The seven stages of Daoist internal spiritual cultivation I teach were originally transmitted to me by Mantak Qia from 1981-85. Chia received his transmission from a Daoist Hermit named One Cloud, who had achieved the breatharian state. One Cloud lived on qi alone for some years while living in a cave on Long White Mountain (Changbaishan) in northeastern China. During the Japanese War in 1949, One Cloud walked to southeastern China, and settled in the mountains behind Kong Kong, where Mantak Chia studied with him in the early 60’s. One Cloud left his body at age 96.
One Cloud’s Seven Alchemy Formulas to Achieve the True Immortal Self are similar to those mentioned in thousand year old texts known as the Dao Canon (1160 books of the Daoist “bible”). These formulas are attributed to Lu Dong Bin, one of China’s revered Eight Immortals and the patron “saint” of Inner Alchemy. The core methods themselves are undoubtedly thousands of years older, passed down by strict oral transmission and held in deepest secrecy. It took many generations of masters to refine the great spiritual truths into seven practical alchemical stages. These Seven Formulas are the spiritual crown jewels of Chinese civilization.
Even today, most Chinese students – and Chinese qigong and meditation teachers – do not have access to these inner alchemy methods. On a recent trip to Huashan, one of the most sacred Daoist mountains in China, I described some of these alchemical formulas to my good friend the vice abbot. We had had many long talks about Daoism on previous visits, but I was always careful to not probe into his personal practice or discuss mine.
But the abbot had finally opened up, and taught a stage of Huashan inner alchemy to a group of my Western students – the first time in Huashan’s 3000 year written history. So I shared with him my own practice and the structure of the Seven Alchemy Formulas. He gasped in surprise, and was so shocked he could hardly speak. “These are very secret methods”, he said. “There are very few Daoists here in China who even know of what you speak.”
When I asked him the reason for the great secrecy, he replied, “because the ancients kept it secret”. He then added, “Those who are lucky enough to find a teacher often join the School of Seclusion, which believes the knowledge should be kept hidden except to one or two worthy students. This is the Chinese way.”
We are in a time period where formerly secret esoteric mysteries from many cultures are being shared. My belief is that these Inner Alchemy practices are surfacing in the West because cultural conditions are not currently conducive to their release in China. The weight of thousands of years of tradition preserved the alchemy practices, but is too great today to allow change.
These practices are needed to stimulate the birth of a new global spiritual science for the benefit of all humanity. That is why these teachings are being publicly offered to sincere seekers in the West for the first time in history – without groveling at anyone’s feet. If you feel spiritually attracted to them and feel worthy within yourself to receive these teachings, then you deserve the right to learn them. Why should any human be denied the opportunity of achieving true spiritual independence?
A parallel tradition of Western internal alchemy also exists, but it has largely been lost or fragmented. I was fortunate to have a high level spirit-body teacher (a Western Immortal) to train me in Western alchemy as well, from which I gained deep insights. The principles of the Eastern and Western traditions of alchemy are identical, but the Western methods are more “fire” centered, which translates into the dominance of matter by spirit. The “above” is used to control and transform the “below”.
I found the Daoist Water and Fire alchemy practices to be more body-centered, and thus more grounded and appropriate for Westerners at this time. They emphasize the “below” realizing the “above” is hidden within itself. One Cloud’s Daoist Water and Fire approach translates into the liberation of the spirit hidden within matter-body, and the rebirthing of deep earth consciousness. It is the feminine discovering that yang fire is its true inner nature. I am sharing them because I feel they penetrate and resolve the problem of the BODY which plagues so many meditatorsseeking perfect union with Spirit.
I myself once had this problem, of wanting to get out of my body so that my meditations would be more perfect. It was a rude awakening for me to realize my desire was not for transcendence, it was at core escapist. What was I escaping? The difficulty of staying here, of living in a body. I was escaping my failure to recognize and accept the spiritual nature of the physical body. I falsely believed if I opened my third eye and went out my crown, that my spiritual journey was complete. My kundalini was wide open, but I was only using it to go one way, instead of seeing its circular-cyclical nature.
