Note: Pregadio is perhaps the top scholar working in the Taoist (Daoist) neidan tradition. His website is http://www.goldenelixir.com/ and has many valuable translations of neidan books and a newsletter, all highly recommended for serious meditators.
– Michael Winn
Daoism: Religion, History and Society, No. 6 (2014), 157?218
Destiny, Vital Force, or Existence?
On the Meanings of Ming in Daoist Internal
Alchemy and Its Relation to Xing or
Neidan or Internal Alchemy has developed two main modes of self-
cultivation. The first is based on cultivating the mind and intends to
remove the causes that prevent one from ?seeing one?s true nature,? which
is equated with the Elixir. The second is based on purifying the main
components of the human being?Essence (jing 精 ), Breath (qi 氣 ), and
Spirit (shen 神 )?so that they may serve as ingredients of the Elixir. These
two modes of self-cultivation are said to place an emphasis on xing 性 and
on ming 命 , respectively. However, Neidan texts repeat time and again
that xing and ming can only be understood and realized in conjunction
with one another.
Fabrizio Pregadio is Guest Professor of Daoist Anthropology at the Friedrich-
Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany, and a research associate of
the International Consortium for Research in the Humanities ?Fate, Freedom and
Prognostication,? directed by Professor Michael Lackner at the same university. His
research focuses on the Daoist views of the human being and the Daoist traditions
of self-cultivation. His current projects include a study of the intersection of Daoist,
Buddhist, and Neo-Confucian doctrines in Internal Alchemy (Neidan).
* This article is a contribution to the research project on ?Fate, Freedom and
Prognostication,? directed by Prof. Michael Lackner at the International
Consortium for Research in the Humanities, University Erlangen-Nuremberg. I
am deeply grateful to Shawn Cartwright, Philipp Hünnebeck, Terry Kleeman,
and Song Xiaokun who, with their comments and remarks, have contributed to
improve earlier drafts of this paper.
158 Fabrizio Pregadio
In Neidan, xing and ming are said to be the ?foundation? (ti 體 ) and
the ?operation? (yong 用 ) of one another; they correspond to Spirit and
Breath; and they are related to the ?mind? (xin 心 ) and the ?body? (shen 身 ),
respectively. These views are at the basis of the discourses on xing and
ming in the two main Neidan lineages. The Southern Lineage (Nanzong 南
宗 ) gives precedence to the cultivation of ming, and the Northern Lineage
(Beizong 北宗 ) emphazises the cultivation of xing. Despite this distinction,
the ?conjoined cultivation of Xing and Ming? (xingming shuangxiu 性
命雙修) is a virtually omnipresent subject in Neidan. In this context,
?priority? means which one between xing and ming is seen as the basis for
cultivating the other in order to realize both.
Two inal sections examine the views of two major Neidan masters. Li
Daochun 李道純 (late 13th century) points out that xing and ming pertain
to the ?celestial mind? and the ?dharma-body? instead of the ordinary mind
and body, which harm and damage one?s xing and ming. Liu Yiming 劉一明
(1734?1821) similarly makes a fundamental distinction between the ?false?
and the ?true? xing and ming. The false ones are one?s character and destiny
(including one?s life span); the true ones are one?s innate nature and one?s
embodiment of the One Breath (yiqi 一氣 ) of the Dao.
Keywords: Daoism, Neidan, Fate, Li Daochun, Liu Yiming
Golden Elixir is another name for xing and ming.
?Liu Yiming 劉一明 (1734?1821)1
1 Zhouyi chanzhen 周易闡真 (Uncovering the Truth of the Book of Changes),
Introduction (?Juanshou? 卷首 ), 57a. In this article, quotations from texts in the
Daozang 道藏 (Daoist Canon) include the numbers they are assigned in Kristofer
Schipper, Concordance du Tao-tsang (Paris: EFEO, 1975), preceded by the
abbreviation ?DZ.? Works by Liu Yiming are quoted from the editions
reproduced in Daoshu shi?er zhong 道書十二種 (Twelve Books on the Dao;
Beijing: Zhongguo zhongyiyao chubanshe, 1990). This book, mostly consisting
of a reprint of the 1880 Yihua tang 翼化堂 edition of Liu Yiming?s collected
works, is in turn entirely reprinted in Zangwai daoshu 藏外道書 (Daoist Texts
Outside the Canon [Chengdu: Bashu shushe, 1992?1994]), vol. 8. Editions of
other sources are cited in footnotes.
Destiny, Vital Force, or Existence? 159
In the course of its history, documented from the early 8th century,
Neidan 內丹 or Internal Alchemy has developed two main
emblematic modes of self-cultivation. The first is based on
cultivating the mind and intends to remove the causes that prevent
one from seeing one?s ?true nature.? The second is based on
purifying the main components of the human being; although the
required practices differ among the various Neidan subtraditions,
the process is said to be completed only when, in the inal stage,
one focuses on cultivating one?s mind or spirit.
More details on these modes of self-cultivation, and a brief
comment on why they are best seen as ?emblematic,? will be found
later in the present article. The main point to underline here is that
the two modes are traditionally said to give emphasis on xing 性
and on ming 命, respectively. Both of these terms are complex, of
themselves and even more so in the context of Neidan. Xing can
generally be understood and translated as ?nature??in the sense of
?human nature,? ?inner nature,? or ?innate nature??but Neidan
texts also use this term in a sense identical or close to what certain
Buddhist traditions call the Buddha-nature, in turn deined as one?s
fundamentally and constantly ?awakened? state. Ming is in several
respects an even more complex term. Even the three senses
mentioned in the title of this article?destiny, vital force, and
existence?do not exhaust its range of meanings; they suffice,
however, to raise the question of how these and other senses are
related to one another, within and possibly also outside of Neidan.
As we shall see, Neidan works written in different times and
belonging to different lineages not only repeat time and again that
xing and ming should be understood in conjunction with one
another; they also deine the xing-ming dyad as the very foundation
of Neidan. Xing and ming are called, for instance, ?the root and
foundation of self-cultivation? (xiuxing zhi genben 修行之根本 ),2 ?the
2 ?Xing and ming are the root and foundation of self-cultivation.? Wang Zhe 王嚞
(h. Chongyang 重陽 , 1113?70), attr., Chongyang lijiao shiwu lun 重陽立教十五論
(Fifteen Essays by Wang Chongyang to Establish the Teaching, DZ 1233), 4b.
160 Fabrizio Pregadio
learning of the divine immortals? (shenxian zhi xue 神仙之學 ),3 ?the
essential for reining the Elixir? (liandan zhi yao 鍊丹之要),4 and
even ?the secret of the Golden Elixir? (jindan zhi mi 金丹之祕 ).5 The
author of the statement quoted as epigraph to the present article
writes elsewhere that cultivating xing and ming constitutes of its
own ?the Way of the Golden Elixir? (jindan zhi dao 金丹之道).6 A
further indication of the prominence of xing and ming in Neidan is
the presence of both words in the titles of several works, including
the well-known Xingming guizhi 性命圭旨 (Directions on the Unity
of Xing and Ming).7
A thorough study of the views of ming in Neidan should take
both terms and both concepts into account. It should also discuss
how the Buddhist and the Neo-Confucian discourses on xing and
3 ?The learning of the divine immortals consists in nothing but cultivating and
reining xing and ming.? Wang Jie 王 玠 (z. Daoyuan 道 淵 , ??ca. 1380), Cuigong
ruyao jing zhujie 崔公入藥鏡註解 (Commentary on the Mirror for Compounding
the Medicine, DZ 135), Preface. See Wang Jie, Commentary on the Mirror for
Compounding the Medicine: A Fourteenth-Century Work on Taoist Internal
Alchemy, trans. Fabrizio Pregadio (Mountain View: Golden Elixir Press, 2013), 3.
4 ?The essential for reining the Elixir consists only in the words xing and ming.
Anything separate from xing and ming is a side gate.? Li Daochun 李 道 純 (late
13th c.), Zhonghe ji 中和集 (Central Harmony: An Anthology, DZ 249), 3.30a.
The ?side gates? (pangmen 旁 門 ) are teachings and practices that, in the view of
Li Daochun and many other Neidan masters, do not grant complete realization.
5 ?The secret of the Golden Elixir consists only in one xing, one ming.? Qiu Chuji
邱處機 (1148?1227), attr., Dadan zhizhi 大丹直指 (Straightforward Pointers on
the Great Elixir, DZ 244), 2.10b.
6 ?Indeed, the Way of the Golden Elixir consists in the Way of cultivating xing
and cultivating ming.? Liu Yiming, Wuzhen zhizhi 悟真直指 (Straightforward
Pointers on the Awakening to Reality), 2.40a (commentary on ?Jueju? 絕句,
poem no. 42). Chen Zhixu 陳致虛 (1290?ca.1368) similarly writes: ?The Way of
the Golden Elixir is the Way of xing and ming? 金丹之道,是性命之道也; Jindan
dayao 金丹大要 (Great Essentials of the Golden Elixir, DZ 1067), 14.13b.
7 On the title of the Xingming guizhi (attr. Yin zhenren 尹真人, 17th c.) see note 36
below. Other works include: (1) Xingming zongzhi 性命宗指 (Ultimate Pointers
on Xing and Ming), by Qianguan shanren 乾貫山人 (identity unknown), Ming
dynasty. (2) Xingming zhenyuan zhizhi 性命真源直指 (Straightforward Pointers
on the True Source of Xing and Ming), by Xue Xinxiang 薛心香, 17th/18th c., ed.
Min Yide 閔 一 得 (1748?1836). (3) Xingming weiyan 性 命 微 言 (Subtle Words on
Xing and Ming), by Liu Yuan 劉沅 (1768?1855). (4) Xingming yaozhi 性命要旨
(Essential Directions on Xing and Ming), by Wang Qihuo 汪啟 (1839?1917).
(5) Xingming fajue mingzhi 性命法訣明指 (Model Instructions and Clear Pointers
on Xing and Ming), by Zhao Bichen 趙避塵 (1860?after 1933).
Destiny, Vital Force, or Existence? 161
ming contributed to form the Neidan views on both of these
concepts; and it should look at this whole subject against the
background of the ideas of xing and ming in the earlier Chinese
tradition, both Daoist and Confucian.8 The scope of this article is
much more limited. Although most of the sources that I quote also
refer to xing, and this term therefore repeatedly comes forth in my
discussion, my focus here is on the Neidan views of ming. In the
irst two sections, I look at the main terminological and doctrinal
aspects of ming. Sections 3 and 4 are concerned with the function
of xing and ming in the two forms of Neidan self-cultivation
mentioned above. Sections 5 and 6 examine two major themes
pertaining to the views of xing and ming in Neidan. In the
conclusion, I try to show how the different senses of ming are
related to one another in the Neidan views of the human being.
II. The Language of Ming in Neidan
The two main dictionaries of the Chinese language report
altogether more than two dozen meanings for ming in premodern
Chinese, the most important of which can be subsumed under four
(1) Order, command, mandate (in the context of government: decree,
law, regulation, etc.); to order.
(2) Name, both in the nominal sense and in the verbal sense (to call,
name, designate, denominate); to call, call out, hail.
8 On Neidan and Buddhism, see Ge Guolong 戈國龍, Daojiao neidan xue suyuan
道教內丹學溯源 (Beijing: Zongjiao wenhua chubanshe, 2004), 184?237; and
with regard to Chan Buddhism, his Daojiao neidan xue tanwei 道教內丹學探微
(Chengdu: Zhongyang bianyi chubanshe, 2012), 110?30. On Neidan and Neo-
Confucianism, see Isabelle Robinet, Introduction à l?alchimie intérieure taoïste
(Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1995), 165?95 (especially 179?84 on xing and ming);
and Paul Crowe, ?Dao Learning and the Golden Elixir: Shared Paths to
Perfection,? Journal of Daoist Studies 7 (2014): 89?116. On the background of
the Neidan views in early Daoism and Confucianism see Li Dahua 李大華,
Shengming cunzai yu jingjie chaoyue 生命存在與境界超越 (Shanghai: Shanghai
wenhua chubanshe, 2001), 93?128.
9 Hanyu dacidian 漢語大詞典, ed. Luo Zhufeng 羅竹風 (Shanghai: Cishu
chubanshe, 1986?93), 3:280?81; Dai Kanwa jiten 大漢和辭典, ed. Morohashi
Tetsuji 諸橋轍次 (Tokyo: Taishūkan shoten, 1955?60), 2:2044.
162 Fabrizio Pregadio
(3) Fate, destiny, either assigned or determined by Heaven or in the
generic senses of chance and good or ill fortune, in the absence of
any obvious intention or design by a superior entity.
(4) Life, existence, either per se or in the more speciic sense of life
span, term/duration of life.
While there is at least a partial overlap between the irst and the
third main senses (?order? and ?destiny?), as well as between the
third and the fourth senses (?destiny? and ?life?), the second sense
of ming (?name,? ?to name?) might at irst seem to be incongruous.
Yet, as I will suggest in the conclusion of the present article, this
sense also is relevant to the overall conception of ming in Neidan.
A much more elaborate analysis of the different senses of ming
is found in a study by Lisa Raphals, who has analyzed the semantic
ield of this term in the early Chinese tradition (drawing on sources
dating, with few exceptions, through the 3rd century BCE), and has
identiied eight main topoi on the basis of terms and expressions
used in discussions of ?fate.?10 I will not attempt here to survey the
semantic ield of ming in Neidan using Raphals? template, if only
because the Neidan materials cannot match all of the categories
that she has been able to identify. I will try, however, to point out
which of the early views of ming distinguished in her study
correspond to those found in Neidan texts.11
(a) Ming as Life, Destiny, and Longevity
In addition to the ambiguous compounds shengming 生命 and
shenming 身命 (two of the generic words for ?life? or ?existence,?
10 Lisa Raphals, ?Languages of Fate: Semantic Fields in Chinese and Greek,? in
The Magnitude of Ming: Command, Allotment, and Fate in Chinese Culture, ed.
Christopher Lupke (Honolulu: University of Hawai?i Press, 2005), 70?106. I
refer especially to pp. 74?83 of this study, which continues with an analysis of
comparable ideas in Han-dynasty sources and in early Greek thought.
11 For this analysis, and for other parts of the present article, I have worked on a
digital corpus of about 300 texts, consisting of virtually all Neidan sources
found in the Daozang, and of a selection of major Neidan works dating from
the Ming and the Qing periods. However, to avoid an overabundance of
references, I will draw my examples mainly from authors and texts also quoted
for other purposes in this article.
Destiny, Vital Force, or Existence? 163
but also glossed as ?destiny? in the standard dictionaries), Neidan
texts use the term ming in nominal compounds that speciically
refer either to destiny or to longevity. The former compounds
include tianming 天命 (Heaven?s mandate) and mingfen 命分 (lit.,
?one?s decreed allotment? or ?one?s mandated share?). The main
and most frequent example of the latter compounds is shouming 壽
命. This term fundamentally means ?span of life? and not
necessarily ?longevity,? but it frequently appears in sentences stating
that one?s ming can be prolonged (chang 長, changjiu 長久),
increased (zeng 增), and extended (yan 延), and can even become
?boundless? and ?unlimited? (wuqiong 無窮 , wuji 無極 ).
