Thursday, April 21, 2011

External Alchemy and spirituality

In a former post, I talked about the disastrous result arising from the practice of external alchemy whereby people became poisoned or dead after taking elixir of Immortality. And in another post, I talked about the futility of the practice of some external alchemists who intended to change base metal into silver or gold. But how about the objective of getting spiritual enlightenment from taking Elixir? Did it work and who practiced it?

Fair to say nowadays hardly any Taoist practices openly the kind of external alchemy whereby a practitioner takes an Elixir and gets spiritual enlightenment out of it. The closest similarity nowadays is that of the recreational taking of psychedelic substance, whose primary action is to alter cognition and perception, like LSD. Taoist practitioners of the internal alchemy type, on the other hand, not only seek for altering one's cognition and perception but go so far as to seek for a total personality overhaul.

Let's get back to external alchemy first. In my recent study of the classic texts, I noticed two prominent grandmasters did have experience with this kind of external alchemy. The first one is the founder of Taoism as a religion, Grandmaster Zhang Daoling (張道陵). The story (mostly likely to be of a metaphorical kind with religious objective) was that Grandmaster Zhang and his close disciples, after decades of hard work, were finally able to make a few Golden pills or Elixir. The power of which was to turn a human being into an enlightened spirit (a metaphysical claim with psychological reality as Carl Jung would have said). The outcome of the story was most interesting. Grandmaster Zhang decided NOT to take the Golden pills but destroyed them! His reasoning was that using the Golden pills for personal enlightenment was a kind of selfish behavior, he opted for giving up the benefit of being an enlightened spirit and decided to spread Taoism as a religion so that many people could be enlightened. Through such altruistic and compassionate behavior, Taoism as a religion was born.

Another story is related to the Grandmaster of Internal Alchemy, Lu Dongbin or Lu zu (呂洞賓/呂祖). This story is one of the ten morality tests of Lu. In this test, the eighth test, Lu saw a crazy Taoist who claimed that the Elixir (or pills) that he was selling could end one's life immediately so that he could be reborn into a spiritually enlightened life. Nobody dared to buy the Elixir. Lu took it and didn't die nor became spiritually enlightened. The origin moral of the story was meant to show the determination of Lu in pursuing Tao. But it also implied there were crooks who sold such Elixir in bad faith, as well as the allegation that the resulting condition more resemble madness (that reminds the modern reader of the delusional power of LSD). Lu is now being considered as the Grandmaster of most practicing Taoist religious groups of today.

With the above stories, I believe I can safely conclude that the practice of external alchemy to promote spirituality (like other practice objectives of external alchemy) had been more related to a group of "magicians" called Fangshi (方士), whereas Taoism as a religion has always been more concerned with morality and its related spirituality that can be more effectively attained through the practice of deep meditation or internal alchemy. And with this, I rest my case.


  1. Ah Paul this reads good and as I have always been interested in alternate consciousness (is there even such a word as I use :) this was interesting for me.

    I am not around as much as i would like to be but I like coming here. Keep it up. All the best.

  2. Nice to hear from you pal. My feeling is that Indians in general can experience alternate consciousness easier than other people. Perhaps you belong to the more "rational" segment of your people. I don't know....

    Thanks for coming over and thanks for your encouragement, though I've no other objective except writing down my thoughts. Does that make me cool? ....not that I'm after either :):)


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