” is the Elixir
After the introduction given in the previous poem, Zhang Boduan provides more details on the subject of “inversion.” As soon as True Yang is recognized and collected, it should be moved ” above ” and be “sent down” to join one’s True Yin, the pure and empty consciousness that underlies the thinking mind. “Invers ion” does nothing but reestablish the original state of being. After this, nothing needs to be done, and one enters the state of non-doing. The Elixir coalesces spontaneously, and one returns to the True Origin. 1 If you do not comprehend that within the Mystery there is an inversion and then again an inversion. This line might be translated more literally as: “If you do not understand how to invert the inversion within the Mystery.” Internal alchemy is concerned with two “inversions.”
The fi rst one occurs with the generation of the cosmos and the entrance in the postcelestial, conditioned state: in this state, True Yang is found within Yin, and True Yin is found within Yang. The second inversion occurs with the alchemical process, which releases the original principles from their postcelestial dwellings and restores the original state of being. How can you know the beautiful lotus bud within the Fire? In nature, the lotus plant grows in water. The “lotus bud” is taken therefore as an image of the inner line of Kan (Water). In the alchemical process, this line, which stands for True Yang, is returned to its place within Li (Fire).
The White Tiger is associated with the West and the trigram Kan . Therefore these verses refer once again to moving the inner Yang line of this t rigram and bringing it “back home” to the central position within Li in order to generate the Elixir (the “bright pearl”).
After the elixir has been generated, one needs to nourish it. Accordingly, the heating accord ing to the cycle of the “fire times”
The translation of manshou as “desist fr om guarding” differs from those found in other versions of Awakening to Reality, which include “staying relaxed,” “gradually guard ,” and “longuement gardez.”
At this time, the Elixir has already coalesced; one should nourish it warmly, and it is not necessary to perform again the ‘fire times.’ As the process has reached the stage of ‘refining breath into spirit,’ clarifies that there is no more need of ‘doing”
When all of Yin is entirely dispelled, the Elixir ripens
You leap out of the cage of the mundane, a nd live ten thousand years
The basic meaning of the word fa n, translated above as “mundane,” is “normal, ordinary.”
Human beings receive this Golden Elixir from Heaven. It is perfectly good with nothing bad in it, it is innate knowledge (liangzhi) and innate capacity.’ It is the Numinous Root, entirely achieved and with nothing lacking. It is the Breath of precelestial Perfect Yang …. Golden Elixir is another name for one’s inchoate fundamental nature (xing).n There is no other Golden Elixir outside one’s fundamental nature. Every human being has this Golden Elixir complete in oneself: it is entirely achieved in everyone. It is neither more in a sage, nor less in an ordinary person. It is the seed of the Immortals and the Buddhas, the root of the worthies and the sages. However, when it is not refined by fire, Yang culminates and necessarily becomes Yin, completion culminates and necessarily becomes lacking. One falls into the postcelestial state …. Therefore the sages of antiquity established the Way of the Return [to the original state] through the Golden Elixir, so that everyone could go back to one’s home and recognize one’s ancestor, and revert to what one fundamentally and originally has in oneself.
The numinous root of the one particle of innate knowledge and innate capacity fundamentally arises from within Empty Non-Bei ng. It is similar to the red Sun which rises from the bottom of a pool, and on its own extinguishes Yin, and it seems like the supine moon suspended above the top of a mountain, which causes the herbs to put forth new sprouts.
Essentially, when the correct Breath is generated, the evil breaths spontaneously retire; and when the real returns, the artificial is dispelled. The redness of the Sun at the pool’s bottom and the whiteness of the Moon on the mountain’s peak are both images of the emergence of True Yang and the reappearance of the celestial mind (tianxin).23 With the reappearance of the celestial mind, both knowledge and capacity return to their innate state. This is called the Golden Elixir. This Golden Elixir is the True Yin and True Yang that one fundamentally possesses of one’s own. It is formed by the joining of the fi rm and the yielding. It is the real treasure of one’s nature being accomplished, and of one’s existence being perfected. Could this ever be achieved by roasting and refining common cinnabar and quicksilver?