Taken per se, the senses of ?destiny? and ?longevity?
respectively correspond to Raphals? ?ming as command? (destiny as
determined by Heaven or by a deity) and ?ming ab initio?
(something predetermined at birth or inception).12 However, Neidan
texts make one point immediately clear: both the ming received by
Heaven and the ming ab initio are subject to mutation, either in a
negative sense (because of negligence, or of the inevitable shift from
the xiantian 先天 to the houtian 後天, the precelestial and the
postcelestial domains) or in a positive sense (mainly through the
Neidan practice). This view bears a signiicant consequence: the
possibility that something predetermined can be altered shows that
the Neidan discourse on ming runs on two parallel but different
routes. On the one hand, the subject of the discourse is ming as
originally conferred by Heaven (or by the highest ?superior entity,?
the Dao itself) and as received ab initio; on the other hand, the
subject is ming as it manifests itself during the course of one?s life,
or?since that could be a tautology?ming as the course of one?s
life. As we shall see, certain Neidan traditions also postulate a
similar dual structure for xing or Nature.
These two aspects of ming are kept distinct in Neidan sources.
This is shown, in particular, by the term yuanming 元命, which can
be provisionally translated as ?original mandate.? This term?
sometimes paired with benxing 本性 or ?fundamental nature??
12 Raphals, ?Languages of Fate,? 74.
164 Fabrizio Pregadio
implies the view of a primal or initial ming, distinguished from a
ming that is posterior to it either in time, or in status, or both?and
that just for this reason is deemed to be secondary or inferior. In an
even clearer way, Neidan texts insists on the necessity of ?returning?
to one?s ming, an expression discussed below that involves, in the
first place, the possibility that one?s original ming is neglected,
forgotten, or even lost.
(b) Ming Endangered
The third topos mentioned by Raphals is ?choosing ming,? or ?fate
as subject to the exercise of human choice and free will.?13 The
complex notion of ?free will? does not seem to be an issue in
Neidan?or in Daoism as a whole?at least in a literal sense or in
an explicit way. Nonetheless, there is little doubt that ?choosing
ming? is by far the main subject that Neidan sources as a whole
discuss with regard to ming.
It is probably not due to chance that ?choosing ming? is the
topos identiied in Raphals? study that contains the largest number
of examples drawn from Daoist texts: ive out of ten quotations or
citations derive from the Daode jing 道德經 (Book of the Way and
Its Virtue) or the Zhuangzi 莊子, and an additional example comes
from the Baopu zi 抱朴子 (The Master Who Embraces Spontaneous
Nature). These examples include terms meaning ?conforming
to? (shun 順), ?grasping hold of? (or ?attaining,? da 達),
?understanding? (zhi 知), and ?returning to? (fu 復) ming, all of
which are also found in Neidan texts. The prominence of this
subject in Daoism and in Neidan has not failed to attract the notice
of scholars. One reason for its importance is clearly stated by
Stephen Bokenkamp in a study concerned with the Han and Six
Dynasties legacies of Daoist religion: ?Heaven did decree fate, but
that decree could be altered through the accomplishment of such
practices? as confession of sins, various rituals, and the performance
of good deeds.14 Bokenkamp here speciically refers to methods
14 Stephen R. Bokenkamp, ?Simple Twists of Fate: The Daoist Body and Its Ming,?
in The Magnitude of Ming, 151?68 (quotation from 156).
Destiny, Vital Force, or Existence? 165
practiced by the early Celestial Masters (Tianshi dao 天師道) and
their communities. One of the Neidan answers to the issue of
?choosing ming? would be similar to this with regard to the
importance of practice, but would differ signiicantly in one respect:
practice is supposed in certain cases to alter (in particular, to
?extend?) the ming decreed by Heaven, but in other cases to alter
the conditions that cause the ming decreed by Heaven to be lost. In
the latter view, Neidan enables one not only to alter one?s ming,
but in the irst place to ?return? to one?s ming.
The language of Neidan texts includes several expressions that
denote the endangering of ming, as well as the possible remedies.
Verbs that have a negative import show that one?s ming can be
shortened (duan 短), damaged (shang 傷), harmed (hai 害), forfeited
(sang 喪), and lost (wang 亡). For instance:
The Yellow Emperor said: ?The Heart (xin) lives in things and dies in
things. Why is it so? ? The Sovereign of Celestial Reality answered: ?By
using the Heart, the Intention (yi) is stirred. When the Intention is
stirred, the Spirit (shen) moves; when the Spirit moves, the Breath (qi)
is scattered; when the Breath is scattered, the ming is lost. This is why
In this passage, the loss of ming is the outcome of a process that
begins with the Heart (or the mind, xin 心), which pursues objects
and phenomena instead of maintaining itself in a state of
quiescence. This causes the scattering or dispersion of qi 氣 (breath),
which in turn is the reason of the loss of ming and of death. Liu
Chuxuan 劉處玄 (1147?1203) similarly attributes the cause of
forfeiting ming to attachment to desires and possessions:
He also inquired: ?What is attachment?? I answered: ?Attachment
means that those who attach themselves to their desires forfeit their
ming, and those who attach themselves to possessions forfeit their
15 Yinfu jing sanhuang yujue 陰符經三皇玉訣 (Jade Instructions of the Three
Sovereigns on the Scripture of the Hidden Agreement, DZ 119), 3.2a. This
anonymous work dates from the Southern Song period.
own persons: the deluded ones irst experience the sweet and later
experience the bitter. Those who eradicate their desires maintain their
ming intact, and those who eliminate possessions maintain their own
persons intact: the awakened ones irst experience the bitter and later
experience the sweet. Forfeiting one?s ming and oneself is ignorance,
keeping one?s ming and oneself intact is wisdom.?16
Although in this passage Liu Chuxuan does not mention the term
qing 情 (emotions, passions, etc.), attachments and desires pertain
to its range. Liu Chuxuan himself says elsewhere:
By being constantly quiescent, one allows one?s xing to shine; by
constantly forgetting the emotions (qing), one protects one?s ming.17
In other cases, qing is deemed to harm xing, while ming is harmed
by material existence as a whole (se 色 , ?forms?):
Xing is confused because of the emotions; ming wanes because of the
forms (se). If ming lourishes, then Spirit is intact and xing blooms; if
ming wanes, then xing is weak and Spirit faints.18
16 Wuwei qingjing Changsheng zhenren zhizhen yulu 無 為 清 靜 長 生 真 人 至 真 語 錄
(Most True Recorded Sayings of the Long-Lived Realized Man of Non-Doing
and Clarity and Quiescence, DZ 1058), 21b?22a. Liu Chuxuan belonged to the
Northern Lineage (Beizong 北宗) of Neidan.
17 Huangdi yinfu jing zhu 黃帝陰符經註 (Commentary on the Yellow Emperor?s
Scripture of the Hidden Agreement, DZ 122), 1b. See Peter Acker, Liu Chuxuan
(1147?1203) and His Commentary on the Daoist Scripture Huangdi yinfu jing
(Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2006), 79?80.
18 Commentary to Wuzhen pian 悟真篇 (Awakening to Reality), in Xiuzhen shishu
修真十書 (Ten Books on the Cultivation of Reality, DZ 263), 28.20b; also in
Danjing jilun 丹經極論 (Ultimate Discourses from the Scriptures on the Elixir,
DZ 235), 5a.
Destiny, Vital Force, or Existence? 167
(c) Accomplishing Ming
As the Neidan views on ?accomplishing? or ?fulfilling? ming
(liaoming 了命) are the main subjects of this article, here it may
sufice to mention only the most important ideas and terms used in
this context. Ming should first of all be ?established? (li 立),
?stabilized? (ding 定), and ?corrected, set right? (zheng 正). It
should also be ?defended? (hu 護), ?guarded? (shou 守), and
?protected? (bao 保), and one should ?complete? it or?more
exactly?make it ?intact? (quan 全). From the point of view of the
practice, ?cultivating ming? (xiuming 修命) and ?nourishing ming?
(yangming 養命) are two of the most frequent positive expressions
related to ming:
If one is able to empty his Heart and to sooth his Spirit, this is how to
nourish one?s xing. If one is able to cherish his Essence and to care for
his Breath, this is how to nourish one?s ming.19
Broadly, Neidan understands the expressions mentioned above in
two main senses. In the irst sense, ming should be ?extended? or
?prolonged? (yan, chang, etc.) by means of Neidan practices. This
usually means enhancing or increasing one?s vital force (qi) in order
to prolong one?s length of life. In the second sense, cultivating ming
involves two different movements: a forward (or downward)
movement whereby one conforms to and complies with ming as the
course of one?s life, and ?follows? it (shun, sui 遂 ); and a backward
(or upward) movement whereby one ?returns? (fu) to the original
With regard to the irst movement (?following ming?), we read:
The upright noble man keeps his Heart undisturbed. When he is in
service, he gives advice at court; when he is not in service, he betakes
himself into mountains and forests. When he dwells among riches and
honors, he is not proud of himself; when he resides in poverty and
19 Yuxi zi danjing zhiyao 玉谿子丹經指要 (Essential Pointers on the Scriptures on
the Elixir, by the Master of the Jade Creek, DZ 245), 2.1b. This Quanzhen 全真
work dates from the 13th century. The relation of Spirit to xing, and of Essence
and Breath to ming, is discussed in the next section of this article.
humility, he does not latter anyone. In advancing and withdrawing he
is always measured; in movement and quiescence he is always proper.
As he constantly follows Heaven?s mandate without deception, he can
be called an upright noble man.20
The second movement (?returning to ming,? fuming 復命; or
?reverting to ming,? guiming 歸命 ) is most important in Neidan. By
far the most frequent expression concerning ming found in its
literature,21 the term ?returning to ming,? derives from the Daode
Attain the ultimate of emptiness, guard the utmost of quiescence. The
ten thousand things are brought about together: accordingly, I observe
their return. Things are abounding and overlowing, but each of them
reverts to its root. Reverting to the root is called quiescence, and this
means returning to the mandate (ming); returning to the mandate is
called constancy; knowing constancy is called brightness.22
According to this passage, guarding ?quiescence? (jing 靜) is the
condition for ?returning to ming.? This idea informs many of the
later Neidan views of xing and ming: for several Neidan authors, it
would only be natural to associate the quiescence of ?reverting to
the root? with the cultivation of xing, and the ?return to the
mandate? with the cultivation of ming, and to ind in this Daode
jing passage an authoritative statement on the priority of xing over
ming: one ?returns to ming? through the quiescence of xing. We
shall examine these views later in the present article. For the
moment, it is suficient to note that the Daode jing passage quoted
20 Wang Jie, Daoxuan pian 道玄篇 (Mysteries of the Dao, DZ 1075), 15b.
21 Fuming occurs in more than one third of texts in the corpus mentioned in note
22 Daode jing, sec. 16.
Destiny, Vital Force, or Existence? 169
above directly inspired two verses in the Wuzhen pian, a text
cherished by many Neidan traditions from the Song period
The ten thousand things, abounding and overlowing, go back to the root;
going back to the root and returning to the mandate, they are constantly
Drawing from the Wuzhen pian, dozens of later Neidan texts in
turn contain the phrase fan?gen fuming 返根復命, ?going back to
the root and returning to the mandate.?
Concerning the expression ?extending ming,? Yu Yan 俞琰
(1258?1314) clarifies that it can mean more than the mere
extension of the life span, and can also denote the ?return? to one?s
The noble man knows that xing should not be injured, so he preserves
it and nourishes it. He knows that ming should not be damaged, so he
protects it and extends it. . . . Those who intend to seek long life
should seek the causes whereby they have obtained this body even
before their birth. Only then can one talk of the Way of cultivating
xing and of extending ming.24
?Extending ming? therefore may refer not only to the ?forward?
process of increasing longevity, but also to the ?backward? process
whereby one?s ordinary ming is reconnected to one?s original ming.
This point is stated in a poem of the Zhouyi cantong qi, to which
Yu Yan?s words quoted above are a commentary:
23 Wuzhen pian, ?Jueju,? poem no. 51; Wang Mu 王 沐 , Wuzhen pian qianjie 悟 真
篇淺解 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1990), 112.
24 Zhouyi cantong qi fahui 周易參同契發揮 (Elucidation of the Seal of the Unity of
the Three in Accordance with the Book of Changes, DZ 1005), 6.11a?b. The
irst part of this passage alludes to Mengzi 孟子, 11:1 (text in Mengzi zhuzi
suoyin 孟子逐字索引 [Hong Kong: Shangwu yinshuguan, 1995]).
In order to nourish your nature,
prolong your life and hold off the time of death,
attentively relect upon the end
and duly ponder what comes before.25
Yu Yan?s note is also one of several indications found in Neidan
sources that one?s ming, as well as the ?embodiment? that supports
one?s ming, are received before birth.
(d) Ming and the Human Body
Other topoi identiied by Raphals in early Chinese sources do not
play signiicant roles in Neidan. In particular, Neidan literature
does not seem to contain examples concerning ?transpersonal
ming? (e.g. ?the destiny of a state?) and, not unexpectedly, ?contra-
ming? (the ?explicit denial of fate?): ?fate? as a predetermined
sequence of events may not be the main object of the Neidan
discourse, but other aspects or functions of ming are never open to
On the other hand, a major theme in Neidan texts is the
association of both xing and ming with speciic loci of the human
body, which either have correspondent physical counterparts or are,
in fact, incorporeal. The Ruyao jing, an inluential work in verse
that may date from the early 10th century but is probably later in
its current main version, mentions both terms of the Daode jing
The Opening of reverting to the root,
the Barrier of returning to the mandate.
Pierce through the Caudal Funnel,
pass through the Muddy Pellet.26
25 Zhouyi cantong qi fahui, 6.11a. See Pregadio, The Seal of the Unity of the
Three: A Study and Translation of the Cantong qi (Mountain View: Golden
Elixir Press, 2011), 100 and 192?93.
26 Ruyao jing zhujie, 9a.
Destiny, Vital Force, or Existence? 171
Like other poems in the Ruyao jing, these verses abridge a
signiicant part of Neidan in as little as twelve characters. Wang Jie
writes in his commentary:
In the wondrous operation of compounding the Elixir, it is essential to
comprehend the One Opening of the Mysterious Barrier. In the true
position of the One Nature, the ten thousand things revert to their
root. The way of returning to the mandate necessarily revolves
through the Three Barriers.27
This is followed by technical explanations on the practice, but
Wang Jie?s point is already clear. He identiies the ?Opening of
going back to the root? with the One Opening of the Mysterious
Barrier (xuanguan yiqiao 玄關一竅), the non-spatial center of the
human being, and calls this ?the true position of the One Nature,?
or xing.28 This requires no practice?or rather, it requires the
practice of ?non-doing? (we shall return to this point). The ?Barrier
of returning to the mandate,? instead, is the object of the Neidan
practice per se: it corresponds to the three ?barriers? that Breath
must go through in its cyclical ascent from the bottom of the spine
(the ?caudal funnel?) to the upper Cinnabar Field (the ?muddy
pellet?) along the back of the body, followed by its descent to the
lower Cinnabar Field along the front of the body. As Wang Jie
points out, this practice is concerned with ?returning to the
mandate??that is, with one?s ming?and this is the part of Neidan
that requires ?doing.?
