A Record of the Assembled Immortals and Gathered Perfected of the Western Hills
Shi Jianwu’s Daoist Classic on Internal Alchemy and the Cultivation of the Breath Foreword by Master Zhongxian Wu
This is the first English Translation of a 9th century text by Daoist practitioner Shi Jianwu, which prescribes the practice of deep, intentional breathing along with meditation for Qigong and improved spiritual awakening. It provides insights to this ancient tradition that depicts the journey from knowledge to refinement.
This is my latest translation to be published by Singing Dragon. Born some 20 years ago; whilst I was backpacking in Exmoor I carried the Chinese Text with me – and was astounded at its clarity. It has sat on the shelf, gathering dust, several years. But now found the light of day!
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AS I STAND BACK AND THINK ABOUT this old text on internal alchemy, and reflect upon its conception some ten years ago, I experience afresh the wonder I felt when first deciphering its characters, crouched in a field on the edge of Exmoor, alone on one of my week-end hikes. I remember the astonishment I felt at its clear exposition of Taoist meditation practice and its denigration of unorthodox techniques; its philosophical pairing of sun and moon, the organic duo, the rhythm of Yin and the Yang; the exquisite imagery and simple instruction; the accurate diagrams, illustrating traditional Chinese medicine and its almost arcane approach to health arts; a picture of the interpenetration of macrocosm and microcosm, the Five Elements, water and fire, human and divine and more besides.
The text dates from around 820 AD, the heyday of Mahayana Buddhism in China, and was written by the Taoist practitioner Shi Jianwu to give a clear account of how to acquire and develop the so-called ‘astral body’, the goal of much Daoist and Buddhist meditation. I found it lodged in a compendium of historical texts on ‘nourishing life’ (yang sheng) published recently in China. It was the one single copy in the bookshops of Chinatown in London.
This scripture is a healthy blend of Daoist and Buddhist practices, which aims to lay to rest all our delusions of spirituality and focus on a form of natural breathing, unalloyed by the material and sensual world. In brief it discusses how to acquire, through daily practice, the ability to ‘transcend earthly matters to walk in the divine’.
Much of this Chinese practice has been misunderstood. Luckily some thirty years ago I was able to meet Gia-fu Feng, which drove me to read and re-read the Chinese texts; and he explained in the ten years I studied with him how, at least, to take the first step upon this Path. Lastly I visited China, during the 1980’s, for the verification. Certainly much there had been destroyed and disappeared, but much was still the same, and much was being rediscovered. I found a living tradition of meditation, which involved the cultivation of the gentle breath and I dedicate this small book to my teachers there, especially those unnamed, living on Qing-cheng Shan (or “Green City Mountain”) in Sichuan province.
I have changed nothing of the text but only omitted some of the more obscure passages. However I have always made clear summary notes, where I saw fit. The aim has been always to make it the text easier to understand, that the meaning and intention of the author may be taken into your heart. But meditation need practice, if you want to eat the rice, you have to cook it! I would encourage you to find a teacher. There is much to comment on in this text.
Outside my window seventeen geese are just now flying over the wooded St. Michael’s Hill, in this ancient English village. Are these the seventeen souls of Daoist monks come to surprise me from the Tang? I suspect so. It has been a struggle somewhat to complete the work, and I need their support! As far as I can ascertain, the book contains a true record of the way of acquiring an astral body using the meditation-skills of these Daoist and Buddhist practitioners. I hope I have produced a practical guide to the knowledge of those immortal sages who lived in seclusion on the western slopes of the Himalayas in early ninth-century China.
The Plan of the Book
The book is divided into five sections. Firstly the knowledge is outlined: the task of rediscovering the method of breath control. Secondly the sustentation (or sustaining) of health within the body our own inner laboratory. As there are often cases where perhaps our health has been depleted, there next follows a section on rebuilding. Then comes the verification: the heart of the method. Some of this section touches upon obscurities of Taoist thought; I make no apology for that. And lastly arrives the refinement, whereby we learn to acquire another body – to shed our gross material nature, to move from physical to spiritual and finally walk the divine. This is the ultimate aim of every practitioner of the craft.
I have added notes and diagrams as I thought fit, to highlight the more important points.
Richard February 2012
1 ~ The Path
2 ~ The Method
3 ~ The Individual
4 ~ The Timing
5 ~ The Materials
6 ~ Sustaining Life
7 ~ Sustaining the Body
8 ~ Sustaining the Breath
9 ~ Sustaining the Heart
10 ~ Sustaining Longevity
11 ~ Rebuilding Within
12 ~ Rebuilding the Breath
13 ~ Rebuilding the Fluids
14 ~ Rebuilding a Surplus
15 ~ Rebuilding Depletion
16 ~ The True Water and Fire
17 ~ The True Dragon and Tiger
18 ~ The True Medicinal Elixir
19 ~ The True Lead and Mercury
20 ~ The True Yin and Yang
21 ~ Refining a Method, You Walk the Path
22 ~ Refining the Body, You Trans¬form the Breath
23 ~ With a Refined Breath, You can Fashion the Spirit
24 ~ With a Refined Spirit, You Can Join with the Path
25 ~ On a Refined Path, You may Walk in the Divine
1 ~ The Path
…there can never be two Paths…”
THERE HAS ONLY EVER BEEN ONE PATH through¬out all times and ages. Yet how greatly it does dissemble into so many views, opinions and schools!
It is in the true nature of the self to bring completion and dispense Truth; the former Sages were all walking One Path, and were preserving, in essence, one mind.
NOTE: there has only ever been One Path. There is in essence only one mind. Achieving this single mind and, through it, dispensing the true breath is our goal.
There can never be two Paths – there may be varying tracks, but they all end up at the same place. In similar fashion the sages themselves were never in doubt in their hearts about anything: all their ideas pursued a single goal.
From time immemorial there has always existed One Path and the saints and sages have all been of one mind.
But once the path and source divides, the mind’s knowledge also splits into two and any discussion does violence to its true nature. It fragments apart: