Small Archive

Referenced Works

Joseph Needham: Science and Civilisation in China Cambridge CUP (various dates)
Martin Buber: I and Thou  Simon & Schuster (1971)

Richard Bertschinger (trans.)The Secret of Everlasting Life (Singing Dragon 2010)    This book is now published by Singing Dragon.  You can advance order it now from me here.  Good Hunting!  (This is the first translation of THE alchemical classic, c. 142 CE.  Also known as the Cantongqi or Tsan-tung-chi ).

Richard Bertschinger (trans.) The Golden Needle and other Odes of traditional Acupuncture. Book two of Yang Jizhou’s Grand Compendium (1601) .  I have some copies of the The Golden Needle, linen covers and boxed at the clinic.  Only a few left.The new paperback edition The Golden Needle  from Singing Dragon (2013) is coming out as The Great Intent next year.


Burton Watson Selected Poems of Su Tung-po  (Copper Canyon Press 1994)


Some useful medicines here at David Eastoe’s site  Here is the link.  Wondrous medicines made from natural materials.


This is the page where I store past Sayings of the Day.
Also some of the early Weblog is here below.  From 2009 May 7th.

the author…after a long time translation….time to exit the study and get back to ‘circulating the qi’!


Thur 18th Jun

I have a Qi Gong Manual (qigong has its roots in Taoism) from Jiangxi province, published in 1988 which identifies four books  as classics of the genre:  the Ts’an Tung Chi), the Wu Chien Pien, which we are currently following, the Yellow Courtyard Classic (Huangting Jing)and the Heshang gong commentary on the Tao-te Ching.  I have presented some of the Taote Ching previously and will soon have a link to my translation of this valuable commentary on the booklets page.  The Yellow Courtyard I would disregard – as being of a particular lineage which has not been widely followed up, as far as I know.  But I may be wrong.  They may be teachers of this tradition in China, at the present.

They authors also include the Yinfu Ching which I presented last month, as an appendix.  Just as well!  I believe it is of overwhelming importance.  And of course I would put in the I Ching, as a grand repository of the Han and pre-Han wisdom.

In time, I will present all these works on this website.  It just so happens (!) that they are now ready for publication with my running commentary.

As regards the completion of the alchemical task, Chang Potuan states:

Just as, from the Western Peaks,
The White Tiger tears down,
Over the Eastern Ocean
The Green Dragon will not stay in place!
With both hands grapple them,
Fighting to the death!
Moulding both into
A solid lump of Violet Gold.


Indeed, with these books, it feels as if I hold in my hands a lump, hardly formed as yet, of Violet Gold.

Wed 17th Jun

So we reach the end of the first poem in Chang Potuan’s Wu Chien Pien.   Chang (983-1082 is considered the second patriarch of the Southern School of Internal Alchemy, or Taoist meditation n-as distinct from the Northern School, sometimes called the Complete Reality (Quanzhen) school founded by Wang Chongyang (1112-1170).

He is said to have written the book in his late eighties – and apparantly lived nearly to one-hundred.  Paul Crowe, acedemician, has written on Chang Potuan.


A brief pause for a few days and we will carry on with the book.  Next – the single verse poem….

Tue 16th Jun

Summer rolls on.  We have a whole week of temperatures forecast to top 20 C.  And the ground is dry.  However the swifts and house-martins are busy in our village;  their first batch must just be hatching – now begins the frantic business of feeding.  Numbers of swifts are definitely in the 7-8 region now.   Formerly I had questioned whether the seven birds I had seen in May were on migration – but it seems they have settled and nested here.    Swifts, unfailingly, leave the first week of August, giving them barely 100 days in UK – to pair up, mate, lay, incubate, hatch, rear their young and then for the young to feed ready to fly their 3000 miles back to Aftrica.  Some job!

In the stanza opposite Chang Potuan clearly identifies the ‘instant illumination’, ‘sudden awakening’ aspect of his Internal Alchemical Taoism – the Golden Opportunity (see 10th Jun. below).  悟 – wu – is the character for ‘awakening’;

Yang – Ch’ien – Heaven :

and Yin – Kun – Earth:

Perhaps indeed it lies in friendshop and warm affection. As Yin and Yang, apparent opposites, join.  This can  constitute awakening.

The power of the imagery and symbolism is that it allows the easy integration of the psyche – rather than the hair-splitting and devisive exclulsivity of Western Aristotelian logic.

Sad England lost to West Indies in the Twenty20 World Cup (cricket, that is).  Plus ca change,…….

Mon 15th Jun

Yesterday the Green Fayre!  A celebration of all things environmentally friendly, gentle and green – including scything a field of hay.  Really an amalgam of a scything competition and a village fayre.

Here is a picture of the brazier and furnace, from Montacute House gates, second only to the cauldron in alchemy.  Indeed Heaven and Earth are seen as Furnace and Cauldron, the action of sunlight on inert matter, producing life.  You know, really, these Chinese had something.  It was quiet evident to them that all life was one, and we were in there as well, like it or not.  So what’s the problem!