I was denying how essential the body is to full enlightenment. I now make a distinction between those achieving “head enlightenment” and those achieving “whole body enlightenment”. They are very different experiences. All meditation methods are wonderful gifts. Alchemy is a special kind of meditative gift that is dynamic, accepts the sexual nature of the body, and seeks to refine the entire body into an elevated spiritual state.
Internal alchemy in China is called neidangong, or “inner elixir skill”. It is not to be confused with external alchemy, an art which arose much later during the Han Dynasty (200 b.c.) and involves the laboratory manipulation of substances external to the human body. Laboratory alchemy is more accurately described as a spagyric art rather than an alchemical art . External alchemy is a much later offshoot of internal alchemy. This position is accepted by such prominent scholars as Mircea Eliade in his history of alchemy, The Forge and the Crucible. There is a misconception floating about that because Daoist adepts and Emperors died from ingesting mercury, that internal alchemy was invented as a later alternative.
Many modern people fantasize about Daoist immortality formulas and use it too spice up kung fu novels or add spiritual romance to movies. Armchair philosophers of the Dao love to speculate about its meaning, and play with its arcane symbols and code words. But how many have understood this is an accessible human science, or really experienced its reality, its power to shape and embody reality?
The Daoist concept of immortality does not mean you live physically forever. Immortality means you achieve spiritual integration of your authentic self (zhenren).
Your authentic Self is immortal because it has the power to survive the transition of physical death and continues its life in higher dimensions. This process requires integrating the physical body’s sexual essence (jing), the energy body (qi), and the spirit body (shen) into a functional state of total openness (wu) to the multi-dimensionality of the present moment. The spiritual power of manifestation hidden within the sexual essence is most critical to cultivating what is known as a “golden light body” or the authentic immortal Self. Without the sexual essence being properly cultivated, the crystallization of one’s spirit does not occur.
Cultivating this high level of harmony and balance requires a progressive training of the body’s sexual essence (jing ), the mind (qi), and the spirit (shen) within a state of total openness (wu). The purpose of the training is to accelerate transformations that might take Nature many lifetimes to accomplish. Inner Alchemy is a precise step-by-step process, and each step builds on the next. Using One Cloud’s structure, I have added my own refinements based on study with many masters and decades of practice and teaching.
Part of the challenge of training Western students is to get them past the Chinese language problems that prevent easy access to alchemical practice. There are also English language problems that confuse spiritual development with vague or even false concepts.
Here is my summary of the most valuable methods to pass through these seven stages.
Note: These formulas are best studied with a live teacher, in a supportive “group cauldron”, but that is not always possible. Audio-video home study courses of the first five formulas are available on this site. To encourage home study students to attend live retreats, any student who purchases a home course package (code “MP”) will receive a rebate of nearly half their money back if they later decide to attend that same live retreat at Healing Tao University or elsewhere with me.
Seven Alchemy Formulas of Immortality
as taught by Michael Winn
Purification, grounding, and centering through various forms of qigong (meditation as movement). Examples:
- Ocean Breathing to open dantien,
- Five Animals & Six Healing Sounds to purify organs.
- Chi Nei Tsang (Deep Organ Massage) to detoxify.
- Iron Shirt & Internal Chi Breathing & Rooting to ground.
- Healing Love to recharge, harmonize, spiritually guide sexual energy.
- Tai Chi Chuan, Ba Gua Chuan, other internal martial arts to refine and express outward qi flow using body movement.
- Primordial Qigong (spiritual tai chi) movement ceremony to return qi flow to its Origin in the wuji (Supreme Unknown).
1st Formula of Inner Alchemy
1a. Inner Smile to radiate Heart Presence of spirit body into the physical body-mind and the larger body of humanity and nature. Perhaps the simplest and thus most profound practice of all, used to integrate outer life with inner meditation.
1b. Microcosmic Orbit to contain and store qi of Energy Body. It is a dynamic meditation creating a balanced, yin-yang flow of perpetual golden light qi circling around the spine and chest. Also known as “small heavenly round” or “embryonic breathing”, this meditation balances the pre-natal qi (from Heaven) and post-natal blood (from Earth, body, and ancestors) and stabilizes all yin-yang qi flow in the meridians.
