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group study Fundraiser and Translation of Ten Discourses on Daoist Alchemy

Group study openly invites people to exchange thoughts together based on premises that are always explicitly pointed out, however loose they might be, and when any fixed outcome isn't called for. It's good to keep mindful and respectful of both what is and what isn't relevant for discussion though.

Roots of Virtue

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Fundraiser by Mattias Daly: Translation of Ten Discourses on Daoist Alchemy​

"A Westerner with the knowledge of Daoist pharmacopeia and inner cultivation and the ability and dedication to present such materials to audiences in the West is rare. There's no money in such a pursuit, but we all have to eat and pay rent. I urge anyone with an interest in such subjects to support my friend Mattias Daly. I can't wait to read what he's working on."
-Red Pine (Bill Porter)

** Please check out my interview on the Purple Cloud Podcast, hosted by Daniel Spigelman, to learn more about this project**

Dear Friend,

I'm humbly seeking funds to help me find time to complete a translation of Professor Ge Guolong's (戈國龍) 2010 book, Ten Discourses on Daoist Alchemy (《丹道十講》), which was originally published in Chinese. I have already completed drafts of the first three chapters, leaving seven to go, which amounts to approximately another 100,000 Chinese characters.

I describe the book in detail below, but in short it will be of value to anybody who wishes to gain an equal-parts practical and philosophical point of entry into Daoist self-cultivation. Ten Discourses on Daoist Alchemy stands apart from other books on Daoist meditation in English in that it is neither a discussion of qi-cultivation techniques, nor an academic overview of distant-seeming ideas and practices. The point of this book is to guide readers across a bridge spanning the gap between philosophy and personal experiential realization.

As Red Pine indicated above, translating a dense spiritual text that contains long passages written in classical Chinese is very time-consuming, exhausting work. Receiving financial support will allow me to carve out a large block of time from my schedule to fully focus on rendering the essence of Professor Ge's book and its long passages from master Huang Yuanji (see below) into English. I know that $10,000 may seem like an exorbitant for a work of translation, but if I raise this sum I will, in the end, earn about $0.07/character; the standard Chinese-English translation rate for a work on spirituality written in modern Chinese is ~$0.12/character, and a significant portion of this book is written in classical Chinese!

About the author​

The original Chinese book was written by Ge Guolong (戈國龍), a professor of religion at the China Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. Each of the ten chapters begins with a full chapter from a well-known Qing Dynasty-era treatise on inner alchemy, Oral Records from the Hall of Joyous Teaching, which was composed in the 1800s by students of a traveling Daoist master named Huang Yuanji (黃元吉).

Ge Guolong is a professor of religions at the China Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. He has been researching, practicing, and teaching Daoism and Buddhism for more than twenty-five years, and is the author of seven books on religion, including Travels of the Heart in Buddhism and Daoism, A Contemporary Explanation of Daoist Alchemy, and Searching for the Secrets of Life. He lives in Beijing where he is dedicated to teaching and promoting traditional methods of self cultivation.

About the translator​

I began this project shortly after graduating from Beijing University of Chinese Medicine in 2017. After I began pursuing a MA in Chinese Literature at National Taiwan University in 2018 I ran out of time to devote to an unpaid passion project. When I'm not teaching acupuncture or doing Chinese medical massage and acupressure, my main employment is as a translator and interpreter. Last year I translated Taiwanese essential oil researcher June Wen (溫佑君)'s 300-plant pharmacopeia (《新精油圖鑑: 300種精油科研新知集成》, English title TBA, to be published in 2020 ) into English; I am currently working on Shanghai-based taijiquan master Ren Gang's (任剛 ) book《太极拳行法释要》, in which he unreservedly reveals all of the essential neigong instructions from his art, which trace to the Daoist master Zhang Sanfeng (張三丰). Previously I translated five book-length secret qigong instruction manuals (believe it or not) for a Chinese lineage with teachers in several countries, and I also do quite a bit of interpretation for FDP Brakes--that's got very little to do with Daoism, but we sure do make some damn fine brake pads, and of course they help people to slow down, which is probably a good thing to learn to do if you ever wish to get on Zhuangzi's wavelength!

