Daoist Internal Alchemy in the West (abridged chapter)
by Michael Winn
The Dao is very great, for it offers human beings 3,600 pathways. Each pathway has 10,000 methods to help us become who we truly are. — Daoist saying
In 1980, I was introduced to Mantak Chia in his tiny office in New York’s Chinatown. A friend had alerted me his energy was “off the charts,” and looking for a writer. A 36-year old Thai Chinese Daoist, Chia made his living doing energetic healing. Dr. Young, a Chinese MD with an office next door, sent Chia patients with difficult diseases Western medicine could not cure. Many recovered their health (Young 1984). I had never met a Daoist. “What do you teach?” I asked Mantak Chia. “Immortality,” he replied without hesitation.
I looked at him skeptically. I was into Kundalini yoga, at the time still an underground culture. My yoga friends and the popular Indian gurus of the day only talked about enlightenment. “In China we have records of many hundreds of immortals. In the West, they only talk about one: Jesus,” Chia added, as if his cultural boast allayed my skepticism.
I took the bait, and signed up for the first class ever offered to Western students, on the Microcosmic Orbit. Chia warned me it was only “kindergarten” in the One Cloud system of Daoist internal alchemy. I later realized the Orbit was the piece missing from Indian Kundalini yoga practice, which directs all qi to flow up cakras located in the fire channel of the spine, then out the crown. The Daoist approach re-circulates Heaven-qi back down the crown into the water channel in the chest, connects to Earth-qi at the perineum, then spirals it back up the spine. The Orbit turns the human body into a refinery of whirling qi mixing fire and water qi.
Within two years I was practicing One Cloud’s second formula, Lesser Water and Fire, in which the qi moves into a third neutral channel, the Penetrating Vessel in the center of the body. The fire and water qi are sexually coupled and an alchemical elixir forms. It created a wonderfully warm glowing feeling in my body, unlike any of the many other spiritual practices I had experimented with.
Thus began a lifelong journey in which I became an adept, teacher, scholar, and witness to the unfolding of neidan culture in the West. In addition to documenting One Cloud’s Seven Alchemy Formulas for Immortality spread widely in the West by Chia’s Healing Tao organization, and other streams of Daoist alchemy in the English-speaking West, I will address two other issues.
One: how is Daoist internal alchemy tied to Chinese culture and language? Has the appropriation of neidan resulted in different insights or experiences by Western adepts, who may cultivate energy bodies differently from Chinese adepts? Two: are immortals real, or merely a Chinese cultural projection of a deep human desire to survive death? If immortals are real, are Western adepts in contact with them?
In 2008, twenty-eight years after my meeting Mantak Chia, yoga and Indian notions of enlightenment had surfaced into mainstream American culture, with 12 million yoga practitioners and glossy magazines. Numerous Hindu and Buddhist centers of meditation had flourished, died, and been replaced by new ones. Daoist internal alchemy had emerged from its “doesn’t exist” status, but was barely visible on the cultural horizon.
Its biggest presence was the thousand Healing Tao instructors Mantak Chia had certified globally in at least the first formula of One Cloud’s neidan system. In 1980, Chia planned to write a single book. I ended up editing or co-writing his first seven books. By 2008 he had published thirty-three books and dozens of videos….
Oriental healing schools have proliferated. Many are aware Daoist neidan gong, or “skill with the internal elixir,” is considered the pinnacle of self-realization and healing in China. Why don’t they teach neidan? The training is not well understood, and its complexity and long progressive work make it difficult to commercialize in the alternative healing market. There is an acupuncture textbook Nourishing Destiny: The Inner Tradition of Chinese Medicine, inspired by Zhang Boduan’s Four Hundred Words on the Gold Elixir (Jarrett 1999). It highlights neidan, also translated as “internal medicine,” as the highest distillation of Chinese medical principles….
Chinese alchemical literature is fascinating but maddeningly obscure. It wears two masks simultaneously, one promising mystical illumination and immortality, the other promising a spiritual science that systematically bridges the dark gulf between a fragile human mind in a mortal body and the vast eternal life of the cosmos. “Spiritual science” implies a practicality especially attractive to Westerners. Scientific materialism has become a de facto standard of truth often pitted against religious faith. Neidan offers a bridge between the two.
