While putting the generative force into orbit it is of para¬
mount importance to locate the original cavity of spirit
in the brain which is precisely where a light manifests in
the head when the practiser succeeds in concentrating his
seeing effectively on the central spot between and behind the
eyes. If this is not done the radiant inner fire rising to the
head during the microcosmic orbiting may be mistaken
for that light and wrongly driven into a minor psychic centre
in the head from which it will be very difficult to dislodge it.
Many untutored and inexperienced practisers make this
mistake which hinders the process of alchemy.
When the generative force moves to obey its worldly
inclination, the purpose of regulating the breathing is to
draw the force up to the lower tan t’ien cavity under the
navel so as to hold it there and transmute it into an alchemi¬
cal agent which is transformed into vitality in the solar
plexus. Thus the lower tan t’ien in the lower abdomen
plays the role of a burning stove supporting a cauldron which
contains the generative force ready for subsequent ascension
to the solar plexus.
After being purified the generative force is carried in the
microcosmic orbit to the solar plexus, called the middle
tan t’ien, which becomes the middle cauldron and is
scorched by the burning stove in the lower tan t ien under
the navel. It is in the solar plexus that the generative force
(now the alchemical agent) is transmuted into vitality which
rises to the brain (ni wan) where the vital breath, hitherto
hidden and dormant, will be stirred by well regulated breath¬
ing which will prevent it from dispersing. The precious cauld¬
ron has now manifested in the brain (ni wan) whereas the
burning stove remains in the lower tan t’ien under the
The whole process of alchemy, the cauldron changes place
rising from the lower tan t’ien under the navel to the middle
tan t’ien or solar plexus, and finally to the upper tan t’ien
in the brain where it is called the precious cauldron. In
other words, the lower tan t’ien plays the role of primary
cauldron which contains the generative force at the start
of the process of alchemy. When the generative force is
cleansed and purified during the microcosmic orbiting
and becomes the alchemical agent, it rises to the solar
plexus which then plays the role of the middle cauldron in
which the generative force is transmuted into vitality. When
vitality is purified it rises to the ni wan or brain which then
becomes the precious cauldron in which vitality is transmuted
into spirit. Thus the lower, middle and upper tan t’ien
successively become the cauldron which means the cavity
or psychic centre in which transmutation actually takes place.
The practiser thus ‘lays the foundation’ by gathering the
microcosmic outer alchemical agent 1 to restore the genera¬
tive force that has dispersed and so to invigorate the brain.
The method consists of deep and regulated breathing to
raise the inner fire in the channel of control to the brain
thirty-six times and thence lower it in the channel of func¬
tion in the front of the body twenty-four times, the numbers
thirty-six and twenty-four being positive and negative
numbers in Taoist yoga. Each rotation is completed in a
full in-and-out breath during which spirit and vitality
move and halt together in the juxtaposed orbits of the earth
(the body) and heaven (the head), spirit being set in motion
by the movements of the eyes and vitality by the combined
action of the vital and generative forces already gathered.
This is how to gather the outer alchemical agent to free the
body from all ailments.
The practiser should now concentrate on the lower tan
t’ien cavity under the navel until vitality vibrates there,
then lift it to the heart (the seat of fire) and lower it to the
lower abdomen (the seat of water) with continued ascents
and descents in the thrusting channel until suddenly it
slips into that cavity; this is called ‘re-entry into the foetus
for further creativity’ and is the outcome of linking the
heart (fire) with the lower abdomen (water). Spirit which
has been fixed there will be enveloped by vitality until
both unite into a whole, called the immortal foetus in the
state of complete serenity.
When this state is reached it is necessary to practise
immortal breathing through the heel channel starting
from the heels and the trunk channel from the lower ab¬
domen to the brain (see figure 7 page 91), in order to achieve
the self-turning of the wheel of the law, called the macro-
cosmic orbit or the free circulation of vital breathing
through the former and down through the latter channel
to restore the profound foetal breathing which wipes out
all postnatal conditions so that prenatal vitality can be
transmuted into a bright pearl that illuminates the brain.
