April 15, 2007 at 12:45 am #21990
Thoughts on nourishing the embryo
by Dr. Kumoda Noko
Some Six Dynasties texts describe practices through which an adept conceives an immortal self, nurtures it, and is reborn into an immortal as though giving birth to an infant. These practices are at the origins of neidan, and the immortal self that is conceived through them is the prototype of the inner elixir. To illustrate this point, I will compare the technique of compounding the inner elixir in the Wuzhen pian (Folios on Awakening to Reality; preface dated 1075), the main source on neidan during the Song period, and the way of nurturing the “inner child” as described in the Laozi zhongjing (Central Scripture of Laozi), a text dating from the Six Dynasties.
The ingredients of the Golden Elixir in the Wuzhen pian represent Yin within Yang and Yang within Yin, and are further subdivided among the “four emblems” (sixiang, i.e., Wood, Fire, Metal, and Water). The “four emblems” are said to meet at wuji (the Center), which corresponds to Soil among the five agents. In other words, with wuji as a “go-between” (meipin), the “four emblems” that emerge from the differentiation of Yin and Yang converge into a single form, which is the elixir. The elixir is heated for ten symbolic months, during which it is circulated within the body until it matures. After the ten months it loses its Yin qualities and turns into Pure Yang (chunyang). It forms a “holy embryo” (shengtai) and is eventually “delivered” (tuotai).
On the other hand, the Laozi zhongjing presents the body as a pantheon inhabited by a large number of gods. A pair of male and female deities, the King Father of the East (Dongwang fu) and the Queen Mother of the West (Xiwang mu), positioned at the eyes or the breasts, represent the Sun and the Moon. The adept visualizes the conjunction of the essences and pneumas (jing and qi) of the Sun and the Moon and their circulation from the top to the bottom of the body, through the heart, the spleen, the gallbladder, the stomach, and finally the lower Cinnabar Field (dantian). When the essences and pneumas enter the stomach, they are given to the resident god, Zidan (Child-Cinnabar), in order to nourish him. Zidan is also called the “red child” (i.e., the “infant,” chizi) or the “real self” (zhenwu).
On the surface, the essences and pneumas of the Sun and the Moon in the Laozi zhongjing do not seem to correspond to the “four emblems” (Wood, Fire, Metal, and Water) as do the elixir ingredients in the Wuzhen pian. However, since those essences and pneumas are ingested by an inner god who resides in the stomach, which in the system of the five agents corresponds to the central Soil, one can see that the Laozi zhongjing also describes a practice in which Yin and Yang, after their differentiation, converge and become one at Soil. The framework of the technique of nurturing the inner gods during the Six Dynasties is therefore close to the neidan theory of the Wuzhen pian. However, it should also be pointed out that the generation of the inner elixir is not the final goal of neidan, where the practice described above inaugurates further processes of mental and spiritual cultivation. Similarly, one should not isolate a single aspect of the techniques of nurturing the inner gods during the Six Dynasties and apply to it the term neidan.
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