ENCYCLOPEDIA OF TAOISM (private notes from private life): Wàidān 外丹 external elixir, external alchemy


“The term waidan conventionally denotes a broad and diverse range of doctrines and practices focused on the compounding of elixirs whose ingredients are minerals, metals, and—less frequently—plants. This designation is often contrasted to neidan or “inner alchemy,” but the two terms originated within the context  of neidan itself, where they initially referred to facets or stages of the inner alchemical process (Robinet 1991).”

“Waidan has a history of about fifteen centuries, from its origin in the Han period (202BCE-220CE) to its culmination in the Tang (618-907), followed by its decline in the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1260-1368) and its virtual disappearance in Ming times (1368-1644).” — Fabrizio Pregadio, Encyclopedia of Taoism, Routledge, 2008.

“Every time I try to investigate waidan teachings for myself I fail. Speaking shortly, people practicing waidan should have quite a nerve or at least should be born extraverts. For us, introverts, neidan is good enough to feel happiness in everything inside and outside, that’s a trick.” — Sri Yantra Master, today, 30 October 2014 🙂


tŭgù nàxīn 吐故納新

tŭgù nàxīn 吐故納新

I am just glad another time when an academic point of view totally coincides with my own previous breath exercises. We have cold wind outside and  the best way to breath in the streets is like this, described with the help of Catherine Despeux, one of the authors of Encyclopedia of Taoism:

“Tŭnà is an abbreviation of the phrase tŭgù nàxīn 吐故納新, “exhaling the old and inhaling the new (breath).” This term is first found in chapter 15 of the Zhuangzi, which states: “Breathing in and out [while emitting] the sounds chuī 吹 or xū 噓, exhaling the old and inhaling the new [breath], hanging like the bear and stretching like the bird, these are only methods for longevity” (see trans. Watson 1968, 167-68).”

“Tŭnà and tŭgù nàxīn are generic terms for breathing practices meant to expel the impure and pathogenic qi from the body. Liu Gen, a third-century fangshi, is attributed with this description:“Feeding the body with the living breath (shēngqì 生氣) and exhaling the dead breath (sĭqì 死氣) allows you to subsist for a long time. When you inhale through the nose , you actually inhale the life breath. When you exhale through the mouth, you exhale the death breath.””

That is a special art to be happy with earth and air, and it is a small but not the smallest lesson I could extract using my humble achievement studying Chinese.

ENCYCLOPEDIA OF TAOISM (PRIVATE NOTES): Tiáoqì 調氣 regulating breath

There are two interesting quotations in the entry written by Catherine Despeux and I would like to put them as closer as possible:

(1) — “Tiaoqi usually refers to methods for regulating the outer breathing. These exercises are often performed before breath control and retention, and allow one to concentrate the mind and reach a state of quiet. Inspiration always occurs through the nose, called Gate of Heaven, and expiration through the mouth, called Door of Earth (tiānmén 天門 and dìhù 地戶). Breathing should be subtle and inaudible.”

(2) — “Strictly speaking, the tiaoqi method consists of inhaling and exhaling until breathing becomes regular, and of ingesting  the regulated breath. However, tiaoqi sometimes refers to regulating and harmonizing inner breath. Examples of this practice are found in the Qianjin fang and in Taiqing tiaoqi jing.”

What I am trying to underline here is the similarity between outer and inner breathing techniques and the lack of tension in their interpretation: doing one of them we are doing another, and that is a relief, I guess.

ENCYCLOPEDIA OF TAOISM (PRIVATE NOTES): Tĭ and yòng 體•用 substance and function


In plain Chinese “tĭ (體)” and “yòng (用)” are translated like “body, form, style, system” and “to use, to employ, to apply” and in the terms of Encyclopedia of Taoism Isabelle Robinet sais: “The terms ti and yong are variously rendered as “substance” or “essence”, and “function” or “application” or “activity,” respectively. Together they constitute a paradigm that has played an important role in Chinese thought.” And this is the first reason of three I had chosen the article Tĭ and yòng (體•用) for my blog.

“In Western terms, the relation between ti and yong parallels that between being and becoming, potentiality and actuality, subject and predicate, or language and discourse (although the terms do not have the same meaning, the relation itself is comparable).”—I. Robinet, and this is the second reason to put ‘substance and function’ in my blog: I am a trained philologist, for God’s sake 🙂

“Ti is said to be the “ancestor” (zŭ 祖) or the “ruler” (zhŭ 主), but an ancestor does not exist without descendants and a ruler does not exist without subjects. The distinction between ti and yong pertains to the domain “subsequent to form” (or: “below the form,” xíng ér xià 形而下), i.e., the phenomenal world of thought and language; only within the phenomenal world can there be a distinction between noumenon and phenomenon, which are one and the same.”— I.R., (by the way, I don’t see any reason why it should be in my blog except the fact that ‘noumenon and phenomenon’ sounds so chilly great)!

“The dialectic relation between ti and yong is the same as that between Non-being and Being (wú and yŏu, 無•有). For instance, if one takes the Dao as fundamental Non-being and ti, then its name and workings are Being and yong, respectively, and everything is subsumed by Non-being. But one can take Being as ti and Non-being as yong to make Non-being operate.”—I.R., and this is a perfectly great reason to join this quote to my blog and end the note.

ENCYCLOPEDIA OF TAOISM (THE END NOTE): Tàiyī jīnhuá zōngzhĭ 太一金華宗旨 The Ultimate Purport of the Golden Flower of the Great One

taiyi jinhua zongzhi

“Better known as the Secret of the Golden Flower, this is a famous neidan text that the Western world came to know through Richard Wilhelm’s 1929 translation. The Chinese text used by Wilhelm was edited by Zhanran Huizhen zi in 1921. Besides this, at least five more versions are available, all of which date to the late Qing dynasty (1644—1911) and are ascribed to Lu Dongbin, who revealed them through spirit writing.”—Monica Esposito, the author of the encyclopedia entry.

I have said already my point of view here (Jīndān 金丹 Golden Elixir, Volume 1)and I have nothing to add but the exact title of the book in German and English:

Wilhelm, Richard. 1929 Das Geheimnis der Goldenen Blüte: Ein chinesisches Lebensbuch, Zürich and Stuttgart: Rascher Verlag. Translated into English by Cary F. Baynes as The Secret of the Golden Flower: A Chinese Book of Life (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962; New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1962). [Includes translations of the Taiyi jinhua zongzhi and the Huiming jing].

One useful link to Fabrizio Pregadio (the editor of Encyclopedia of Taoism) pdf file on the subject:


Probably, humanity doesn’t use all potentials of the brain power to feel the beauty around every second, but humanity has enough abilities to feel the beauty around after and/or before the tough conditions handmade by people themselves. I am sure there is some other ways to achieve the goal of the Tàiyī jīnhuá zōngzhĭ (太一金華宗旨), not only following the very ancient and difficult to understand treatise of the old times. At least, the sky was beautiful when I had shot the picture (photo above).