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Sun Xi Kun on Daoism Part II: The True Formula of the Dao Elixir Secret Treasure

Following Part 1, we continue with Sun Xi Kun on Daosim, the translation of the “True Formula of the Dao Elixir Secret Treasure” by Sun Xi Kun.

In the nose there are two acu-points linking with the mouth, and from the mouth to the throat, the lung and the heart. Under the heart, there is an aperture named Jiang Gong (Crimson Palace). Another 3.6 cun further below Jiang Gong, is a site named Tu Fu Zhong (Earth Cauldron Center), in which there there are two apertures, one linking with the left liver and another one linking with the right liver. [1]

About 1.2 cun inside this area, there is the place to store Qi and refine Earth’s elixir. Another 3.6 cun further down toward the umbilicus, directly opposite to Sheng Men (Gate of Life), there are seven apertures linking with the external genitalia, where the Jingshen (essence-spirit) can leak and empty. 1.3 cun below Ming Lu (Famous Stove), is called Dantian, a place for storing Jing (essence) and collecting the medicine. [2] The three passes in the front are Ni Wan (Mud Ball) (i.e. brain, the house of the mind), Xu Guan (Empty Pass) acu-point and Tu Fu (Earth Cauldron) (i.e. the spleen). Ni Wan (Mud Ball) is named Shang Dantian (Upper Dantian), with an area of 1.2 cun, a place to store the Shen (spirit). Its acupoint is 1 cun entering inside the space between the eyebrows. The true middle is Tian Men (Gate of Heaven). One cun further inward is Dong Fang Gong (Chamber Palace). One cun further inward is Ni Wan Gong (Mud Ball Palace).

To learn the fundamentals of cultivating the Dao, there are three important elements: 1) Heart and body are empty, bright and incorruptible; 2) Strictly guard the Jing and avoid blame and offense; 3) accumulate achievement and virtue through good deeds. Once the Yuan Shen (Original Spirit) is flourishing, the Yuan Qi (Original Qi) can grow, and the Yuan Jing (Original Essence) will consolidate and be solid. There is only one method to refine Dan (the elixir), namely to refine the temperament, [3] i.e. to train temperament (the liver, lung, metal, wood, dragon, tiger, Hun and Po), the heart and kidney (lead, mercury), nature and body (stove and tripod), and Jing and Qi (medicines, herbs). [4] When the five elements (Wu Xing) assemble in the Zhong Gong (Middle Palace), three origins unite as one, Dan (elixir) coalesces into the embryo, one becomes immortal and flies away. This is the Jin Dan (Golden Pill) that gives birth to the Great Dao (Da Dao). The authentic transmission of the correct formula for Nei Dan has four steps:

  1. Xuan Pin (Mysterious Female) [5]
  2. Yao Cai (Medicinals)
  3. Huo He (Firing Times)
  4. Four Season conservation and adjustment of the Xuan Pin (mysterious female).

Namely, there is an aperture in the middle of the human body that is the source of creation and transformation, the origin of Hun Dun, [6] the returning root of the Great Void, an aperture for revival of the life and the gate of the life and death, a dark and mysterious pass (Xuan Guan) [7] for the Zhong Huang Gong (Middle Yellow Palace), [8] the aperture of the gate of the Xuan Pin (Mysterious Female), nature’s inexplicable mystery. Its form is like a chicken egg, black and white in appearance and one cun in length. After ten months, the fetus [9] comes out of its bag, white like cotton, moving like a 1.2 cun ring, the guiding mechanism of the human body, within which the pure essentials fuse and release, but which cannot be used unless the heart-mind is fully concentrated. This requires the emergence of fetal breathing (ie: “heel breathing” or “whole body breathing”).

