(reading notes for The Secret of the Golden Flower: The Classic Chinese Book of Life. Lü, Tung-pin, Transl. Thomas Cleary. 1991, Harper Collins)

So fundamental is the Golden Flower that it brings out inner dimensions of all religions. From the point of view of that central experience, it makes no more difference whether one calls the golden flower awakening a relationship to God or the Way or whether one calls it the holy spirit or the Buddha nature, or the real self. The Tap Te Ching says, “names can be designated, but they are not fixed terms.” -pp 4

First establish a firm foothold in daily activities within society. Only then can you cultivate reality and understand the essence. - pp 10

The celestial mind is like a house: the light is the master of the house. Therefore once you turn the light around, the energies throughout the body all rise. Just turn the light around; this is the unexcelled sublime truth. - pp11

The water of vitality is the energy of the primal real unity. The fire of spirit is illumination. The earth of attention is the chamber of the center, the celestial mind. -pp 14

So turning the light around is a means of refining the higher soul, which is a means of preserving the spirit, which is a means of controlling the lower soul, which is a means of interrupting consciousness. -pp15

Turning the light around is the secret of dissolving darkness and controlling the lower soul. There is no exercise to restore the creative, only the secret of turning the light around. The light itself is the creative; to turn it around is to restore it. -pp15

Where did the term turning the light around begin? It began with the adept Wenshi. When the light is turned around, the energies of heaven and earth, yin and yang all congeal. This is what is called “refined thought”, “pure energy” or “pure thought”. - pp17

(…) each breath corresponds to one year of human time; and each breath corresponds to a century in the various pathways of the long night of ignorance. - pp 18

Usually people wind up pursuing objects and come to age in conformity with life, never once looking back. When their positive energy fades and disappears, this is the netherworld. Therefore the Heroic March Scripture says, “Pure thought is flight, pure emotion is fall.” (…) Just observe clearly, and when your breath grows quiet you then become acutely aware. This is application of the method of reversal. - pp18

The light rays are concentrated upward into the eyes; this is the great key of the human body. You should reflect on this. If you do not sit quietly each day, this light flows and whirls, stopping who knows where. If you can sit quietly for a while, all time - ten thousand ages, a thousand lifetimes - is penetrated from this. All phenomena revert to stillness. -pp19

Nevertheless, the actual practice goes from shallow to deep, from crude to fine. Throughout it is best to be consistent. The practice is one from beginning to end, but its quality during the process can be known only by oneself. Nevertheless, it is necessary to wind up at the point where “ heaven is open, earth is broad, and all the things are just as they are”, for only this can be considered attainment. - -pp20

The terms stopping and seeing basically cannot be separated. They mean concentration and insight. Hereafter, whenever thoughts arise, you don't need to still as before, but you should investigate this thought: where is it? Where does it come from? Where does it disappear? Push this inquiry on and on over and over until you realize that it cannot be grasped; then you will see where the thought arises. You don't need to seek out the point of arising any more. -pp21

The turning around is stopping, the light is seeing. Stopping without seeing is called turning around without light; seeing without stopping is called having light without turning it around. Remember this. - pp 21

The doctrine just requires single-minded practice. One doesn not seek experiential proof, but experiential proof comes of itself. -pp 23

On the whole, beginners suffer from two kinds of problems: oblivion and distraction. There is a device to get rid of them, which is simply to rest the mind on the breath. -pp23

So should one have no thoughts? It is impossible to have no thoughts. Should one not breathe? It is impossible not to breathe. Nothing compares to making the affliction itself into medicine, which means to have mind and breath rest on each other. Therefore tuning the breath should be included in turning the light around. -pp24

An alchemical text says, “The hen embraces the egg, always mentally listening.” These are the finest instructions. The way a hen can give life to an egg is through warm energy, warm energy can only warm the shell and cannot penetrate the inside, so she mentally conducts energy inward. That “listening” is single-minded concentration. When the mind enters, the energy enters; with warm energy, the birth takes place. -pp25

Distraction means the spirit is racing; oblivion means the spirit is unclear. Distraction is easy to cure. Oblivion is hard to heal. Using the metaphor of illness, one that involves pain or itch can be treated with medicine, but oblivion is a symptom of paralysis, where there is no feeling. - pp27