Daoist alchemy seeks to reconcile the creative tension between impersonal nature and the personal human. It simultaneously embraces the mystical oneness or primal chaos of Dao, expressed by an all-penetrating primordial qi-field, and many individual bodies, each with a unique destiny, arising within that field. External alchemy can help heal individual human bodies, but cannot deliver the experience of oneness or chaos. Death and disease could be seen in this context as unconscious ways to return to oneness.
Neidan seeks to achieve this return consciously, by embracing the life force at its deepest level of ever-changing process. Western science and medicine could be considered a form of external alchemy: ingenious at transforming matter and producing a surplus of magical technological goods, yet unable to fill human hearts.
Neidan serves to speed the completion of both personal worldly destiny (ming) and the realization of one’s spiritual essence or inner nature (xing) arising from the impersonal origin. What distinguishes Daoist neidan from other forms of meditation is that it traditionally involves the creation of a dan. This is variously described as an elixir, pearl, or egg in which the adept’s worldly and spiritual destiny are integrated.
This elixir or pearl is a vessel for the highest authentic essence of a human, a lifetime of wisdom condensed into a single spiritual drop. It’s vibrational purity and integration of spirit and matter is what survives death and allows for spiritual immortality. The elixir is progressively cooked or refined internally with different methods and goes through different stages.
In One Cloud’s Seven Alchemy formulas, the first popular neidan system in the West, primal Water and Fire are caused to merge with each other in an explicitly sexual internal coupling. This union of yin and yang is an alchemical marriage of inner male and inner female. The adept gets “spiritually pregnant” and forms an immortal embryo in the belly center or elixir field (dantian). This births an immortal child in the adept’s core channel, which progressively moves upward. It matures over many years into a sage or immortal at the solar plexus, the heart, third eye, and crown.
The inner sage may achieve different levels of immortality – human, earthly, heavenly, full celestial, or complete merging with Dao. Different yin-yang forces are coupled at each level; male-female sexual coupling evolves to a purer level, i.e., becomes sun-moon coupling, and continues into humanity collectively coupling its soul forces with planetary and star beings.
These levels may be understood as metaphors for the evolution of human consciousness beyond its mortal limitations. After physical death, spiritual immortals merge into the vast ocean of cosmic consciousness but continue to evolve and create within the greater process of Dao. Physical immortality is not the goal; that would be too fixed and thus not aligned with an ever-changing Dao. Soul immortality would be a mid-level achievement that results in conscious re-incarnation on earth, such as is used by Tibetans to preserve their spiritual culture.
Daoist rebirth is a long, gradual process, in which the adept moves inward by stages, refining the polarized and corrupted qi of postnatal after-Heaven (physical plane) into the balanced and purified qi of the prenatal stage Before Heaven, a middle plane that holds all possible forms waiting to birth. The adept finally penetrates to the pure field of the original energetic trinity of primordial origin.
This is the full return to original being, a merger with the cosmic egg or gourd before it cracked open. In some cosmologies, beyond this primal egg lies the Daoist notion of supreme mystery or Unknowable Ultimate (wuji), the source from which the primal trinity of the qi-field arises.
One of the most bewildering aspects facing Western seekers is that in China there are thousands of qigong forms, meditation and alchemical systems. It is a labyrinth grown over the millennia into many paths—medical, martial, spiritual, and further subdivided into Daoist, Buddhist, and Confucian. It takes years of training to see the myriad methods as expression of a single common deep energetic language.
Adepts may guide qi using external body or breath movement, shape it by intention or imagination or using an internal alchemical operation. Even when the mind surrenders or empties itself to allow the spontaneous movement of the qi-field—it is still a process that uses the language of qi…..
Internal alchemy uses intermediary symbols, but they are neither spoken nor written. This language consists of qi-channels and fields in the human body perceived as resonating spheres of sensation, feeling, and spiritual qualities. Alchemy requires close observation of these natural body processes, and sometimes employs images of the seasons, color, sound, or direction as its language symbols. This is known as resonant response (ganying). The vibration of the color red, by example, may be used to activate the fire element, the physical heart, its passions, the direction South, the planet Mars, etc.