This means that after the sublimation of the generative
force, vitality and spirit, they gather in the brain where,
under constant pressure from prenatal vitality and spirit,
they will in time produce an ambrosia. This ambrosia
(which is not to be confused with the golden elixir) then
produces and nurtures the immortal seed in the lower tan
t’ien cavity under the navel, where it radiates, ligh tin g up
the heart. This light reveals the formation of the immortal
seed when all breathing appears to cease and pulses seem to
stop beating in the condition of complete serenity.
The cultivation of immortality does not go beyond spirit
and vitality. Spirit leads to the realisation of essential nature
and vitality to eternal life. When the generative force is
full and rises to unite with essential nature, the white light
of vitality manifests; it is like moonlight and its fullness is
equivalent to one half of a whole. When vitality is full and
descends to unite with eternal life, the golden light manifests;
it is reddish yellow and its fullness is equivalent to the other
half. The union of these two lights produces that whole
which is the immortal seed.
After the immortal seed has returned to its source in the
lower abdomen, a pointed concentration on it will, in time,
cause a golden light to appear in the white light between the
eyebrows. This is the embryo of the immortal seed produced
by the union of the generative force, vitality and spirit into
one whole. These two lights are like the male and female
organs of a flower, the union of which will bear fruit.
At the manifestation of this positive light, which is the
union of the two lights, the practiser should stop the fire
and concentrate in the head the vital breaths in the heart,
stomach, liver, lungs and lower abdomen to produce the
macrocosmic alchemical agent which should be gathered
to achieve the final breakthrough, thereby leaping over
the worldly to the saintly state, and so leaving the state of
serenity to appear in countless transformation bodies.
When this state is reached the practiser should unite the
two vitalities of nature and life to help spirit form the im¬
mortal foetus. It is only after flying snow and falling flowers
have been seen by the practiser that spirit emerges from the
foetus to become immortal. He should now ‘stir the thought’
of leaping into the great emptiness which will open the
heavenly gate at the top of the head so that spirit can leave
the human body to appear in countless bodies in space.
In the text ‘prenatal’ denotes the positive or spiritual
nature originally existing before birth and ‘postnatal’
means its negative or corrupt counterpart which follows
the ordinary way of material life after birth, the former
being real and permanent whereas the latter is illusory
The lower tan t’ien under the navel is also called the cavity
or ocean of vitality.
According to Arthur Avalon (Sir John Woodroffe), an
authority on Tantric yoga, some modem pundits tend to
misplace the psychic centres or cavities in the body. I
would urge readers to guard against these arbitrary specu¬
lations. When they have made real progress in their practice
of Taoist yoga, they will automatically know where in the
body these psychic centres really are, for the latter usually
feel warm when the inner fire passes through them during
its circulation in the microcosmic orbit. It is harmful to
pinpoint places in the body, the very idea of which should
be relinquished since it hinders the course of the inner fire
and of vitality.
‘When beginning to cultivate (essential) nature and (eternal) life,
it is necessary first to develop nature.’ Before sitting in
meditation, it is important to put an end to all rising thoughts
and to loosen garments and belt to relax the body and avoid
interfering with the free circulation of blood. After sitting
the body should be (senseless) like a log and the heart (mind)
unstirred like cold ashes. The eyes should look down and fix
on the tip of the nose; they should not be shut completely to
avoid dullness and confusion; neither should they be wide
open to prevent spirit from wandering outside. They should
be fixed on the tip of the nose with one’s attention concen¬
trated on the spot between them; and in time the light of
vitality will manifest. This is the best way to get rid of all
thoughts at the start when preparing the elixir of immortality.
When the heart (mind) is settled, one should restrain the
faculty of seeing, check that of hearing, touch the palate with
the tip of the tongue and regulate the breathing through the
nostrils. If breathing is not regulated one will be troubled by
gasping or laboured breaths. When breathing is well con¬
trolled, one will forget all about the body and heart (mind).
Thus stripped of feelings and passions one will look like a
The left leg should be placed outside and close to the right
one; this means the positive embracing the negative. 1 The
thumb of the left hand should touch its middle finger and
the right hand should be placed under it (palm upward)
with its thumb bent over the left palm; this means the
negative embracing the positive. This is what the ancients
meant by forming a circuit of eight psychic channels. The
Taoist scriptures say: ‘The linking of the four limbs shuts the
four gates so that the centre can be held on to.’