Not looking outward, yet being alert is inward looking. (…) Not listening outward, yet being alert is inward listening. (…) Listening means listening to the soundless; looking means looking at the formless. When the eyes do not look outside and the ears do not listen outside, they are closed in and have a tendency to race around inside. Only by inward looking and listening can you prevent this inner racing as well as oblivion in between. This is the meaning of sun and moon combining their vitalities and lights. -pp28

When you sink into oblivion and become drowsy, get up and take a walk. When your spirit has cleared, sit again. It's best to sit for a while in the early morning when you have free time. After noontime, when there are so many things to do, it's easy to fall into oblivion. Also there is no need to fix the lenght of time of meditation; it is only essential to set aside all involvements and sit quitly for a while. Eventually you will attain absorption and not become oblivious or sleepy. -pp 29

When you are going to practice this doctrine, first see to it somehow that you don't have much on your mind, so that you can be alive and free. Make your mood gentle and your mind comfortable, then enter into quietude. When you are quiet, it is then essential to find potential and find its opening; don't sit inside nothingness or indifference (so called neutral voidness). -pp31

Once you have gone into quietude and all sorts of loose ends come to you for no apparent reason, you find you cannot turn them away if you want to, and you even feel comfortable going along with them. This is called the master becoming the servant. If this goes on long, you fall into the various roads of the realms of form and desire. Once you know this, you can seek experiential proofs. -pp 32

When there is uninterrupted continuity in quiet, the spirit and feelings are joyful and happy, as if one were intoxicated, or in a bath. This is called positive harmony pervading the body, its golden efflorescence suddenly blooming. -pp33

The first stage corresponds to the Visualisation Scripture's technical symbols of the setting sun, the great body of water and the trees in rows. The setting of the sun stands for setting up the foundation in the undifferentiated; this is the infinite. “Higher good is like water,” flawlessly pure; this is the ultimate. The master is the ruler that produces the movement, and since movement is symbolised by wood, it is represented by trees in rows. The rows are in sevens, which stand for the light of the seven openings of the “heart.” The second stage begins from the foundation; at this point the whole earth becomes a jewel ground of ice crystals; the light gradually solidifies. Therefore a great terrace follows. As for the Buddha on the terrace of enlightement, once the golden essence has become manifest, what is it if not Buddha? (…) - pp34

There are three authenticating experiences that can be considered now. One is when you are sitting and the spirit enters into a state of openness and then when you hear people talking it is as though from far away, but everything is clearly understood even tough all sounds coming in are like echoes in a valley. All are heard, you have never heard anything yourself. (…) Another experience is when in the midst of quiet the light of the eyes blazes up, filling one's presence with light. It is like opening the eyes in a cloud. There is no way to look for one's body. This is “the empty room producing light. (…) Yet another experience is when in the midst of quiet the energy of the physical body becomes like silk or jade; while sitting, if you don't stop it, the energy will soar buoyantly upward. (…) -pp35

As you go along practicing turning the light around, you need not give up your normal occupation. An ancient said, “When matters come up, one should respond; when things come up, one should discern.”

If you manage affairs with accurate mindfulness, then the light is not overcome by things, so it will do to repeat this formless turning around of the light time and again.

If you can look back again and again into the source of mind, whatever you are doing, not sticking to any image of person or self at all, then this is “turning the light around wherever you are.” This is the finest practice.

In the early morning, if you can clear all objects from your mind and sit quietly for one or two hours, that is best. Whenever you are engaged in work or dealing with people, just use this “looking back” technique, and there will be no interruption. If you practice in this way for two or three months, the realized ones in Heaven will surely come to attest your experience. - pp 37

The essence of the great Way is to act purposefully without striving. Because of nonstriving, one does not cling to local conventions, forms, or images; but because of not striving yet acting purposefully one does not fall into indifferent emptiness, dead voidness. -pp39

When you want to enter quietude, first tune and concentrate body and mind, so that they are free and peaceful. Let go of all objects, so that nothing whatsoever hangs on your mind, and the celestial mind takes its rightful place in the center. (…)

Now when you turn the light around to shine inward, [the mind] is not aroused by things; negative energy then stops, and the flower of light radiates a concentrated glow, which is pure and positive energy. -pp 41

Once you enter utter quiescence, not a single thought is born; when gazing inward, suddenly one forgets the gazing. At that time body and mind are in a state of great freedom, and all objects disappear without a trace. Then you don't even know where the furnace and cauldron in your spiritual room are; you can't even find your own body. This is the time when “heaven enters earth” and all wonders return to the root. This is solidifying the spirit in the lair of energy.