The assumption of Daoists is that nature can talk back to you. When alchemical symbols and feelings are evoked, they shape silent language patterns of response within an omnipresent qi-field. The written symbols of the Yijing (Book of Changes), a foundational classic for all Daoists …are used by many neidan adepts as a concise shorthand for describing or invoking alchemical processes. Spoken sounds are sometimes used to invoke directional energies. The adept may internally hear a response from natural entities associated with that direction.
In Daoist alchemy, the silent language of qi is an embodied experience that directly touches three levels of a human being. Alchemy transforms the adept’s intelligence/spirit (shen), subtle breath (qi), and body or sexual essence (jing) into a created reality. These Three Treasures of the alchemist form a continuum, vibrating at different speeds……
This issue of language raises the question of how far and in what ways internal alchemy is bound to its Chinese and Daoist roots. Rene Goris has schools in Wuhan and Amsterdam that integrate neidan with Chinese medicine. His viewpoint that “neidan is uniquely Chinese” is held especially strongly in his Heavenly Masters school, the earliest form of temple Daoism that dates back to 2nd century C.E.:
Cultures in the East and West have different root notions of enlightenment. Westerners who seek to learn neidan cannot escape the Christian notions of God and heroic individual suffering as the path to salvation. It’s enmeshed in their religion, sports, and language. Neidan and immortality are deeply embedded as an ideal in the hive or group mind that influences traditional Chinese culture. The Daoist who cultivates immortality is effectively considered to be crazy for being so individualistic in his aspiration.
The legendary Zhang Sanfeng refused to serve the emperor and lived alone in wild mountains for hundreds of years. This showed that his power was greater than that of the Son of Heaven. But his achievement of immortality is not viewed as merely his individual accomplishment. The attainment of supernatural powers or great longevity using neidan is instead a validation of Chinese culture and redeems its collective spiritual endeavor. Western practitioners are not embedded in China’s group culture, and so cannot really participate in neidan as a group process. They are striving for themselves only. (Goris 2009)
Goris contends the many eleventh-century Song dynasty Daoist neidan schools—typified by One Cloud’s Seven Alchemy formulas—were overly influenced by Buddhist and Confucian ideas of enlightenment that obscure the original simple Daoist notion of wuwei or spontaneous natural enlightenment.
The sole attempt to introduce a uniformed Heavenly Masters lineage in the West with formal ordination was the Orthodox Daoism in America movement spearheaded by Charles Belyea (Liu Ming) in California in the 1990s. He attacked other Western Daoists on the grounds that they were all fundamentally still Christian in outlook and thus not authentically Daoist. The group disbanded after nine years when questions were raised about the authenticity of Belyea’s claimed lineage, but continues as a meditation circle (see Phillips 2008).
Other Westerners have recently taken ordination in Heavenly Masters temples in China and are promoting its deity-invoking magical practices (Johnson 2008, 40). Their focus on ritual magic may be a more successful strategy for attracting adherents than trying to adapt to Western culture the complex rites of renewal (jiao). But its a question whether the methods of the Heavenly Masters or other Daoist magical practices by themselves are part of neidan.
The Great Work of all alchemy, East and West, traditionally focuses on humanity’s function of harmonizing spirit and matter. Daoist magic uses yin-yang and five-phases theory similar to neidan. But it emphasizes personal need and manifestation skills rather than service to cosmic process of Dao and risks manipulation by dark or unconscious selfish forces.
An example of this, well known in the Healing Tao community, was a man who mixed Healing Tao alchemy with magical Cabala and Castaneda shamanism. He lost his job, his wife died of cancer, and his children denounced him. He later confessed the forces he tried to control with magic had possessed and nearly destroyed him.
Efforts to transplant the other major uniformed Daoist school, the Complete Perfection (Quanzhen) order, to the West are still in a seminal stage. This school mixed Daoist neidan with Buddhist notions of karmic retribution, hell, monasticism, asceticism, vegetarian diet, and celibacy when it was founded in the twelfth century. Their monks’ black top shirt with white leggings and hair tied in a top knot is the uniform most widely recognized in China today as “Daoist.” Its neidan integrates Daoist alchemical operations with Chan Buddhist methods of “facing the wall for nine years.”