As the Yinfu Ching says: naturally born, naturally extinguished
the ratiocination of all… we cannot escept the Tao for an instant, if we could it would not be the Tao.  This idea comes from the beginning of the Zhongyong (the Confucian Doctrine of the Mean).

Another verse tomorrow.

Sat 13th Jun

Midsummer approaches!  The time of festivals – the triumph of the Yang!  Over the gates to Montacute House, in the village where we live, on the two gate columns are a pair of braziers – burning fires, in cast-iron boxes.  The power of fire was dear to the alchemists of Elizabethan times – but they did not know they where following a tradition, stretching back to Han times.  The Chiense were the first to actually believe in the idea of an elixir – a substance which when imbibed, or else created within (as later Taoists believed), could perpetuate life;  and even, in some rare cases, prolong indefinately our corporeal life.


Here, in today’s stanaz, Chang Potuan has  a sideways swipe at all meditative practices, breath exercises, fasting, sexual abstinence, etc.  They are detract from the business of the Golden Elixir….which (as he explained earlier) is to do with the ‘sunken silver under the surface of the white-jade pond’.

Fri 12th Jun

The Three Fives are 1+4 (water and gold), 2+3 (fire and wood), and 5 alone as the earth.  Got that!?  Together they form ‘a little child’.  We have to meditate on this for some time – viz. the ten moons…eventually something dawns…

The oldest Chinese references to this is in the so-called Yellow River Diagram.  It is very old, probably from the Sung editors

Good luck on this one!

Thur 11th Jun

A nice little nub of high pressure pushes up and the wind pushes to the west.  Better.  Someone pointed out that if India and England are to meet, it must be in the semi-final.  Quite right, I mistook the two groups.  India look very powerful, but Twenty20 is such a fickle master.  We’ll see.

To guard against being cheated check on the Timing of the Firing says the poem.  This refers back to our judgment.  To our scrutiny of each situation.  And as this is a non-verbal thing, it cannot be written, hardly taught…but it can be demonstrated, viz. the apprenticeship, the observing student, who makes the tea for the first three-months and just watches it all going on…then you learn through your skin!

Do what I do, not what I say.

Later on the Wu Chien Pien states, quite plainly:  what is useful can not be seen, what can be seen, cannot be used.

Paradise, now! This what is meant by to ‘spring open the Bamboo-cage to live 10,000 years!’

New stanza tomorrow.


Wed 10th Jun

I see West Indies do not want to bat today.  Expect Chris Gayle is preparing himself (?) for the Super Eights (cricket that is!).  I tip India against England for the final next Saturday…lets see.

As to this topsy-turviness…

Western River Moon is Chang Potuan’s last poem in the Wu Chien Pien book and it is a masterpiece.  Much imitated – the ‘rhyme’ scheme being used to compose later works, even appearing in the 1601 Great Compendium of Acupuncture and Moxubustion (Book Two of which I translated as The Golden Needle).

Here is the passage In Western River Moon which applies to topsy-turviness….

Heaven and Earth in such manner
Pass through Decline and Flourishing,
Dawn and Dusk it is well to recall
Emergence  and Innocence.
The Spokes of the Wheel run together at the Hub,
    waters returning to the sea,
The Mystery consists in
Dividing-Up their workings.

Heaven and Earth, Yin and Yang, invert and turn topsy-turvy into each other, passing within and without, creating Decline (12) and Flourishing (11), the two hexagrams of discord and concord. Dawn and Dusk, Day and Night, the workings of the day, subsume each other, stimulating Sprouting (3) and Innocence (4), and sixty more hexagrams in all, distributed over the day and night. All run together at the Hub, the One, as waters returning to the sea. The Mystery consists in Dividing-Up their workings.

The poem continues… gain the one and all things draw to a close. Do not discriminate anything; nothing precious, nothing  worthless. Destroy them all, again destroy them! Fear all previous achievements and remain completely open. It is not fitting to dally with Life’s Jewel!

The aim of course is to embrace the topsy-turvy chaos, to wait for the Golden Opportunity, the single hair on the head of Lady Fortune…but did the Chinese have a way with the fates?  Did they perhaps just have a science of ….that is what the I Ching and alchemy purport to be.

The Ts’an Tung Chi has this to say on the matter of topsy-turviness….

As the cycling-five alternately rule,
They interlock in order to stay alive;
So fire will naturally fuse metal,
And a metal axe will fell a tree.

This is straight Five Element stuff.  But then…

At midnight, to the right they turn,
At midday, then revolving to the east,
While dawn and dusk act as limits between,
And as host and guest divide up the two.

The dragon blows out at the tiger,
The tiger sucks in the dragon’s seed,
Both drink and devour each other,
Totally greedy to succeed –
Each bites and gulps the other down,
Each bolts and sucks the other down.