1c. Fusion of the Five Elements 1 is about harmonizing the five phases of qi flow (wu xing). Fusion 1 practice transforms negative emotions into positive, virtuous qi flow. It harmonizes the Five Shen, the biological-psychological intelligences of the personal self. In this practice these Five Vital Organ spirits, also known as the “Interior Gods”, fuse their essence and natural virtue ( de) into a pearl of original qi (yuan qi) in the belly cauldron (lower dantian).
1d. Fusion of Five Elements 2 and 3. The pearl activates the yin-yang pulsation of the eight cosmic forces (I Ching trigram energy) that flow into the Eight Extraordinary Vessels of the human body. These deep energy channels form the blue print or matrix of our personal Energy Body, and supplies the twelve regular meridians with qi.
When these eight psychic energy channels are activated, they collectively open the Macrocosmic Orbit (or “large heavenly round”) and can heal at a very deep level. Faster and far more powerful than acupuncture or herbs for healing chronic illness. This practice opens deep awareness of qi field beyond the body, hence its reputation for awakening psychic powers (known as the eight Siddhas in a parallel Indian tradition).
2nd Formula of Inner Alchemy
- Inner Sexual Alchemy or Lesser Enlightenment of Kan and Lii (Water & Fire). This practice presupposes some skill in the Daoist external sexual cultivation art of semen retention for men and partial lessening of the menstrual cycle in women. (see Tao of Sex home study course). The Kan & Li method of “spiritual self-intercourse” couples primal fire and water qi in the body. This dissolves the personal mind-body split (and its resulting diseases) by coupling and unifying all male and female soul fragments in the lower belly cauldron (the navel center), our center of gravity.
When primal fire and water qi are “steamed” in the belly, it produces original qi that dissolves deep genetic patterns. It opens our Inner Eye and our ability to “see” inside our body and matter. This meditation creates a feeling of spiritual pregnancy, a deep body bliss known as the formation of the “immortal embryo”.
3rd Formula of Inner Alchemy
- Sun-Moon Alchemy, or Greater Enlightenment of Kan and Li (Water & Fire). It advances the previous level integrates the 5 inner essences of the personal self with the 5 directional forces of the planetary self (north, south, east, & west meeting in the center of earth) at the solar plexus cauldron.
The powers of the Sun and Moon “cook” the planetary essences and are coupled to spiritually birth the “immortal child” or the greater elixir. It is the experience of our reborn inner self playing in the outer fields of reality. This dissolves the boundary between the adept and nature (including humanity) and dissolves many geo-mantic (feng shui) and ancestral patterns that need healing.
4th Formula of Inner Alchemy
- Planet and Soul Alchemy, or Greatest Enlightenment of Kan and Li. This third Water & Fire practice integrates the 5 body spirit-essences of the personal self and the 5 planetary forces of the collective Solar system Self (symbolized by the Sun) in the middle cauldron at the heart. This is “living astrology”, in which cosmic forces are interiorized inside the body, where they continue to function through planetary tones (music of the spheres).
It involves, for example, direct experience of and making friends with the planetary spirit of Saturn, the ruler of the earth element, the core unity of living matter and controller of the astrological forces of manifestation. Successful practice removes all fear of death and dissolves deep karmic patterns of resistance and struggle that plague humanity. This allows us to clearly receive and transmit our inner solar logos or Way of knowing, the maturation of our Inner Sage or Immortal Self.
5th Formula of Inner Alchemy
- Star Alchemy, or Sealing of the Five Senses. This unifies the five shen, the five streams of personal consciousness that operate through our senses, with the five forces of the collective Stellar Self. The body of our stellar mind can be viewed in the four quadrants of fixed stars in the night sky, originally symbolized by heraldic animals (Black Turtle, Red Phoenix, Green Dragon, White Tiger).