In addition to these, Neidan texts establish several other
27 Ruyao jing zhujie, 9a?b; Pregadio, trans., Commentary on the Mirror for
Compounding the Medicine, 39. The ?three barriers? are located in the lowest
section of the spine; in the back, across from the heart; and behind the head,
across from the mouth.
28 The One Opening is mentioned in many other Neidan texts. In one of his
poems, Wang Jie writes: ?The One Opening of the Mysterious Barrier is the
exact and correct Center. / It is not in the back, not in the front?it reclines
solitary onto Emptiness. / Silently revert your Light and let it dwell there. / Spirit
and Breath will merge into Mysterious Unity.? Huanzhen ji 還真集 (Returning to
Reality: A Collection, DZ 1074), 1.1b.
172 Fabrizio Pregadio
associations between xing and ming and the body. Briely, these
associations include the following:
(1) Ming resides in the point between the kidneys; it corresponds to
xing, which resides in the heart.29
(2) Ming is the ?Water in the kidneys?; it corresponds to xing, which
is the ?Fire in the heart.?30
(3) Ming resides in the navel; it corresponds to xing, which resides in
(4) Both xing and ming reside in the breathing (huxi 呼吸).32
Neidan sources also mention several terms based on the word
ming. The respective bodily correspondences are not always
consistent, but these terms usually refer to the ?lower center? of the
human being (deined with respect to the ?upper center? in the
head, and to the center itself, the Heart). Terms like Gate of Ming
(mingmen 命門), Stem of Ming (mingdi 命蒂), Barrier of Ming
(mingguan 命關), Bridge of Ming (mingqiao 命橋), and Origin of
Ming (mingyuan 命元) all variously denote the lower Cinnabar
Field, the space between the kidneys and the spleen or navel.33 Xing,
instead, corresponds primarily to the Heart (the seat of Spirit [shen
神]) but is also located in the head, the region of the upper
Once again, Neidan displays here its continuity with earlier
Daoist traditions. Discussing the meditation practices of the
Shangqing 上清 tradition of Daoism, Bokenkamp remarks that
?Daoist control of life span also depended on a somatic locus of
ming and deployed psychosomatic techniques to alter it.?34 This
29 E.g. Daoshu 道樞 (Pivot of the Dao, DZ 1017), 5.14b (?Baiwen pian? 百問篇);
Huangdi yinfu jing zhu 黃帝陰符經註 (Commentary to the Scripture of the
Hidden Agreement, DZ 121), 2.12a (commentary by Tang Chun 唐淳, dated
30 E.g. Daoshu, 7.14b (?Shuihuo pian? 水火篇 ).
31 E.g. Dadan zhizhi, 2.10b.
32 E.g. Daoshu, 24.17a (?Jiuzhuan jindan pian? 九轉金丹篇 ).
33 Some of these terms have additional other referents. Gate of Ming, for example,
also denotes the right kidney alone, as well as the nose and the eyes. Barrier of
Ming also denotes the feet.
34 Bokenkamp, ?Simple Twists of Fate,? 157.
Destiny, Vital Force, or Existence? 173
remark also applies to Neidan with a possible restriction: just as
the ordinary mind obscures one?s true xing, for some Neidan
authors the purely ?somatic? body obscures one?s true ming. The
relation of xing to ?mind? and ming to ?body? is best seen in the
context of other concepts that indicate their underlying unity, to
which we shall now turn.
III. Unity and Interdependence of Xing and Ming
One of the two terms mentioned by Raphals as emblematic of ?ming
ab initio? in early Chinese texts is the compound xingming 性命,
deined as ?the two overlapping factors that together determine
life?s course.?35 This compound?and the relation between the two
words that form it?in Neidan is a topos of its own, and often
becomes the subject of a whole discourse.
Several Neidan works emphasize that xing and ming are a
single principle, or two aspects of the same principle. This view is
at the basis of the ?conjoined cultivation? of xing and ming, a
fundamental Neidan doctrine that we shall examine later in this
article. Here I briefly survey a few matching sets of concepts
commonly used in Neidan texts that, when applied to xing and
ming, express their unity and interdependence.
(a) Xing and Ming as ?Foundation? and ?Operation?
The above-mentioned Xingming guizhi discusses the original
oneness of xing and ming in its ?Discourse on Xing and Ming?
(?Xingming shuo? 性命說). In particular, we read:
What is xing? It is what truly is as it is (zhenru) since the Original
Commencement; it is the One Numen, luminous and bright. What is
ming? It is the precelestial perfect Essence; it is the One Breath,
provided with its generative force. Therefore when there is xing there
is ming, and when there is ming there is xing. Xing and ming at the
origin cannot be divided from one another. It is only that with regard
to its residence in Heaven it is called ming, and with regard to its
residence in the human being it is called xing. Xing and ming in
35 Raphals, ?Languages of Fate,? 77. The other term is shouming (span of life)
reality are not two. Even more, xing cannot be established without
ming, and ming cannot be preserved without xing.36
The common origin and the interdependence of xing and ming are
asserted in several other Neidan works. According to Li Daochun,
the distinction between xing and ming is owed to, and correlated
with, the division of the One into the Two:
As the One Breath divides itself, the two principles (i.e. yin and yang)
are established. This is why xing and ming are [separately] established
in the human being.37
Both Li Daochun and Zhang Ziru 張自如 (ca. 1240) also point out
that once xing and ming are established, they become the basis (or
?foundation,? ti 體) and the operation (yong 用), respectively, of
the same principle. Zhang Ziru briely states:
Xing is the foundation of ming; ming is the operation of xing.38
36 Xingming guizhi (ed. of 1793), ?Yuan? 元, 8a?b. The ?Discourse on Xing and
Ming? is translated in Martina Darga, Das alchemistische Buch von innerem
Wesen und Lebens-energie (München: Eugen Diederichs Verlag, 1999), 69?76.
The initial part of this excerpt draws from a poem in Li Daochun?s Qing?an
Yingchan zi yulu 清庵瑩蟾子語錄 (Recorded Sayings of Master Qing?an
Yingchan, DZ 1060), 6.15a: ?What truly is as it is (zhenru) since the Original
Commencement is called xing. The precelestial One Breath is called ming? 元 始
真如謂之性,先天一炁謂之命. The Xingming guizhi illustrates the unity of xing
and ming even in its own title. While the compound guizhi 圭旨 could mean
?clear directions,? the paired ?soils? (土) in the graph gui 圭 are deemed in
Neidan to represent the yin and yang aspects of Unity, on the basis of the
central position of Soil among the ive agents (see, for instance, Yuxi zi danjing
zhiyao, 1.4b?5a). Read in this light, the title of the Xingming guizhi refers to the
oneness of xing (yin) and ming (yang).
37 Quanzhen jixuan miyao 全真集玄祕要 (Collecting the Mysteries of Complete
Reality: The Secret Essentials, DZ 251), 2a.
38 Zhang Ziru, Postface to commentary to Jindan sibai zi 金丹四百字 (Four Hundred
Destiny, Vital Force, or Existence? 175
Li Daochun gives a more elaborate explanation:
What is above the form is devoid of form and substance; what is
below the form has a foundation and an operation. What is devoid of
form and substance pertains to xing and to Mercury; what has a
foundation and an operation pertains to ming and to Lead.39
The alchemical emblems mentioned by Li Daochun are traditional:
Mercury is the standard image of the True Yin principle (zhenyin 真
陰), to which xing is related, and Lead is the standard image of
the True Yang principle (zhenyang 真陽), to which ming is related.
More important, according to this passage xing pertains to the
formless domain, where no distinction occurs between foundation
and operation. Ming, instead, emerges after the division of the One
into the Two and pertains to the world of form. It is within this
dual context that ming represents the operation of xing, which is
(b) Xing and Ming as Spirit and Breath
Despite remarkable varieties among different sub-traditions and
authors, one of the points about which Neidan texts are
substantially unanimous concerns the association between xing and
ming, on the one hand, and the three main components of the
cosmos and the human being?Essence (jing 精), Breath, and Spirit
?on the other. The tie between the dyad of xing and ming and the
triad of Essence, Breath, and Spirit is established by integrating
Essence and Breath into a single principle, which is referred to as
Breath and is associated with ming. Spirit, instead, stands on its
own and is associated with xing. The rationale for subsuming
Essence under Breath is that, since Essence emerges from Breath
Words on the Golden Elixir), in Xiuzhen shishu, 5.11b. This postface is followed
by ive additional poems by Zhang Ziru, four of which are concerned with
ming, and the last one with xing. Zhang Ziru belonged to the Southern Lineage
(Nanzong 南宗) of Neidan.
39 Zhonghe ji, 3.9b.
176 Fabrizio Pregadio
during the cosmogonic process, it is originally found within Breath
and is fundamentally one with it, even though the two eventually
separate from one another.40 It is likely on the basis of the close
relation between ming and Breath that, in Western studies of
Neidan, ming has often been translated or explained as ?vital
force? or ?life force.? However, the expression ?vital force? applies
to qi per se more than it does to ming.
The view that xing and ming are equivalent to Spirit and
Breath is reiterated with few variations in many Neidan texts.
Statements similar to the following are frequent:
Xing is Spirit, ming is Breath.41
Spirit is xing, Breath is ming.42
In short, form and spirit, body and mind, Spirit and Breath, xing and
ming are actually a single principle.43
In other cases, the relation of xing and ming to Spirit and Breath is
not one of complete equivalence: Spirit and Breath are also said to
be either the principles of xing and ming or, vice versa, their
40 A clear statement about this is found in Wu Shouyang?s 伍守陽 (1574?1644)
Tianxian zhengli zhilun 天仙正理直論 (Straightforward Essays on the Correct
Principles of Celestial Immortality; Chongkan Daozang jiyao 重刊道藏輯要 ed.),
Preface, 1a. See Paul van Enckevort, ?The Three Treasures: An Enquiry into the
Writings of Wu Shouyang,? Journal of Daoist Studies 7 (2014): 119. Wu
Shouyang?s statement is not the irst of this kind in Neidan literature; see, for
instance, the Yuan-dynasty Guizhong zhinan 規中指南 (Compass for Peering into
the Center, DZ 243), 2.7b?8a, and the passage quoted above from the Yuxi zi
danjing zhiyao. One could also trace it to earlier sources, both within and
41 Wang Zhe, attr., Chongyang lijiao shiwu lun, 4b.
42 Cao Wenyi 曹文逸 (ca. 1125), Lingyuan dadao ge 靈源大道歌 (Song of the Great
Dao, the Numinous Source); quoted in Li Daochun, Zhonghe ji, 3.30a.
43 Bai Yuchan 白玉蟾 (1194?1229?), ?Zhuyun tang ji? 駐雲堂記, in Xiuzhen
Destiny, Vital Force, or Existence? 177
manifestations. These different views relect the two aspects taken by
Spirit and Breath in the precelestial (xiantian) and the postcelestial
(houtian) domains, respectively. For Li Daochun, the unmanifested
Spirit and Essence/Breath are the roots of xing and ming:
Xing is what we call the perfect precelestial Spirit and the One
Numen. Ming is what we call the perfect precelestial Essence and the
One Breath. Essence and Spirit are the roots of xing and ming.44
The language used in this passage shows that Li Daochun is
looking at Spirit and Essence/Breath from the point of view of the
precelestial state (?precelestial Spirit,? ?precelestial Essence?) and of
the unmanifested state of Unity (?One Numen,? ?One Breath?).
The Spirit and Essence/Breath of the Dao, therefore, are the roots
of xing and ming in the human being. The opposite view has its
most authoritative statement in the Ruyao jing:
It is xing and ming,
it is not Spirit and Breath.45
Wang Jie?who was a second-generation disciple of Li Daochun?
comments on these lines by saying:
Xing is Spirit, ming is Breath. The inchoate merging of xing and ming
is the precelestial foundation; the cyclical transformations of Spirit
and Breath are the postcelestial operation. Therefore it says, ?It is xing
and ming, it is not Spirit and Breath.?46
44 Zhonghe ji, 4.1a. The Daozang text erroneously omits the graph ?神? in the
45 Ruyao jing zhujie, 8b.
46 Ibid.; Pregadio, trans., Commentary on the Mirror for Compounding the
178 Fabrizio Pregadio
In other words, xing and ming, still joined to one another, are the
?foundation? in the formless precelestial domain, while Spirit and
Breath are the ?operation? of the same principles in the postcelestial
domain of form.
(c) Xing and Ming as ?Mind? and ?Body?
Several Neidan texts, as we saw earlier, situate ming in different
loci of the physical or non-physical body. In addition, ming is
related to shen 身 (?body?) as a whole, while xing is related to xin
(?mind?). This relation is particularly important but also especially
complex, since neither xin nor shen precisely correspond to the
terms ?mind? and ?body.? I will refer below to the views of Li
Daochun, who seems to be the first Neidan author to have
developed an elaborate discourse on this subject. His discourse is
also the irst important statement in Neidan of the view that both
xing and ming have a precelestial and a postcelestial aspect.47
In his ?Essay on Xing and Ming? (?Xingming lun? 性命論), Li
The creations and transformations brought about by xing pertain to
the mind. The creations and transformations brought about by ming
pertain to the body.48
In this passage, Li Daochun does not associate xing and ming with
?mind? and ?body? in their ordinary senses (and even less so, as he
clariies below, with xin as the physical heart). In particular, he does
not refer to the psychological and the physiological facets of the
human being. Elsewhere, Li Daochun gives this deinition of ?mind?
47 Li Daochun?s views of xing and ming are examined in several studies. See
especially Sun Gongjin 孫 功 進 , ?Li Daochun neidan xingming sixiang tanxi? 李
道純內丹性命思想探析, Jimei daxue xuebao (Zhexue shehui kexue ban) 集美大學
學報(哲學社會科學版)12.3 (2009): 5?10; and Wang Wanzhen 王婉甄, Li
Daochun Daojiao sixiang yanjiu 李道純道教思想研究 (Taipei: Hua Mulan
wenhua chubanshe, 2008), 83?112. With regard to his views of xing see Paul
Crowe, ?Nature, Motion, and Stillness: Li Daochun?s Vision of the Three
Teachings,? Journal of Daoist Studies 5 (2012): 61?88.
48 Zhonghe ji, 4.1a.
Destiny, Vital Force, or Existence? 179
What I call ?body? and ?mind? are not the illusory body (huanshen)
and the heart made of lesh (rouxin). They are the invisible body and
mind. Let?s see?what are the invisible body and mind?
The clouds from the top of the mountain,
the moon towards the heart of the waves.49
This body is the body that has been clear and quiescent for countless
eons: it is the wondrous Being within Non-Being. This mind is the
foundation that has been numinous and wondrous ?apparently since
before the time of the [Celestial] Emperor?:50 it is the true Non-Being
within Being. Being within Non-Being is represented by Kan ☵; Non-
Being within Being is represented by Li ☲.51
The body meant by Li Daochun therefore is the precelestial body,
to which ming pertains; it is the True Yang (☵) body concealed by
the postcelestial yin body, and it is constantly ?clear and quiescent.?
In their works, Li Daochun and other Neidan authors often call
this the ?dharma-body? (fashen 法身, dharmakāya), using the
Buddhist expression that denotes the unmanifested body of the
Buddha. Similarly, by ?mind? Li Daochun means the precelestial
mind, to which xing pertains; this is the True Yin (☲) mind
constantly ?numinous and wondrous,? but concealed by the
postcelestial yang mind. In Neidan, this is often called the ?celestial
mind? (tianxin 天心 ) or the ?mind of the Dao? (daoxin 道心 ).
