Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The alchemical metaphors of Lead and Mercury

The use of heavy metals like Lead and Mercury in external alchemy was common in both the East and the West. In Tang Dynasty of China, many Emperors died from lead/mercury poisoning. The logic behind the use of heavy metal in making "Elixir for Immortality" was discussed in another post, interested readers can take a look (click here).

After the failures of the external alchemists in making "Elixir for Immortality",  the ancient practice of internal alchemy flourished.  Having said that, the practice of "Changing base metals into silver or gold" was still prevalent in the early years of Internal Alchemy, and was practiced by some Internal Alchemists, with caution. Please check up my previous post - click here).

The practice of Internal Alchemy used the metaphors of cauldron and furnace. Inside the cauldron, a practitioner will bring water above the fire (the given human situation is fire above water, not to complicate matters, I shall explain the water/fire metaphor in a future post). And to this water, a practitioner shall add ingredients. And with his skills of balancing the fire under the water, in terms of magnitude and guided proximity to the water. Together with the right ingredients and their correct combination, and with patience, the golden pill or elixir (金丹) will be produced.

Lead and Mercury are the ingredients metaphorically. One of the clearest explanation I can find in the classic Taoist texts is Chapter three (Q&A sessions with disciples) of Central Harmony Collections (中和集) by Central Tourist Group Grandmaster Li DaoChun (李道纯).

Master Li made it very clear that lead and mercury were not physical lead and mercury, but metaphorically called lead and mercury. In nature, lead and mercury had to be extracted by physical means to become pure lead and mercury. It is the same with metaphorical lead and mercury - they are hidden and have to be extracted with the correct methods as taught by a master of Taoist Neidan (internal alchemist).

What is lead then? In terms of trigram (yes, another metaphor to explain a metaphor!), it is the middle solid line in trigram Kan (坎). Kan is feminine. The middle solid line is masculine, and is called "Lead inside water" (水中金) and therefore has to be extracted. The position of Kan is in Taoist North.

What is mercury then? In terms of trigram, is the the middle broken line in trigram Li (離). Li is masculine. The middle broken line is feminine, and is called "Mercury inside sand" (砂中汞) and therefore has to be extracted. The position of Li is in Taoist South.

To make the long story short, combining metaphorical lead and metaphorical mercury from a psychological perspective is a combination of one's Body and Mind.

One final question: Is these metaphors unnecessarily complicating the practice of Taoist Neidan? Or, can the practice be better transmitted without the metaphors altogether?

My view is that these metaphors (and other metaphors used by other practitioners) can lead to better visualization during one's practice. With better visualization, a practitioner can progress faster in his practice.

In the past, everything builds on faith. But not so for the modern man: he wants to understand everything before he will proceed to do anything! And he is right in the order of things - otherwise he will be considered to be superstitious.

It begs one final question, or hurdle to good practice. It is the issue of belief or faith. The question I'm now raising to my readers is: In order to have a good practice (or be able to proceed with the practice at all), do we need belief (or faith)? Or do we simply need "a suspension of disbelief"?   I shall come to this issue again in a future post.  Stay tuned.

Lead and Mercury hidden inside Kan (坎) and Li (離)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...