Because of the fall into the postcelestial state, with its evil breaths and pursuits of activities, the correct Yang recedes, Yang is trapped within Yin, and the real is covered by the artificial. One sinks into the ocean of desires, and innate knowledge is obscured, like Silver in Water; it is exhausted and barely exists. Silver is one in kind with Metal; the Silver within Water is the Metal stored within Water. In the precelestial state, this Metal is the innate knowledge of one’s fundamental nature; in the postcelestial state, is it the true knowledge of the mind of the Dao. Being true knowledge, it is extremely fi rm and extremely strong, and therefore metaphorically it is called True Lead. Being true knowledge, it achieves immortality and the Dao, and therefore metaphorically it is called True Seed
All the sages and the worthies of antiquity collected this one ingredient, the Great Medicine, in order to fulfill their nature and existence. Although the conscious knowledge of the human mind moves easily, it can be controlled if it fi nds the real knowledge of the mind of the Dao. Then consciousness reverts to reality, and does not fly away. This is what the Cantong qi means when it says: “When, at last, it fi nds the Golden Flower, it turns around, and each relies on the other.” … If you want to detain the conscious knowledge of the human mind, you must fi rst send down this true knowledge of the mind of the Dao. Underneath the True Seed of true knowledge is a host that is not affected by contaminated breaths. The conscious knowledge of the human mind spontaneously coalesces and does not disperse itself. By employing the mind of the Dao to control the human mind, one complies with the mind of the Dao by means the human mind; one commands conscious knowledge by true knowledge; and one nourishes true knowledge by conscious knowledge. The fi rm and the yielding match one another,31 strength and compliance are like one thing, and nature and emotions join one another in harmony. Within a mid hour, they coalesce into a round luminous jewel, numinously bright and shining, and the Yin deviant breaths can no more make any harm.
The Way of the Great Elixir is the work of one instant. This instant is joined in its virtue with Heaven and Earth, in its light with the Sun and Moon, in its pattern with the four seasons, and in its destiny with gods and spirits.n It is hard to fi nd and easy to miss. If there is even the slightest negligence, the Breath of the True Unity prior to Heaven is obtained and then is lost again. The Breath of the True Unity prior to Heaven is the Reverted Elixir.34 Since the Reverted Elixir is formed by joining the two breaths, the fi rm and the yielding, it is called Breath of the True Unity; it does not mean that there is a separate Breath of the True Unity outside the Reverted Elixir.35 When the Reverted Elixir is obtained, the mind of the Dao is fi rm and strong, and the human mind is yielding and compliant; true knowledge and conscious knowledge become one. Round and bright, it is the beginning of life. It is innate knowledge and innate capacity, silent and immovable, responding to external stimuli, something belonging to one’s “original face.” As its nature is fi rm, it is called True Lead; as its breath is strong, it is called Male Tiger (xionghu). Both True Lead and the Male Tiger are a single overflowing breath, perfectly good with nothing bad in it, which preserves the celestial reality (tianzhen) of innate knowledge and innate capacity.
The Breath prior to Heaven comes from empty Non-being; it coalesces and becomes a round pearl.
However, this movement is not the movement of emotions and desires arising from external stimuli; and it is not the movement of thoughts and ideas arising from the internal mind. It is the movement of innate knowledge of the celestial mind, the movement of the true knowledge of the mind of the Dao. This innate knowledge of the celestial mind, this true knowledge of the mind of the Dao, can make one transcend the ordinary and enter sainthood, rise from death and return to life; therefore they are represented by the image of the Medicine. At the time in which quiescence culminates and the ten thousand conditions are at rest, the innate knowledge of the celestial mind and the true knowledge of the mind of the Dao have a particle of radiance that reveals their origin; therefore they are represented by the image of the birth of the Medicine. The innate knowledge of the celestial mind and the true knowledge of the mind of the Dao are the white within the black; their movement is generated from quiescence, just like the source of a stream; therefore they are represented by the image of the source of a stream where the Medicine is born.