Shimmering Mars guards the west,
Constant Venus is clear in the sky;
When baleful forces strike
Who may not be overthrown!

The dog will catch the rat,
Small birds fear the hawk;
Each of them acts as it can,
How dare they lay claim to greatness!

In other words the whole tangled bundle of things, of life is a patterning of interactiions and reflections…does one claim to be greater than the other? How ridiculous…the dragon blows out at the tiger, the tiger sucks in the dragon’s seed…the sexual inference is intended…all the universe is an interchange of Yin and Yang, of natural forces…governed by the patterning (li).  And it continues on…

If you cannot see this patterning,
Then difficulties create wild ideas,
You squander your family’s possessions,
And impoverish your wife and children.

From olden times to the present
Many, many have been devoted;
But they have ended their lives unfulfilled,
For very few may complete this work,
Searching wide outside for the famous medicine
They have turned from the path and gone astray.

In other words, take care!  In your own home and garden, grows the medicine.  Stay quite and look into your heart when alone. (aka: The Confucian Daxue or Great Learning, vi., 2.  For more Confucian Ethics see here.)

Many swifts flying today and house martins.  The young must be greedy for food – as ever they are!  We hope we get some good warmth now.  Last year many broods died in the wet.  Would help the cricket not to be rained off too!

Tue 9th Jun

Anyone following England’s cricket team on their way to the Super Eights?  Cricket is such a subtle game, close to the Tao.  The weather, also, plays a part and, like all sport, it draws in human qualities of strength and weakness, and, of course, chance….It is this pitting of chance against human endoveur than makes sport so fascinating.

Today’s stanza is packed full of imagery.  I will take it slowly!  For today let’s just focus on the Lotus born blazing within the Fire…The is the flower of enlightenment in Buddhism.  The Fire is the fire of desire.  Good Luck!

There is much on this topsy-turviness in the Ts’an Tung Chi;  more tomorrow.

Mon 8th Jun

Some nice sarcasm here in Master Chang’s poem.  Many folks profess to be ‘studying the Way’, but many are misdirected.

In fact the main thrust of the Tao-te Chng can be seen to be about sincerity.  Quite simply those who don’t trust will not be trusted (Ch.17).

And the Chapters 17 Genuine Behaviour, 18 Wearing Down Custom, 19 Returning to Genuineness,and 20 Different from the Crowd are all to do with being oneself, resonating with one’s simple inner nature and being true to the Tao.  The titles here are direct from Heshang Gong, one of the earliest commentators on this book.  His dates are around 2nd century C.E (at a guess, see Needham Vol II for excerpts).

My translation with his chapter titles is available here.

Sat 6th Jun

Just been reading a friend’s blog.  Struck by the conservative style of my approach…but then perhaps, that what I’m trying to say  one Tao, two Symbols, three Powers, four Images, five Elements…there ain’t much more to say.  And within these bounds we are free, free as free..

I’m struck by this cloudy, damp weather this morn.  Struck out at 5.30 for a long walk and met the rain coming back…the words sense and essence resonating in my brain…and I encouraged this dialogue.

One way of putting it is to say the sense is all around us, we swim in the sensory sea – the sensorium;  but then there is more, and this is the essence:  this is the Tao, the Images, the Powers, the Elements – they are both in the world and at a remove from the world.    So don’t take yourself too seriously folks!  The world of dreams, ideas and images we all inhabit – in our passing thoughts is the reality;  and the world out there, the real world, is a dream, our life a bubble bourne brielfly on the water…  Remember the first stanaz of the Wu Chien Pien.

A Hundred Years – an Eternity –
All but sparks struck off a stone!
Your whole life a bubble,
Borne briefly on the water!

This is why, again, the elixir is pure magic in matter (I’m reminded of J.K.Rowling’s felix felicis.) Every day, in every way we can taste it.  Luverly!!

Fri 5th Jun

Welcome to you all who are reading this blog for the first time.  If you read down through my diary you will see I am translating and commentating on a very old Chinese classical poem, purporting to be entry-level instruction for internal alchemy – the development of an inner elixir of immortality (neidan).  This Taoist school has many affinities with the Ch’an (Zen) school – not the least a belief in ‘sudden illumination’ – but it also weaves in a respect for the division of ‘medicinal ingrediants’ and the ‘timing of the firing’ of the elixir.  These images are taken, obviously, from external chemical alchemy.

Today we meet the Yellow Sprout, the nascent Fire, and the White Snow, the emergent Water.  It is pure magic in matter – the blend of substance and spirit, material and spiritual which is so very Chinese.  No body mind split for them!

Again Chang Potuan comments how he has never met a single person who properly knew its true refrain.  As earlier he stated that I alone  am different to other people. Cf. Tao-te Ching (20) Different to the Crowd.

Keep reading! and reading!  Don’t think too much!  Good luck.