Chen Yunxiang, a Daoist priest in Ft. Collins, Colorado, offers neidan retreats. Like many Quanzhen monks who leave mainland China, he married, has three children, and runs a business. Marriage would not be tolerated in mainland monasteries but is tacitly accepted for priests abroad and may foreshadow changes in the way internal practices and other Daoist beliefs are taught in the West. In 2006, Chen brought the first large contingent of thirty Complete Perfection adepts from Mt. Wudang to Boulder. They performed Daoist rituals and martial arts displays.
Chen hopes to build a Quanzhen temple in the Rocky Mountains (wudangtao.com). When I asked him how many of his Western students were likely to wear the dress uniform of Daoist monks, his reply was “none.” Ren Farong, head of the Chinese Daoist Association headquartered in the White Cloud temple in Beijing, in 2007 made a discreet trip to California to investigate sites for building a Quanzhen temple as a bridge to the West. No land was purchased……
Louis Komjathy, an American scholar of Daoism, was also initiated into the order, and has translated its corpus of sacred texts (2003). His Ph.D. thesis on Quanzhen (2007) details the extensive alchemical operational methods originally taught in the twelfth century, but it is unclear how many of those are actively being used by modern Complete Perfection Daoists. These esoteric secrets are being revealed anew with increasing rapidity.
The lay Taoist Wang Liping (profiled in Cleary’s Opening the Dragon’s Gate) in 2008 taught a group of Westerners the secrets of “Opening the Golden Flower” and “Female Alchemy,” and opened his future trainings to interested foreigners. His reason for breaking this former cultural taboo? It was suggested to him by a reading in the Yijing.
Tao Immortal, silk painting. Winn collection.
Beyond language issues, the question of archetypal differences in psyche must also be asked: can Westerners connect to Chinese immortals? This topic is best approached by subjective testimony. As a teacher who has taught over 75 week-long neidan retreats, I can report numerous instances where meditators felt they had interactions with divine beings who assumed human form, many explicitly Chinese in appearance.
One woman reported an internal experience of a Chinese man repeatedly pressing her to marry or merge with him, claiming he was an immortal. When she finally surrendered, she underwent a powerful spiritual awakening. Another man, long suffering from negative side effects of wrong internal practice, reported a Chinese-looking immortal visited him and began healing his condition. Perhaps the most dramatic encounter is my own, which explains my path:
In March 1981, a few months after meeting Mantak Chia, I had just begun to practice neidan. I was a journalist, staying in the Addis Ababa Hilton in Ethiopia, finishing a story on Black Jews. My next job was to spend a night inside the Great Pyramid. Before I flew to Egypt, I suddenly became nauseous, with regular bouts of diarrhea. This went on for three days and nights, preventing me from eating any food. My body got so hot I often had to jump into a cold shower.
Strangely, I did not feel sick—only that my body was going through the motions of illness. I went to a hospital for blood tests, but nothing was wrong. By the third afternoon I lay on my bed exhausted but fully awake. My hotel room suddenly began to slowly spin. The furniture and walls began to soften and flow in a large vortex around me. An ancient looking Chinese man in a long robe appeared from nowhere, floating above me as if riding on a cloud. He had a long wispy white beard, and eyes that strangely seemed to be looking inward at himself. His skin was so wrinkled I remember thinking, this guy must be 2000 years old!
Speechless, I watched as a laser beam of a dense white light shot out of his navel and into mine. The light felt highly charged and totally solid upon contact. My body immediately exploded. Energy shot up my core and out my crown like the mushroom cloud above an atom bomb. I felt myself raining back down in tiny droplets that formed themselves into a body on the bed. The Chinese man disappeared into nowhere. I lay on the bed, feeling intense bliss, floating in a pool of divine love for hours. All symptoms of my illness disappeared. (Winn 2010)
Years later I investigated my amazing experience with the help of a full-trance channel for a Western immortal, who allegedly lived physically for 2,300 years in the time of Atlantis before ascending. He told me I had been purified by my guardian, a blind Daoist immortal named Jingmingzi as a kind of “medical checkup” before being allowed to spend a night inside the Great Pyramid.
At the time of my experience, I had absolutely no belief in immortals. I had never read descriptions nor seen any image of one. It was impossible for me to project the experience out of previous mental impressions. The explanation of this Western immortal felt correct. I now have absolutely no doubt that immortals are real. Later, I would have many communications with beings I felt were immortals, but never again did they appear in human form.