I began training Chinese martial arts, qigong, and standing meditation in Chicago in 1999, and my first encounters with Daoism came shortly afterwards. I have been studying and practicing Daoism without break since 2006. My formal affiliation is with the Longmen branch (龍門派) of Quanzhen Daoism (全真道), of which I am a 20th generation lay disciple. I have also received years of in-depth instruction from representatives of two lesser-known lineages, as well as from numerous Buddhist monks and nuns in the Chinese and Tibetan traditions and spent close to a year of my life living in temples, primarily in a Daoist monastery in the foothills of the Changbai Mountains in northeastern China.

Why this book?​

The clear wisdom of the Daodejing and Zhuangzi has inspired millions, but for those who wish to bridge over the gap between the philosophy and daily practice, many Daoist works may seem too vague, too full of incomprehensible imagery, or too much like qigong manuals. If you’ve ever suspected that the foundations of the deepest Daoist practices really are just as straightforward and simple as the path that Laozi and Zhuangzi embraced, then this book is for you.

About the book​

Early Daoist inner alchemists borrowed complex terminology from astrology, numerology, and so-called “external alchemy” to describe the process of individual transformation that occurs as one seeks firsthand understanding of the truth of human existence. While the terminology of classical Daoist meditation books can seem arcane, what it represents is in fact extremely simple and straightforward—things are, in the end, just as Laozi meant when he said, “the Great Dao is ultimate simplicity.” Ten Discourses on Daoist Alchemy guides the reader past the forest of unfamiliar vocabulary to a clearing where Daoist meditation practice trades enigmatic symbolism for immediate accessibility.

In engaging, accessible language, Ten Discourses on Daoist Alchemy makes it clear why so-called alchemy is not something one does, but a process that unfolds when one abides in one’s original, “primordial” state. Students of Chan/Zen Buddhism and Dzogchen may find the contents of this book deeply familiar, as it written at a time when the “three teachings” of Daoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism had already been blending for centuries. In the vein of this tradition, the discourses make liberal use of Buddhist terminology to elucidate Daoist concepts, showing the reader why millions of Chinese cultivators believe that in the realm of “wordless teachings,” all authentic schools are the same.

Chapter outline​

1. Unsurpassed Destiny - a discussion of how one comes to have an affinity with Daoist practice and the implications of such a life destiny

2. Illuminating the Mind to See Its True Nature - an exploration of the mind training common to and central to all Daoist inner alchemy schools, as well as that which links these traditions to Chan/Zen Buddhism (the title of this chapter is a well-known Chan Buddhist concept)

3. The Portal of the Mysterious Pass - a further exploration of mind training with an emphasis on explaining the uniquely Daoist concept of “the mysterious pass”

4. Advancing the Fire and Gathering the Medicine - an in-depth exposition of practical terminology from Daoist meditation; makes abstruse “alchemical language” comprehensible

5. Empty, Nonexistent Qi - unpacks the paradoxical nature of the chapter title while at the same time clarifying why Daoist meditation is fundamentally different from qigong or “energy work”

6. Dual Cultivation of Xing and Ming - explains what is really meant by the well-known Daoist adage that xing and ming—respectively, the essence of the mind’s nature and the essence of one’s life—must be simultaneously trained

7. Primordial Jing and Primordial Shen – clarifies the importance and significance of using that which is “primordial” or “original” in Daoist meditation, in addition to defining “essence” and “spirit”—jing and shen

8. Two Heavens and Earths – building on the last chapter’s discussion of the “primordial,” this chapter explains the differences between “prior heaven” and “later heaven” and what they mean to the cultivator

9. Going Back to the Root, Returning to the Source – by explaining Laozi’s famous dictum that “one births two, two births three, three births the myriad things,” this chapter illustrates what “returning” means in the actual practice of Daoist meditation

10. Universe and Individual, Interconnected – a summary chapter that speaks of the fruition of Daoist practice while also offering more practical instructions

For whom is the book primarily written?​

The book is for anybody who has ever asked the following sort of questions:

· Laozi and Zhuangzi’s books were great—but does anybody have any idea how to approach their wisdom through actual practice?

· Can a normal person like me learn anything practical from this tradition, or is it only aloof hermit characters and people who want to take on a bunch of ancient Chinese dietary and cultural habits?

· Many people say that Daoism and Buddhism blended during the centuries of Chan/Zen’s development in China—does this mean that Daoist theories and meditation practices are actually similar to those of Chan/Zen?

· Is Daoist alchemy really just a sort of complex, esoteric “internal” qigong? Do I need to do qigong or taiji or something like that to learn Daoist meditation?

· Are all those weird Daoist meditation vocabulary words meant to be taken literally? Do I need to know what all of them mean in order to practice?

