Daoist Internal Alchemy
Anybody who begins to look into any of the Daoist arts will at some point come across the alchemical teachings of this ancient tradition. Based in the tantric methodologies of working with various energetic substances contained within the body, Nei Dan or alchemy has long been the focal point of the majority of Daoist lineages. Though Nei Dan shares some common ground with other forms of eastern meditation, it also has distinct differences which make it a unique form of transformational sitting practice. Unlike many other traditions, Nei Dan sitting practices seamlessly work together with standing and moving energetic exercises such as Dao Yin (導引) and Qi Gong (氣功) to create a dynamic system which encompasses a variety of internal techniques. Health and spirituality are inextricably combined to form a holistic internal process which is both complex and yet, at its core, profoundly simple. Unlike many modern forms of meditation which have been simplified to suit modern lifestyles, Daoist Nei Dan cannot be undertaken by those who do not have the dedication to fully immerse themselves in it. More than just a way to relax the mind and body, Daoist alchemy works to change the very way that a practitioner’s energetic matrix functions through consistent and continuous practice. It is an advanced practice for those wishing to fully understand the Daoist wisdom tradition as well as being only for those who are adventurous of spirit as many of the inner transformations which take place can be powerful with regards to the changes made to a persons outlook on life and perception of the nature of reality.
Nei Dan Characters
Shown above are the Chinese characters for Nei Dan. The first character, Nei, means internal and separates the tradition from the external alchemical methods from which it evolved. Internal alchemy is based upon working with energetic substances contained within the human energetic system, while the earlier (but still practiced today) external alchemy is based upon combining various external substances to create a ‘pill’ which is swallowed by the practitioner. The second character, Dan, quite literally means cinnabar, the ore of mercury, which in the case of internal alchemy refers metaphorically to the divine substance which is produced within the conscious ness of the practitioner through diligent and correct practice. Due to difficulties directly translating Chinese terms into English the term ‘internal alchemy’ is generally used when discussing these methods.
Daoist Nei Dan is obviously primarily a form of alchemical meditation as it aims to work directly with the three treasures of Jing (精), Qi (氣) and Shen (神). Rather than working directly with the mind from the outset, Daoist Nei Dan builds a foundation in the essence and subtle energies of the body. In this way it prepares the way for the more difficult stage of transforming the state of your consciousness. Once this has been achieved to a sufficient level it is time to begin moving towards the state of ‘conscious emptiness’ that many other systems may begin with.