The point of sharing this story is not to convince anyone that my personal experience is an objective or verifiable truth. It is to demonstrate that the field of archetypal forms in the collective Chinese psyche is fully available to Westerners. It affirms, in regard to neidan, that any cultural-linguistic boundary is easily transcended when one’s energetic reality is shifted. The major schools of Daoism began after their founders were visited by immortal beings of light.
It took me another twenty years of practice to realize that I had been given in my visitation a transmission of the essential purpose of neidan. The beam of literally “solid” light emitted from the immortal’s elixir field was made of original essence (yuanjing). This is primal matter or space itself, the aspect of consciousness that creates form and expresses will. It is part of the original trinity, but has a different function than primordial qi or shen.
The immortal showed me that when humans merge with Dao, they are entrusted with the free will to shape original essence. In this case it was used to purify me and speed up my worldly and spiritual destiny. I was able to enter the Great Pyramid without harm, and was propelled on my neidan path.
The westward move of organized Daoism was preceded by other trends that saw Daoism as a spiritual philosophy. In America Alan Watts, an English ex-Episcopalian priest, first popularized the notion of Dao with books in the 1950s and 60s. He was Daoist philosopher intellectually, but a Zen practitioner. In love with the Chan Buddhist notion that emptiness has inherent existence and allows one to transcend the wheel of life, Watts disliked the internal meditative operations of Daoist alchemy. Watts blurred the distinction between Daoism and Buddhism in his books, which continues to confuse Westerners today.
Neidan is based on the early Daoist premise that emptiness is not an absolute nothingness in the Buddhist sense, but just an emptying phase within the Dao’s process. Emptiness is relative in this view; it functions as the open space at the center of the wheel of life, from which the turning spokes or cycles of Dao manifest as de or spiritual powers (Moeller 2004, 151).
In this sense Daoist alchemy follows the philosophical view of Laozi that gives equal weight to the wu (unnamed or formless) and you (named forms) as part of the yin-yang paradox of an ever changing Dao (Hansen, 1992, 225). This equal weighting of spirit and matter within an alchemical continuum of transmutation distinguishes neidan from purely transcendentalist approaches seeking an absolute.
The Secret of the Golden Flower (Wilhelm 1962; Cleary 1992), was a translation of an eighteenth-century neidan manual (Mori 2002) that first appeared in German in 1929. It was the first book on Daoist alchemical qi-circulation as a golden light elixir flowing inside the human body, in an energetic pathway later known as the Microcosmic Orbit. Carl Jung wrote an introduction, but misunderstood the terminology and unsuccessfully imposed Western psychological structures of anima-animus on Daoist yin-yang energy channels.….
Daoist internal alchemy thus did not arrive into a vacuum in the West. The Forge and the Crucible documents that myths of alchemy exist in all cultures of the planet and precede the development of religion (Eliade 1962). The most enduring Western influences originate in Egypt. Most famous is the Emerald Tablet, an alchemical treatise whose principles any Daoist neidan adept could readily accept (Hauck, 1999). The Egyptian schools of alchemy gave rise to Freemason, Rosicrucian, Theosophical, Gurdjieff, and eventually New Age movements that popularized esotericism in the West. Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy spread many alchemical methods which esoterically were identified with Atlantis.
These Western schools, with the exception of Gurdjieff’s Sufi-like dances, generally lacked a body-centered method of meditation; their primary focus was on invoking spiritual forces external to the body. What was missing in the West was a powerful, body-centered, internal energetic science that went beyond intention, invocation, or prayer as ways to systematically focus invisible spiritual powers. Daoist qigong and internal alchemy are having a significant influence in filling that gap.
Taoist Yoga: Alchemy and Immortality (Lu 1970), a translation of Zhao Bi-zhen’s late nineteenth century practice text (Despeux 1979), provided Westerners their first glimpse into the detailed sequence of Daoist internal alchemy operations. Lu Kuan-yü, a.k.a. Charles Luk, coined the term Microcosmic Orbit as a translation for the more literal “small heavenly circuit,” a key meditation practice in many schools. Without a teacher or sufficient foundation training in Daoist meditation, his complex text was nearly impossible to implement.