Thu 4th Jun

Self-knowledge is life eternal, equal to that of the universe.  In poetic imagery the poet presents the tast – to seize the Red Mercury with the hun, or earthly soul; and to control the Water and Gold with the po, or celestial spirit.  The Heart one and the Kidneys two.

Does it all come down to self-control?  Maybe so,   Certainly it seems British politicians could do with that today – polling day.  We had something like 17 parties on the voting paper for the EU elections.  It might be a bad system – but it is the system.  Giafu once said to me the greatest problem is ‘knowing how much to push…’

Wed 3rd Jun

How much can go wrong with the alchemical process of refining the gold, of taking the materials, timing the firing and plucking the medicine. Chang Potuan has no time for Taoist gymnastics or breath meditation.

The Yang lined with Yin is the fleshly body, is the trigram Li, and more besides.  To humble the Dragon and Tiger is to preserve the Li-fire.

Return to the Root!  Revert to the primal, before-Heaven qi.  This the elemental world before it enters into time…now this is something quite wonderful and mysterious (miao 妙 )

Tue 2nd Jun

Good ol’ Microsoft. Crashed my site again today!  so we lost yesterday’s diary entry!  Lucky i backed up Sat. pm

Today…we return again to the Poem Wu Chien Pien.  The next stanza advises us to turn our back upon the ‘external’ path – the path of brewed up chemical and herbal elixirs.  To join the spiritual path – not necessary the physiological/medical, but more philosophical.  Remember True Lead and True Mercury, they  have nothing to do with common stones…the lead and mercury we will become better acquainted with later…enought to say that they have been greatly discussed and commented upon in all the alchemical classics…

The locus classicus for mercury is in the Cangongqi.  In my translation (see here) it goes…

On the river lives the mild-mannered maiden,
Marvellous she is and spiritually fine,
But as she bursts into flame, she flits away,
Not to be for this dusty world.

Just as ghosts and dragons, she lies concealed,
Where might she be hidden?
If you would control her
The yellow shoot is your basis.

I hope this is not too confusing.  The mercury is akin to the quick-silver mind…the yellow shoot is the basis in controlling her…the yellow shoot being the first stirring of the wood-vegetation element, the first inklings of ideas…’first thought, best thought’…as we say..

In other words you have to be so delicate and careful in your thought and behaviour.

Sat 30th May

And today we are off to the agricultural show at the Bath and West Showground.  More on this later.  The heavens are bright {sunny} and the earth yielding.  An interchange of water and fire.  What more could you ask!

The next verse to the Wu Chien Pien states: When Yin and Yang find each other, they renew their warm friendship – the Two Eights  in proper accord, Self joining with Self.  This is dialogue at the contact boundary – and if by chance we find each other, its beautiful – so goes Fritz Perls’ Gestalt prayer.

Fri 29th May

Deep haze envelops the countryside.  We are steaming towards a four-day high at least, with tropical air coming up to bath our green ilse…such is the poetic turn of phrase..

In the poem accompanying this text it says…only in the south-west, lies such a neighbourhood…so also does the hexagram The Receptive (No.2) contain the phrase ‘the southwest furthers…’.  The reference is usually made to the Outer World Diagram, also called the King Wen diagram or the After-Heaven Sequence.  But all these names simply obscure a more obvious truth  – change has its patterning, divine the patterning and you may find the path…

For the Outer World Diagram
see below on 16th May.

The outer world is the world of the senses – and the southwest is the region of the more yielding trigram’s forces….such is the Receptive.  The I Ching says the three daughters follow their mother to the southwest – if you study the trigrams you will see that this implies that wind, fire and the marsh (wetlands) accompany their mother to the southwest (upper rh corner of the diagram).

Don’t forget the Chinese put south at the top, unlike us in the West.

So there you have it.  Oh, one final thing – the Unstable Pearl is the mind.  No question about that!

Thur 28th May

OK.  Here we are folks, this is the densest verse of the poem so far.  It could do with a month’s study (or a life-time) not a day.  I will begin.

The central aspect is the occurance of the metal/gold/lead within the water.  Later in the same book, Chang Potuan revels in an exquisite poem Western River Moon.  My explanations I have to say, here, are inadequate.  What use is it to dally with concepts over the web…..but here goes.  The Moon is the unconscious, is the pathway into the Tao, is the ultimate reality – as opposed to the Sun, it is the Yin aspect of life, hidden, secret and cool.  Taoists always gave the Yang a hard time (although secretely the Yang was all they were concerned with!, the life force! which is why they gave it a hard time, it had to be just right…..any imbalance, perposterousness, arrogance, over-weightiness would lead to the toppling over of the Yang.  In face preserving the Yang was so important, we give most consideration to the Yin.  Have you got that?!) because Yang could so easily tend to excess.  This is very Oriental and subtle.  The West just goes on and on about the positive, yang peaceful, active……being a print-based culture, it can easily lose the fluid subtly of an oral tradition.