49 These verses are inspired by analogous Chan Buddhist sayings or ?public cases?
(gongan 公案). Li Daochun seems to mean here that the clouds that appear to
be on the top of a mountain disappear when they are seen from the top of the
mountain itself; this is an example of true Non-Being concealed within illusory
Being (☲). Vice versa, the moon relected on the waves of the sea appears to be
an unreal phenomenon, but the relection is only possible because there is a
moon in the sky; this is an example of true Being concealed within illusory
50 This expression derives from Daode jing, sec. 4, which says of the Dao: ?I do
not know whose child it is; it seems to be earlier than the [Celestial] Emperor.?
51 Zhonghe ji, 3.29b?30a.
180 Fabrizio Pregadio
Xing and ming, in this view, pertain to the ?true? precelestial
mind and body. The ?Essay on Xing and Ming? continues by saying
that both of them are obfuscated and endangered by the activity of
the ordinary, postcelestial mind and body:
Understanding and cognition emerge from the mind: with thoughts
and cogitations, the mind yokes the xing. Responses and reactions
emerge from the body: with speech and silence, with sight and
hearing, the body burdens the ming. It is because ming is burdened by
the body that there are birth and death. It is because xing is yoked by
the mind that there are coming and going.52
Therefore, according to Li Daochun, xing is harmed by mental
activity?thoughts and cogitations?and ming is harmed by
physical activity?perceptions and responses that occur through the
physical body and the senses.
These few passages sufice to show that, in Li Daochun?s view,
the subject of ming is not the body that is born and dies, just like
the subject of xing is not the mind that produces psychological
phenomena. As we shall see in the following sections of this article,
the same distinction that he draws between two types of body and
mind, and two corresponding types of xing and ming, will become
an essential point in certain later traditions of Neidan. This in turn
is closely related to the idea of the ?conjoined cultivation? of xing
and ming. Before approaching this subject, I will try to place it in a
IV. Neidan Models of Cultivating Xing and Ming
As I mentioned at the beginning, Neidan intends to compound the
Elixir in one of two main ways: (1) By purifying the mind of
attachments, passions, and other deilements in order to reveal one?s
?true nature? (zhenxing 真性), which is equated with the Elixir
itself; (2) By reining the main components of the human being?
52 Zhonghe ji, 4.1a?b. ?Coming and going? (wanglai 往來) here refers to
continuous mental activity.
Destiny, Vital Force, or Existence? 181
Essence, Breath, and Spirit?so that they may serve as ingredients
of the Elixir, which in one of several possible deinitions represents
the state prior to their separation. Within the Neidan tradition,
these two modes of cultivation are said to give priority to xing and
ming, respectively, and to be associated with the two main lineages
that emerged during the 12th and the 13th centuries: the irst mode
is representative of the Northern Lineage, and the second one, of
the Southern Lineage.53 As the difference between them has been
not only a subject of debate in the history of Neidan, but also a
disputed point in present-day Neidan studies, a brief remark is
appropriate before we continue.54
53 The originator of Nanzong is Zhang Boduan 張 伯 端 (987??1082), the author of
the Wuzhen pian. However, as is now understood, this lineage was historically
established in the early 13th century, apparently by the above-mentioned Bai
Yuchan, who formulated the sequence of its masters and may even have written
some of their works.
54 With regard to present-day studies, an example of the points at issue is found in
the anonymous introduction to the Quanzhen corpus in The Taoist Canon: A
Historical Companion to the Daozang, ed. Kristofer Schipper and Franciscus
Verellen (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2004), 2:1131: ?Some scholars
have tried to distinguish between the ?Northern? (original Quanzhen) and
?Southern? schools on the basis of their different emphases regarding xing 性
and ming 命 (mind and body) cultivation; this has been put into perspective by
more recent research.? In fact, as shown below, the different emphases on
cultivating ming and xing are relected in texts belonging to both schools (and
especially to the Northern Lineage, or Quanzhen itself). Moreover, emphasis in
these texts is not on ?mind? or ?body,? but on xing or ming per se, and the
Neidan discourse revolves around which of them is the key to cultivating both.
The single example of ?more recent research? cited in the Companion is a
chapter contributed by Chen Bing 陳兵 to Zhongguo Daojiao shi 中國道教史
(History of Chinese Daoism), ed. Ren Jiyu 任繼愈 (Shanghai: Shanghai renmin
chubanshe, 1990), 517?45. Here Chen Bing actually states: ?As Quanzhen takes
the True Nature (zhenxing) to be the foundation for achieving immortality and
for realizing the true, obviously the experience of the True Nature constitutes its
main task? (536). To document this point, Chen Bing provides several examples,
some of which I will quote below. Isabelle Robinet also suggested that ?le
différences qui séparaient l?école du Nord de celle du Sud . . . ne correspond pas
à ce que disent le textes eux-mêmes.? She referred, in particular, to the theme of
the ?conjoined cultivation? of xing and ming; see her Introduction à l?alchimie
intérieure taoïste (Paris: Le Cerf, 1994), 44?46. Here the different Neidan
schools effectively tied the two cultivation modes to one another; yet, as we
shall see, the different views on the priority of xing or ming emerge especially
within this context.
182 Fabrizio Pregadio
While the two forms of self-cultivation are mentioned in a large
number of Neidan sources, neither rejects or ignores the other; in fact,
each one is said to lead to the other or to include the other, and the
discourse focuses on their respective priority, or precedence, within the
practice as a whole. ?Priority? and ?precedence? mean, in this context,
which one between xing and ming is seen as the basis for cultivating
the other in order to realize both. For this reason, the two forms of
self-cultivation are best seen as emblematic modes of Neidan teaching
and practice, placed at the two ends of a spectrum that consists of
different ways of integrating them with one another. At the same time,
lack of attention to these modes?often due to emphasis given to the
Neidan views of the ?body? per se, or to the inluence of present-day
forms of practice only partly related to Neidan?would involve
disregard for the variety of discourses created during the history of
Neidan: the two lineages have distinguished themselves with respect to
their different models of cultivation, and these models in turn have
deined much of the range of Neidan for several centuries. Without
paying attention to the different modes of self-cultivation, moreover, it
would be impossible to take account of the roles played by Buddhism
and Neo-Confucianism within both lineages and on Neidan as a
whole: the Buddhist and Neo-Confucian elements seen in Neidan
concern precisely the concepts of xing and ming and their functions in
(a) The Zhong-Lü Corpus
As far as we know, Neidan developed from around 700 AD. For
the irst two centuries of its history, it seems impossible to identify
with certainty sources belonging to deinite traditions or textual
corpora. The earliest recognizable group of texts is the Zhong-Lü
鍾呂 corpus?so named after the two immortals, Zhongli Quan 鍾
離權 and Lü Dongbin 呂洞賓?which apparently originated in the
9th century but probably reached inal form around the 10th or even
the early 11th century. The two main Zhong-Lü texts present an
elaborate doctrinal discourse and describe advanced forms of
practice.55 While both texts mention xing and ming, neither the
55 I refer to the Zhong-Lü chuandao ji 鍾呂傳道集 (Memories of the Transmission
Destiny, Vital Force, or Existence? 183
discourse nor the practice emphasizes these concepts, with the
single exception of this passage:
Among the ten thousand things, the human being is the most
intelligent and most honored. Only a human being inquiries into the
principles of the ten thousand things, and achieves its own xing.
?Inquire into the principles and achieve your xing, and thereby
accomplish your ming?; maintain your ming intact and protect life,
and thereby join with the Dao. Then you can be as solid and irm as
Heaven and Earth, and you can live as long as they do.56
Signiicantly, this passage gives priority to xing: quoting a famous
sentence of the ?Shuogua? 說卦 (Explanations of the Trigrams)
appendix to the Yijing 易經 (Book of Changes), it maintains that
knowledge of xing leads one to attain one?s ming; after one?s ming
is ?intact,? one can join with the Dao. The same ?Shuogua?
sentence is quoted in later Neidan texts to support the precedence
of xing in self-cultivation.57
(b) Southern Lineage
Discourses and practices clearly focused on xing and ming emerge
of the Dao from Zhongli Quan to Lü Dongbin) and the Lingbao bifa 靈寶畢法
(Complete Method of the Numinous Treasure), respectively. A non-technical and
often loose translation of the Chuandao ji is found in Eva Wong, The Tao of
Health, Longevity, and Immortality: The Teachings of Immortals Chung and Lü
(Boston and London: Shambhala, 2000). The Lingbao bifa was translated by
Farzeen Baldrian-Hussein in the irst major Western-language scholarly work on
a Neidan text: Procédés Secrets du Joyau Magique: Traité d?Alchimie Taoïste du
XIe siècle (Paris: Les Deux Océans, 1984).
56 Zhong-Lü chuandao ji, in Xiuzhen shishu, 14.8b; Wong, The Tao of Health, 34.
57 The sentence derives from ?Shuogua,? sec. 1 (text in the Zhouyi yinde: Fu
biaojiao jingwen 周易引得:附標校經文 [Beijing: Beiping Yanjing daxue
tushuguan yinde bianzuanchu, 1935]). It is translated within quotation marks in
the passage quoted above. Yuan Kangjiu 袁康就, Zhong-Lü neidan daodeguan
yanjiu 鍾呂內丹道德觀研究 (Beijing: Zongjiao wenhua chubanshe, 2005), 197?
207, assigns passages of Zhong-Lü texts to cultivation of xing or ming, but his
quotations do not include these terms.
184 Fabrizio Pregadio
with the creation of the two main Neidan traditions. The Southern
Lineage, or Nanzong, frames its practices according to the sequence
Essence → Breath → Spirit → Emptiness (xu 虛, or Dao).58 This
arrangement is meant to reproduce, in a reverse order, the stages of
the generation of the cosmos, when the Dao successively brings
forth Spirit, Breath, and Essence, and finally through its own
Essence generates the ?ten thousand things.? At each stage of the
practice, each component is gradually reintegrated into the previous
one, and inally into ?emptiness.? For our present subject, the main
point to notice is that the irst two stages are based on reining
Essence and Breath, and focus on the cultivation of ming; the third
and last stage is based on refining Spirit, and focuses on the
cultivation of xing.
It is not entirely clear whether Zhang Boduan, who is placed at
the beginning of the Southern Lineage, disguised this model of self-
cultivation within the different poems of his Wuzhen pian. While
the Nanzong model of practice may have been framed at a later
time, it has provided a template for many traditions of Neidan.
(c) Northern Lineage
The other emblematic mode of Neidan self-cultivation is associated
with the Northern Lineage, or Beizong, which is the original core
of Quanzhen Daoism. Since the ordinary mind, in the conditioned
state, is the main agent that obscures one?s xing, emphasis here is
given to such principles as ?emptying the mind? (xuxin 虛心),
?extinguishing the mind? (miexin 滅心), and ?having no thoughts?
(wunian 無念) in order to see one?s xing (jianxing 見性).
A few examples may be useful to show how this view is
formulated. Wang Zhe, the originator of the lineage, is credited
with the following words (in the quotations that follow, I translate
xing as ?Nature?):59
58 These three stages are usually deined as ?reining the Essence to transmute it
into Breath? (lianjing huaqi 鍊 精 化 氣 ), ?reining the Breath to transmute it into
Spirit? (lianqi huashen 鍊氣化神 ), and ?reining the Spirit to revert to Emptiness?
(lianshen huanxu 鍊神還虛).
59 Here and below, I draw several examples from Chen Bing?s study cited in note
54 above, and from the essay by Yokote Yutaka 橫手裕, ?Daoist Internal
Alchemy,? that I translated for the Modern Chinese Religion. Part 1: Song-Liao-
Destiny, Vital Force, or Existence? 185
A scripture says: ?When the mind is born, Nature is extinguished;
when the mind is extinguished, Nature is manifested.? The extinction
of the mind is the treasure.60
Wang Zhe?s main disciple, Ma Yu 馬鈺 (h. Danyang 丹陽 , 1123?84),
is deemed to have given this teaching:
Someone asks: ?What is the meaning of ?seeing one?s Nature?? ? I
reply: ?When there is no mind and there are no thoughts, when you
are not attached to anything, when all is clear and pure, when there is
no thing either inside or outside, then only the One Nature is
manifested. This is ?seeing one?s Nature?.?61
Given these premises, immortality?or rather, the state beyond
?birth and death??has little to do with the ordinary body, or even
with the ?alchemical body?; instead, it pertains only to one?s
Nature, or xing, and is attained through the state of ?no-mind? or
?no-thinking.? Works attributed to Ma Yu and Tan Chuduan 譚 處
端 (h. Changzhen 長真, 1123?85, another disciple of Wang Zhe)
contain these passages, respectively:
Jin-Yuan, ed. John Lagerwey and Pierre Marsone (Leiden: E. J. Brill,
forthcoming). See also Zhang Guangbao 張廣保 , Jin Yuan Quanzhen dao neidan
xinxingxue 金元全真道內丹心性學 (Beijing: Sanlian shudian, 1995), esp. 77?96;
and Stephen Eskildsen, The Teachings and Practices of the Early Quanzhen
Taoist Masters (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004), 21?38. The
authorship of several texts by the early Beizong masters is uncertain; hence the
dubitative language that I use in introducing several quotations.
60 Chongyang zhenren shou Danyang ershisi jue 重陽真人授丹陽二十四訣 (Twenty-
Four Instructions Transmitted by the Realized Man Wang Chongyang to Ma
Danyang, DZ 1158), 4b.
61 Ma Danyang zhenren zhiyan 馬丹陽真人直言 (Straightforward Words by the
Realized Man Ma Danyang), in Qunxian yaoyu 羣仙要語 (Essential Words of
the Immortals; Daoshu quanji 道書全集 ed.), 2.6a. A slightly variant version is
found in Jin zhenren yulu 晉真人語錄 (Recorded Sayings of the Realized Man
Jin, DZ 1056), 7a. See Eskildsen, The Teachings and Practices of the Early
Quanzhen Taoist Masters, 31; on the basis of the former text, these would be
Ma Yu?s own words.
What lives long and is free from death is the One Numinous True
When not a single thought is born, you are free from birth and
In this view, Nature or xing itself is the Elixir. According to a verse
attributed to Wang Zhe:
The original True Nature is called Golden Elixir.64
Even these few passages sufice to make clear that the discourse of
self-cultivation in sources associated with the early Northern
Lineage makes use of Buddhist views and terminology. This should
not be seen as an influence of Buddhism over an original
?alchemical? core made up of Neidan practices in the strict sense
of the term. In fact, as shown below, it is unclear whether the
Northern Lineage at its origins had an ?alchemical? core at all.
V. ?Conjoined Cultivation? and the Priority of Xing or Ming
The ?conjoined cultivation of xing and ming? (xingming shuangxiu
性命雙修) is a virtually omnipresent subject in Neidan. Since xing
and ming are deemed to have a common origin and to be
interdependent, the purpose of the practice is the cultivation of
both and their reconjunction. This point is witnessed by a large
number of statements essentially identical to the following ones:
Join xing and ming and cultivate them in conjunction.65
62 Jin zhenren yulu, 7b; this passage is not found in the Ma Danyang zhenren zhiyan.
63 Shuiyun ji 水雲集 (Anthology of Water and Clouds, DZ 1160), 1.20a.
64 Chongyang quanzhen ji 重陽全真集 (Complete Reality: A Collection by Wang
Chongyang, DZ 1153), 2.7b.