When you first practice turning the light around and your mind gets scattered and distracted, so you want to concentrate it, your six senses are not used; this is called nurturing the root source, adding fuel to continue life.”

Once concentration is attained, you are naturally buoyant and do not expend any strength; this is called “settling the spirit in the original openness, gathering the primal together.”

When even shadows and echoes have all disappeared, and one is highly stabilized in profound tranquility, this is called “hibernating in the lair of energy, all wonders returning to one root.” -pp 43

As long as the mind has not reached supreme quiet, it cannot act. Action caused by momentum is random action, not essential action. Therefore it is said that action influenced by things is human desire, while action uninfluenced by things is the action of Heaven. -pp 44

When not a single thought arises, then true mindfulness is born; this is pure attention. When the celestial potential is suddenly activated in the midst of silent trance, is this not spontaneous attention? This is what is meant by acting without striving. - pp 45

In Buddhism, activating the mind without dwelling on anything is considered the essential message of the whole cannon. In Taoism, “effecting openness” is the whole work of completing essence and life. In sum, the three teachings are not beyond one saying, which is a spiritual pill that gets one out of death and preserves life.

What is the spiritual pill? It just means to be unminding in all situations. The greatest secret in Taoism is the “bathing.” Thus the whole practice described in this book does not go beyond the words “emptiness of mind.” It is enough to understand this. This single statement can save decades of seeking. (…)

First is emptiness; you see all things as empty. Next is the conditional: though you know things are empty, you do not destroy the totality of things but take a constructive attitude towards all events in the midst of emptiness. Once you neither destroy things nor cling to things, this is the contemplation of the center. -pp46

Now when the mind forms a thought, this thought is the present mind. This mind is light; it is medicine. Whenever people look at things, when they perceive them spontaneously all at once without discriminating, this is the light of essence. It is like a mirror reflecting without intending to do so. In a moment it becomes the light of consciousness, through discrimination. When there is an image in a mirror, there is no more mirroring; when there is consciousness in the light, then what light is there any more? -pp 51

Deliberate meditation is the light of consciousness; let go, and it is then the light of essence. A hairsbreadth's difference is as that of a thousand miles, so discernment is necessary.

If consciousness is not stopped, spirit does not come alive; if mind is not emptied, the elixir does not crystallize. -pp 54

Look up at the sky; it changes from hour to hour, through 365 days, yet the polar star never moves. Our mind is also like this; mind is the pole, energy is the myriad stars revolving around it. The energy in our limbs and throughout our whole body is basically a network, so do not exert your strength to the full on it. Refine the conscious spirit, remove arbitrary views, and then after that medicine will develop. -pp57

When you have seen it for a long time, eventually the light of the basis of the mind becomes spontaneous. When the mind is empty, and all indulgence is ended, you are liberated from the ocean of misery.

Yet the revolving of Heaven never stops for a moment. If you are actually able to join yin and yang in tranquility, the whole earth is positive and harmonious; in the right place in your central chamber, all things simultaneously expand to fulfillment. This is the method of “bathing” spoken of in alchemical classics. What is it if not the great cycle? -pp 58

The alchemical process should ultimately become spontaneous. If it is not spontaneous, then heaven and earth will revert on their own to heaven and earth; myriad things will go back to myriad things: no matter how hard you try to join them, you cannot. Then it is like a season of draught, when yin and yang do not join. Heaven and earth do not fail to go through their cycles every day, but ultimately you see a lot that is unnatural.