Enough!  So water is important…fluids, streams and springs.  And once the Gold has been plucked out the water – ! – there you have it..but you have to be so infinitely careful about this moment.  This is what the poet is stressing.  Once gazed upon, it is gone.  This is why the Earth element is now introduced.  The Earthernware pot supplies the support necessary to perpetuate the process – that it may be complete.  After all if the little fox dips his tail in the water before he is across…..he is lost…(see Hexagram 64 Not Yet Overcome) in the I Ching.  Available as e book here.

Wed 27th May

Sorry about yesterday.  Just kinda of fell out of synch.  Woke this morning debating Yin and yang – well actually some more sensory  stuff going on but…

…I could not help exclaiming at the delight I felt in this Yin and Yang business – NOT the cerebral stuff, foisted on us, but just Yin and Yang as dialogue, as meeting, subtly and the best of things.  Yin and Yang, up and down, body and mind, right and wrong, plus and minus, male and female, night and day, left and right, dawn and dusk – they permeate our world.  Can you understand this?  They make up the natural Tao, which underlines and ‘determines’ them all – like red, but not red – is a Chinese motto.  It is also said – like red, becomes red.  And all Tai-chi students know the mottos – like hard, but not hard – like soft, but not soft – hard, but also soft, soft, but also hard.

Well it goes round and round, indeed what goes around comes around –  so the saying goes.  And were they talking about the circulating the sky.  Do you remember the opening lines to the Yinfu Ching – observe the Tao of nature, grasp its circuit in the Sky, that is all – 天之道,執天之行,盡矣.

And so it goes on.  Summer and winter, arm and leg, in and out, sometimes we are up, sometimes down.  These are nothing but Yin and Yang.

Look at the Taote Ching:  being there and not being there generate each other, the difficult and easy complement each other,the long and short fit into each other, above and below oppose each other, tone and voice harmonise each other,
forward and backward follow one another…

So it must be that the Well-frog denies there exists a Dragon’s lair…

And so it goes on, the stupid and the saintly….

More Wu Chien Pien tomorrow.

Mon 25th May

All people possess this wisdom inside them.  As the saying goes, all the people in this world follow the Tao, without knowing it…

But the well-frog and wattled quail see no further than the end of their own nose!  Chang Potuan is poking fun at the small-minded – the original source is Chuang Tzu (Ch.1)

He stresses the naturalness of the whole art.  And has a swipe at the herbologists in the mean time…no need to brew up magical elixirs!  But later we will see that he has no time either for Yogic practices – his is a practice which embraces greater depth.  Akin to Ch’an (Chinese Zen)

Sun 24th May

There are two ideas at work in Chiense internal Alchemy.  The one is the materials – lead and mercury, true water and true fire – the other timing the firing – which is where the cycling hexagrams and trigrams, north to south, dusk and dawn, etc. come in.

The main idea behind Chang Potuan’s writings is awakening our true nature, ie. ‘Life’s precious jewel’. Later commentators were to distinguish between Nature (hsing) and Destiny (ming).

Our true nature, that which is uncovered by reading the I Ching is something uncomplicated, near at hand, to be discovered in every breath we take, who we really are, something going on all the time, to be grasped in an instant – akin to the Zen Buddhist wu (or Japanese satori),  It can be found anywhere. So why the need to protect it there in the Hills!

Thunder and rain blow up from the north today.  Such is Somerset weather in the spring..  Yet seven swifts seen last night, in the hot evening we had (26C in the shade, in our back yard).

Sat 23rd May

We are following a seminal work here of the Southern School of Inner Alchemy.  This is a study of nei-dan;  really the practice of Yoga, brewing the ‘elixir of immortality’ – both in a poetic sense and physiological sense, that it could perhaps make us live longer.  And importantly in a philosophical sense, allowing us to glimpse, perhaps, of a world beyond space and time.  Really these are all mashed up together in the Chinese world-view;  although difference Masters emphasised different aspects at differing times.

Enjoy the poem for what it is!  A tour-de-force of Chiense poetry.  I have tried to keep the inner rhythm of the Chinese scansion in my translation.

Fri 22nd May

That nub of warm air has finally pushed the cold air into touch.  We have a warm swathe of air finally – to touch our cold bodies and souls.  Do us northerners crave the sun?  We do!  Just like the bees.  I split my hive two weeks ago – and what do you know, I now have one healthy queened hive and one building queen cells.  And the rape (charlock) flow is full on.  A great time of year for bees, especially with the moisture around as well. Water and fire, Yin and Yang – you are never far from my mind.

Another link here on bird decline, this time in Ontario, Northern America.  It especilly highlights the insect-eaters.

To see the weather patterns I talk about follow here – and just shade your eyes a little, lean back and look at the colours.

