The Secret of the Golden Flower
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The text of The Secret of the Golden Flower is attributed to Lü Dongbin of the late Tang dynasty. It is now known to have originated hundreds of years later, and was first published in the early Qing dynasty (清代前期), circa 1668–1692.
Despite the varieties of impressions, interpretation and opinion expressed by translators, 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. 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.
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."
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.
The Secret of the Golden Flower was first translated into German by sinologist Richard Wilhelm, a friend of Carl Jung, who had been introduced to the work by his Chinese teacher. The work was later translated from German to English by Cary F. Baynes. 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, discussing the transpersonal aspect, and The commentary on The secret of the golden flower (1929).
In 1991, the text was translated afresh from the Chinese original by Thomas Cleary, a scholar of Eastern studies, who criticized the validity of Wilhelm's translation, characterizing it as incomplete and inaccurate:
Because the still-current Wilhelm/Jung/Baynes edition of this manual contains dangerous and misleading contaminations, a primary consideration was to make the contents of The Secret of the Golden Flower explicitly accessible to both lay and specialist audiences.
Cleary gives some examples of the way that the text was commonly misinterpreted by Wilhelm and Jung, and describes such an instance in the very beginning of the text:
In the first section of this text, for example, Wilhelm translates zhixu zhiling zhi shen, which means a spirit (i.e. mind) that is completely open and completely effective, as "God of Utmost Emptiness and Life." Based on this sort of translation, Jung thought that the Chinese had no idea that they were discussing psychological phenomena. He then tried to repsychologize the terminology, but since he did not quite understand it to begin with he could not but wind up with a distortion in the end.
- "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.
- "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.
- Page 39, 1962 edition.
- 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.
- Carl Jung on Richard Wilhelm Retrieved August 27, 2010
- Cleary, Thomas. The Secret of the Golden Flower. 1993. p. 5.
- Cleary, Thomas. The Secret of the Golden Flower. 1993. p. 82.
- 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