· If “wuwei” means “non-doing,” then what the heck do practicing Daoists actually do?!?

What needs does this book fulfill?​

Many English language books on Daoism suffer from being too vague, too fanciful, too interpretive, too laden with impenetrable vocabulary, or too much like qigong manuals. This book helps readers by addressing the following points in detail:

· The distinction between “prior heaven” and “later heaven” is of vast importance to Chinese cultivators—these two terms are used by not only by Daoists, but also Buddhists and Confucians, as well as qigong practitioners and physicians practicing Chinese medicine. This book will help readers become clear on what these terms mean, why they are important, and how to access the “primordial” or “original” aspects of our “prior heaven” nature.

· This book illustrates the way in which many of the philosophical statements found in the Daodejing and Zhuangzi are directly pertinent to meditation practice.

· This book shows how the “three teachings [Daoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism] are one” tradition that came out of the Song Dynasty and continues to this day was not slapped-together syncretism, but rather a vital and expedient way of transmitting a single wordless wisdom by approaching it from three distinct angles. Readers will see both how important Buddhism’s contribution to this body of knowledge was, as well as glimpse the way in which many students of Chinese spirituality artfully sidestepped the pitfalls of sectarianism.

· This title illustrates aspects of Daoist training that are close to if not analogous with teachings from Chan/Zen and Dzogchen traditions.

· Finally, “the three teachings are one” did not mean a total blending of Daoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism—each remains to this day as a stand-alone, unique tradition. This book will bring readers more deeply than most have gone into the ancient but very much alive world of Daoist cultivation.


I have permission from Professor Ge Guolong to translate this book into English and publish it. Huang Yuanji lived during the Qing Dynasty. His works, which make up the first section of each chapter, have long been in the public domain and are widely circulated in China and Taiwan.

Roots of Virtue

At Your Service
Staff member
Everyone should note that sponsoring authentic Dharma or cultivation texts' translation and publishing is an excellent merit. The chief benefit is that in future lifetimes you will be able to receive such texts yourself.

Roots of Virtue

At Your Service
Staff member
Mattias Daly has shared a draft excerpt of the translation and he encouraged sharing it:

Excerpt from Chapter 7, "Primordial Jing and Primordial Shen" (italics in the text can't be reproduced here):

We need to examine the principles that underlie “refining jing to transform it into qi,” in order to be sure about what “jing” means in the context of this work. Many people misunderstand this concept, and as a result they conflate the later heaven jing related to reproduction and primordial jing. Because later heaven jing has already turned into a substance with a physical form, it is no longer possible to directly transform it into qi. It is already “old,” and therefore cannot be used in inner alchemy. If anybody states that this unclear form of jing can be transformed into some kind of qi, he or she is pointing to a side door leading towards a crooked path. Even a worldly scientist with no knowledge of Daoism can tell that this is impossible, because the principles behind such a practice are illogical.

We have to distinguish ordinary jing and primordial jing, but there is a somewhat tricky point we need to be clear about in order to do so. The jing that is refined in inner alchemy is primordial jing. Primordial jing is a relatively subtle form of energy or sustenance found in the human body, and it needs be made to transform into qi, which is an even more subtle and rarefied form of energy. This process is in some ways akin to cooking—when we put ingredients into a pot and add heat, the ingredients will start to steam, meaning that the substances that had been in a liquid state are turning into gases. The tricky point where this analogy breaks down lies in the fact that that primordial jing is formless; it is only akin to a fluid, but it not actually something in the liquid state of matter. Similarly, qi is merely analogous to something in the gaseous state, because it is something that flows throughout the body, but it is not actually a gas. Nevertheless, we use this analogy because when “fire” (which represents the effects created by consciousness) and “wind” (which represents the effects created by the breath) are regulated in tandem, jing can transform into qi, which means that jing transmutes into a more sublime form of energy. That is the meaning of “refining jing to transform it into qi.”

Even though primordial jing is distinct from later heaven, corporeal jing, the two are nevertheless closely related. For this reason, if we are to practice internal alchemy, it is necessary to moderate our desires, which means reducing the exhaustion of our sexual energies as much as possible. What principle underlies this statement? Primordial jing is the basic energy of life. If it is called to do so, it will fulfill its function by turning into the body’s sexual fluids and energies. Turning into reproductive jing is the route that primordial jing commonly takes, and as this happens it gets used up. Thus, if we constantly consume our reproductive essences, at the same time our primordial jing will constantly transform into corporeal jing, which means that we will lack the basic ingredient for the alchemical work of “transforming jing to turn it into qi.”