Thur 21st May

A nose of warmer air pushes north into the cold block, that cold sink, remnant of winter which is torturing us poor British mortals.  Result:  southern Britain begins to feel a slight taste of summer – especially in Summerset (Somerset) which is predominantly low-lying pastures, draining in the summer months to provide lush grass for cattle – and rich pickings.  Three swifts career above me on my early am work.  Only three. The Guardian Satruday reports that woodpecker and nightingale numbers have halved in the last thirteen years.  See here for 2007 report on European crashes in bird numbers..

But dear reader.  Remember that these flickering lights – viz. the internet – contain very little reality.  If ‘what you are thinking, that is just not it…’ (see 18th May), then what you are speaking, what you write, print – put up on screen, is so much further away from what is happening.

Watch your breath! Now you are getting closer!  As today’s poem says…the Golden Elixir itself is quite evidently real…

Wed 20th May

The stillpoint testifies to the immutability of the world.  If we depart from the stillpoint, we have change.  No wonder Giafu was fascinated by the Book of Change.  The lines of Yeats come to mind  – turning and turning in the widening gyre
the falcon cannot hear the falconer, things fall apart, the centre cannot hold (The Second Coming) -but Yeats was not possessed of the same happiness in his personal life as Eliot, he was not always faithful in his marriages and his love of the occult seems almost manic in A Vision.  Both however were trying to make sense of Christianity in a destructive and fragmenting world.

So we return to the redemptive philosophy of the Tao.  When Death wins you over what do you have then? This was the conclusion of the first verse yesterday.  The Wu Chien Pien continues there is nothing for it but to search for the Great Medicine.  This is of course the elixir of immortality, the ‘pearl of great price’ – that which lifts us out of time and gives us everlasting life.  But it is also in this moment.  As Eliot also says:

…quick, now, here, now, always…(Burnt Norton).

I wish this cold wind would go.  We need sun…

Tue  18th May

Beginning Chang Potuan’s poem on alchemy today.  There are sixteen verses.  Sixteen echoes the ‘two eights’ – code words for the two powers, Yin and Yang.  As we begin our discussion of Internal Alchemy it is important not to get bogged down in the terms, words, phrases, etc.  Just let it all wash over you.  As Giafu said: ‘what you are thinking, that is just not it!’

We might call it emotional intelligence in this day and age.  But beware!  All my attempts at explanation are fraught with danger.  Once you have the term, word, phrase you are in danger of losing the essence – meaning hovers somewhat within, behind the written, printed term, word, phrase – so easy it is to lose, it is, As Yoda would say.

Wang Pi (famous editor of the Tao-te Ching and Neo-Taoist) tells the tale of the fish  when pulled out of water, how they smear each other with spit and spittal.  Just as when we are pulled out of the Tao, we smear each other with terms, words and phrases, trying to find our way back to the Tao, to create an environment we can swim in again.

With this caveat – we will now enter the beginning of Chang Potuan’s Wu Chien Pien. The title translates as Written Upon Awakening to Reality.  The commentary is my own, based upon traditional sources.


Tue  18th May

Beginning Chang Potuan’s poem on alchemy today.  There are sixteen verses.  Sixteen echoes the ‘two eights’ – code words for the two powers, Yin and Yang.  As we begin our discussion of Internal Alchemy it is important not to get bogged down in the terms, words, phrases, etc.  Just let it all wash over you.  As Giafu said: ‘what you are thinking, that is just not it!’

We might call it emotional intelligence in this day and age.  But beware!  All my attempts at explanation are fraught with danger.  Once you have the term, word, phrase you are in danger of losing the essence – meaning hovers somewhat within, behind the written, printed term, word, phrase – so easy it is to lose, it is, As Yoda would say.

Wang Pi (famous editor of the Tao-te Ching and Neo-Taoist) tells the tale of the fish  when pulled out of water, how they smear each other with spit and spittal.  Just as when we are pulled out of the Tao, we smear each other with terms, words and phrases, trying to find our way back to the Tao, to create an environment we can swim in again.

With this caveat – we will now enter the beginning of Chang Potuan’s Wu Chien Pien. The title translates as Written Upon Awakening to Reality.  The commentary is my own, based upon traditional sources.

Sun 17th May

Began writing on Giafu’s biography.  See link on Archive page.  Also follow up Carol Ann’s own site here.

More tomorrow.

Sat 16th May

Two diagrams for you today:

Hope this keeps you thinking.  If you wanted the classical Chinese view on the structure of the universe –  and the Yin’Yang symbol was not enough – then, here you have it.  More on I Ching page.

Oh yes, and again today… I am the womb of every holt.  It is pure shamanism – an ecstatic blend with the world around us, people. weather, environment and food.  Think about it!

Fri 15th May

The wind and grey clouds swirl, and showers pop and an uncertain May staggers on.  A mass of cold air is trapped over Britain.  It gives an uncertain, questing advance and retreat of minor weather fronts…..

