The Secret of the Golden Flower

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The Secret of the Golden Flower (Chinese: 太乙金華宗旨; pinyin: Tài Yǐ Jīn Huá Zōng Zhǐ) is a Chinese Taoist book about meditation, which was translated by Richard Wilhelm. Wilhelm, a friend of Carl Jung, was German, and his translations from Chinese to German were later translated to English by Cary F. Baynes.[1] Wilhelm was also translator, in the 1920s, of the Chinese philosophical classic the I Ching. According to Wilhelm, Lü Dongbin was the main originator of the material presented in the book (a section below, Reception from Chinese Taoists, suggests that the material is from Quanzhen School founder Wang Chongyang, a student of Lü Dongbin). More recently (1991), the same work has been translated by Thomas Cleary, a scholar of Eastern studies.


"Gathering the light" -- an illustration of the first stage of meditation

There are significant differences between the Wilhelm and Cleary translations. Wilhelm was introduced to the work by his Chinese teacher,[2] while Cleary arrived at his own translation and interpretation. Some translations are given with the word mystery for the word secret in the treatise's title.

Classic works of Chinese philosophy preserve a spectrum of pre-modern science, from a time when philosophy and science were less distinct than they appear to be now.[3] The foundations of their teachings often appear incompatible with modern science, yet the teachings are of significant efficacy in providing a degree of awareness that might otherwise remain obscured by modern society’s attention to more stringent standards of rational thought (for a further discussion of possible benefits, see Meditation).[citation needed] To use Chinese terms, these philosophical works include yin thought with yang thought, that is, they reflect intuitive as well as rational perception. Intuitive perception accumulates and improves with practice and time. Rational thought benefits from an enhanced acuity of intuitive perception.

The Wilhelm translation results in a succession of poetic evocations that progressively design a complementary view of the different paths leading to the ultimate illumination. This very translation resulted from his presence in China, where he learned classical philosophy from a Chinese sage. In the sense of conveying impressions received from his teacher, Wilhelm's work tends to portray the more yin aspect of The Secret of the Golden Flower, while Cleary's is a more literal, scholarly, yang, translation. Jung provides comments for both of Wilhelm's major Chinese translations, including (in 1949) the nineteen-page (pp. xxi-xxxix) Foreword to the Wilhelm/Baynes translation of the I Ching, augmenting the philosophical aspect, and The commentary on The secret of the golden flower (1929). Cleary takes several opportunities to criticize the validity of Wilhelm's translation.

Meditation Technique[edit]

"Origin of a new being in the place of power" -- an illustration of the second stage of meditation

Despite the varieties of impressions, interpretation and opinion expressed by Wilhelm, Jung and Cleary, the meditation technique described by The Secret of the Golden Flower is a straightforward, silent method; the book's description of meditation has been characterized as 'Zen with details'. The meditation technique, set forth in poetic language, reduces to a formula of sitting, breathing and contemplating.

Sitting primarily relates to a straight posture. Breathing is described in detail, primarily in terms of the esoteric physiology of the path of qi (also known as chi or ki), or breath energy. The energy path associated with breathing has been described as similar to an internal wheel vertically aligned with the spine. When breathing is steady, the wheel turns forward, with breath energy rising in back and descending in front.[4] Bad breathing habits (or bad posture, or even bad thoughts) may cause the wheel not to turn, or move backward, inhibiting the circulation of essential breath energy. In contemplation, one watches thoughts as they arise and recede.[5]

The meditation technique is supplemented by descriptions of affirmations of progress in the course of a daily practice, suggesting stages that could be reached and phenomenon that may be observed such as a feeling of lightness, like floating upward or slight levitation. Such benefits are ascribed to improved internal energy associated with breath energy circulation, improvements that alleviate previously existing impediments. Several drawings portray imagery relevant to the personal evolution of a meditation practitioner, images that may be somewhat confusing in terms of pure rational analysis. "Only after one hundred days of consistent work, only then is the light genuine; only then can one begin to work with the spirit-fire."[6]

The first such illustration represents the first one hundred days, or gathering the light. The second one represents an emergence of meditative consciousness. The third stage represents a meditative awareness that exists even in mundane, daily life. Stage 4 represents a higher meditative perception, where all conditions are recognized. Then, varied conditions are portrayed as separately perceived, yet each separate perception is part of a whole of awareness.