If you can operate yin and yang, turning them suitably, then naturally all at once clouds will form and rain will fall, the plants and trees refreshed, the mountain rivers flowing freely. Even if there is something offensive, it still melts away all at once when you notice it. This is the great cycle. -pp59

Midnight, noon, and in between, If you can stabilize breathing,

The light returns to the primal opening So all psychic functions are calm. -pp 61

Freezing the spirit and steadying breath are for beginners. Retreating to hide in secrecy is eternal calm. -pp 63

[from the translator's notes: (…) The sages used the Changes [I Ching] to clean their hearts, and withdrew into recondite secrecy. What does this mean? It is the consummation of sincerity and truthfulness. The principles of the Changes extend throughout the macrocosm and the microcosm; sages ponder the principles of the Changes to clean their hearts and thoughts, and store them in ultimate sincerity -pp 130

  • [After midnight and before noon,
  • Settle the breathing and sit.
  • As the energy goes through
  • The double pass at midspine
  • And on through the brain,
  • Gaining the power of energy
  • Contemplate the self.
  • You must find the ancestor of your own house.
  • Thunder in the earth rumbles,
  • Setting in motion rain on the mountain.
  • Wait until washing,
  • And the yellow sprouts emerge from earth.
  • Grab the golden essence of vitality
  • And lock it up tightly.
  • Fire metal and wood
  • To produce dragon and tiger.

-pp 130, from Immortal Sisters]]

(…) “After midnight and before noon” are not times but water and fire [yin & yang]. “Settling the breath” means a state of centerdness in which you go back to the root of each breath. “Sitting” means that the mind is unmoved. The “mid-spine where the ribs join” does not refer to vertebrae; it is the great road directly through to the jade capital. As for the “double pass”, there is something ineffable in this. “Thunder and the earth rumbles, setting in motion rain on the mountain” means the arising of true energy. The “yellow sprouts emerging from the ground” refer to the growth of medicine.

These two verses are exhaustive; in them the highway of practical cultivation is clear. These are not confusing words.

Turning the light around is a matter of single-minded practice: just use the true breathing for stable awareness in the central chamber. After a long time at this you will naturally commune with the spirit and attain transmutation.

This is all based on quieting the mind and stabilization of energy. When the mind is forgotten and the energy congeals, this is a sign of effectiveness. The emptiness of energy, breath and mind is the formation of the elixir. The unification of mind and energy is incubation. Clarifying the mind and seeing its essence is understanding the Way.

You should each practice diligently; it would be too bad if you wasted time. If you do not practice for a day, then you are a ghost for a day; if you practice for a single breath, then you are a realized immortal for a breath. Work on this. -pp63 & 64

You suppose that attainment is possible in quietude but lost in activity; you do not realize that the reason for loss through activity is because nothing is attained through stillness. When you attain nothing in quietude or lose anything through activity, in either case you have not yet reached the way.

When you keep presence of mind, only then do you have autonomy. When you have autonomy, only then can you manage affairs… However, presence of mind is easily interrupted. Practice it for a long time, though, and it will naturally become unbroken. Once it is unbroken, it is continuous. Whith continuity, the light shines bright. When the light shines bright, energy is full. When energy is full, then oblivion and distraction disappear without effort. -pp 65

When you observe the mind and become aware of openness, thereby you produce its vitality. When its vitality stabilizes, it becomes manifest, and then you see the opening of the mysterious pass.

Gazing at the lower abdomen is external work. As for the inner work, when the mind-eye comes into being, that alone is the true “elixir field.”


You have been affected by pollution for so long that it is impossible to become clear all at once. In truth, the matter of life and death is important: once you turn the light around and recollect the vital spirit to shine stably, then your own mind is the lamp of enlightenment. -pp 66

When it comes to watching the breathing, or listening to the breathing, these are still connected with the physical body. These are used to concentrate the mind and are not the real lifeline. The real lifeline is to be sought from within the real. Looking and listening are one thing.


Whenever there is dependence, that is temporal; where there is no dependence, that is primal.

Where is the primal to be sought? It must be sought by way of the remporal. Temporal feelings and consciousness are marvelous functions of the primal. It must be sought through the work of practical balance in harmonious accord, which means calmness and openness. Of course, as long as clarification has not taken place, all is polluted. Clear up the pollution, and evenually there will be spontaneous clarity even without attempting to achieve clarity. Only then will the “gold pill” come out of the furnace. -pp 68

When people are deluded by emotions and do not know there is essence, they are ordinary ignoramuses. If they know there is essence but do not know there are emotions, this is senseless vacuity. Therefore our teaching is actively living and does not settle into one corner, but instead applies to heaven and earth, combines eternity and the present, equalizes others and self and has neither enemy nor familiar. -pp 69

It is said that we are the same in essence but different in feeling. There is no difference in feeling either; it is just that habits develop unnoticed, evolving in a stream, continuing to the present, so that their defiling influence cannot be shed. Ultimately, this is not the fault of essence.