This is the sensorium, we bathe in it – the physicality of our existence.  Basically the sensorium can embrace three things:  immediate people, weather and environment, and food. We won’t mention food/diet/cookery – too much already on the web;  as to people – they are the great unknown, in the meeting of bodies and minds we have that formidable thingy (encounter) in which social, moral and sexual worlds are born – which leaves us with weather and the environment.

People – Weather and Environment – Food

A poem of the sensory world today, from the Celtic tradition.  The source I have found is Robert Graves The White Goddess.  Now he was a man who knew the Tao, albeit in another form. Poetry is the form by which we merge with the sensorium, it ‘makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up…’

Thur 14th May

Just to update you on the bird arrivals.  We know have at least 3-4 swifts, Around a handful of house martins and 2 perhaps more swallows.  This is much less than twenty years ago and one can only ponder why.  But this whole earth is groaning under the weight of our technology…and wasteful practices.

I have an interesting take on this.  When I was living in London in the 70’s I divided this degradation into three categories: pollution, irritation and residue.  Pollution is the global term – which basically comes from TOO MUCH of anything – Yin and Yang out of balance.  The personal aspect turns into irritation, now this must be the causes of so many cancers, the MS’s, MND’s and much arthritis, etc.  Then we have residue – which may dear cousin Peter calls ‘clearing up your tail’.  We certain, as individuals and companies, have a moral duty to clear up after us.

Enough preaching!

Be a lert!  Gia-fu Feng used to say – Be Attentive!  That is the whole meaning of Zen.

Be Alive!  (Know that might be what Gestalt is about – the clear contact boundary).

(I am I and you are you
And if we find each other its beautiful
And if we don’t it can’t be helped.)

Wed 13th May

They began the filming of the last Harry Potter film yesterday in Pembrokeshire, Wales.  Link here.  I cannot but be a fan, having four boys from 8 to 17, at present!  We have grown up with J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter, for better or worse.  How could we not be fascinated by story of Magic and Trans-formation, of the defeat of death – and eternal life, being all Taoists at heart.

There is lots to be written here about Harry and the power of another world, so close to our own.  But for the moment lets just stay with a mother’s love, which defeated Voldemort at the end of the first book.  Can you remember that far back?  That was why evil could not countenance Harry, because he was possessed of something much deeper and older than anything Voldemort could summon up.  Seems J.K.Rowling is coming down on the side of the family.  She certainly is a team playerthere is all the stuff about the Weasley’s and the God…father Sirius, etc. etc.

I do think The Goblet of Fire was the best movie so far.  I’d be interested in what you, out there, think?  ‘Goblet of Fire’ – well that sounds like a Taoist Trait, and philosopher’s stone – I wonder if they really know that they are following a well-worn path here.

Here is a poem by George Herbert for you all to enjoy .  For God just read Tao.  And of course we all, as taoists, embrace a little more darkness.  It is the rigidity, misogyny and need to fight we cannot take in Christendom.

We settle at the stillpoint.

Tue 12th May

Time present, time past and time future…and T.S. Eliot talks of echoes.  Undoubtedly Chinese thought talks about the inbetweens – not so much the individual.  Get this into your head and you may be someway there.

One sixtieth birthday (a total surprise party and barn dance!) and one funeral (my father-in-law’s in Cambridge).  This weekend has had perhaps a little too much happening.  But its ‘nowt but the joining together of our common human nature with simple sincerity (chunyi).

Got to clean up today.  More tomorrow.

Saturday May 9th

In my edition of the Yin fu Ching the Yinfu (‘hidden match’) is explained ‘our human nature joining together with simple sincerity’.    The phrase ‘simple sincerity’ is literally ‘the Tao of the Pure One’ (shunyi ji dao).  But we cannot put that.  Mathews dictionary glosses shunyi as ‘unmixed, simple, sincere’  and, of course, the radical to shun is the silk radical.  Literally then it means unbleached, undyed, plain.  This is a very positive scripture – because it explains how change and time rule our world and how we can bind ourselves to it and thus be free (in a spiritual sense).

This is why the author states I use the rough and ready as a model to be wise.   The sensory world robs us with its ceaseless stimulation and movement.  But uniquely the Taoist is not just a hermit, retreating far away from the sounds and sights of the world.  He is also immersed in the world of the senses – viz. the hedonist and Taoist Yang Zhu (see link) – living life to the full.  Its not that simple, you see.  Perhaps we could say, in a medical sense, the quest is to avoid damage.  Thus the rich corpus of yang sheng scriptures  – nearly all their work has a yogic element (but Taoist).

Fri May 8th

Gently, gently.  we are nearly at the end of the Yin fu Ching.  I am dissatisfied with my translation of these two lines.  So read the commentary quickly.  Much is rather dense.