65 Xingming guizhi, ?Li? 利 , 8a.
Destiny, Vital Force, or Existence? 187
Xing and ming must be cultivated in conjunction.66
?Conjoined cultivation of xing and ming,? however, does not only
mean that both xing and ming should be cultivated; it also implies
that one of them is the clue for cultivating the other. Which one is
given priority in order to fulfill both is the actual point of
distinction between the two models of Neidan outlined above. In
the Southern Lineage model, cultivating ming leads to cultivating
xing; in the Northern Lineage model, cultivating xing encompasses
cultivating ming. This has resulted in deining the respective models
of Neidan as ?irst ming, then xing? (xianming houxing 先命後性)
and ?first xing, then ming? (xianxing houming 先性後命)?two
phrases that have been frequent in Neidan literature from the Qing
period onwards, and are equally current in Chinese-language
studies on Neidan.67
(a) ?First Ming, Then Xing?
The Southern Lineage model of Neidan practice prioritizes the
cultivation of ming, but it assigns the last and highest portion of its
three-stage process to the cultivation of xing. A poem in the
Wuzhen pian asserts this point by drawing two expressions from
the Daode jing:
Empty the heart, ill the belly: the meanings are both profound.
It is just in order to empty the heart that you should know the heart.
Nothing is better than irst illing the belly by reining Lead.
Then, by guarding and collecting, you load the hall with gold.68
66 Liu Yiming, Wuzhen zhizhi, 2.40a (commentary on ?Jueju,? poem no. 42).
67 On the ?conjoined cultivation? of xing and ming see Ge Guolong, Daojiao
neidanxue tanwei, 83?110; and Yang Yuhui 楊 玉 輝 , ?Lun Daojiao de xingming
shuangxiu? 論道教的性命雙修, Shehui kexue yanjiu 社會科學研究 2 (2001): 75?
78. For a summary of the main points, see Guo Jian 郭 健 , ?Xianxing houming
yu xianming houxing: Daojiao Nanbeizong neidanxue yanjiu? 先性後命與先命後
性:道教南北宗內丹學研究 , Zongjiaoxue yanjiu 宗教學研究 2 (2002): 95?99.
68 Wuzhen pian, ?Jueju,? poem no. 10; Wang Mu, Wuzhen pian qianjie, 45.
188 Fabrizio Pregadio
According to commentators and later Neidan authors, ?emptying
the heart? (or ?the mind,? xuxin 虛 心 ) and ?illing the belly? (shifu
實腹) in this poem refer to cultivating xing and ming, respectively:
the heart and the abdomen, as we have seen, are symbolic locations
of xing and ming in the human being. The poem as a whole
maintains that both xing and ming should be cultivated, but the
third line shows that one should begin by cultivating ming.
Another poem in the Wuzhen pian hints at a major point that
we shall encounter again below. The Nanzong practice begins with
?action? (youzuo 有作), needed to cultivate ming, and ends with
?non-doing? (wuwei 無為 ), needed to cultivate xing:
It begins with action, and hardly can one see a thing,
when it comes to non-doing, all begin to understand.
But if you only see non-doing as the essential marvel,
how can you understand that action is the foundation?69
In his commentary, Weng Baoguang 翁葆光 (l. 1173) uses this poem
to counter the classic Buddhist objection to Neidan, namely that
Neidan focuses on cultivating ming and fails to look after xing:
In the world there are those who study the Way of the Buddha of
cultivating xing; they hold the view that any form of ?doing? is empty
and vain, and thus they desecrate the Way of Laozi of cultivating
ming. . . . How can they know that, in the Way of cultivating ming, at
the beginning there is ?action? (youzuo) and one reines the External
Medicine (waiyao) in order to transform one?s [bodily] form; in the
middle there is ?doing? (youwei) and one reines the form in order to
transmute it into Breath; and at the end there is ?non-doing? (wuwei)
and self-existence (zizai). This is what we call ?protecting Unity,? and
it serves the purpose of knowing one?s mind and seeing one?s Nature.70
Compare Daode jing, sec. 3: ?Thus the Saint in his government empties their (i.e.
the people?s) hearts, ills their bellies, weakens their wills, and strengthens their
69 Wuzhen pian, ?Jueju,? poem no. 42; Wang Mu, Wuzhen pian qianjie, 99. ?Action?
is a synonym of ?doing? (youwei 有 為 ), by I translate this term with a different
word in light of the commentary quoted below.
70 Wuzhen pian zhushi 悟真篇注釋 (Commentary and Exegesis to the Awakening
to Reality, DZ 145), 2.35a. The version in Ziyang zhenren Wuzhen pian zhushu
Destiny, Vital Force, or Existence? 189
For Weng Baoguang, cultivating ming requires active practice; when
one reaches the stage of cultivating xing, instead, one shifts to
?non-doing? and lets one?s xing reveal itself. This, in his view,
shows that the Wuzhen pian also incorporates the Buddhist
teachings on ?seeing one?s Nature.?
In a way, Weng Baoguang?s view is hardly disputable: the
Wuzhen pian contains a inal portion made of poems devoted to
the cultivation of xing and abounding in Buddhist terminology.
Zhang Boduan?s Wuzhen pian preface?likely to be spurious, but
authoritative because of its attribution?even presents the origins of
Neidan as tied to the teachings of not only Laozi, but also the
Buddha. Having said that ?Laozi and the Buddha used the learning
of xing and ming to open the gates of expedient methods,? the
preface ends as follows:
After I had inished writing my work, I noticed that in it I had only
discussed the arts of nourishing ming and of making the [bodily] form
irm, and I had not investigated the fundamental and original Nature
of true awareness. Therefore I carefully studied Buddhist texts,
including the Chuandeng lu (Transmission of the Lamp), until I found
the story of the Patriarch who awakened himself on hearing the sound
of a pebble striking a stalk of bamboo. Then I framed this into 32
pieces consisting of songs, hymns, poems, and mixed sayings. Now I
append them at the end of the scroll. I hope that the way of attaining
the foundation and comprehending xing is all in here.71
紫陽真人悟真篇註疏 (Commentary and Sub-Commentary to the Awakening to
Reality by the Realized Man Ziyang, DZ 141), 4.20a, contains important
variants. The External Medicine, as we shall see in the next section, is obtained
by the cultivation of ming in the irst part of the practice.
71 Ziyang zhenren Wuzhen pian zhushu, Preface, 16b. The Patriarch referred to in
this passage is Zhixian 智閑. Not all editions of the Wuzhen pian contain this
inal portion, and in some editions this part of the preface is shortened.
190 Fabrizio Pregadio
Whether the additional poems were written by Zhang Boduan
himself?who according to tradition became a Buddhist monk late
in life?or by someone else in his name, the purpose of the inal
portion of his work is clear: acknowledging the importance of
cultivating xing, and ensuring that the Wuzhen pian contains
teachings on this subject.72
(b) ?First Xing, Then Ming?
Concerning the Northern Lineage model, Ma Yu is ascribed with a
signiicant answer to the question, ?Master, are there ?action? and
?doing? (zuowei 作為) in your Way? 僕問曰:吾師之道有作為否? It
will be remembered that ?action? is the term used in the Wuzhen
pian to describe the initial stages of the practice, concerned with
cultivating ming. Ma Yu?s answer leaves little space to ambiguity:
No. Every lyric chants of the Dragon and Tiger, of the Boy and the
Girl, but these are merely words used to express an idea. Therefore
the wondrousness of the essential Way consists in nothing beyond
nourishing Breath. Just by yearning for profit and fame, one
incessantly squanders one?s Breath. In the learning of the Way there is
nothing else: the only task is nourishing Breath. The Liquor of the
heart descends and the Breath of the kidneys ascends, until they reach
the spleen. If the generative force of the Original Breath is not
dispersed, the Elixir coalesces. As for liver and lungs, they are the
thoroughfares. After you have practiced quiescence for a long time,
you will know this by yourself.73
72 On the inal portion of the Wuzhen pian see Sun Yiping 孫亦平 , ?Zhang Boduan
?Dao Chan heyi? sixiang shuping? 張伯端「道禪合一」 思想述評, Zhongguo
zhexueshi 中國哲學史 1 (2000): 101?8; and Miura Kunio 三浦國雄 , ?Shin to sei:
Goshinhen zenshū kaju shōron? 身と性:「悟真篇」禪宗歌頌小論, in Sōdai zenshū
no shakaiteki eikyō 宋禪宗の社會的影響, ed. Suzuki Tetsuo 鈴木哲雄 (Tokyo:
Sankibō Busshorin, 2002), 453?62.
73 Danyang zhenren yulu 丹陽真人語錄 (Recorded Sayings of the Realized Man Ma
Danyang, DZ 1057), 4a?b.
Destiny, Vital Force, or Existence? 191
Ma Yu?s emphasis on Breath means that not only the stage of
cultivating the Essence, but the whole three-stage process of
Nanzong is excluded from this model. For him, the way of causing
the Liquor of the heart (in alchemical terms, Fire) and the Breath of
kidneys (Water) to join with one another is simply ?quiescence,?
which as such does not require any ?doing.? In fact, in the same
work quoted above, Ma Yu displays a rather critical attitude
towards both physical cultivation and alchemy as a whole:
The thirty-six daoyin (?guiding and pulling?) exercises and the
twenty-four Reverted Elixirs are but gradual gateways for entering the
Dao. Do not mistake them for the Great Dao itself. When you
investigate the Stove and Furnace or take the images of the Turtle and
Snake as a model, you are giving rise to affairs where there are no
affairs, and adding falseness to your Nature. All this is extremely
misleading! Therefore the Daoist alchemical scriptures and the books
of the various masters, the thousand scriptures and the ten thousand
treatises, can all be covered up with one phrase??clarity and
According to Ma Yu, ?only clarity and quiescence (qingjing 清靜)
and non-doing are the methods of the highest vehicle? 但清淨無為,
最上乘法也.75 In saying this, Ma Yu follows his master, Wang Zhe,
for whom clarity and quiescence are the key to self-cultivation:
The only important things are the words ?clarity and quiescence,?
which are found within one?s Heart. Anything else is not a self-
These views accept that the Beizong model of ?conjoined
cultivation? gives priority to cultivating xing in order to realize
74 Danyang zhenren yulu, 8a; translation based on Eskildsen, The Teachings and
Practices of the Early Quanzhen Taoist Masters, 25.
75 Danyang zhenren yulu, 4a.
76 Chongyang quanzhen ji, 10.20b.
192 Fabrizio Pregadio
one?s ming. Wang Zhe himself is attributed with this saying:
The guest is ming, the host (or: lord, ruler) is xing.77
Qiu Chuji 邱處機 (1148?1227, another disciple of Wang Zhe) is
credited with the following discourse, which ends by quoting the
?Shuogua? sentence seen above:
The Master said: ?Those who begin their studies do not know xing
and ming. They just recognize the everyday speeches and activities as
xing, and the breath going in and out of one?s mouth and nose as
their ming. This is wrong. How can xing and ming be two separate
principles? You should irst exert your mind (jinxin) and recognize
your true xing even before your father and mother gave birth to you;
then you will understand the ming that has been bestowed to you by
Heaven. The Yijing says: ?Inquire into the principles and achieve your
xing, and thereby accomplish your ming.??78
In fact, one could trace the origins of the Beizong views on xing
and ming back even earlier?to the Daode jing passage that takes
?quiescence? as the key for ?returning to the mandate? quoted
earlier in the present study.
(c) ?Quanzhen Alchemy? and the Longmen Tradition: A Brief Note
As both Wang Zhe and Qiu Chuji are credited with the authorship
of a Neidan work, the status of Neidan practices in early Quanzhen
might appear to differ from what the passages quoted above would
77 Chongyang zhenren shou Danyang ershisi jue, 1b.
78 Qinghe zhenren beiyou yulu 清和真人北遊語錄 (Recorded Sayings of the Journey
to the North by the Realized Man of Clarity and Harmony, DZ 1310), 1.9a. See
above, note 57.
Destiny, Vital Force, or Existence? 193
suggest.79 Many indications, however, support the view that neither
attribution is trustworthy, and that both works essentially describe
Zhong-Lü teachings and practices later ascribed to Quanzhen
The relation of the work attributed to Wang Zhe to the Zhong-
Lü corpus begins from its title.80 Correspondences with earlier
Zhong-Lü sources are too numerous to be mentioned here, but they
include doctrines, methods, and technical terms; several
explanations, moreover, concern subjects discussed in Zhong-Lü
texts.81 On the other hand, the discourse is not based on xing or
ming and does not give priority to either of them. Views on this
subject attributed to Wang Zhe in other texts (included those
quoted above) are ignored.82
79 Wang Zhe is ascribed with the Chongyang zhenren jinguan yusuo jue 重陽真人
金關玉鎖訣 (Instructions on the Gold Barrier and the Jade Lock by the Realized
Man Chongyang, DZ 1156); translated in Louis Komjathy, Cultivating
Perfection: Mysticism and Self-Transformation in Early Quanzhen Daoism
(Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2007). Qiu Chuji is ascribed with the Dadan zhizhi;
translated in Paulino T. Belamide, ?Self-Cultivation and Quanzhen Daoism, with
Special Reference to the Legacy of Qiu Chuji? (PhD diss., Toronto: University of
80 The terms jinguan and yusuo derive from the Zhong-Lü chuandao ji (Xiuzhen
shishu, 16.28b). The Chuandao ji is also mentioned in one section of the text
(Komjathy, Cultivating Perfection, 337).
81 Doctrines comprise the three degrees of the practice and their names (Komjathy,
Cultivating Perfection, 299), and the classiication of immortals into ive ranks
(337?38). Methods include the classic Zhong-Lü practice called ?Causing the
Essence (or: the Crystal) of Metal to ascend on the back of the body? (zhouhou
fei jinjing 肘後飛金精 / 晶), mentioned in the Chuandao ji and described in the
Lingbao bifa (Baldrian-Hussein, Procédés, 136?37; see Komjathy, Cultivating
Perfection, 314, where the name is translated as Method of Flying the Gold
Crystal Behind the Elbow; ?behind the elbow? refers to the part of the body
that one can touch by bending the arm behind oneself). Typical Zhong-Lü terms
include the ?three islands? (311), the ?three ires? (326), the ?purple water
chariot? (348), the ?four oceans? (359), and several others.