The great Way is not in quiet living. If you stay quietly in a room, that has the counter-effect of increasing the flames of fire in the heart. It is necessary to be working on the Way whatever you're doing in order to be able to “sit on the summit of a thousand mountains without leaving the crossroads.”


The noncognizing in the consciousness is the eternal; the consciousness in noncognizing is wisdom. If you arouse a discriminatory, galloping mind, this is routine, and you become an ordinary mortal. -pp 70

Is the true mind to be sought from the source of mind? If the source is clean, then the celestial design is apparent, and daily activities never obstruct the supreme Way. If the source is not clean, then even if you have some vision, it is like a lamp in the wind, flickering erratically.


The way is present before our eyes, yet what is before our eyes is hard to understand. People like the unusual and enjoy the new; they miss what is right in front of their eyes and do not know where the Way is. The Way is the immediate presence: if you are unaware of the immediate presence, then your mind races, your intellect runs, and you go on thinking compulsively. All of this is due to shallowness of spiritual power, and shallowness of spiritual power is due to racing in the mind. -pp 71

Translator's notes

The distinction between the original spirit and the conscious spirit is one of the most important ideas in Taoist psychology. The conscious spirit is historically conditioned; the original spirit is primal and universal. The conscious spirit is a complex of modifications of awareness, while the original spirit is the essence of awareness. To say that thi essence transcends the “primal organization” means that it is by nature more fundamental than even the most basic patterns of modifications to which consciousness may be subject. In Jungian terms, this means that the essence of the original spirit is beyond, or deeper than, even the archetypes of collective unconscious. -pp 76

The faculties of thinking, imagining, dreaming and emotion are not destroyed in the earthly immortal of Taoism; rather they are brought under the dominion of their source of power and made into channels of its expression. The taming of unruly consciousness if far from the introverted, quietistic cult that Wilhelm, Jung and others of their time imagined from their fragmentary observations of Eastern lore. - pp80

“All beings are basically one form and one energy. Form and energy are basically one spirit. Spirit is basically utter oppenness. The Tao is basically ultimate nonbeing. Change is therein.”(from the Book of Balance and Harmony) -pp 81

(…) spacelike awareness contains everything while resting on nothing; it is the basic experience of the Chan master or Taoist wizard who lives in the midst of the things of the world yet is free from bondage to them. This contrasts with the limitation of awareness represented by the lower soul, mixed up in the objects of perception. -pp 85

(…) The idea of a “netherworld” is not confined (…) to a state after death, but stands for a condition of depletion in which there is no more creativity left and one lives through sheer force of habit. - pp 88

It is common among Complete Reality Taoists to understand immortality as higher consciousness, with no necessary relation to longevity of the physical body as measured in terrestrial time. Nevertheless, the mental ease resulting from the experience of spiritual “immortality” is also said to generally preserve and enhance physical health by freeing the individual from destructive stress and tension. -pp 89

“What the three teachings [Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism] esteem is calm stability. This is called being based on calm. When the human mind is calm and stable, unaffected by things, it is merged in the celestial design.” - pp90 from the Book of Balance and Harmony

If people can be open minded and magnanimous, be receptive to all, take pity on the old and the poor, assist those in peril and rescue those in trouble, give of themselves without seeking reward, never bear grudges, look upon others and self impartially, and realize all as one, then people can be companions of heaven. If people can be flexible and yielding, humble and with self-control, free of agitation, clear of volatility, not angered by criticism, ignoring insult, docilely accepting all hardships, illnesses and natural disasters, without anxiety or resentment when faced with danger or adversity, then people can be companions of earth. When the nobility of heaven and the humility of earth, one joins in with the attributes of heaven and earth and extends to eternity with them.“ - pp 90 Liu-I-ming in Awakening the Tao

The Chan founder said, “Bring me your mind and I will pacify it for you.” The seeker said “Having looked for my mind, I realize it cannot be grasped.” The founder said, “I have pacified the mind for you.” This illustrates the climax of the exercise of turning the light around. -pp 94