Conversely, if we sublimate and refine primordial jing before it has undergone the process of turning into post heaven, physical jing, it will become a higher level energy. Simultaneously, that change will reduce the strength of the impetus that pushes primordial jing to go in the direction of becoming bodily jing. The natural result of this process is to transform sexual energies as well as reduce the rate at which they are consumed; both outcomes are closely intertwined.
  • Equanimity

One Finger Chan

Mattias Daly has shared a draft excerpt of the translation and he encouraged sharing it:

Excerpt from Chapter 7, "Primordial Jing and Primordial Shen" (italics in any people misunderstand this concept, and as a result they conflate the later heaven jing related to reproduction and primordial jing. Because later heaven jing has already turned into a substance with a physical form, it is no longer possible to directly transform it into qi. It is already “old,” and therefore cannot be used in inner alchemy. I
Conversely, if we sublimate and refine primordial jing before it has undergone the process of turning into post heaven, physical jing, it will become a higher level energy. Simultaneously, that change will reduce the strength of the impetus that pushes primordial jing to go in the direction of becoming bodily jing.
So different from the view brought forth by self-appointed self-initiated representatives of non-ejaculatory "nei dan is the same as qigong" - methods that used to aggressively dominate discussions on the subject on TDB, those years when Nei Dan was in vogue.
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Roots of Virtue

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An update from June 13, 2021 excerpts chapter 8. It really makes clear that the true accomplishment of Neidan is not mundane by any measure.

Humans, born of heaven and earth, ultimately come from the single qi of primordial pure yang. This qi is the qi of great harmony. It is the limitless indivisible that fills all space.

Humans are sculpted by yin and yang, and thus our bodies of blood and flesh are born. Though this yin and this yang come after taiji, they are still true yin and true yang, free of dreg or residue, and still close to the primordial qi of the great harmony.

Once a person is born, one’s qi is constrained and one is deluded by external objects and phenomena. All of the yin and yang in one’s physical body transforms into the shen of cognition and perception; into the qi of breathing and movement; and into the jing of sex between husbands and wives. Then there is only yin but no yang. This qi cannot be used as a “medicinal ingredient,” so how could it then become the elixir?

It is clear that later heaven jing and qi are but dross; they are residual substances. Nevertheless, in cultivation one cannot but make use of them in order to enter the gate. But be that as it may, the formation of the elixir makes no use of them whatsoever. Thus: those who use that which has shape and form cannot create the grain of golden elixir that is empty and nonexistent.

If a person cultivates hsing by vainly refining his or her temperament, and, in the cultivation of ming, refines only his or her flesh-and-blood life, it cannot be said an elixir cannot be created. Yet, even if such a person does create an elixir, it will only be an illusory elixir, and he or she will plummet into the dens of foxes and into the ranks of snakes and rats. Unable to avoid angering the gods, struck down by thunderclaps, he or she will never again be able to obtain a human body. How is this not tragic?

Outstanding people fully recognize that the great way of the golden elixir is achieved via clear, numinous qi. But clear, numinous qi does not return to us of its own accord, so one must make use of the true yin and true yang within one’s own body, and then one will be able to summon this qi to come and gather. When the ancients spoke of the “the homogenous two-eight substances,” they were speaking of true yin and true yang.

It is especially important to know that primordial qi is fundamentally without any markers that can be searched for, and that it has no location that can be guessed at. How, then, does one seek it and glimpse it? Only by this: it is at the moment when the true yin and true yang in one’s own body become active that primordial qi has entered the body. One must then seize and take charge of the numinous mercury and yin jing in one’s own body, and allow them to naturally congeal into the elixir.

An ancient immortal thus said: “Those who cultivate the Dao must first know that there are two heavens and earths, and two yins and yangs. Only then can one begin the work.”

What is that which is called “two heavens and earths?”

None other than prior heaven and later heaven.

What is referred to by “two yins and yangs?”

It is like this: when one is meditating, one must have something within the later heaven physical body that can be relied upon as a starting point. Well, exhalations and inhalations are yin and yang. Yin and yang originate in the qi of oneness; when the qi of oneness dissipates, it becomes yin and yang—in and out breaths are of ordinary yin and ordinary yang. So, when students meditate, they must first regulate the external breath, in order to elicit the primordial breath of Realized Humans.