When Shenqi joins with feeling, when the mind and Qi communicate, it is possible to observe its mystery. In the Dao De Jing it says: “When there is no desire, it is possible to see the mystery.” If one observes inside, then the upper, middle and lower are also observed and can link together. The classic says: if you attain one thing, all things will be accomplished. Once Yuan Jing, Yuan Qi and Yuan Shen meet, Dan Gong (Elixir Achievement) is achieved. Then in the dark mysterious pass, the aperture of Xuan Pin, and the origin of yin and yang, the Shenqi resides. Shenqi is the medicine of Xing and Ming. Fetal breathing is the root and consolidates the base. The fetus is the storehouse of the Shen. Breath is the origin of the fetus. Breath gives life to the fetus. Breath grows because of the fetus. Without the breath, the fetus will not have spirit and can not form the pill of immortality. Like a fetus in the mother’s womb, innocent [10] and without knowledge or form. Therefore, in going back to the root and returning [11] to the beginning, one gives birth to the five viscera (zang), re-establishes the skeletal structure. When no substance gives birth to substance, then the Sage fetus can form. The ancient classics say: “pass on the medicine, but not the fire”.

The secret that must be passed down, but cannot be passed down, are the firing times (Huo Huo) [12] for collecting and refining the medicine. The central fire possesses its own medicine. Know where to gather the medicine. Fire binds and wraps it to become Dan (elixir). This cannot be passed on through tradition but must be sensed. The medicines are yang within yin and the firing time is yin within yang. Once the theory of yin, yang and fire is clearly understood and the medicine is gathered in the place of origin, why does it need to be passed on orally? [13]

The method of refining the elixir is no different than walking, sitting and lying or like a chicken laying an egg – the time spent is the amount achieved. The foundation of the heavenly circuit can be established in one hundred days. In ten months, the fetus can be conceived; fire and water can support each other; metal and wood can combine. [All] the changes in the heaven and earth relate to this breathing. If meticulously refined during the twelve time periods of a day, in a short time there will be Gong Fu. In one year of Gong Fu you can seize Heaven and Earth and 3,600 years’ destiny, because the Supreme Origin (Da Yuan) comes from one’s own nature. Practitioners of the Dan (elixir) must conserve and guard the Ancestral Aperture (Zhu Qiao). [14] This means to stop distracting thoughts, namely to refine one’s nature.

When a fetus is in the mother’s abdomen, first the nose grows and after that, the eyes. The tongue links with the Du Vessel and inside the mouth is a blood cake that is inner nature and life force (Xing and Ming), connected by qi to the navel. The lung is small and the liver is large. When the navel is cut off life ends. The inner nature (Xing) carries Qi to enter the heart while the life force carries Qi to enter the kidney. They are 8.4 cun apart. [15] When the blood cake (Xue Bing) is swallowed to go downward, the blue pupils disperse. [16] This is a post heaven event. On the palate there is an acu-point and under the tongue there are two acu-points that produce body fluids (Jin Ye), a treasure of the human body. Saliva goes down 1.2 cun under the heart to the Jiang Gong (Crimson Palace) at the root of the liver and becomes blood. When blood descends 1.3 cun below the navel it changes into Qi. The Great Dao is nameless and without form, it is the integrated pre-heaven One-Qi. What is refined is precisely the true nature. Unless San Hua Wu Qi [17] are refined to the utmost, the truth cannot be the complete truth. When Zhen Qi (True Qi) is sufficient, Yang Shen emerges. If there is no leakage [of Zhen Qi)], one can be called an immortal. This is the small refining, and it is achieved after one year. After nine years of refining, then one can return to emptiness. Only when there are true Jing-Qi-Shen can there be True Earth. When there is True Earth there can be real intention (Yi). Only when there is true intention can one guide and gather together (fuse) yin and yang, and harmonize and integrate Si Xiang (the Four Appearances or Four Phenomena). [18] The heart refers to the Pre-Heaven One-Qi.

In short, without stillness/tranquility (Jing) and emptiness (Kong) the Dao cannot be reached. Therefore tranquility is the lifeblood of the three religions. [19]


[1] The left and right lobes of the liver.

[2] Yao 药: can mean medicine, drug or herb. In this context, is not literally a Chinese herb, or medicine, but something that acts like a tonic herb. In Daoist inner alchemy the yao are Jing and Qi/Breath.

[3] Xing Qing 性情: literally xing: “character” or “nature”; qing: “emotion” or “feeling”.