82 In his book, Komjathy maintains that the Jinguan yusuo jue ?more than likely
preserves some authentic teachings of Wang Chongyang? (Cultivating Perfection,
265). Without providing other evidence on this point besides its format of
?dialogic treatise,? he deines this work as ?a compilation of oral instructions
transcribed during Wang?s various public talks,? ?compiled by one or more of
Wang?s irst-generation disciples? (277 and 273). He notes, nevertheless, that the
text displays ?characteristics paralleling those of other late Tang dynasty and
Song dynasty works, speciically internal alchemy literature indebted to the
194 Fabrizio Pregadio
The work ascribed to Qiu Chuji is even more obviously tied to
the Zhong-Lü tradition. To give one example, the text deals with
the Liquor of the heart and the Breath of the kidneys, precisely the
subjects on which Ma Yu bases his criticism of ?action? in the
passage quoted above:
The Dragon is the Breath of Correct Yang within the Liquor of the
heart. Control it so that it would not rise out; if it meets the Breath of
the kidneys, they would naturally mix. The Tiger is the Water of True
Unity within the Breath of the kidneys. Control it so that it would not
descend; if it encounters the Liquor of the heart, they would naturally
be united. When the Dragon and the Tiger conjoin, a pill shaped like
a millet grain is formed. This method is called the Mating of the
Dragon and the Tiger.83
Zhong-Lü textual tradition? (271). In a footnote, he inally admits: ?There is
also evidence that the Chuandao ji may have played some role in the Quanzhen
formulation of internal alchemy? (290n16). Komjathy also maintains that ?the
concerns and technical terminology [of the Jinguan yusuo jue] clearly parallel
that of the poetry collections, that is, the least controversial early Quanzhen
texts? (272). When one follows the opposite procedure and tries to ind in the
Jinguan yusuo jue traces of statements attributed to Wang Zhe (or other
Quanzhen masters) about the cultivation of xing and ming, the result is quite
different. Komjathy does not take those statements into account. He deals with
the subject xing and ming in one paragraph, only to note that these ?are two of
the most frequently appearing technical terms? in early Quanzhen literature
(133?34). Nevertheless, Komjathy deines the Jinguan yusuo jue as ?the most
detailed extant text on technical aspects of early Quanzhen practice? (265). On
the other hand, he provides evidence of issues in the attribution of the Dadan
zhizhi to Qiu Changchun and calls this text ?perhaps the most problematic
work of the ?[Quanzhen] early textual corpus?? (410). Recently, his views have
reversed; see The Way of Complete Perfection: A Quanzhen Daoist Anthology
(New York: SUNY Press, 2013), 115?16. Invalidating much of the discourse in
his earlier book, he now says that the Jinguan yusuo jue is one of the Quanzhen
works of ?uncertain date and questionable attribution.? Vice versa, the Dadan
zhizhi becomes ?the only early Quanzhen text that can be accurately categorized
as a manual of alchemical practice and transformation.? Unfortunately, as
shown below, this work presents the same issues as the Jinguan yusuo jue.
83 Dadan zhizhi, 1.6a; translation based on Belamide, ?Self-Cultivation and
Quanzhen Daoism,? 188.
Destiny, Vital Force, or Existence? 195
This passage derives from one of the main Zhong-Lü texts.84 Here
again, we ind other clear signs of relation to this corpus, including
the illustrations.85 This and other evidence has suggested that the
attribution of this work to Qiu Chuji is not credible.86
Connections of both works with earlier Zhong-Lü texts are
suficiently strong and clear to question whether they are authentic
Quanzhen texts or Zhong-Lü texts written (or rewritten) in the
names of two major Quanzhen masters. If the second hypothesis is
correct, one may wonder whether Quanzhen had at its origins a
distinctive ?alchemical? core in addition to its views on the
cultivation of xing. While this issue remains open, one question that
can be answered with sufficient certainty is why both works
describe a Zhong-Lü and not a Nanzong type of Neidan. One
reason may be the fact that both Zhongli Quan and Lü Dongbin
are legendary patriarchs of Quanzhen. The issue, however, is not
merely ?sectarian?: more importantly, the Nanzong model of self-
cultivation, with its priority on ming and ?doing,? could not it the
84 Compare the Lingbao bifa: ?The True Dragon is the Breath within the Liquor
of the heart. The True Tiger is the Water within the Breath of the kidneys.
Breath and Water joining one another is called the Mating of the Dragon and
the Tiger? 真龍者,心液中之氣;真虎者,腎氣中之水。氣水相合,乃曰:龍虎交媾
也. The version of the Lingbao bifa closest to the Dadan zhizhi passage is the
one found in the different editions of the Lüzu quanshu 呂祖全書, 33.5a; here I
have quoted the 33-juan edition, reprinted in Zhonghua xu Daozang 中華續道藏
(Taipei: Xin Wenfeng, 1999), vol. 19. For the corresponding passage in the
Daozang version see Baldrian-Hussein, Procédés, 219 and 221.
85 Pictures in the Dadan zhizhi bear clear analogies with those found in another
Zhong-Lü text, the Xiuzhen taiji hunyuan zhixuan tu 修真太極元指玄圖 (Charts
of the Inchoate Origin of the Great Ultimate Pointing to the Mystery for the
Cultivation of Reality, DZ 150). Other shared traits include the discourse on
?demons,? which draws on the Chuandao ji (Belamide, ?Self-Cultivation and
Quanzhen Daoism,? 208?10), and the mention of Shi Jianwu 施肩吾, who is
credited with the authorship of Zhong-Lü texts (190).
86 The non-authenticity of this attribution is discussed in Ge Guolong, ?Dadan
zhizhi fei Qiu Chuji zuopin kao?《大丹直指》非邱處機作品考, Shijie zongjiao
yanjiu 世界宗教研究 3 (2008): 43?50. Belamide also notes: ?There are
indications that this work was not written personally? by Qiu Chuji (?Self-
Cultivation and Quanzhen Daoism,? 154). The Dadan zhizhi mentions xing and
ming (for two examples, see notes 5 and 31 above), and Belamide includes a
valuable discussion of the Quanzhen views on these subjects in his dissertation
196 Fabrizio Pregadio
Quanzhen model, with its emphasis on xing and ?non-doing.?
Not surprisingly, the two works attributed to Wang Zhe and to
Qiu Chuji did not exert any visible inluence on the later history of
Quanzhen itself and of Neidan as a whole. While the Zhong-Lü
tradition appears to have faded, the Longmen 龍門 (Dragon Gate)
lineage?originally created as a branch of Quanzhen, and believed
to have been founded by none other than Qiu Chuji?developed in
different ways. Its irst major codiier, Wang Changyue 王常月 (??
1680), in particular, associated the Buddhist set of ?precepts,
concentration, and wisdom? (śila, samadhi, and prajña) with three
progressively higher stages in the Longmen ordination. As was
shown by Monica Esposito, these stages represent ?a process of
gradual practice corresponding to different levels of control of body
(shen 身), mind (xin 心), and Intention (yi 意).?87 Noticing that
Wang Changyue regarded the cultivation of xing as the
?fundamental practice? in his Most High Supreme Great Vehicle
(zuishang wushang dasheng 最上無上大乘), Esposito adds: ?Wang
saw this vehicle as congruent with the original meaning of
Quanzhen, an orthodox meditative path that regards ?purity,
tranquility and non-action? (qingjing wuwei) as the key to self-
cultivation. Compared to this, the various alchemic techniques are
seen as belonging to the ?small vehicle? (xiaosheng 小乘 ) or the ?small
path? (xiaodao 小道) as they fail to provide insight into one?s own
By giving priority to xing and to ?purity and tranquility? (or
?clarity and quiescence?), Wang Changyue continues the discourse
of the early Quanzhen masters. However, his discourse should also
87 Monica Esposito, ?Longmen Taoism in Qing China: Doctrinal Ideal and Local
Reality,? Journal of Chinese Religions 29 (2001): 191?231 (quotation from
194?95). The three stages correspond to the Precepts for Initial Realization
(chuzhen jie 初真戒), the Intermediate Precepts (zhongji jie 中極戒), and the
Precepts for Celestial Immortality (tianxian jie 天仙戒). On the triad of ?body,?
?mind,? and ?intention? in the context of cultivating xing and ming see also
Robinet, Introduction à l?alchimie intérieure taoïste, 191?95.
88 Esposito, ?Longmen Taoism in Qing China,? 196. Her source for these
statements is the Biyuan tanjing 碧苑壇經 (Platform Sutra of the Jasper Garden),
a work compiled by Wang Changyue?s disciples and also known as Longmen
xinfa 龍門心法 (Core Teachings of Longmen).
Destiny, Vital Force, or Existence? 197
be seen in the context of the numerous views that, both before and
after him, the Neidan tradition has formulated about the ?conjoined
cultivation? of xing and ming. Below, I will give a few examples of
the concepts used in this context, drawing from the works of three
well-known masters. All of them claim afiliation to Quanzhen, by
which they do not mean the monastic order in the strict sense, but
the teachings on self-cultivation that we have surveyed above.89
VI. Two Approaches to Neidan
Among other ways of conceiving their ?conjoined cultivation,? for
some Neidan masters the integration of xing and ming essentially
consists in looking at the two models of self-cultivation as different
degrees or stages in the practice. While both degrees or stages are
required and are said ultimately to lead to the same state of
realization, they take account of the qualities and attitudes of those
to whom they are addressed. The earliest major discourse on this
subject is by Li Daochun who, writing four centuries before Wang
Changyue, describes the cultivation of xing as based precisely on
precepts, concentration, and wisdom. In doing so, he also proposes
a model for its integration with the cultivation of ming that has left
clear marks on the later Neidan tradition.
In his ?Essay on Xing and Ming,? already quoted in part above,
Li Daochun gives an elaborate example of the functions of xing
and ming in the framework of their ?conjoined cultivation.?
Maintaining that both xing and ming should be cultivated, Li
Daochun begins by criticizing adepts who only attend to one or the
89 I cannot refer to other models of ?conjoined cultivation? in detail here;
additional subjects that would require attention include, for instance, the Neidan
views on ?immediate? (dun 頓 ) and ?gradual? (jian 漸 ) realization. To cite only
two Western-language studies that describe other models, for the period prior to
Wang Changyue see the article by Yokote Yutaka cited above (note 59), which
surveys the views of Niu Daochun 牛道淳 (l. 1299), Mu Changzhao 牧常晁 (late
13th c.), Xiao Tingzhi 蕭廷芝 (l. 1260?64), Chen Zhixu 陳致虛 (1290?ca. 1368),
Wang Jie, and He Daoquan 何道全 (1319??1399). For the later period, see
Esposito, ?Longmen Taoism in Qing China, ? 203?13, where she discusses the
important Longmen recodiication by Min Yide, which involved naming the
famous Secret of the Golden Flower (Jinhua zongzhi 金華宗旨) as the exemplary
text for the cultivation of xing.
198 Fabrizio Pregadio
other, qualifying them as ?Buddhist? or ?Daoist,? respectively. To
make his point clearer, Li Daochun uses two expressions that typify
Buddhism and Daoism, saying that only by realizing xing can
Daoist adepts also ?escape the cycles? of kalpas, and only by
knowing ming can Buddhist adepts also ?revert? to the origin:
Xing cannot be established without ming, and ming cannot be
preserved without xing. While the names are two, the principle is one.
Alas! The Buddhist and Daoist disciples of the present day divide xing
and ming into two, taking one side and criticizing the other. They just
do not know that neither the ?lone yin? (guyin, here meaning xing)
nor the ?solitary yang? (guayang, i.e. ming) can fully accomplish the
great undertaking. If those who cultivate their ming do not
comprehend their xing, how can they escape the cycles of kalpas? If
those who see their xing do not understand their ming, how can they
inally revert [to the origin]?90
性無命不立,命無性不存,其名雖二,其理一也。嗟乎!今之學徒,緇 流道子,以性命分為二,各執一邊,互相是非,不知孤陰寡陽皆不能 成全大事。修命者不明其性,寧逃劫運?見性者不知其命,末後何歸?
Thus, according to Li Daochun, Daoist practice should be
completed by incorporating elements ordinarily deemed to pertain
to Buddhism (cultivation of xing), and vice versa for Buddhist
practice (cultivation of ming).
(a) ?Knowing by Birth,? ?Knowing by Study?
The opposition, or the integration, of Daoism and Buddhism is a
frequent subject in the Neidan discourses on xing and ming, but
this is not Li Daochun?s main point. Having said the above, he adds
an important detail: some persons are innately able to ?jointly
attain xing and ming.? These persons, whom he qualifies as
?superior? (gaoshang 高上 ), are able to do so irst through practices
of a Buddhist type?precepts, concentration, and wisdom (jie 戒,
ding 定, and hui 慧; or śila, samadhi, and prajña)?and then
90 Zhonghe ji, 4.1b.
Destiny, Vital Force, or Existence? 199
The superior persons jointly attain xing and ming. First, by observing
the precepts and by concentration and wisdom they empty their
minds. Then, by reining Essence, Breath, and Spirit they protect their
These two ways of cultivation, respectively focused on xing and
ming, enable those practitioners to make both of them ?intact?:
When the body is tranquil and at rest, the basis of ming is
permanently irm; when the mind is empty and clear, the foundation
of xing is entirely illuminated. When one?s xing is entirely illuminated,
there is no coming and going; when one?s ming is permanently irm,
there is no death and birth. As one reaches the inchoate, complete,
and immediate [awakening], one directly enters non-doing: xing and
ming are both intact, and form and spirit are both wondrous.92
In another discussion on the same subject, Li Daochun clariies the
difference between these two possible approaches to Neidan.
?Superior persons,? he says, directly fulill their xing, and through
this they also spontaneously fulfill their ming; everyone else,
instead, should irst work on ming and then on xing. Using two
expressions of the Lunyu 論語 (Analects of Confucius), he adds that
these two approaches are addressed to those who ?know by birth?
(sheng er zhi 生而知) and those who ?know by study? (xue er zhi
If those who study the Dao are provided since the beginning with
inborn capacity (genqi), they directly fulill their xing, and of their
own they [also] fulill their ming. This is ?knowing by birth.? Those in
whom the inborn capacity is shallow and weak cannot directly fulill
their xing. Enabled to do this by the teaching (zi jiao er ru), from
Being they reach Non-Being, and from the coarse they attain the
92 Zhonghe ji, 4.1b?2a.
wondrous. Therefore, irst they fulill their ming and then they fulill
their xing. This is ?knowing by study.?93
In this view, the standard three-stage Nanzong practice is addressed
to those who should ?first fulfill their ming.? According to Li
Daochun?whose explanation here is slightly different from the
ordinary one?the irst stage (?reining the Essence to transmute it
into Breath?) focuses on the body and serves to fulill one?s ming.
The second stage (?reining the Breath to transmute it into Spirit?)
focuses on the mind and serves to fulill one?s xing. When, in the
third stage (?reining Spirit to revert to Emptiness?), body and
mind conjoin, xing and ming are both made ?intact? and the Elixir
(b) ?Non-Doing? and ?Doing?
Cultivating xing and ming corresponds, according to Li Daochun,
to compounding the Internal Medicine (neiyao 內藥) and the
External Medicine (waiyao 外藥), respectively. Those who ?know
by birth? can directly compound the Internal Medicine; others,
instead, should irst compound the External Medicine:
The External Medicine allows one to cure illnesses, and to ?prolong
your life and have lasting presence.?95 The Internal Medicine allows
one to transcend the world, and to exit from Being and enter Non-
Being. In general, those who study the Dao should begin from the
External Medicine; then they will know the Internal Medicine by
themselves. Superior persons have already planted the foundation of
virtue, and know it by birth; therefore they do not reine the External
Medicine, and directly reine the Internal Medicine.96
93 Zhonghe ji, 3.10b. ?Knowing by birth? and ?knowing by study? derive from
Lunyu, 16:9: ?Those who know by birth are superior; those who know by study
are next? 生而知之者,上也;學而知之者,次也 .