In the harmonizing of the external breath, in the beginning one must give priority to intention. Mencius said: “Will, it is the commander of qi.” An ancient immortal said: “If one wishes to complete the cultivation of the nine turns, one must first refine the self and manage the heart.” It is thus clear that rightening the heart and making one’s intent sincere is the basis of cultivation.

To regulate breathing, one lets one’s eyes observe the center of the dantian, and lets the breath descend into yinqiao. Lift the qi of yinqiao so that it enters the yellow court; then, use the breath to cause the yin jing in the purple palace to descend so that it meets the dantian. All of this involves ordinary yin and ordinary yang.

After doing this for some time, yin jing and yang qi will blend together and congeal within the earthly cauldron of the dantian. Naturally, yin essence will transform into the essence of the jing of true yang, and ordinary qi will transform into the qi of true yin. Vigorous and flourishing, they will fill one’s entire body. All of this involves true yin and true yang; primordial qi is not far off.

All of you should know that primordial qi is fundamentally formless and unconditioned. That which is vigorous and flourishing is true yin and true yang; it is not the universe’s primordial qi. If one refers to true yin and true yang as though they were the universe’s primordial qi, one has strayed far from the Dao.

Know this: when, from within the vigorous and flourishing, there comes that which is placid, tranquil, still, and serene, this marks the returning of primordial qi. It is not separate from yin and yang; yet, it does not mingle with yin and yang.

My teacher instructed us that, each time we sat to meditate, it was necessary to have an experience of peacefulness, naturalness, and contentment, as only in this way could we glimpse our original faces. We could not become fixated upon primordial qi and see it as some kind of object. This was the correct way to practice.

When my teacher transmitted these mysteries, it could be said that she fully revealed the profound essentials, as though she dug out her own heart and liver to put on display for her students. Students, you must really put this into practice. Be like Dong Zhongshu, who said: “Be straight upon your path and do not scheme for personal benefits; understand the way and do not fuss over gain and loss.” This is the correct way to practice.

As for whether or not there will be results: do not expect results, do not become elated or despondent because you gain or lose. This is how you approach the Way.
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Roots of Virtue

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The first draft of chapter 9 is finished, bringing this project one step closer to completion. Only chapter 10 and Ge Guolong's postscript remain. Donations are still deeply appreciated, especially to help with the potential costs associated with hiring a proofreader to help with the many rough edges that surely mar this translation. My thanks go out to the many people who have helped bring this project so close to the finish line.

A sample from chapter 9 is below:


The Green Pine Temple here in Hong Kong belongs to the Complete Reality school of Daoism. The original spirit of this tradition was embodied by its founder, Wang Chongyang. Wang Chongyang taught that to cultivate the Dao is to seek “complete reality.” This work is not accomplished through any sort of external rituals, but through making jing, qi, and shen whole, which makes whole both one’s life as well as the brightness of one’s fundamental essence. Wang taught his students to transcend all external concerns such as success, fame, wealth, and rank, and instead to return to the home of the heart. In Daoism, this process is described by the term that serves as the title for this chapter: “Going back to the root, returning to the source.”

To go back to the root and return to the source is to trace backwards to where our lives originally came from—the Dao—in order to obtain harmony and liberation therein. Once our later heaven lives take shape, the tendency of our jing, qi, and shen to dissipate outwards takes us further and further away from the source. Going back to it liberates us.

There is a well-known phrase that expresses the underlying principles of internal alchemy: “Go with the current and remain mortal; counter the current and transcend.” This phrase alludes to the two directions that the universe’s evolution unfolds in, as well as the two directions in which the skill we develop in cultivation can take us. Daoist cultivation’s worldview, life outlook, and basic theory of how to practice are all included in this phrase’s two main ideas, going with the current, and going against the current.

It is important to be aware that the notion of going with and against the current apply to specific contexts. If one is not clear about what these contexts are, there is a risk of developing a warped understanding of the teachings. For instance, Laozi, one of Daoism’s ancestral teachers, stated “the Dao follows its intrinsic nature.” Given that the Dao was originally said to “follow its intrinsic nature,” some scholars hold that internal alchemy amounts to a revolution in Daoist thought, in which the old teaching of following intrinsic nature was replaced with one of “going against the current.” However, scholars who think this way are operating on the basis of a major misunderstanding, which stems from the fact that they are unclear as to the frames of reference in which following the current and going against the current apply.

