Movement, objects, speech and words:
We communicate through gross symbols.
we call them “objective,”
But we cannot escape our point of view.
We cannot communicate directly from mind to mind, and so misinterpretation is a perennial problem. Motions, signs, talking, and the written word are all encumbered by miscommunication. A dozen eyewitnesses to the same event cannot agree on a single account. We may each see something different in cards set up by a circus magician. Therefore, we are forever imprisoned by our subjectivity.
Deng Ming-Dao (author)
Illustration of Inner Circulation (detail)
Qing dynasty, 19th century
Ink rubbing; ink on paper 133 x 56 cm
Richard Rosenblum Family Collection,
Newton Center, Massachusetts
cat. no. 133
Illustration of Inner Circulation
(see menu below to view each (subject in bold) and much closer and clearer view of scroll and its meaning)
This is a rubbing of a wood tablet formerly kept in the White Cloud Monastery, Beijing, and dated to 1886. It shows the internal torso of the human body as it is visualized during the practice of Inner Alchemy. The images are based primarily on two poems attributed to L¸ Dongbin included on the left side of the rubbing.
This representation of the human body is outlined on the right by a stream that represents the spinal cord; this stream allows yin and yang energy to flow through the body. Although the head is dominated by a chain of mountains representing yang energy, a stream flows through the mountains, suggesting yin within yang. The monk with raised arms and the old man sitting in the skull also represent yin and yang. The two dots between them (where the eyes would be) represent the sun and moon.
Unlike the head, which is dominated by the yang image of mountains, the lower part of the torso is dominated by the yin image of water. This water is made to flow upward toward the head by a girl and boy on treadmills (yin and yang). The water turns into fire as it rises up the spinal column, representing its transformation into yang energy. An elixir is formed in the lower abdomen, where four interlocking Taiji ("yin-yang") symbols hover over purifying flames.
The remaining images in the central torso also represent the flow of yin and yang energies through the body. Of particular note are the Herd Boy and Weaving Girl, two stars that the Chinese believe to be separated lovers that meet once a year in the sky. The Herd Boy stands in the heart, grasping the Northern Dipper (Big Dipper), and the Weaving Girl sits below him at her loom near the kidneys. They are joined by streams of energy represented by the ribbons that flow from their images.
INNER ALCHEMY AND ITS SYMBOLISM
While the highest gods of Taoism appeared spontaneously from the energies underlying all matter, it was also possible for a human being to reach such a state of spiritual purity that he or she was given a place in the hierarchy of celestial beings. In fact, this was the ultimate goal of most Taoist spiritual practices. Humans who became immortal were thus not only gods to be worshiped but also models whose lives were emulated by Taoist practitioners who hoped to become gods themselves.
Such immortals have a long history in Chinese thought that predates the establishment of religious Taoism. They are described as "perfected beings" well before the Han dynasty. The possibilities suggested by their ultimate spiritual perfection laid the foundation for the rise of magicians and religious specialists in the Han dynasty. The system of thought and belief developed by these early figures would form one of the cornerstones of Taoism.
In later times, immortals became popular figures in drama, which was closely related to Taoist ritual and often drew on Taoist legends. The most famous were the Eight Immortals, a loosely connected group of alchemists and spiritual masters believed to be the patriarchs of the Complete Realization sect, one of the major sects from the Yuan dynasty onward. These and other immortals, some of whom predate the Han dynasty, continue to be worshiped today and remain popular subjects in the visual, performing, and literary arts.
Five Phases the relationship of nature's five elements (water, wood, fire, metal, and earth) to various natural cycles and phenomena. In Taoism, each of the five elements corresponds to a time of day, direction, and season. Movement from one phase to the next occurs in defined sequences. For instance, water (night, north, winter) eventually becomes wood (morning, east, spring). The Five Phase system also includes the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac (for example, the rat and pig are water signs). The movements of the Five Phases are rooted in the cycles of yin and yang.
Queen Mother of the West the Taoist goddess who rules over the western paradise and is the head of a pantheon of goddesses and female immortals. In her garden, she grows the peaches of immortality.
Northern and Southern dynasties (386—589) long period of political disunity after the fall of the Han dynasty. During this time, China was divided into a number of smaller kingdoms. The period is also known as the Six Dynasties.
Three Purities (Three Clarities) the highest deities in Taoism, they reside over the three greatest heavenly realms. Their names are the Celestial Worthy of Primordial Beginning, the Celestial Worthy of Numinous Treasure, and the Celestial Worthy of the Way and Its Power.
Jade Emperor chief of the pantheon of popular gods incorporated into Taoism
Five Sacred Peaks five sacred mountains located along the five directions (north, south, east, west, and center) that occupy powerful places in Taoist geography. The sacred mountains are not actually single peaks; rather they are networks of peaks, cliffs, gorges, hills, ravines, etc. To communicate with the deities on these mountains, emperors ordered the construction of important Taoist temples on each peak. Taoists also believe that immortals inhabit the Five Sacred Peaks. On their slopes grow the magical mushrooms that bestow immortality.
yin and yang two opposing types of energy or contrasting forces. Yin is described as yielding, passive, negative, dark, and female. Yang is dynamic, assertive, positive, light, and male. The two energies are opposite and yet mutually dependent. Yin may become yang and vice versa, just as day becomes night, cold becomes hot, and the reverse. The behavior of yin and yang describes the structure of any event or thing. It may be said that their dynamic relationship describes the operation of the Tao in its cycles of creation, and that their alternating movement underlies the structure of everything in the universe. The concept of yin and yang is conveyed by the tiger and dragon and by the Taiji symbol.
T A O I S M A N D T H E A R T S O F C H I N A
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