Reception from Chinese Taoists[edit]

Based on the contents of this book, some Chinese Taoists believe this book was written by the Quanzhen School founder Wang Chongyang, who was the student of Lü Dongbin. This book focused on the inner alchemy practice techniques rather than the theory.

In the book of Wilhelm's translation, his Chinese teacher taught him this explanation: the practitioner will see a bright image in front of the middle point of their two eyes.[citation needed] This image was called Mandala (मण्डल) or dkyil-'khor (དཀྱིལ་འཁོར།) in Tibetan Buddhism. In various spiritual traditions, such as Mahavairocana Tantra of Hindu and Tibetan Buddhism like Kalachakra, Mandala is a key part of meditation practices.

Chinese Taoists believe this bright image has close relation to the "Original Essence", "Golden Flower", and "Original Light". If the practitioner sees the Mandala, that means he/she sees part of the "Original Essence", and he/she is entering the beginning level of the immortal essence.[7]


  1. ^ Carl Jung on Richard Wilhelm Retrieved August 27, 2010
  2. ^ In Carl Jung's autobiography (Memories, Dreams, Reflections, pp. 373-377), he wrote a section about his friend Wilhelm and said, in relevant part, "In China he had the good fortune to meet a sage of the old school whom the revolution had driven out of the interior. This sage, Lau Nai Suan, introduced him to Chinese yoga philosophy and the psychology of the I Ching. To the collaboration of these two men we owe the edition of the I Ching with its excellent commentary." Presumably, the same is true of the yoga philosophy of The Secret of the Golden Flower. Although Wilhelm's original German edition first appeared in the autumn of 1929, just months before he died (according to the Preface by Baynes), Jung indicates in his Foreword to The Secret of the Golden Flower that Wilhelm had sent him the text earlier, and also indicates that it was on Jung's initiative that the book was published.
  3. ^ Chinese classic texts substantially predate the modern scientific method. Modern philosophy of science examines how explanations of natural phenomena now require a different style of empirical justification, while the history of philosophy shows that ancient science tolerated metaphysical speculation. See also Ancient Indian science and technology.
  4. ^ "The rotation method makes use of breathing to blow on the fire of the gates of life.... The way leads from the sacrum upward in a backward flowing way to the summit of the Creative, and on through the house of the Creative; then it sinks through the two stories in a direct downward-flowing way into the solar plexus, and warms it." Page 61, 1962 edition.
  5. ^ "Only one must not stay sitting rigidly if worldly thoughts come up, but must examine where the thought is, where it began, and where it fades out." Page 36, 1962 edition.
  6. ^ Page 39, 1962 edition.
  7. ^ Wilhelm's translation does not actually refer to Chinese Taoist mandala teachings mentioned by the contributors of this article's final section although in his book, following his translation, the Commentary by C.G. Jung refers to the significance of psychic fantasies expressed in drawings as Mandala [at pages 99-100 of the 1962 edition] and Jung includes some illustrations likened to the Golden Flower idea [following page 136 of the 1962 edition.] Also in Wilhelm's book, following The Secret of the Golden Flower translation, there are some translated excerpts from the Hui Ming Ching or The Book of Consciousness and Life, including a verse [page 76, 1962 edition] that says in part, "Every separate thought takes shape and becomes visible in colour and form."


  • Contemporary Academic Research, page 24, Jan. 2008, written by Tingjun Wang, "Study of the Secret of Golden Flower internal alchemy practise". in Chinese Romanian Translation

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