94 Zhonghe ji, 2.6a?7b, where Li Daochun expounds the Nanzong practice.
95 This phrase derives from Daode jing, sec. 59.
96 Zhonghe ji, 2.4a.
Destiny, Vital Force, or Existence? 201
In connection with the two ?medicines,? Li Daochun raises another
important point, concerning the roles played by ?doing? and ?non-
With the Internal Medicine ?there is no doing, yet nothing is not
done.? With the External Medicine ?there is doing, and something
whereby it does.?97
Since one?s xing is innately perfect, self-cultivation only consists in
allowing it to manifest itself through ?non-doing.? Cultivating
ming, instead, requires that one ?does? the Neidan practice. Li
Daochun concludes his discourse by saying:
The External Medicine brings one?s ming to fulillment; the Internal
Medicine brings one?s xing to fulillment. When the two Medicines are
complete, form and spirit are both wondrous.98
The two ?medicines,? therefore, are both necessary and lead to the
same goal, but they relect two degrees or stages in the practice.
(c) ?Nothing to Cultivate? and ?Setting to Practice?
Li Daochun?s discourse summarized above had a signiicant impact
on the later Neidan tradition.99 In his ?Essay on the Inchoate
97 Zhonghe ji, 2.4a. The phrases in quotation marks derive from Daode jing, sec.
48 and 38, respectively. On ?doing? and ?non-doing? in the context of
cultivating xing and ming see Ge Guolong, ?Xingming shuangxiu yujing xia de
?youwei? yu ?wuwei?? 性 命 雙 修 語 境 下 的「有 為」與「無 為」, Qi Lu wenhua yanjiu
齊魯文化研究 9 (2010): 288?92.
98 Zhonghe ji, 2.4a?b.
99 In addition to Wang Jie and Liu Yiming, discussed below, it also attracted the
attention of Chen Zhixu, who quotes the whole portion concerned with the
External and the Internal Medicines in his Jindan dayao, 5.4b.
202 Fabrizio Pregadio
Merging of Xing and Ming? (?Xingming hunrong lun? 性命融論 ),
his second-generation disciple, Wang Jie, points out that the sole
cultivation of xing or ming leads to incomplete states of realization.
Focusing only on xing, he says, makes it impossible to manifest the
?pervading? power of Spirit (shentong 神通), by which he seems to
refer to the supernatural knowledge of aspects of the sensible world
(in the sense of Buddhist abhijñā, that is, in order to comprehend
or to renounce them, according to their kind); focusing only on
ming may grant long life, but not transcending the world:
If you only cultivate your xing and do not cultivate your ming, after
your body dies your Nature becomes a yin spirit (yinshen), and you
cannot manifest the pervading power of Spirit. If you only cultivate
your ming and do not cultivate your xing, your body may live a long
life, but you will forever reside in the phenomenal world and will be
unable to transcend the cycles of kalpas.100
Both xing and ming, therefore, should be cultivated. However,
analogously to Li Daochun, Wang Jie emphasizes the priority of
xing over ming, and states that by knowing one?s xing one can also
know one?s ming:
To cultivate the real while living in the vulgar,
to exit the world while dwelling in the dust,
you should irst awaken to your xing.
In cultivating the real, xing is the irst principle;
as you see your xing, you do the work for reining your ming.101
100 Huanzhen ji, 2.5b. The purpose of Neidan is often described as the creation of
an immortal ?yang spirit? (yangshen 陽神). See van Enckevort, ?The Three
Treasures,? especially 136?41, whose discussion is based on Wu Shouyang?s
views but also applies to other Neidan traditions.
101 Huanzhen ji, 3.39a and 3.27a.
Destiny, Vital Force, or Existence? 203
Although Wang Jie does not use the terms ?non-doing? and ?doing,?
one can hardly doubt that he has them in mind when he writes
these verses, where he draws a distinction between having ?nothing
to cultivate? and ?setting to practice?:
For xing, there is fundamentally nothing to cultivate or verify;
for ming, instead, you should set to practice.102
Finally, using two expressions from the Daode jing, Wang Jie says
that those who dwell in ?non-doing,? and thus ?have no desires,?
nourish their xing; those who ?have desires,? and therefore are
bound to ?doing,? perform the Neidan practice in order to cultivate
Without desires, you nourish your xing;
with desires, you set to practice.103
In other works?in particular, his Ruyao jing commentary?Wang
Jie describes what some would call the ?course? (cursus) of the
ordinary Neidan practice. The passages quoted above make clear,
however, that the main part of Wang Jie?s Neidan consists in the
doctrines on xing.
(d) ?Superior Virtue? and ?Inferior Virtue?
Traces of Li Daochun?s views are also clearly visible in the works
of Liu Yiming, who belonged to one of the northern lineages of
Longmen. While his discourse is comparable to the one made by Li
Daochun, Liu Yiming focuses on the ideas of ?superior virtue?
102 Huanzhen ji, 3.39a.
103 Huanzhen ji, 1.3a?b. The two expressions used by Wang Jie derive from Daode
jing, sec. 1.
204 Fabrizio Pregadio
(shangde 上德) and ?inferior virtue? (xiade 下德), two other terms
derived from the Daode jing that respectively refer to the ways of
?non-doing? and ?doing.?104
According to Liu Yiming, neither xing nor ming is more or less
important than the other, but their cultivation corresponds to
different stages in the practice:
Then there are those who do not comprehend the Great Dao. They
either say that ming is more important and xing is less important, or
that xing is more important and ming is less important. Both are
wrong. Xing and ming must be cultivated in conjunction, but in the
practice there should be two stages (duan).105
Analogously to Li Daochun, Liu Yiming says that those who
possess ?superior virtue? cultivate their xing by ?non-doing,? and
through this they also cultivate their ming; those who possess
?inferior virtue,? instead, should follow the way of ?doing,? by
cultivating irst their ming and then their xing:
In superior virtue, there is no need to cultivate ming and one just
cultivates xing: when xing is fulilled, ming is also fulilled. In inferior
virtue, one must irst cultivate ming and then cultivate xing: after
ming is fulilled, one must also fulill xing. Fulilling ming is ?doing?;
fulilling xing is ?non-doing.?106
104 Daode jing, sec. 38: ?Superior virtue has no doing: there is nothing whereby it
does. Inferior virtue does: there is something whereby it does.? I deal in more
detail with the subject of the present subsection in an article entitled ?Superior
Virtue, Inferior Virtue: A Doctrinal Theme in the Works of the Daoist Master
Liu Yiming (1734?1821),? T?oung Pao 2014/15 (forthcoming).
105 Xiuzhen houbian 修真後辨 (Further Discriminations in Cultivating Reality),
31b?32a; see Liu Yiming, Cultivating the Tao: Taoism and Internal Alchemy,
trans. Fabrizio Pregadio (Mountain View: Golden Elixir Press, 2013), 119. On
this work see my ?Discriminations in Cultivating the Tao: Liu Yiming (1734?
1821) and His Xiuzhen houbian,?in Annali dell?Istituto Universitario Orientale
di Napoli 2014 (forthcoming).
106 Xiuzhen houbian, 32a; Pregadio, trans., Cultivating the Tao, 119.
Destiny, Vital Force, or Existence? 205
These statements show that Liu Yiming follows the model of
?conjoined cultivation? formulated by Li Daochun. This also leads
him to express the same idea as that of Wang Zhe (?The original
True Nature is called Golden Elixir?), but in a more elaborate way:
Golden Elixir is another name for one?s fundamental Nature (benxing),
inchoate and yet accomplished. There is no other Golden Elixir
outside one?s fundamental Nature. All human beings have this Golden
Elixir complete in themselves: it is entirely achieved in everybody. 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
While this well-known passage is concerned with xing, we should
now look more closely at the meanings and the functions of ming
in this view of Neidan.
VII. ?Returning to Ming?
As we have seen, Neidan in general distinguishes between an
?original ming? and a ming identiied with the course of one?s life.
Li Daochun elaborates on this view by positing two types of ?body?
and ?mind,? associated with the precelestial and the postcelestial
domains: xing and ming, he says, pertain to the precelestial mind
and body, but they are ?yoked? and ?burdened? by the postcelestial
mind and body.
This distinction is accepted by several later authors of Neidan
works. In particular, Wang Jie seems to be irst identiiable Neidan
author to distinguish between two aspects of xing by using the
Neo-Confucian expression ?Nature consisting in one?s character? (or
temperament, disposition; qizhi zhi xing 氣質之性), which he
contrasts with the concept of ?fundamental Nature? (benran zhi
107 Wuzhen zhizhi, 1.4b (commentary on ?Lüshi? 律 詩 , poem no. 3). ?Inchoate and
yet accomplished? (huncheng 成 ) derives from Daode jing, sec. 25.
Therefore there are a fundamental Nature and a Nature consisting in
one?s character. The fundamental Nature concerns the movement of
consciousness. The Nature consisting in one?s character concerns
cravings and desires.108
The distinction between the two types of xing places Li Daochun?s
discourse in a clearer perspective: what ?yokes? one?s true,
precelestial Nature is the inferior, postcelestial ?Nature consisting in
Several centuries later, the difference between the two types of
xing becomes the focus of a broader discourse that also involves
two corresponding types of ming. Demonstrating its importance,
this discourse is found in at least three almost identical versions in
Neidan sources: the 17th-century Xingming guizhi, a work by Dong
Dening 董德寧 (l. 1787?88), and a work by Liu Yiming. I will draw
here on Liu Yiming?s version, as his discussion is especially
important for our present subject.109
108 Huanzhen ji, 2.9b. The expression ?Nature consisting in one?s character? is
actually found in an earlier work attributed?in a hardly credible way?to
Zhang Boduan, which contains a passage partly identical to the Neo-Confucian
formulation of this concept by Zhang Zai 張載 (1020?77); Qinghua miwen 青華
祕文 (Secret Text of Green Florescence, DZ 240), 1.7b. On this point see Kong
Linghong 孔 宏 , ?Zhang Boduan de xingming sixiang yanjiu? 張 伯 端 的 性 命 思
想研究, Fudan xuebao (Shehui kexue ban) 復旦學報(社會科學版)1 (2001): 46?
50 (especially 48?49); and Liu Ning 劉寧, ?Liu Yiming dandao lun zhong de
xing yu ming? 劉一明丹道論中的性與命, Zongjiaoxue yanjiu 3 (2007): 47?50,
109 The other two versions are found in Xingming guizhi, ?Yuan? 元, 9b?10a
(translated in Darga, Das alchemistische Buch von innerem Wesen und
Lebensenergie, 72?73); and in Dong Dening?s Zhouyi cantong qi zhengyi 周易參
同契正義 (The Correct Meaning of the Seal of the Unity of the Three in
Accordance with the Book of Changes; Daozang jinghua lu 道藏精華錄 ed.), 2.86.
On Liu Yiming?s views of xing and ming see Liu Ning, ?Liu Yiming dandao lun
zhong de xing yu ming,? and Bai Xiantang 白嫻棠 , ??Xingming shuangxiu? shiyu
xia Liu Yiming de ?dao? ?de? lun pouxi?「性命雙修」視域下劉一明的「道」「德」論剖
析, Zongjiaoxue yanjiu 1 (2012): 53?57.
Destiny, Vital Force, or Existence? 207
(a) True and False Xing and Ming
In an essay entitled ?True and False Xing and Ming? (?Zhenjia
xingming? 真性命), Liu Yiming describes the four kinds of xing
and ming as follows:
Concerning xing, there are a xing consisting in what is bestowed by
Heaven, and a xing consisting in one?s character. Concerning ming,
there are a ming consisting in the destiny given by Heaven, and a
ming consisting in the Breath of the Dao (daoqi).
The xing that is bestowed by Heaven is innate knowledge and innate
capacity. It is what ?possesses all principles and responds to the ten
The xing that is one?s character can be worthy or foolish, wise or
inept. The endowed Breath differs in purity and impurity, in goodness
The ming that is the destiny given by Heaven can last a short or a
long time, and can meet exhaustion or flow without hindrances.
Wealth and honor, hardship or prosperity differ in range and are
The ming that is the Breath of the Dao is irm and strong, pure and
lawless; in it, life and death are equal, and it continuously preserves
itself for numberless eons. Heaven and Earth do not go against it, and
yin and yang do not adhere to it.110
110 Xiuzhen houbian, 8a; Pregadio, trans., Cultivating the Tao, 43?44. The
expression translated as ?destiny given by Heaven? (tianshu zhi ming 天數之命,
lit., ?destiny consisting in Heaven?s numbers?) refers especially to the length of
one?s life. The terms ?innate knowledge? (liangzhi) and ?innate capacity?
(liangneng) derive from Mengzi, 13:15: ?What one is able to do without
learning is innate capacity; what one knows without pondering is innate
knowledge.? The sentence translated in quotation marks is drawn from Zhu Xi?s
朱熹 (1130?1200) Mengzi jizhu 孟子集註 (Siku quanshu 四庫全書 ed.), 7.1a.
208 Fabrizio Pregadio
After this passage, Liu Yiming adds that the xing given by Heaven
and the ming that is the Breath of the Dao are the ?true? (zhen 真 )
xing and ming, while one?s character and destiny are the ?false? (jia
) xing and ming.
The most complex of the four deinitions is the one concerning
ming as the ?Breath of the Dao? (daoqi 道氣). The corresponding
passages in the two other versions of this discourse have ?form and
Breath? (xingqi 形氣 ) and ?form and body? (xingti 形體 ),
respectively. Clearly all of these terms refer to ming as one?s
embodiment, but Liu Yiming emphasizes that this embodiment
occurs in the irst place within the One Breath (yiqi 一氣) of the
Dao, the state of Unity prior to multiplicity. Being not manifested
in space and time, this embodiment ?preserves itself for numberless
eons,? and for it ?life and death are equal.? In another work, Liu
Ming is Heaven?s mandate. This is not the ming of having a short or a
long life. It is, instead, the ming in which having a short or a long life
are not two different things.111
The unmanifested embodiment corresponding to this primal ming
is what Li Daochun and other Neidan authors, including Liu
Yiming himself, call ?dharma-body.? Only secondarily does ming
manifest itself as one?s physical existence, subjected to birth and
death and to a particular ?destiny? and life span; and only under
this second aspect is ming related to ?fate? and length of life.
Liu Yiming does not hesitate to call the second aspect of ming
?false,? a deinition to be understood in relation to the reality of the
irst aspect of ming. Analogously, one?s character or personality is
?false? in relation to the true xing bestowed by Heaven. However,
according to Liu Yiming, by means of self-cultivation the true
aspects of xing and ming can transform the respective false aspects:
If those who cultivate the Dao know how to cultivate the xing that is
bestowed by Heaven, they can use it to transform the xing that is
111 Wudao lu 悟道錄 (Records of an Awakening to the Dao), 27a.
Destiny, Vital Force, or Existence? 209
one?s character. If they know how to cultivate the ming that is the
Breath of the Dao, they can use it to change the ming that is the
destiny given by Heaven. When they do this, they realize the Way of
xing and ming.112
?Choosing ming,? in this view, consists in returning to one?s primal
ming, and this is the way to change one?s destiny. But how does
Heaven respond to those who intend to take their destiny in their
own hands and change it?
(b) ?Heaven does not Go against Him?
