The Secret of the Golden Flower

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The Secret of the Golden Flower (Chinese: 太乙金華宗旨; pinyin: Tàiyǐ Jīnhuá Zōngzhǐ) is a Chinese Taoist classic about neidan (inner alchemy) meditation.


The text of The Secret of the Golden Flower is attributed to Lü Dongbin of the late Tang dynasty.

The text expounds an orally transmitted philosophy found in early esoteric circles of China in the 8th Century during the Tang Dynasty. This philosophy, which later became a religion known as the Golden Elixir of Life (Chin-tan-Chaio) or alternatively as the 'Luminous Religion', was influenced by Nestorian Christianity and also incorporated ideas from Taoism and Buddhism. This faith, along with many others, was tolerated by the Tang Empire, which caused it to spread widely across China.[1] Richard Wilhelm suggests that Dongbin was of the Nestorian Christian Faith.[2]


First stage of meditation
Second stage of meditation

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.[citation needed]

According to those in the modern mystical move several of the meditation techniques in the book are said to have been based on the Judeo-Christian Meditation practice known as Tohu Wa-Bohu which has been used as a precursor to the practices mentioned in the Secret of the Golden Flower.

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.[3][full citation needed] 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.[4][full citation needed]

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."[5][full citation needed]

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 four 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.[6] The work was later translated from German to English by Cary F. Baynes.[7] 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:[8]

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, in his view, was commonly misinterpreted by Wilhelm and Jung, and describes such an instance in the very beginning of the text:[9]

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.

Connections to Nestorian Christianity[edit]

Richard Wilhelm hypothesizes that the arrival of Nestorian Christianity to China in 635 AD in the Tang dynasty and its persecution by Confucius Sects in 840 AD supports the notion that the Secret of the Golden flower could very well be encrypted Christian teachings used by the Chinese Nestorian Priests of the Luminous Religion (Chin-tan-Chiao).[10] "Chin-Tan-Chaio" when translated can be read as the Religion of the Golden Elixir of Life which was also called the Luminous religion who's practices and philosophies were included in the Secret of the Golden Flower. The arrival of a Nestorian Christian Bishop in 635 AD and the incorporation of Eastern Christianity into China by Emperor Taizong of Tang caused the establishment of the Luminous Religion in China in 635 AD. The priests of which after facing persecution in 840 AD by Emperor Wuzong of Tang, were forced to encrypt their teachings and hide them in caves. Richard Wilhelm elaborates on this while speaking about the origins of the Secret of the Golden Flower:

“Perhaps it will strike many a European Reader as remarkable that appear in the texts sayings familiar to him from Christian teachings. While on the other hand these same well known things which in Europe are often taken as Ecclesiastical phrasing are here given quite a different perspective. Because of the psychological connection in which they are used...” (Page 8 of the Secret of the Golden Flower)

“In T’ang period the religion of a Turkic tribe, the Uigurs, who were allied with the Emperor, was the Nestorian branch of Christianity; it stood in high favor, as is witnessed by the well-known Nestorian monument in Sianfu erected in 781, and bearing both a Chinese and a Syriac inscription. Thus connections between the Nestorians and Chin-tan-chaio are quite possible...” (Page 9 of the Secret of the Golden Flower)

“Timothy Richard went so far as to consider the Chin-tan-chiao simply a survival of the old Nestorians. He was led to his view by certain agreement in ritual and certain traditions of the Chin-tan-Chiao membership which approach closely to Christian practice...”

Wilhelm suggests that the original author of the Secret of the Golden Flower Lü Dongbin who was previously referred to as Lü Yen could have been of the Nestorian Christian Faith..[11]


  1. ^ Wilhelm, Richard (Nov 17, 2014). Secret of the Golden Flower (PDF) (Illustrated, Reprint ed.). Martino Publishing. p. 5. ISBN 161427729X.
  2. ^ Wilhelm, Richard (Nov 17, 2014). Secret of the Golden Flower (PDF) (Illustrated, Reprint ed.). Martino Publishing. p. 10. ISBN 161427729X.
  3. ^ "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.
  4. ^ "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.
  5. ^ Page 39, 1962 edition.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Carl Jung on Richard Wilhelm Archived 2015-04-19 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved August 27, 2010
  8. ^ Cleary, Thomas. The Secret of the Golden Flower. 1993. p. 5.
  9. ^ Cleary, Thomas. The Secret of the Golden Flower. 1993. p. 82.
  10. ^ Wilhelm, Richard (Nov 17, 2014). Secret of the Golden Flower (PDF) (Illustrated, Reprint ed.). Martino Publishing. p. 8. ISBN 161427729X.
  11. ^ Wilhelm, Richard (Nov 17, 2014). Secret of the Golden Flower (PDF) (Illustrated, Reprint ed.). Martino Publishing. p. 10. ISBN 161427729X.


  • 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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