The Primordial Spirit and the Discriminating Spirit / 元神、识神

From the point of view of the universe, people are like mayflies; but from the point of view of the Way, the universe too is just like a bubble and a shadow. Only the primordial spirit or the true essence is beyond time and space.


Vitality and energy degenerate along with the universe, but the primordial spirit always exists; this is the infinite. The creation of all universes is derived from this. If practitioners learn to guard and protect the primordial spirit, they live transcendentally outside of yin and yang, beyond the three realms.


This is possible only by seeing essence. This is what is called the original face.


When human being gets reborn, the primordial spirit presides above at the square inch (between the eyes), while the discriminating spirit dwells under in the heart. The heart of blood and flesh has the shape of a large peach, covered by the wings of the lungs, supported by the liver, and held up by the bowels. If one goes without eating for a day, the heart will feel uncomfortable. Easily, the heart gets startled hearing something terrifying, gets mad hearing something outrageous, feels sad seeing death, and feels giddy seeing beauty. While the heavenly mind in the head, does it ever flicker even slightly? You ask, how can the heavenly mind not move? I say, how can the true essence in the square inch move? If it really does move, that can be either the worst of sign or the best of sign – it’s worst if it moves when ordinary men die; it’s the most wondrous when the light has crystalized in a Dharma body, gradually becoming consciously effective, and about to move into action. This is the secret that has not yet been transmitted through the ages.


The discriminating mind is like an unruly vassal or rebellious general, who takes the liberty of making his own laws and ruling from a distance, because the king is weak and feeble. Eventually, the state affairs turn upside down as time passes.


Now steadily we focus our attention on the primordial palace, like a brilliant emperor presiding over the kingdom, turning the light around to look back. This is like having two great ministers assisting wholeheartedly, from both the left and right. Once the internal affairs are in order, naturally all rebels are subdued and tamed.


The highest secrets of the Way consist of three essentials: the water of vitality, the fire of spirit, and the earth of attention. What is the water of vitality? It is the primordial energy. The fire of spirit is the illuminating light. The earth of attention is the heart of the center palace, the heavenly mind. The fire of spirit is the function, the earth of attention the essence, and the water of vitality the foundation.


Ordinary people function through compulsive thinking; their body is enslaved to their discriminating mind. The body is not only the seven-foot physical body, but also the lower soul residing therein. The lower soul functions in association with discriminating consciousness, and discriminating consciousness in accord with the lower soul. The lower soul is yin; it is the substance of discriminating mind. If the mind keeps making discriminations, then the transformation and transmutation of the lower soul go on endlessly, from lifetime to lifetime. Then there is the higher soul, which is where the primordial spirit is concealed. The higher soul resides in the eyes during the day, and lodges in the liver at night. When it resides in the eyes, it sees; when it lodges in the liver, it dreams.

凡人以意生身,身不止七尺者为身也。盖身中有魄焉,魄附识而用,识依魄而生。魄阴也,识之体也,识不断,则生生世世,魄之变形易质无已也。 惟有魂,神之所藏也。魂昼寓于目,夜舍于肝,寓目而视,舍肝而梦。

Dreams are the roaming of the spirit. It can traverse the nine heavens and nine earths in an instant. If you remain in a sleepy and dreamy state, you are clinging to the body and detained by the lower soul. So turning the light around is to cease the discriminating mind and rest the lower soul, a means of strengthening the primordial spirit and refining the higher soul.

梦者神游也,九天九地,刹那历遍。觉则冥冥焉,渊渊焉,拘于形也,即拘于魄也。 故回光所以炼魂,即所以保神,即所以制魄,即所以断识。

The ancients’ method of transcending the material world, is a matter of refining away the dregs of yin and restoring the pure light, in other words, abolishing the lower soul and completing the higher soul. Turning the light around is the secret of dissolving yin and disbanding the lower soul. The secret of turning the light around is the only way to bring us back to the primordial energy. The light is the trigram Qian ☰.

(The light is also the first hexagram of the I Ching, meaning Creative or Heaven; the trigram Qian contains three lines of pure yang and the hexagram Qian contains six lines of pure yang, signifying that the stages of spiritual growth unfold in a sequence, from vague to clear, from one yang to gradually reach the wholeness of six yangs; the wise man is mindful at every moment and eventually uses the six yangs as if they were six dragons on which he mounts to heaven).


To turn the light around is to return to it. Just persist in this method, and naturally the water of vitality will be full, the fire of spirit will ignite, the earth of attention will stabilize, and thus the holy embryo of wisdom, the Elixir of Life, the Golden Flower, can be solidified.


A dung beetle rolls a pill of dung, from which life emerges, by the pure effort of concentration of spirit. If life can come from a dung ball, then where my primordial spirit resides, if I concentrate upon it and instill energy into it, how could it not be possible to cultivate life?


Once the spirit has descended into the chamber of the creative, it divides into higher and lower souls. The higher soul presides in the heavenly mind. It is yang energy, which is light and clear, identical in essence with the origin, the primordial spirit, coming from cosmic space, the great emptiness. The lower soul is yin energy, which is murky and unclear, in bondage to the heart of form, the discriminating mind that has clinging and attachment.


The higher soul is for living, while the lower soul is prone to death. All desires and pursuits are the doing of the lower soul, the discriminating spirit. After death it feeds on blood, in life it suffers greatly. It is yin returning to yin, under the spell of the Law of Attraction. Once the practitioner refines the yin energy completely, it becomes pure light.