But publication of the text signaled to Mantak Chia, who arrived in New York in 1976, that there was Western interest in neidan. Chia told me he tried to practice from Lu’s text but found it too different from the methods he learned. He had similar problems with Chinese alchemical texts coded to protect non-initiates from access to the mysteries. This is why it is a given in Chinese circles that you need a teacher and a live transmission to begin neidan practice….
The translation of texts such Cleary’s Understanding Reality (1987), The Book of Balance and Harmony (1989), and Opening the Dragon Gate (1996), as well as Kohn’s The Taoist Experience (1993), and Bertschinger’s The Secret of Everlasting Life (1994) further fueled an appetite for Western teachers of internal alchemy. Robinet’s Taoist Meditation (1993) and Taoism: Growth of a Religion (1997) offered fascinating details of Daoist vision practice and a definitive historical perspective on neidan relative to other Daoist religious practices.
Robinet, one of Europe’s great Daoist scholars, notes amongst the many Daoist traditions in the last two millennia, only the schools of internal alchemy offered immortality and the ecstatic experience of a light body for the living practitioner. The rest focus on healing, meeting personal or ancestral needs, invoking deities or worshipping Heaven and Earth.
….Translations of neidan texts by Eva Wong such as Cultivating Stillness (1992) and Tao of Health, Longevity, and Immortality (1998) gave Westerners a good understanding of neidan principles. Her Harmonizing Yin and Yang: The Dragon-Tiger Classic (1997) offered deep operational insights into the alchemical coupling of prenatal and postnatal forces, but again was useful only for trained adepts who could make those distinctions.
Mantak Chia was the first Chinese teacher with enough esoteric knowledge and drive to make the Western public aware of neidan as a personal pathway to physical longevity and spiritual immortality….
Chia received his system, the Seven Alchemy formulas, from One Cloud, a Daoist hermit who pursued the secrets of internal alchemy for thirty years in various Quanzhen monasteries with limited success…..
One Cloud’s formulas resonate with writings attributed to Lü Dongbin, the key figure of the Zhong-Lü school. Some of his practices also resemble operational teachings preserved in the Complete Perfection tradition. But One Cloud’s higher formulas, as far as I know, are not held in the Quanzhen order. When I shared them with the vice abbot of Mt. Hua, he gasped and exclaimed: “These are very secret teachings. Very few in China know of them.” He had difficulty grasping that they are being openly taught in the West.
Mantak Chia became the first Chinese teacher to overcome linguistic and cultural hurdles and build a large Western school of neidan. He was a cross-cultural ice breaker, explosively opening a gap that other Chinese schools would later use to enter Western culture, and support the growth of a wholly new kind of Western Daoist subculture that was not a copy of Chinese neidan culture. I posit five major reasons why Chia’s Healing Tao organization (Universal Tao overseas) succeeded in transplanting neidan to the West.
1. Healing Tao identified sexual energy up front as the key alchemical agent. Chia’s emphasis on cultivating sexual energy—solo or with a partner—as a means of enhancing spiritual power clearly distanced him from monastic religious orders in China. The Western “quest for spiritual orgasm” acted as a cultural pheromone and attracted large numbers of seekers dissatisfied with the sexual repression in other paths and religions (Winn 2003).
Those hoping for quick sexual thrills soon learned they had years of hard cultivation work to do in integrating their inner male and inner female, the primary fire and water of the early stage of neidan practice (Winn 1984)…..As if to punctuate the point of his teachings on sexual vitality, in 2007, at age of 64, Mantak Chia fathered his fourth child with a Thai woman 40 years younger than him…
…(other 4 reasons edited out)…..
Daoism is not a missionary religion….Many Chinese adepts seem too introverted to bother transmitting the kind of yang energy that Mantak Chia had naturally. One Chinese adept put it succinctly: “It is not my personal destiny to teach others”. The only imperative in most neidan lineages is to teach one truly worthy soul.
This custom, combined with strict secrecy, may ultimately threaten neidan with extinction in China. When I tell Daoists there that more Westerners are studying neidan than Chinese, they simply shrug…
Alchemical symbol of Water and Fire. Healing Tao USA t-shirt design.
Each human has a unique nature, physically and spiritually. This explains why different forms of alchemy arise. In China, neidan is taught differently on every mountain. I noticed my own practice of the Seven Alchemy formulas unfolded in quite different directions from Mantak Chia’s. He was attracted to expanding out to the Pole Star. I wanted to go deeper inside my cauldron, the Mysterious Gate of the Dark Female (xuanguan), and listen to the music of the spheres.