There is, in fact, no contradiction between ideas such as “go backwards against the current to become an immortal” and “the Dao follows its intrinsic nature.” Quite the opposite, the two teachings share the exact same essential meaning. The concept of “intrinsic nature” has two layers of meaning. One of these layers points to the realm of intrinsic nature realized by sages. This is the realm of wuwei, where one’s essential nature is integrated with that of the Dao itself. But there is another context in which the term “intrinsic nature” is used, in this case to describe ordinary people doing whatever comes naturally to them. When used in this way, “intrinsic nature” refers to people’s habituated characters; in this sense, “to follow nature” means to float along with the force of karma. If I was prone to getting drunk or taking drugs, I could very well ask, “aren’t I just following my nature? Aren’t I just going with the flow?” While that may be the case from a certain standpoint, this is not the type of “following intrinsic nature” that pertains to Daoist cultivation.

Just memorizing the lexicon of Daoist practice is not enough—one needs to directly experience its real meaning. Some people latch onto superficial meanings, thinking until the end of their days that “the Dao follows its own nature” means having carte blanche to live a life of debauchery, because that’s “just being natural.” The truth is that one must have reached a very high stage in cultivation to be able to follow intrinsic nature. At this stage, all the pretense, scheming, and divisiveness of the later heaven mind are gone. This is not a stage where one just goes along with spontaneously-arising human desires; rather, it is the stage of flowing with the self-arising suchness of the Dao.


The prior heaven realm must be awakened to; the qi of habit in the later heaven realm must be refined; these two tasks must be accomplished in an integrated manner.

Gradual practice is a process of cleansing the heart, which is sometimes described in Daoist literature as “letting the human heart die so that the heart of Dao can come to life.” It was in reference to this process that Wang Chongyang called himself a “living dead man” and even named one of the places where he meditated “the Tomb of the Living Dead Man.” “Living” meant that he was, of course, still alive, but what had “died” was his “human heart.” This was another way of saying that he was no longer a captive of later heaven, self-centered thinking.

In Daoist circles one sometimes hears the phrase, “If you don’t want to die, then you’ll have to perish.” This meaning of this phrase is, “So you want not to die? You want to become a Daoist immortal? Well fine, that’s simple—the only thing you have to do is get your later heaven human mind to die!” Once the so-called human mind is gone, prior heaven original nature comes to life; the “heart of Dao” is then active, and because it is eternal, one can be said not to die.

This teaching is another place where the concepts of going with or against the current apply. To go with the current is to follow the “human heart,” which means having a mind that is prone to scattering itself outwards as it attempts to clutch onto this or that object or phenomenon. To go against the current requires dismissing the human heart, so that one can return to one’s prior heaven nature.

However, it needs to be clearly stated that what “letting the human heart die so that the heart of Dao can come to life” really describes is a result of practice, but not a way to practice. In terms of actual practice, the “human heart” and the “heart of Dao” are not two separate things that can be set against each other. One should not actually try to reject one’s human mind while chasing after the “Dao mind.” What these Daoist teachings describe is the awakening of wisdom, not an internal war waged against the ego. One has to realize what the human mind is at its base, not stubbornly struggle against it. The only correct way to “let the human mind perish” is to recognize that it is, by its very nature, empty. Suppressing, rejecting, or struggling with any aspect of one’s mind is mistaken practice.
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Roots of Virtue

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Quick update--

I've been busy reworking some of the early chapters of this translation, which I started in 2017. Between then and now I've completed the coursework and thesis research for an MA in Chinese literature at National Taiwan University (which has required more hours of reading Daoist and Buddhist texts than I care to count), translated three other books, published two pieces of writing in Chinese, translated several modern Taiwanese short stories and numerous pieces of classical Chinese poetry into English, and generally gotten a lot better at what I do. The first three chapters need a lot of work, but I'm about 2/3 of the way through, and I'm pleased to see that I'm now a much better translator than I was four years ago, even if cleaning up my old messes is taking forever.

I also recently went back and translated Ge Guolong's short introduction to the book, which I'll paste below. Thanks once more to everybody whose help has kept this project slowly chugging along.


Daoism’s classic texts are extremely numerous. With so many other ancient writings to choose from, why base a book on discussions of ten chapters from Huang Yuanji’s Oral Record from the Hall of Joyous Teaching? I chose to do so because, both in terms of its contents and its manner of presentation, Huang Yuanji’s book is highly unique. The reasons I believe this deserve a brief explanation.

