Monday, August 15, 2011

Visualization in Internal Alchemy

Being developed from external alchemy, the practice of internal alchemy (Neidan 内丹 or Taoist meditation) takes from the former its visualization. The literal meaning of internal alchemy or Neidan is "Pill developed internally", in contrast with external alchemy or Waidan (外丹) "Pill developed externally".

In Internal Alchemy, the human body (torso together with head) is visualized as a cauldron plus furnace (borrowed from external alchemical. Into this cauldron, ingredients are added, water is added, fire (furnace) is used to heat up the cauldron. The position of the cauldron moves upwards during different stages of the refining process, and finally a golden pill is produced.

The use of a visualization of cauldron plus furnace distinguishes the Taoist internal alchemical process from other chi-practices (like tai-chi). With crystallizing the energy into a single point, and exchange of outer and internal energy can be achieved with the ultimately objective of achieving a higher level of mind-body reality (which in contemporary layman language being called "healing" or "therapeutic effect").

Despite its various benefits, one problem with this visualization process is related to the symbol of golden pill. Whereas in the final step of external alchemy, the product is a pill (like one to be swallowed for whatever benefits, or like a philosopher's stone that can change base metal into gold). In internal alchemy, a pill inside one's body can't create the required visualization effect for higher spiritual or psychological purpose.

In Hui Ming Jing (慧命經) by LiuHuaYang (柳華陽), a little embryo was drawn to depict the final product of visualization. A new-self is born. It goes well with the visualization of fire+water, or Yin+Yang, or female+male or consciousness + unconscious, or internal copulation. Hence its visualization goes beyond a golden pill.

In The secret of the Golden Flower (太乙金華宗旨: claimed to be written by Neidan Grandmaster Lu Dongbin 呂洞賓), the visualization of a golden flower (華 also means 花 in traditional Chinese) is used. To this Carl Jung extrapolated it to become a Mandala symbol, in his Commentary to Wilhelm's translation.

It is interesting to note that in Jungian individuation process, Active Imagination is to be used, which for all intends and purposes is very similar to, if not the same as, visualization of the Taoist practice. And both aim at an overhaul of one's personality (being) for the better.

There were of course other different visualization techniques used as written in other Taoist meditation texts by different gurus throughout Chinese history. Following this chain of thought to its logical conclusion, we can certain extrapolate that there will likely be other visualization methods being used by contemporary practitioners, who might find his "private" visualization method better than what are being find in the classic texts or one that he learned from his teacher. Afterall we are talking about private internal experience that will likely be having a certain degree of difference among practitioners.

Embryo visualization in Hui Ming Jing

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