Oblivion and distraction and commonly treated in Buddhist meditation manuals as the two main “sicknesses” to which meditators are prone. Focusing the mind on the breathing is an ancient Buddhist practice that is especially popular among modern day Zennists. “Spiritual Alchemy for Women”, a late 19th century Taoist work, saus, “In general, what is most essential at the beginning of this study is self-refinement. Self-refinement is a matter of mind and breathing resting on each other. This means that the mind rests on the breathing and the breathing rests on the mind - pp 95, from Immortal Sisters

“Inward breathing is the rhythm of consciousness, “outward breathing” is the rhythm of respiration. Taoists and Buddhists both use the image of “leaking” to represent the loss of energy through random mental activity and its corresponding physical unrest. Buddhas and Taoist immortals are described as having “put and end to leakage.” - pp 95

To “let go” is to free the mind from entanglement in objects, but to “let go absolutely” is to fall into oblivion. (…) the balance of “stopping” and “seeing” is critical to the success of the exercise.

Taoist texts distinguish several levels of refinement according to sound, but soundless breathing is considered best of all. Six audible breaths are used for healing, while silent breathing is used for quiet meditation. Since mental silence is considered the best hygiene as well as the best curative, soundlessly subtle breathing is generally considered very important for both mental and physical aspects of Taoist practice. -pp 96

A famous Chan poem says, “WHen the wine is always sweet, it lays out the guests,” meaning that overindulgence in concentration and consequent addiction to calmness can actually incapacitate the individual for further development. -pp97

It is so much easier to notice distraction when sitting quietly than when engaged in activity that people often feel their minds to be more scattered than usual when they begin to sit quietly. Oblivion is a much more difficult problem, not only because of its nature as unawareness but also because contemplatives are often unconsciously attracted to it. Distraction, in contrast is so annoying that it naturally provokes the desire to overcome it. Therefore Taoism traditionally emphasizes the importance of using both stillness and movement in developmental exercises, to avoid falling into either extreme. -pp 97-98

Fixing the length of time for meditation can have negative effects, turning what is supposed to be a liberative technique into an automatizing ritual. Japanese Zennists and their Western imitators often seem to think of sitting meditation in quantitative terms, but in the golden flower teaching quality is the foremost consideration. -pp 98

“The pores are like after a bath, the bones and circulatory system are like when fast asleep, the vitality and spirit are like husband and wife in blissful embrace, the earthly and heavenly souls are like child and mother remembering their love.” - pp 101 from Introduction to Alchemy by Zhang Boduan

The “filling of the body” with positive energy is said to be sufficient in itself to preserve health and well-being, even without physical exercise. - pp 102

“When people drink water, they know for themselves whether it is cool or warm” is a common Chan Buddhist expression used to illustrate the fact that there is no way to communicate or understand realization of spiritual awakening except by one's own personal experience. -pp 104

The “living method [of turning the light around]” is one that is efficiently adapted to individual needs and integrated into everyday life. A “dead method” is one that is performed mechanically as an automatic routine. Chan Buddhist proverb says, “Study the living world, not the dead world.” -pp 105

The receptive is the I Ching symbol for mother earth. -pp 107

The “lower two passes are the first two stages of Taoist alchemy: “refining vitality into energy” and “refining energy into spirit.” The “upper pass” is the stage of “refining spirit into openness. At this point “Heaven directly divulges the unsurpassed doctrine in the sense that knowledge comes spontaneously through elevation of consciousness rather than by formal learning. -pp 108

In alchemical language, the positive creative energy of unconditioned primal awareness must be consciously “culled” or “gathered” when it emerges from the shrouds of unconsciousness. If it is not gathered, or it is gathered too late, the positive energy is ineffective and mundane conditioning reasserts its power.

In Taoist energetics, the “chamber of the creative” is the head: energy is drawn by attention upward from the lower torso (the chamber of water) through the spine and into the head. In purely spirityal Taoism, the energy of the initial stirring of the “celestial mind” of unconditioned awareness is fostered until it becomes complete awakening, as symbolized by the creative. Focusing on the crown of the head is a method of enhancing alertness (to prevent quiet stillness from slipping into oblivion) and is only for temporary use at appropriate times.

