Zhang Boduan was an 11th century Taoist alchemist of the Complete Reality Taoist school. Taoist alchemy aims to create the gold elixir (also called the golden pill, or the pill of immortality) through what is called a firing process. Basically, because the teaching is hidden in symbols, one needs to be taught the inner meaning.
Those who consume a grain of the gold elixir are changed into a phoenix, flying into the pure realm of true yang. ~ Zhang Boduan, Understanding Reality
Internal and External Alchemy
In all ages, there are people who take the symbols that esoteric teachings use literally. Although Taoist alchemical texts describe how a Gold Elixir is obtained by heating its ingredients in a crucible, one does not need real lead and mercury and a real crucible to make the gold elixir. When the real meaning disappears, external alchemy arises. People began making chemical elixirs, resulting in the death of many a seeker.
However, ancient immortals spoke of the Gold Elixir as a metaphor of the essence of true consciousness. The creation of the gold elixir depends on the practice of the firing process. The “fire” is the power of effort in practice; the “process” is the order of procedure.
Fire is a symbol of internal illumination. Forming the elixir depends upon practicing internal illumination, or awareness. While in his ordinary state, man’s awareness is almost exclusively external.
To advance the fire and achieve illumination, it is necessary first to illumine the inner. This signifies refining the “yin” within oneself. The firing process refers to the process of burning away the dross of years–our conditioning, compulsive habits, sensory distractions, wandering thoughts. Replacing this dross with self-awareness. Self-awareness is yang energy or yang-fire. Still, the firing process requires a balance of yin and yang, of flexibility and firmness.
The energy of harmony is the yang fire. This is the real. While the real completes life, the false injures life. Reversing the path means first reversing this false fire in order to return to the real fire. While this path is not difficult to know, it is difficult to practice. When you know it, but do not practice, that is tantamount to not knowing.
More on the Fourth Way and Esoteric Traditions
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