The classic writings of Daoism can be divided into numerous categories. One of those categories is books created through planchette writing—these are books that were received through communication with the spiritual realm. Many internal alchemy writings dating to the Ming and Qing dynasties were transmitted from Ancestor Lü Dongbin in this way. Books of this sort were not penned by specific individuals, and rather came about through communication between people of this world and beings existing in formlessness. Sometimes their contents are not especially clear, and have a “stream of consciousness” quality to them.

Another category of books was written by ancient scholars who researched deeply into Daoism. Reading huge numbers of books, they became profoundly versed in the Daoist thought. Their knowledge allowed them to write “classics” of their own, as well as to write commentaries on various important texts. The books they wrote were strong on theory and presented ideas quite systematically. However, these writers did not necessarily go deeply into Daoist practice. Often, they were members of the literati whose intellectual cultivation allowed them to write eloquently about things they had not in fact directly experienced. These scholastic commentators on the Dao are sometimes likened to people who write books on military strategy without having experienced combat.

A third category of Daoist books contain the words of highly accomplished Daoist adepts—some were written by these masters themselves, and others by people who collected their sayings. The knowledge presented in these books comes from people who personally experienced Daoist practice, instead of those who thought about or imagined it. Moreover, compared with the aforementioned books that came about by using planchette writing to communicate with the heavenly realms, these books come across as more down to earth. They can serve as guides for actual practice. In my opinion, their ability to assist readers with their cultivation makes them incredibly valuable.

Yet another category of Daoist books consists of books of poetry and verses written by earlier masters. Titles in this category include voluminous works of poetry by the ancestral founders of the Complete Reality school of Daoism, as well as Zhang Boduan’s Awakening to Reality. These writings are so full of coded symbols that one can study them for a very long time without gaining a clear idea of what they are meant to express. So much skill is required for one to be able to decipher these collections of verse that they sometimes feel aloof and vague.

The Oral Record from the Hall of Joyous Teaching happens to be a book with none of the shortcomings of the categories listed above. Its greatest merit lies in the fact that this book consists of transcripts of Huang Yuanji’s discourses, taken down by his disciples. From what they recorded, it is clear to see that Huang was not just an authentic Daoist cultivator, but one who had reached quite a high level of realization. Many of the most important classics from different religions were also records of oral teachings given by great masters. Because the words such books contain came from the mouths of accomplished adepts, their very existence is capable of lending power to those who encounter them. Moreover, because these teachers were actual practitioners, the words they spoke were based in real experience, not imagination or academic knowledge.

The Oral Record presents extremely profound information in a simple manner. Although its time period means that it was written in classical Chinese, Huang Yuanji was clearly teaching in the colloquial language of the day, yielding a text that is quite accessible and easy to understand. However, even though the book is written in a plain manner, there is nothing shallow about its contents. It contains teachings on the entire process of Daoist inner alchemy cultivation, ranging from building a foundation to the highest levels of practice. It also includes authentic explanations of fundamental theories as well as methods needed to actually start walking the path. In other words, this is a text that equally emphasizes both theory and practice.

Some books are heavily pitched towards theory, but they give little insight into how one should actually practice. Other books place a lot of emphasis on the particulars of practice, to the point that they are essentially step-by-step training manuals. Such manuals do not take the reader deeply into the principles upon which practice is based. It is crucial for those of us with an interest in internal alchemy to keep in mind that Daoism’s principles and its practices must be learned side by side in order for there to be any hope of success.

If one only has an idea of cultivation as a defined system of practices, but does not thoroughly understand the principles that inform cultivation, then one will practice as though blind, because one will have no idea where one is supposed to be going. Practice without a clear sense of destination becomes mechanical, and it will not allow one to enter into the higher stages. This is because is Daoist cultivation cannot be brought to fruition through mechanistic processes. What is required for real accomplishment is an elevated level of consciousness and self-awareness. Of course, if one merely nods along knowingly with the above warning, without engaging in any actual practice, then one will be just like the ancient literati who did nothing but probe into all kinds of theories. Filling one’s head with new things to think about will not bring one any closer to the path.

In terms of both theory and practical instructions, the teachings in the Oral Record are very comprehensive. The book reveals a wealth of critical cultivation instructions in an open, unguarded manner. These instructions were revealed in the context of the needs of the disciples Huang Yuanji was addressing when he taught, making them highly applicable in real situations.