In energetics, the “yellow court” is the middle of the body, where the energy is conducted after passing through the head. In spiritual practice, this means that heightened awareness is centred to keep the mind from floating off into utter abstraction. -pp 111-112

Bathing is (…) a key alchemical term. According to The Book of Balance and Harmony, in the higher type of gradual method, “bathing” means “being suffused with harmonious energy,” while at the very highest type of alchemy it means “cleaning the mind.” -pp 114

(…) the point is to achieve a state of mental poise wherein both fluidity and factuality of phenomena are evident to the mind without either exerting an overwhelming influence toward bias. According to this way of meditation, by realization of fluidity the mind transcends attachment to conditional things; by realization of factuality the mind transcends attachment to emptiness. Vy realization of the center, one attains a harmonious unity of freedom and responsibility. -pp 116

There is a strong tendency to place great emphasis on the data of sight in everyday life, so the text makes it clear that all the faculties of sense and perception are channels of enlightened awareness.


The darkness in the sun is true yin within true yang, flexibility within firmness.

The white of the moon is true yang within true yin, firmness within flexibility. -pp 116

(…) references to points or periods of time in alchemical literature refer not to clock or calendar time, but to psychological time. Intense condensation of experiential time is also characteristic of mental concentration in the alchemical process. In his classic Understanding Reality, Chang Po-tuan writes, ” Whanging hours for days is the pattern of the spiritual work.” -pp 118

Empowerment refers to the stabilization of the higher consciousness so that one can turn the light around at will in any and all circumstances. This may require a period of special effort, represented by the 100 days of setting up the foundation.


(…) “seeing essence,” directly experiencing the essence of consciousness in itself is temporarily set up as an aim for those who are bound up in the products of consciousness and thereby alienated from its essence. After “seeing essence” is attained, it then becomes a means rather than an end: a means of freeing energy for further development. (…) “First awaken on your own, then see someone else.” -pp 119

(…) followers of sectarian Zen and Taoism have come to lay great stress on sitting meditation, but classical masters have pointed out that addition to stillness can have serious mental and physical drawbacks. If the practice of turning the light around is carried on only in specific settings or postures, it may be impossible to integrate it fully with everyday life, leading to a kind of split in the personality. - pp 120-121

“If you see lights, flowers, or other extraordinary forms, and take this for sanctity, using these unusual phenomena to dazzle people, thinking you have attained great enlightenment, you do not realize that you are thoroughly ill. This is not Chan.” - pp 121 from Boshan Canchan Jingce (Chan meditation manual)

The eight attributions are usually defined as follows:

  1. Light is attributable to the sun.
  2. Dark is attributable to the dark moon.
  3. Transmission is attributable to doors and windows.
  4. Obstruction is attributable to walls.
  5. Objects are attributable to discrimination.
  6. Blank openness is attributable to space.
  7. Congestion is attributable to sense data.
  8. Clear light is attributable to clarity.

By gradually “peeling away” the contents of consciousness, the practitioner ultimately reaches the experience of the essence of consciousness. -pp 123

“Indulgence” is a Buddhist term for what Taoists call “leaking”, or the expenditure of conscious energy in pursuit of objects. - pp 124

“To reach the Tao is basically not hard; the work lies in concentration. WHen yin and yang, above and below, always rise and descend, the ubiquitous flow of vital sense naturally returns of itself. At the peak of awareness, reality becomes accessible to consciousness, in recondite abstraction, nondoing joins with doing. When the clouds recede and the rain disperses, the spiritual embryo is complete; the creative principle comes into play, producing a new birth.” - pp 125 from The Book of Balance and Harmony

Spontaneity is the real meaning of the Taoist technical term wuwei (…) “Real people know without learning, see without looking, achieve without striving, understand without trying. They sense and respond, act when necessary, go when there is no choice, like the shining of light, like the emanation of rays.” -pp 126

”(…) The movements of the body are not done by the body; it is the mysterious pass that makes the move. But though it it the action of the mysterious pass, still it is the innermost self that activates the mysterious pass. If you can recognize this activating mechanism, without a doubt you can become a wizard.” [metaphor of puppet (body, strings (mysterious pass) and puppeteer (the inner self)] - pp 128


(…) The Secret of the Golden Flower (…) combines Taoist alchemy with basic mind work according to the designs of several schools of Buddhism. - pp 133

(…) Buddhists have long said that teachings must be adapted to local psychological and social climates. -pp 135

(…) my own long standing interest in Chan and Zen was the practice of transcending religious and cultural forms to get at the heard of reality in itself by direct experience and direct perception - pp137

For practical purposes, a distinction is made in the golden flower teaching between the “original spirit” and the “conscious spirit.” The original spirit is the formless essence of awareness; it is unconditioned and transcends culture and history. The conscious spirit is the mind-set of feelings, thoughts and attitudes, conditioned by personal and cultural history, bound by habit to specific forms.