The fifth, the quintessence, is the Purple Pole Star in the center of the sky, with the Great Bear of the Big Dipper marking the progression of the seasons as its handles rotates like the arm of a cosmic clock. These personal and stellar essences are fused in the upper dantian, the cauldron in the head. This is the process of our Inner Sage attaining the stellar logos, celestial level of immortality.
The pure open space connecting the three cauldrons is integrated. This stabilizes the celestial axis and activates what Lao Tzu calls the “Great Tone”. Profound peace and different spiritual qualities continuously manifest from this activated core and radiate sonically into our physical becoming. Our soul pattern expands its conscious destiny to include dimensions of life beyond the physical plane.
6th Formula of Inner Alchemy
- Heaven and Earth Alchemy, or the Congress of Heaven and Earth. This practice integrates the Early Heaven or formless Self with the Later Heaven (Earth) physical Self. The Self here identifies itself here with two dimensions that co-exist and co-create: the “formless form” of our being and the “substantial form” of our becoming. These two polar dimensions of our greater Self engage in cosmic sex. They couple in order to re-open the portal to their Original state, or “Pre-Self”. This pre-state or Primordial Heaven is called hundun, the primal chaos-unity that preceded the “big bang” of the cosmic egg cracking open.
The Three Originals (san yuan) of Heaven, Earth, and Humanity are gathered in the three body cauldrons as original jing, original qi, and original shen. This three-tone harmonic chord is resonated with the fundamental or original tone of time and space. Consciousness then stabilizes in the axial center where our true multi-dimensional nature can now be embodied. This is symbolized by a tonal double vortex spinning faster than the speed of light within the void of space. Into this is fused our inner sage’s immortal presence, the quintessence of humanity meditating in the center of a cosmic torus (spiritual black hole). We must enter this portal to complete our journey of Return to the Origin.
(Note: this course is taught once every two years; the audio tapes are not sold to the public. Live transmission of this subtle level I consider essential.).
7th Formula of Inner Alchemy
- Union of Human and Dao. This stage is the integration of the six previous levels of consciousness into the experience of living simultaneously in the present moment in all dimensions, from physical linear time to spirit’s eternal time. This state cannot be fully known or defined conceptually for others. From my limited glimpse of it I would say it is the experience of living fully in the wuji, the Supreme Unknown — which I define as the godhead without a ruling god.
This is the true achievement of the authentic or Immortal Self, a permanent state of grace known as wu wei, “effortless action”, or “spontaneous action without acting”. Creation (of the manifest) and Return to Formless Origin seamlessly complete each other. I believe attainment of this seventh level is spontaneous, and happens when the inner will of our immortal sage within has reached complete alignment with the Dao. I am not yet qualified to teach this and frankly am not certain it is teachable. It may occur only by direct transmission from the Dao to the mature and receptive adept.
Eight Branches of the Great Dao
Daoist tradition often described itself as having Eight Classic Branches emanating from the ninth, the axial trunk of the Dao. Different writers describe these eight branches differently. Here is my favorite version:
- Neigong, which includes the Seven Formulas of Inner Alchemy (neidangong) and other forms of meditation. The stillness within the stillness of the mind is the source that bursts into the movement of Life in the other seven branches.
- Qigong, which also includes taiji chuan, bagua chuan, and all sacred dance. Moving meditation as a body-centered path of unfolding Nature’s inner patterns.
- Dao philosophy – I Ching sciences: cosmology, astrology, numerology, physiognomy (face reading), palmisty, divination, and the application of these principles to any natural science.
- Healing/medical arts: acupuncture, tuiina, deep organ massage, moxa.
- Sexology: fangzhi (bedroom arts), medical and spiritual.
- Feng shui: living (homes, offices) and dead (graves).
- Five element nutrition & herbology.
- Fine/expressive qi arts: music, singing, calligraphy, painting, sculpture, storytelling (today film and theatre).
Healing Tao USA and its parent Dao Alchemy Research Institute, Inc. (501c3) supports the adoption of these energy arts & sciences and their integration into all aspects of modern western culture: education, art, science, psychology, politics and medicine. If you are interested in supporting our efforts, your donation is greatly appreciated and is conveniently tax deductible. Please contact us at