Liu Yiming?s answer to the above question is closely related to his
views on the function of Neidan. In another discussion of xing and
ming, he mentions the terms External Medicine and Internal
Medicine, also used by Li Daochun in one of the passages discussed
above. While Liu Yiming understands these terms in the same sense
as does Li Daochun, he explains their purport by means of
sentences found in the Yijing:
The Internal Medicine fulills one?s xing; this is the same as saying
that ?when he follows Heaven, he abides by the times of Heaven.?
The External Medicine fulills one?s ming; this is the same as saying
that ?when he precedes Heaven, Heaven does not go against him.?113
In the Yijing, both sentences describe the person who ?accords in
virtue with Heaven and Earth.?114 Liu Yiming, instead, uses them to
describe the two main aspects or stages of the Neidan practice,
respectively concerned with ming and with xing:
112 Xiuzhen houbian, 8a; Pregadio, trans., Cultivating the Tao, 44.
113 Xiuzhen biannan 修真辨難 (Discriminations on Dificult Points in Cultivating
Reality), 4a. The Xiuzhen houbian, quoted above, is a sequel to this work. There
are several shared passages in the two texts, and in fact a fourth version of the
discourse discussed above is found in the Biannan, 5a?b.
114 Yijing, ?Wenyan zhuan? 文 言 傳 (?Commentary on the Words of the Text?) on
the hexagram Qian ☰.
?[Heaven] does not go against him? means that, using the Way of
inverting the course (ni), you take action ahead of events (xianfa
zhiren). By doing so, you ?seize creation and transformation? and
coagulate the Elixir. 115
?He abides by the times [of Heaven]? means that, using the Way of
following the course (shun), you apply the natural ire phases. By
doing so, you merge the ive agents and deliver the Elixir.
The former and the latter are two stages of the practice; therefore we
speak of the conjoined cultivation of xing and ming. The Internal and
the External [Medicines] are equally cultivated; therefore we speak of
the twofold operation of inverting the course and following the
Cultivating ming, according to this passage, is equivalent to
inverting the course (ni 逆 ) of creation. This corresponds to the irst
stage or aspect of Neidan, when one transcends the limitations of
the cosmic domain by inverting the sequence through which the
Dao generates Spirit, Breath, and Essence and gives birth to the ten
thousand things. Even though inverting this sequence amounts to
?seizing creation and transformation,? Heaven does not object to
this, because inverting the course results in returning to the original
?mandate of Heaven.? In the second stage or aspect of the practice,
having completed the inversion process, one performs the opposite
movement, realizing one?s Nature by following the course (shun 順)
of life and by ?abiding by the times of Heaven.?
The movements of ascent to the principle and of re-descent to
115 The expression used by Liu Yiming, found in many other Neidan texts, derives
from the Ruyao jing: ?Steal Heaven and Earth, seize creation and
transformation? 盜天地,奪造化 . See Ruyao jing zhujie, 6b.
116 Xiuzhen biannan, 4a. The ?natural ire phases? (tianran huohou 天然火候) are
not intentionally timed according to a predetermined sequence, as is usually
done in Neidan, but occur spontaneously. ?Delivering? (tuo 脫) the Elixir is
related to the image of the Elixir as an embryo, which undergoes conception,
gestation, and birth through the alchemical practice.
Destiny, Vital Force, or Existence? 211
the manifested world are distinct, but there is no interval between
them, and the latter is only the continuation of the former. What
distinguishes the two movements is the fact that the point of arrival
is by no means the same as the point of departure: while one at
irst uses (?borrows,? jie 借) the postcelestial in order to ascend to
the precelestial, one then ?transforms? (hua 化 ) the postcelestial by
means of the precelestial: the two domains become one. In fact,
even the distinction between xing and ming fades as one reaches
the highest point of the ascensional course, and the movement of
re-descent allows one to realize both. Liu Yiming clariies these
points when he says:
To cultivate the postcelestial xing and ming, one follows the course of
creation and transformation. To cultivate the precelestial xing and
ming, one inverts the course of creation and transformation.
Those who practice the great cultivation borrow the postcelestial in
order to return to the precelestial, and cultivate the precelestial in
order to transform the postcelestial. When the precelestial and the
postcelestial inchoately become one, when xing and ming coagulate
with one another, this is called ?achieving the Elixir.?117
?Inverting the course,? therefore, is the way to return to one?s
original ming and thereby to attain one?s xing, while ?following the
course? is the way to manifest one?s xing and thereby to realize
(c) Having a Short Life Span: The Case of Yan Hui
In the perspective described by Liu Yiming and by the masters who
share this view of Neidan, cultivating and realizing ming is different
from extending one?s life span: not all those who enjoy a long life
have fulilled their ming, and the opposite is also true. Neidan
117 Xiuzhen biannan, 4a.
212 Fabrizio Pregadio
literature includes several replies to the famous question of why
Yan Hui 顏回, Confucius? favorite disciple, intellectually bright and
morally lawless, had a ?short ming? (duanming 短命 ) and died at a
young age.118 The most elaborate of these replies is given by Liu
Yiming. In reading his words, it is useful to remember that, through
the Zhuangzi, Yan Hui also became a paragon of Daoist practice,
so accomplished that Zhuangzi turns him into Confucius? master in
the art of ?sitting and forgetting? (zuowang 坐忘).119 Answering the
objection of a disciple, who observed that Yan Hui should have
been able to ?fulill his ming? (liaoming) but instead had a ?short
life span,? Liu Yiming replies:
Fulilling or not fulilling one?s ming should be distinguished according
to the principles of the Dao, and should not be investigated on the
basis of the illusory [bodily] form (huanxing). Those who have not
fulilled the Dao may be alive but look as if they are dead; those who
are able to fulill the Dao may be dead but look as if they are alive. In
fact, what dies is the illusory form, and what does not die is the Dao.
Master Yan obtained the Dao of Confucius; he dwelled ?where others
would not have endured the distress,?120 and he delighted himself
therein. ?Whenever he got hold of what was good, he earnestly
cherished it without going astray.?121 He had obtained the precelestial
Breath of True Unity, and he had reverted to the root and had
returned to the mandate; he was not seized by yin and yang, and he
had attained the position of a sage.
Since he was not attached to this illusory body, he could die at any
time. With regard to the predicament caused by the people of Kuang,
[Yan Hui] told Confucius: ?While you are alive, how would I dare
118 In addition to the passage quoted below, two other examples are found in
Zhonghe ji, 3.11a, and Minghe yuyin 鳴鶴餘音 (Echoes of the Call of Cranes,
DZ 1100), 3.19b.
119 ?Yen Hui said, ?I smash up my limbs and body, drive out perception and
intellect, cast off form, do away with understanding, and make myself identical
with the Great Thoroughfare. This is what I mean by sitting down and
forgetting everything.? Confucius said, ?. . . So you really are a worthy man after
all! With your permission, I?d like to become your follower.?? Zhuangzi, ch. 6;
Burton Watson, trans., The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu (New York:
Columbia University Press, 1968), 90?91.
120 Lunyu, 6.11.
121 Zhongyong 中庸 (Doctrine of the Mean), sec. 8.
Destiny, Vital Force, or Existence? 213
die??122 This sufices to see that life and death depend on oneself and
do not depend on Heaven.123
居「人 不 堪 其 憂」之 地,而 樂 在 其 中。「得 一 善,則 拳 拳 服 膺,而 弗 失
According to Liu Yiming, Yan Hui?s early death is not something that
?depends on Heaven,? in whose regard Yan Hui was impeccable;
having ?reverted to the root and returned to the mandate? (Daode
jing), his destiny was in his own hands. One could take this as one
of the Neidan readings of the famous Daoist statement, ?My destiny
is in me and not in Heaven? (wo ming zai wo, bu zai tian 我命在我,
不在天): as knowledge of one?s original ming transforms one?s
ordinary ming, fate and life span rest on oneself.
As we have seen, the Neidan discourse on ming cannot be disjoined
from its discourse on xing. Xing and ming are said to have a
common origin, and their separation relects the division of Unity
into the Two; but even in their separate condition, they are two
aspects of the same principle. Their interdependence is formulated
according to two models:
(1) Precelestial xing?Postcelestial ming;
(2) Precelestial xing and ming?Postcelestial xing and ming.
122 Lunyu, 11:23. This refers to the episode that happened in Kuang 匡, where
Confucius, mistaken for a wrongdoer, was detained and lost sight of Yan Hui.
When the two met again, Confucius said: ?I thought you had died,? and Yan
Hui replied with the words reported above.
123 Xiuzhen biannan, 30b?31a. For the last sentence, see Wuzhen pian, ?Jueju,?
poem no. 54 (Wang Mu, Wuzhen pian qianjie, 118): ?Ingest the one grain of
the numinous Elixir, let it enter your belly, and for the irst time you will know
that your destiny does not depend on Heaven? 一粒靈丹吞入腹,始知我命不由天 .
214 Fabrizio Pregadio
In the irst model, xing is the foundation of ming, and ming is the
operation of xing. Here xing is one?s true ?being?; it is a
superpersonal or superindividual principle, related to Spirit and
analogous or identical to the Buddha-nature; it is formless and
therefore is unchangeable; and it pertains to one?s ?heart? or
?mind.? Ming is the operation of this central essence in the course
of one?s life. It is related to Breath; it takes effect in the world of
form and therefore it is subject to change; and it pertains to one?s
individual existence as a person or a body. If xing is the principle
that rules on one?s ?being,? ming is the principle that rules on one?s
The second model?where the employed terminology sufices to
show the roles that Buddhism and Neo-Confucianism play in
Neidan?includes the views of the irst one but is more complex.
Both xing and ming have an absolute, precelestial aspect and a
conditioned, postcelestial aspect. The precelestial xing is the celestial
mind or the mind of the Dao. In the conditioned state, this
quiescent xing is obscured by the mental activities of cognition and
other psychological phenomena, especially attachment and desires.
This is ?the xing consisting in one?s character.? Analogously, the
precelestial ming is the ?dharma-body.? In the conditioned state,
this quiescent ming is obscured by one?s intercourse with the world
through the physical body and the senses. This is ?the ming
consisting in one?s destiny.? The second aspect of ming relies on a
quality and a quantity of Breath or ?vital force? that differ for each
human being; this ?vital force,? though, is not ming itself, but only
one of its aspects.
In both models, ming is in the irst place the ?decree? or the
?mandate? given by Heaven, or by the Dao, that causes one?s
124 To use the Indian metaphor of the wheel (cakra), xing is the central empty hub,
and ming is the set of spokes that are held together in the hub and end at the
felly, the rim, through which the wheel?one?s individual constitution as a
whole?is in contact with the earth, or the world (compare the use of the term
Barrier of Ming to denote the feet, mentioned in note 33 above). The hub is the
intelligence, and the spokes are the existence. Neither the hub nor the spokes
could do without the other; however, the central hub, being empty, is untouched
by the movement of the spokes. This metaphor is relevant to Daoism and
Neidan: see Daode jing, sec. 11.
Destiny, Vital Force, or Existence? 215
embodiment; it is nothing more and nothing less than the ?order to
exist? imparted to each individual being. Some Neidan traditions
understand this ?mandate? as destiny, especially with regard to
one?s length of life; in this view, alchemical and other practices can
extend or enhance one?s ?vital force? and therefore can prolong
one?s lifetime. Other traditions, instead, make a clear distinction
between ming as the ?mandate to exist? and ming as ?destiny.?
Here the ?mandate? consists in the irst place in the ?dharma-body,?
an unmanifested embodiment that has no temporal or spatial
existence and is devoid of birth or death. This is ?the body that has
been clear and quiescent for countless eons? (Li Daochun) and that
?continuously preserves itself for numberless eons? (Liu Yiming).
With the division of Unity into multiplicity, the unmanifested
?dharma-body? takes form as an individual being that exists in
space and time and undergoes birth and death. Only then ming can
be understood as ?existence? and can be identified with the
sequence of events that forms one?s ?destiny.?125
The relation between the ?dharma-body? and the ordinary
body is the same as the one between the ?celestial mind? and the
ordinary mind. One may say that xing pertains to the mind and
ming pertains to the body, but in the view of at least some of the
authors surveyed above, this is correct only if ?mind? and ?body?
are meant in a sense in which the psychological mind and the
physical body are the inal determinations of two unmanifested
principles?the ?dharma-body? and the ?celestial mind.? In this
inal determination, ming is one?s individual existence as one of the
myriad forms in the world of form. 126 Considering this, it seems to
me that the dictionary glosses of ming as ?name,? seen at the
125 With regard to this point, it seems impossible to avoid recalling the passage of
the Zhuangzi, ch. 12, that states: ?In the not-yet-formed there are divisions but
no intervals: this is called ming? 未形者有分,且然無間,謂之命. According to
this passage, one?s ming is already determined in the state of formlessness,
before the subdivision into separate forms?the ?intervals??comes forth. This
primal, formless ming is the same as the ?dharma-body.?
126 To recur again to the metaphor used above, if the wheel is now the universal
manifestation, each individual existence is a smaller wheel whose hub is placed
on a particular point of one of the spokes. This image helps to explain the
whole concept of ?gradation,? whereby each individual existence is different
from all others.
216 Fabrizio Pregadio
beginning of this article, are signiicant. Names perform a function
analogous to forms in identifying each object as such and in
distinguishing it from other objects: having an individual name is
an aspect of having an individual ming.
As xing and ming are originally a single principle, they should
be returned to their state of unity. This is where the discourse and
the practices of Neidan in the strict sense begin. The reconjunction
of xing and ming occurs through their ?conjoined cultivation.? As
we have seen, this is done by integrating with one another two
emblematic modes of cultivation, each of which gives priority to
one of the two principles but includes or culminates in cultivating
the other. Assuming that Neidan deals only with the body, and
neglecting or denying the signiicance of these different modes of
self-cultivation, would empty of meaning not only the idea of
?conjoined cultivation,? but also the entire Neidan discourse on
xing and ming.
?Choosing ming? in Neidan may have two main meanings. In
the irst meaning, while xing is unchangeable and has no beginning
or end, ming has limits that an individual may be able to modify to
some extent; this includes the idea of ?extending ming? in the sense
of increasing one?s vital force and prolonging one?s physical
existence. In the second meaning, working on ming in order to
extend one?s lifetime would be a worthless undertaking, as this
would beneit only the ?false? physical body. Returning to ming, in
this view, means returning to the mandate given by Heaven: one?s
embodiment as part and parcel of the Breath of the Dao. As shown
in the clearest way by Liu Yiming?s comments on Yan Hui, this
embodiment has nothing to do with one?s life span: ?Since he was
not attached to this illusory body, he could die any time.?
Choosing this ming requires both inverting and following the
ordinary course of existence. As Liu Yiming points out, these two
aspects operate together but are also distinguished from one
another. Using the postcelestial domain as the starting point of the
ascent to the precelestial domain, one irst returns to one?s original
ming. This involves ?seizing creation and transformation? but
Heaven does not oppose, for ?inverting the course? means returning
to the mandate of Heaven. Then one continues and completes the
course: descending again to the world and realizing the identity of
Destiny, Vital Force, or Existence? 217
precelestial and postcelestial, one ?follows the course? and complies
with Heaven?s times.
Daoism: Religion, History and Society, No. 6 (2014), 157?218