Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Elixir as Embryo

The Elixir as Embryo
The picture shown here is very well known. It was first made popular in the West, I believe, by Richard Wilhelm's translation of the Jinhua zongzhi, or Secret of the Golden Flower. (The picture itself comes, however, from another text, the Xingming guizhi, or Teachings on the Joint Cultivation of Nature and Life.)

This picture gives a different representation of the Elixir compared to the one given by Liu Yiming (see the previous post). Here the Elixir is shown as an embryo.

One of the interesting points about this and similar pictures concerns the "actuality" of the embryo. With regard to this, Wu Shouyang (1574-1644) says in his Tianxian zhengli zhilun (Straightforward Discourses on the Correct Principles of Celestial Immortality — I have italicized a few sentences):
The Embryo is nothing but Spirit and Breath. It does not mean that there is truly an infant; it does not mean that it is something provided with a form and an image. . . . It is like an embryo in a womb: it does not breathe but cannot be without breathing; existence and extinction coexist with one another, coming and going are together with one another. It is like the coming to life of an actual embryo, therefore one uses the metaphors of "becoming pregnant," "moving the embryo," and "delivering the embryo."
The three expressions at the end of this passage refer to the three main stages of the Neidan practice.

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