Key insights from my background in Kundalini and kriya yoga, Dzogzhen, Celtic-Christian mysticism, and six years training in Western (Atlantean) internal alchemy have all been absorbed into my Daoist neidan practice and teaching (Winn 2009). It is impossible to shut out diverse influences if they work; whatever is not discarded must be integrated….
Chia originally insisted One Cloud’s higher formulas be learned slowly, with a minimum of one year’s practice to stabilize energetic shifts before “eating” the qi of the next formula….his emphasis on gradual progress through different levels of enlightenment and immortality is a hallmark of Daoist training, and distinguishes it in China from Chan Buddhist teachings that promise sudden enlightenment.
Some Daoists consider a sudden empty mind to be a “yin ghost”, if it does not arise from the concrete essence of a tangible, yang and unique human destiny (ming). In neidan, the true formless spiritual nature (xing) must be cultivated within one’s worldly destiny, i.e. the spirit being sought must be extracted from matter. The density and resistance of the individual’s ordinary heart-mind provides the authentic ground for immortality (Robinet 1997, 250).
What follows is a brief discussion of the major Healing Tao practices, and how One Cloud’s formulas were creatively evolved by Western Daoists accommodating energetic needs very different from the Chinese.
Foundation Practice: Inner Smile
One Cloud’s internal alchemy begins and ends with a wuwei or spontaneous practice, the Inner Smile….
The Inner Smile, I believe, is an evolution of “sitting in forgetfulness” (zuowang), the Daoist practice of emptying or “fasting” the heart-mind as formulated most clearly in the eighth century (Kohn 1987). The practice empties the mind of physical density, so the neidan adept can more easily concentrate polar forces in order to shape the qi-field.
One empties the conditional mind so it does not interfere with the soul expressing its will. In this way, zuowang allows one’s destiny to be more effortlessly completed. Inner Smile is like zuowang —you forget the “little” self and gradually dissolve the body into the qi-field. The main difference is the Inner Smile stays heart-centered.
Inner heart smiling is a simple and practical method of cultivating unconditional openness and all-pervading spirit (tong). By accepting every aspect of self unconditionally, all polarized perceptions of self simply disappear. The boundary between self and other dissolves….
For Westerners, the Inner Smile’s heart-centeredness and unconditional openness offers a bridge between Daoism and Christ’s teaching of unconditional love. Sitting in forgetfulness helps the adept to surrender to the impersonal qi-field of Heaven and Earth, but does not necessarily integrate human heartedness. Zuowang inspired Chan (Zen) “sitting in emptiness,” which can feel too cold or impersonal for some Westerners.
Formula 1: Orbit and Fusion of 5 Elements
This formula opens the Microcosmic Orbit, harmonizes the five organ spirits and Eight Extraordinary Vessels. Its principles encapsulate those of Chinese medicine and are used for self-healing. Students may spend several years learning this formula, as it has many practices….
Westerners had to make major shifts in the Fusion practices to adapt them to their style of emotional and sexual expression, which is often more extroverted and socially uninhibited than in Chinese culture. Original Fusion method internally mimicked Chinese cultural use of “face” to suppress any negative feeling not in harmony with social or “outer group” mind. This emotional qi was fused into a pearl, eventually jammed with suppressed negativity.
The intent was to control the bodily flow of qi to transform negative emotions of the five shen or “inner group” mind. This was comfortable for Chinese adepts. But in Westerners this attempt to control had the unfortunate side-effect of empowering the head’s mental power at the expense of expressing feelings. Many Western Fusion adepts noted their feelings would “dry up” after an initial period of clarity.
This became an opportunity to integrate Daoist five-organ theory and Western depth-psychology with its notion of shadow, inner parts, family therapy, and Jungian ideas of individuation. It took me a decade of research and careful testing of Fusion process in the teaching environment to make five-shen dynamics a workable, user-friendly part of my Healing Tao meditative practices and psychology.
It was a shift from qigong to shengong (skill with spirit). Ultimately, opening a relationship between the soul (lingshen) and the five body spirits (wu jingshen) made all the internal alchemy practices more simple, powerful, and less likely to use mentally forced chi patterns.