However the general gist is that saintly and ‘stupid’ are separate and that the difference is in the way they interact with the natural world.  Others see the spiritual path as somehow ‘out there’ – but I use the ‘rough and ready’ in other words anything and anybody and anytime and anyplace as a model to be wise.  The spiritual and material are one.  The rule in the Yinfu Ching is somehow to ‘extract and add on’ to my life.  To combat the Five Robbers (the ‘five elements’).  More tomorrow.

Thur  May 7th

And today is the day after yesterday and the day before tomorrow.  But some-how it just feels the same day…so.  The Chinese had somethinghere…in that they thought that time is cyclical…not linear.  We are more steady-state than big-bang (tho’ actually I would say its more a big phwlooperan-gashinglyteri……..)…’bang’ is a projection out onto the universe of the 20th Century’s pathologically violent history!


It was sixty years ago today
That Sergent Pepper told the Band to play.
They’ve been going in and out of style
But they’re ready to raise a smile.
So let me introduce to you
They band you’ve known for all these years.
Sergent Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band.

Is that it then?  Bring on the Band!

Actually its also 100 days of this diary today.  Well that is an achievement in itself!  We move in ten’s and three’s.  So 10 x 10 is significant!  Believe me!


Saying of the Day

The heavens are lofty above,
The earth humble beneath
And Qian and Kun are settled, forthwith.
Once the humble and lofty spread  out..
Rich and poor are established forthwith.
Their motion is constant –
And the firm and yielding are decided,

Thenceforth come about all kinds and
Things are herded together and divided,
And good fortune and misfortune arise,

In the heavens appear diagrams and
On the earth come about shapes and
And change and transformation are seen,

Here are are!  Starting the translation of the Great Appendix to the Book of Changes – the so-called Confucian ‘wings’ to the book.  Much are this work is seminal to the later development of both Neo-confucian and Neo-Taoist thought.  The first chapter of the Beginning Part is concerned with issues of creation:  it also discusses what is greatness, what endures, what is virtue and what is wisdom.

It introduces several techinical terms from the commenaries to the book: Qian and Kun, humble and lofty, rich and poor – but especially firm and yielding (the lines), good fortune and misfortune, images, change and transformation.  But of course technical in the sense of non-technical if you see what I mean  – in that they are part of the everyday world seen about us, nature, that is.  Keep looking.

Needless to say the chapter finishes by leaving it up to us to play our part..the chapter concludes…’there being a plan under heaven – it means you have a place to stand and a part to play within it.’  The Book of Change is always talking to YOU, so listen!










The final lines to the Yinfu Ching

The stupid use all the world as a model
to be Saintly
I use the rough and ready as a model
to be wise.

I know what noone else knows and nobody knows what I know.  This is the Great Me of Taoism.  Yet I also know nothing.  This is the Small Me of Taoism.  I use the rough and ready as a model to be wise.  Thereby comes transcendence.   The rough and ready is the stuff of the world, which we observe when timing  the firing.  This is close to  training the fire, in the alchemical sense.

The bright fire throws our body into relief.  The looming sensory world is the Yin Fu, or ‘matching tally’ to our Yang spirit. A  shadow  which accompanies our spiritual life.  How do I know  suffering?  Because I have a body.  As the Tao-te Ching (13) says:  I honour great suffering as it gives me the idea of my body.
The matching shadow, the Yin as physical shadow tallies with the Yang spirit.
The inner pre-heaven world and the outer post-heaven world, of both ideas and senses.  These are all helpful models.

*Note that this alternative text, more politely, substitutes a different character here!  The text then reads ‘All people…’ not ‘The s tupid…’

T.S. Eliot

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.

(No. 1 of Four Quartets)

The Elixir

Teach me, my God and King,
In all things Thee to see,
And what I do in anything
To do it as for Thee:

All may of Thee partake:
Nothing can be so mean,
Which with this tincture ‘for Thy Sake,’
Will not grow bright and clean.

A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine;
Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws,
Makes that and th’ actions fine.

This is the famous stone
That turneth all too gold;
For that which God doth touch and own
Cannot for less be told.

by George Herbert  

Be alert!
The world has a need for more lerts!

Song of the Celtic Bard Amergin,

I am a stag: of seven tines,
I am a flood: across a plain,
I am a wind: on a deep lake,
I am a tear: the Sun lets fall,
I am a hawk: above the cliff,
I am a thorn: beneath the nail,
I am a wonder: among flowers,
I am a wizard: who but I
Sets the cool head aflame with smoke?
I am a spear: that roars for blood,
I am a salmon: in a pool,
I am a lure: from paradise,
I am a hill: where poets walk,
I am a boar: ruthless and red,
I am a breaker: threatening doom,
I am a tide: that drags to death,
I am an infant: who but I
Peeps from the unhewn dolmen, arch?
I am the womb: of every holt,
I am the blaze: on every hill,
I am the queen: of every hive,
I am the shield: for every head,
I am the tomb: of every hope.

trans: Robert Graves

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