[4] Here Sun Xi Kun references the five elements and the internal organs with Daoist code words and imagery. The liver is associated with wood and the dragon as well as the Hun, an aspect of the spirit sometimes known as the  “ethereal soul”, which is associated with the San Bao (Jing Qi and Shen). In turn, the lung is associated with metal, the tiger and the Po, an aspect of the spirit known as the “corporeal soul”, which is associated with the seven emotions. Mercury and lead are metaphors for the liver and lung and their connection to the heart and kidney in Daoist thought, and the stove and tripod (a cooking vessel) reference the lower and upper Dantian and the refining process (Daoist practices) that involve the mind and body. Herbs and medicines are a reference to the cultivation Jing and Qi, which then act like herbs to create transmutation and change.

[5] Xuan Pin 玄牝: The “mysterious female” or “black female” – “black” in this context means something dark, profound, and incredible. The dark female is mentioned in Chapter 6 of the Dao De Jing: If one nourishes the spirits one dies not. This is called the dark and the female. The gates of the dark one and of the female, they are called the root of heaven and earth. The commentary on this passage by He Shang Gong states that the Dao of immortality is contained within the dark one and the female. The dark is Heaven, and in humans, forms the nose. The female is Earth and forms the mouth. Through the nose, the breath, and the five atmospheres associated with Heaven enter and form the Hun (“spiritual Soul; ethereal Soul). Through the mouth the five tastes enter and nourish the stomach and form the Po (the corporeal soul). The gates of the dark one and of the female are therefore the gates through which the original breath flows. Ho-Shang-Kung’s Commentary on Lao-Tse, translated and annotated by Edward Erkes, Switzerland: Artibus Asiae, Ascona , 1950, pp. 21-22.

Xuanpin is also a gate or passageway situated at the junction of being and non-being, the place where yang opens and yin closes. It also stands for Qian and Kun, the trigrams associated with Heaven and Earth. The Inner mysterious female is also associated with Zhen Qi (True Qi ) and the outer mysterious female is associated with Zhen Shen (True Spirit), which are also called the inner and outer medicines, Nei Yao and Wai Yao. Xuan can also be the upper Dantian and Pin the lower Dantian. The Routledge Encyclopedia of Taoism Volume II: M-Z, edited by Fabrizio Pregadio, London and New York: Routledge, 2008, pp.1138-9.

[6] 混沌 Hun Dun has many meanings although usually it refers to a cosmogonic stage of development in the fundamental division of previously undifferentiated matter (chaos) into yin and yang. In Daoist Nei Dan (inner alchemy) texts, this chaotic state (Hun Dun) is the origin of the reshaping of the inner and outer universe – both the elixir and the Original (Yuan) Qi of  human beings and the universe. (The Routledge Encyclopedia of Taoism Volume I: A-L edited by Fabrizio Pregadio, London and New York: Routledge, 2008, p 525).

[7] Xuan Guan, the “mysterious pass” represents the moment Xing (the inner nature) and Ming (the vital force) come together, or return to a state of oneness. Xing and Ming are also known as Dragon and Tiger; Lead and Mercury etc. The mysterious pass is the “door of life and death”, the place between being and non-being. It is also a synonym for the Xuan Pin (Mysterious Female) and the Hun Dun. This is the place where transcendence and unity can occur in Daoist practices. The Routledge Encyclopedia of Taoism Volume II: M-Z, edited by Fabrizio Pregadio, London and New York: Routledge, 2008, pp. 1131-2.

[8] 黄宫 Huang Gong or Huang Ting: is the “yellow palace” associated with Earth and therefore lies at the center. In the body, this can be the center of the head (“Upper Yellow Palace”) or the center of the Dantian (“Lower Yellow Palace”).

[9] This “fetus” is not a real fetus, but a metaphor for the fusion of spirit and breath.

[10] This is again 混沌 Hun Dun (see footnote #25), but in this context can also mean the innocence of a child.

[11] 復 Fu:  Returning; return to normal or to the original state. This references the Fu Hexagram in the Yi Jing, in which the return is symbolized by the single yang line which appears at the bottom – yang returning again after the ascendance of yin.

[12] Many Daoist internal alchemical texts speak of “firing times” or Huo Huo. This is yet another metaphor taken from external alchemy and metallurgy – adjusting the fire or heat in order to properly extract, refine and temper metal. Often these firing times were associated with the twelve sovereign hexagrams and the phases of the moon, as well as the Twelve Earthly Stems associated with two hour divisions of the day that delineate the waxing and waning of yin and yang during the 24 hour daily cycle. In inner alchemy and meditation, “Fire” is taken to mean the “Original Spirit” and the application of the True Intention (Zhen Yi) which must coalesce with the breath and the essence. [1] The hexagrams and the firing times then simply refer to the natural cyclical transformation and coalescing of yin and yang as they circulate through the Ren and Du channels, rather than specific practice times and arcane methods.