This westernized Daoist neidan fills in the huge gaps in Jung’s only partially successful attempt to reconstruct Western alchemy as a process of psychic transformation. Grasping the influence and functions of our body spirits and their qi-channels builds a bridge between shamans, psychologists, doctors and neuro-scientists.
It clarifies the energetic foundation of the blossoming body-centered Western “energy psychology” movement trying to integrate acupuncture and psychotherapy with methods such as tapping on meridians while focusing on emotional issues (see Feinstein et al. 2005). In return, Western archetypal and shadow theory have helped illuminate the psychological workings of Daoist neidan…..
Kan & Li Formulas 2, 3, and 4:
Originally titled “Lesser, Greater, and Greatest Enlightenment of Water and Fire (Kan and Li)”, it was my work to title and clarify them as “Inner Sexual Alchemy,” “Sun-Moon Ancestor Alchemy,” and “Planetary and Collective Soul Alchemy.” This made the training progression clearer for Western adepts. Water and fire are reversed and coupled “vertically” along the body’s core channel axis in each formula. The vertical coupling of water and fire is part of a “primal” or soul level trinity, not to be confused with postnatal water and fire of the five-phase emotional qi refined in Fusion….
The second Lesser Formula marks the critical shift from postnatal to prenatal, and requires concentrating the sexual forces of the soul to ignite or impregnate the elixir, the spiritual essence in the pearl. This happens within the Mysterious Female or Dark Cavity, the portal opening to the prenatal qi field in the mingmen. This ignition produces a very tangible speeding up of the vibration of one’s entire body that continues for months.
The third Greater Formula progresses to internal coupling sun with moon, while the fourth couples inner earth with inner sun. My teaching of these formulas was dramatically changed by hints given by my channeled teacher of Western alchemy from Atlantis. I also offer as an option to my neidan students the Atlantean alchemical “fire” method of counter-force spinning pyramids to speed up the refining process of the elixir. This illustrates how the West is an experimental cauldron for Daoist neidan.
The secret in each Formula is coupling the “true yang” hidden within the yin and “true yin” within the yang. The Lesser Kan and Li Formula completes the sexual polarities of the soul. The Greater Kan and Li completes the bloodline ancestors still trapped in the sun, moon, and seasonal earth cycles of time. The Greatest Kan and Li Formula, finally, completes the astrological and archetypal collective human forces held within planetary qi, the broad karmic forces shaping our destiny.
Star Alchemy Formula 5
Originally called “Sealing of the Five Senses,” I renamed this “Star Alchemy” to reflect the level of vibration absorbed. The practice seals the senses and mind of the adept inside the upper elixir field. The intent is to open up communication between the adept’s inner sage and the great spirit (dashen) symbolized by the vastness of star intelligences, the Pole Star and zodiacal sweep of the Big Dipper. Its focus is to complete one’s spiritual nature (xing)….
The living qi-field’s triune nature holds the matrix of space, time, and intelligence, including past, present, and future, all in one primordial stream. A similar idea has been recently posited by physicists, as an infinite number of parallel universe co-existing in the same space.
Formula 6 Congress of Heaven and Earth
The adept internalizes the act of cosmic sexual intercourse between After Heaven and the formless state Before Heaven. All the lesser body spirits are sent out of the body, so the inner sage can commune undisturbed with the Three Pure Ones. These are essentially the ruling intelligences of Heaven, Earth, and Humanity….The endless transformations of original qi between the Three Heavens is the true Macrocosmic Orbit.
Formula 7 Union of Man and Dao
One Cloud did not claim to master it or teach this formula….
…Daoist alchemy views both personal life and the life of the cosmos as ongoing process, an ultimately unknowable Dao, but one in which humans can intervene. This view of Dao does not seek or worship a higher absolute order typical of Buddhism, Hinduism, or Platonic Christianity (Ames 1998). The neidan adept’s awareness of the impersonal or non-being aspect of nature does not imply passive surrender to it.
Rather it serves to stimulate human creativity in alchemically shaping the life force. Walking the razor’s edge between the personal and cosmic is ultimately the job of an immortal–—to crystallize the elixir hidden within the heart-mind, and use it to create ever greater balance and harmony within the flowing ocean of Dao.
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