“Using the shining radiance, you return again to the light, not leaving anything to harm yourself. This is called entering the eternal.” Here is an image of an ideal relationship between the original spirit as the source of power and the conscious spirit as a subordinate functionary. When clarified, the conscious spirit functions according to the situation, without usurping the authority of the original spirit. The original spirit remains available as a reserve of total awareness, to which the conscious spirit returns, without leaving any harmful fixation on itself or its objects.

In this way the intellect functions efficiently in the world, without that conscious activity inhibiting access to deeper spontaneous knowledge through the direct intuition of a more subtle faculty.

The operation of switching from the limited mind of conditioned consciousness to the liberated mind of primal spirit is known as the method of “reversal”, or turning around the light. In The Secret of the Golden Flower these terms refer to restoration of direct contact with the essence and source of awareness.

The direct contact empowers the individual to know spontaneously and be free from bondage to created thoughts and conditioned feelings, even while operating in their very presence. In the words of Tao Te Ching, one can this be “creative without posesiveness.” -pp 139-140

From the point of the host, or original spirit, everything concerned with mood and personality is in the domain of the guest. But through the process of social conditioning, the average individual comes to be so centered in the guest [the conscious mind] and therefore regards it as the self. As a result the true host is concealed and it cannot bring out its more objective and encompassing perspective on matters of mood and personality. -pp 143

Thus alienated from the primal source or “host” of the original spirit, the ego seeks integration by attempting to establish order among “guests”, the conditioned facades of psyche and personality. Under these conditions, if there develop great disparities among moods or subpersonalities in the absence of ability to “return to the light” of the original mind, then dysfunction and breakdown may result when the strain of attempting to maintain relative order overstresses the natural resilience of the faculty of mind playing the part of the receptionist or answering service for the host. Although the host must be there, it is now hidden and does not respond directly. - pp144

(…) traditional Buddhist and Taoist materials on this subject are not propaganda to inculcate religious belief but blueprints of mental functions drawn to provide direction in the understanding and application of psychoactive exercises. - pp 145

(…) the very act of remembering the possibility of “switching” already places psychological distance between host and guest, thus dispelling to some degree the mesmeric influence of thoughts, feelings, moods and personalities. - pp147

(…) it is possible to detach from conditioned states and identities without thereby becoming dissociated from the realm of ordinary experience. Thus the individual can always resort to renewal from the very source of creativity. This is what Taoists call returning to the “root of heaven and earth” from which extradimensional vantage point it is possible to experience higher enlightenment right in the midst of the mundane world. - pp 148

Among the problems that Westerners have traditionally faced in working with Eastern meditation practices is the fear that mind-stilling exercises will prevent them from thinking thoughts that they need to think. This is also a concern in the East, where there are many warnings in meditation lore to avoid excessive stilling.


The golden flower practice can stop thought temporarily, but it does not warp reason. It enables one to think deliberately, rather than compulsively. This use of mind opens a wider space for thought, with the ability to think and observe thought with detached clarity, so that one can put down useless thoughts and take up useful thoughts by means of independent discernment and will. The speed of direct perception can also see at a glance where a train of thought will lead, conserving untold mental energy.

With any exercise that stills the mind, at first there is a tendency for random thoughts and images to occur with seemingly greater-than-ordinary frequency and strength. (…)

In golden flower practice this problem is avoided by relinquishing all obsession with thoughts and images that come to mind in the course of the exercise. It is only after the actual awakening or blossoming of the golden flower that examination of mental phenomena with detached objectivity is considered possible. Before this breakthrough, too much introspection into psychic contents is viewed as a distraction from the primary purpose of arriving at the source of awareness itself. pp 150-151

In order to benefit from whatever is useful in Eastern teachings, they need to be reduced to their essence and allowed to develop in their new environment. What is necessary is the primal psychological seed, not the temporal cultural husk. - pp 152.


  • golden_flower.txt
  • Last modified: 2019-10-30 11:20
  • by nik