Question I have read Taoist books which all urge the
development of the light in the original cavity or centre of
spirit (tsu ch’iao, in the centre of the brain between and
behind the eyes) at the start of practice but I do not see why.
All Taoist schools regard this as the aim of the cultivation
of (essential) nature without giving details. Will you please
tell me where true nature actually manifests?
Answer (The tsu ch’iao cavity in) the centre of the brain
branches out into two minor channels on its left and right;
the left one stands for t’ai chi (supreme ultimate) and the
right one for ch’ung ling (immaterial spirit); they are linked
with the t’ien ku (heavenly valley) centre above them and
the yung chuan (bubbling spring) centres in the soles of the
feet after running through the heart in the chest.
Question Will you please explain the saying: ‘If one reaches
the original cavity of spirit (tsu ch’iao, in the centre of the
brain between and behind the eyes) one will find the source
of immortal breath.’?
Answer Worldly men who discover the original cavity of
spirit are very rare indeed. It is under heaven (the top of
Mysterious entrance to immortality.
The head), above the earth (the lower abdomen), west of the
sun (the left eye) and east of the moon (the right eye).
Behind the mysterious gate (hsuan kuan) and before the
spirit of the valley (ku shen) is true nature (chen hsin) which
is the source of true breath (chen hsi). Although this true
breath is linked with postnatal (ordinary) breathing, the
latter coming in-and-out through the mouth and nostrils,
cannot reach the original cavity of spirit to return to the
source. The immortal breath that comes from inner (vital)
fourfold breathing 8 and not through the nose and mouth,
can then return to the source.
In your quest for immortal breath, you should regulate post¬
natal (ordinary) breathing in order to find its source. This
immortal breath is hidden in the original cavity of spirit
and is genial and will not scatter away when postnatal
(ordinary) breathing is well regulated. Hence my master
Liao Jen said: ‘When vitality returns to the original ocean
(its source) life becomes boundless.’
Question Will you please give me the exact position of the
original cavity of spirit?
Answer It is (in the centre of the brain behind) the spot
between the eyes. Lao Tsu called it ‘the gateway to heaven
and earth’; hence he urged people to concentrate on the
centre in order to realise the oneness (of all things). In this
centre is a pearl of the size of a grain of rice, which is the
centre between heaven and earth in the human body (i.e.
the microcosm); it is the cavity of prenatal vitality. To
know where it lies is not enough, for it does not include
the wondrous light of (essential) nature which is symbolised
by a circle which Confucius called virtuous perfection (jen) ;
the Book of Change calls it the ultimateless (wu chi), the
Buddha perfect knowledge (yuan ming) and the Taoists the
elixir of immortality or spiritual light; which all point
to the prenatal One True Vitality. He who knows this cavity
can prepare the elixir of immortality. Hence it is
said: ‘When the One is attained, all problems are solved.’
Therefore, during the training both eyes should turn
inward to the centre (between and behind them) in order
to hold on to this One which should be held in the original
cavity of spirit (tsu ch’iao) with neither strain nor relaxation;
this is called fixing spirit in its original cavity which
should be where (essential) nature is cultivated and the root
from which (eternal) life emerges.
The patriarch Liu said: ‘If the original cavity of spirit
(between and behind the eyes) is constantly held on to (i.e.
concentrated upon) vital force will develop of itself and will
beget true vitality which will be linked with (essential) life
in the lower tan t’ien centre (under the navel) to produce
the golden elixir (chin tan).’ The patriarch feared that stu¬
dents might not know the correct method when vitality
manifests and so might let it drain away by the genital duct
(yang kuan) to create offspring. When the generative force
is half-way down the duct, if the practiser has received correct
instruction from a competent master, he will be able to turn it back
and use it to prepare the elixir of immortality.
Thus we know that the generative force tends to flow away.
As to the alchemical agent, if the practiser is unmindful
of it when gathering it, it is the prenatal microcosmic agent,
but if he is mindful of it it will be an illusory agent which
leads only to failure.