[13] This whole discussion involves a number of concepts. 炼 Lian: “refining”, refers to heating with fire in order to transmute the body’s substances. This means refining essence and breath by harmonizing the heart and sitting in emptiness. This replenishes essence and transforms it into spirit. This replenishes the supply of the San Bao, (Three Treasures) and is achieved by combining Xing (nature) and refining spirit with Ming (life; vital force) and refining qi and essence. The medicine is the essence, and Qi/Breath, which  are replenished through this process. Fire is a metaphor for the Original spirit (Yuan Shen). When this spirit merges with the breath (Qi) and essence then they circulate along the Ren and Du Mo (the Micro-Cosmic Orbit or Small Heavenly Circulation). “The true fire is one’s own spirit; the true times are one’s own breathing. Refining the Medicine by means of fire in order to form the elixir means the Spirit driving the breath in order to return to the Dao.” Thoughts arising cause fire to scorch and intention dispersing causes “cold.” So the ‘fire” (the original spirit) and the intention must be regulated – this what is meant by the “fire times.” Foundations of Internal Alchemy: The Daoist Practice of Neidan, by Wang Mu. Translated and Edited by Fabrizio Pregadio, Mountian View CA: Golden Elixir Press, 2011, pp 75-77.

[14] The Middle Cinnabar Field (Zhong Dan Tian). The Yellow Court (Huang Ting) and the Ancestral Aperture (Zhu Qiao) or the Cavity of the Ancestral Breath (Zhu Qi Xue) are all the same – located above the navel and between the navel and the heart. Foundations of Internal Alchemy: The Daoist Practice of Neidan by Wang Mu, pp. 21-24. Other sources locate the Huang Ting below the navel, indicating that it is synonymous with lower Dantian, and that Jiang Gong (Crimson Palace) is the “Middle Cinnabar Field” or Middle Dantian. (The Method of Holding the Three Ones: A Taoist Manual of Meditation of the Fourth Century A.D., translated by Poul Anderson. London: Curzon Press, 1980. pp. 50-51.

[15] The distance between the heart and navel is 8.4 cun. The Ancestral Aperture is in the middle of this distance 4.2 cun from the heart and 4.2 cun from the  navel. See previous footnote.

[16] The newborn infant or the infant still in the womb is a prominent metaphor for many Daoist practices. The infant is a metaphor for returning to the One, to the Dao, because the infant has not yet begun the depleting process of living in the adult world of desires and cares. The fetus does not breathe through the mouth, but once the umbilical cord is cut, the fetus changes from Pre-Natal to Post-Natal breathing which occurs through the mouth and nose. The “blood cake” represents the residual fluids from the umbilicus that, when cleared from the mouth immediately after birth, signal the start of Post-Natal, (Post-Heaven) life, which is characterized by respiration. The Du and Ren channels now can only be connected by the tongue touching the upper palate. This passage also mentions that in the transition from Pre-Heaven (before birth) to Post-Heaven, a baby’s eyes change color from blue to brown (or another color).

[17] The San Hua are the Three Magnificent Things, another name for the Three Treasures (San Bao: Jing Q/Breath and Shen). The Wu Qi in this context are the so-called five spirits: Hun, stored in the liver, Po, stored in the Lungs, Shen-Consciousness, Stored in the Heart, Zhi-Will, stored in the Kidneys and the Yi-Intention, stored in the Spleen. All of these are really one spirit (Shen).

[18] In Daoist cosmogeny, the Wuji, (no limit; void) produces the “Great Limit” or “Ultimate Limit” – the Taiji. The Taiji produces 2 Forms  (Liang Yi) – Yin and Yang. Yin and Yang  in turn  produce Four  Phenomena (Si Xiang) – these are called Shao Yang (Lesser Yang; Young Yang ), Tai Yang (Greater Yang; Old Yang), Shao Yin (Lesser Yin; Young Yin) and Tai Yin (Greater Yin; Old Yin).

[19] Daoism, Buddhism and Confucianism.