Daoism and Cct

Religious Beliefs

What does alchemy have to do with Daoism?

A complex system of practices known as inner alchemy (nei dan) and outer alchemy (wai dan) alchemy developed for the purpose of allowing practitioners to achieve earthly longevity and perhaps complete immortality. While the outer form works with chemicals and other substances, the inner form focuses on cultivation of the divine within each person by a variety of techniques. The goal is to transform all three of the individual vital forces into the pure spirit called shen. Daoist alchemy consists of countless intricate formulas and recipes involving cinnabar, jade, and gold. Initiates must virtually soak enough of these elements into their systems to render the body indestructible. A method called Gold Cinnabar Daoism spells out the details of a technique shared by various schools of alchemy. A regimen of physical exercises called qi gong, now even more popular than tai ji chuan, is historically related to classical Daoist inner alchemy. Requirements such as the consumption of specific numbers of potions and pills on devilishly difficult schedules make the goal all but impossible to reach.

But if the pharmaceutical demands were not enough, there is an even more elusive ethical component. For example, a person who desires immortality must perform an uninterrupted chain of charitable acts (1,200 according to one ancient source). One stumble invalidates the process and requires a fresh start. Descriptions of Daoist alchemy too often leave out this ethical component, a feature that says more about the underlying spirit of the quest than any mere list of chemicals can begin to suggest. Although it is easy enough to see how an alchemical search for immortality could easily deteriorate into a crassly magical pursuit, the classical sources still have the power to remind one that beneath it all is serious insight into the human condition.


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