The Secret of Freedom / 逍遥诀

Taoist immortals have left behind a secret spell for freedom
Through four characters (無為而為 – Perfect action attained through nonaction), the spirit crystallizes in the cavity
And snow is seen to fly in midsummer
The sun has fully risen at midnight
In water blows the wind of Xun ☴.
Traveling in Heaven, one returns to Earth
and absorbs the virtue of Kun ☷.
And the still deeper secret of the secret:
The land that is nowhere, that is the true abode


The poem above has revealed all the mysteries. The Great Way is expressed in the four (Chinese) characters 無為而為 – action through nonaction. Acting purposefully without self-centered striving, that is the essence. Only nonstriving can prevent you from clinging to conventions, forms or images. Yet only purposeful action can prevent you from sinking into indifferent emptiness and dead nothingness. The practice of action through nonaction is just focusing around the center; the essential mechanism of it is in the two eyes. The two eyes are like the handle of the system of stars, the Celestial Mechanism, which operates yin and yang and brings about creation.


From beginning to end, the great medicine is the metal in the water, that is, the lead in the region of water – the primordial unified energy in the real awareness of the mind. Previously we talked about turning around the light, which points out a method for beginners to control the inside from outside, thus helping them to attain independence. This is for middling and lesser people to go through the two lower transitions in order to gain the upper pass. Now as the Way gradually becomes clear and one becomes familiar with the mechanism, Heaven no longer withholds the Way but directly reveals the ultimate truth. Disciples, cherish it, cherish it, and work on it, work on it!


Turning around the light is only a general term. The further the work advances, the more the Golden Flower blooms, and the subtler the method of turning around the light becomes. Previously one controlled the inside from the outside; now one abides in the center and controls the outside. Before, the assistant administered for the master; now one promulgates policy for the master. The situation is now totally reversed.


When you want to enter quietude, first tune and concentrate body and mind, so that you are at ease and in peace. Let go of the ten thousand entanglements, so that nothing whatsoever hangs on your mind, and the heavenly mind takes its rightful place in the center. Then lower your eyelids as if you received a holy edict, like a minister summoned to appear before the emperor.


Then with both eyes you look inwardly at the Palace of Kan (Water) ☵. Wherever the light (Golden Flower) reaches, yang energy comes forth in response. The trigram Li (Fire) ☲ is yang outside and yin inside; its origin is Qian (Heaven). Yin enters Qian ☰ and becomes master. The result is that the mind is aroused by things, tossed about on the stream, and going along outward into habitual routines.


Now when you turn around the light to shine inward, the mind is not aroused by things; yin energy then stops, and the Golden Flower radiates, which is pure yang energy. Things of a kind attract each other, so the yang energy of the trigram Kan (Water) ☵ leaps upward. Then it is no longer the yang energy of Kan ☵ but the yang energy of the trigram Qian (Heaven) ☰, responding to the yang energy of Qian. Once the two substances meet, they unite inseparably; they intermingle and move quickly, to and from, up and down. In one’s inner temple there is a vast space, beyond measure; and the whole body feels wondrously light and buoyant. This is what is called Clouds filling the thousand mountains.


Then the movement becomes traceless; rising and sinking become imperceptible. The channels are stilled, energy stops; this is true intercourse. This is what is called The Moon pervades the Ten Thousand Waters. When the heavenly mind suddenly begins to move in the midst of the darkness, this is the return of yang energy, called Living Midnight. However, this must be explained in detail.


Ordinarily, when people let their eyes and ears pursue things, they get stirred up, only to stop when things are gone. This activity and rest are all subjects, but the heavenly ruler becomes their slave. This is living with demons. But if now in all activity and rest you abide in heaven while in the midst of humanity, the heavenly ruler is then the real human being. When it moves, you move with it; the movement is the root of heaven. When it is at rest, you rest with it; the rest is the moon cavern. Even when it alternates movement and rest for no clear reason, just go along with it. When it rises and sinks, rise and sink with it. That is what is called leisurely going to and from between the Root of Heaven and the Moon Cavern.

凡人一视一听,耳目逐物而动,物去则已,此之动静,全是民庶,而天君反随之役,是尝与鬼居矣。今则一动一静,皆与人居,天君乃真人也。彼动即与之俱动,动则天根; 静则与之俱静,静则月窟。静动无端,亦与之为静动无端; 休息上下,亦与之为休息上下,所谓天根月窟闲来往也。

When one moves before the right time, while the heavenly mind remains still, one moves prematurely. When one moves after the heavenly mind has moved, one moves too late. Once the heavenly mind stirs, one must immediately raise the pure attention to the Palace of Qian (Heaven) ☰, with the light of the spirit focused on the crown of the head to guide it. This is acting in accordance with time. The heavenly mind rises to the summit of the Creative, it floats upward of its own accord. Then suddenly it becomes silent, and one should quickly use the pure attention to guide the heavenly mind into the yellow court, as the light of the eyes is focused on the spiritual chamber in the center.

天心鎮靜,動違其時,則失之嫩; 天心已動,而後動以應之,則失之老; 天心一動,即以真意上升乾宮,而神光視頂,為導引焉,此動而應時者也。天心既升乾頂,游揚自得,忽而欲寂,急以真意引入黃庭,而目光視中黃神室焉。

When the heavenly mind is silent, not a single thought arises; when looking inward, one suddenly forgets that one is looking. At that time body and mind are in a state of great freedom. All the ten thousand entanglements have vanished without trace. Then one no longer knows where the furnace and cauldron in the dwelling place of the spirit are. One can’t even find one’s own body. This is the time when “heaven enters earth” and all wonders return to the root. This is the crystallized spirit going into the original cavity.


At the beginning stage of turning around the light, the scattered mind becomes collected; the six senses are not active. This is called nurturing the root source, adding fuel to continue life. When it is collected, one feels light and free and without any support of effort. This is called the spirit sitting quietly in the ancestral aperture, taking possession of the primordial. Then all shadows and sounds disappear and one is firmly established in great quietude. This is taking refuge within the original cavity, where all that is miraculous returns to its roots. There are three stages in all, which can also be seen as nine stages; this is a later development. For now I will speak of three stages in one. During the nurturing and initial quieting, collecting is also nurturing, and taking refuge is also nurturing. At the end, nurturing is also taking refuge. The stage in between can be figured out by analogy. Don’t distinguish different points of the body, they will distinguish themselves. This is the formless aperture where a thousand and ten thousand places are one place. Don’t distinguish time (past or future), time will manifest itself. This is being out of time when all units of time become like one moment.


As long as the mind has not attained absolute tranquility, it cannot move itself. If it moves anyway, it is false movement, which is not movement by itself. Therefore, it is said: If, when stimulated by external things, one moves, it is human desire. If, when not stimulated by external things, one moves, it is the true movement of Heaven. Do not mistake the false movement of Heaven for Heaven itself. Because it still comes from desire.


Desires are based upon external things, which are thoughts that are out of place and these thoughts move from one to the other. When not a single thought arises, then true awareness is born. This true intent. When in great quietness the celestial mechanism suddenly moves, is that not movement without thought? This is what is meant by action through nonaction.


The first two lines of the poem at the beginning of this chapter, refer entirely to the activity of the Golden Flower. The next two lines refer to the interchange of sun and moon. The sixth month stands for the trigram Li (Fire) ☲. The white snow flying, is the true yin within Li ☲ about to return to Kun (Earth) ☷. The third watch is water in Kan (Water) ☵. The sun is the single yang in the center of Kan ☵, about to shine and return to Qian (Heaven) ☰. Herein lies [the operation of spiritual alchemy known as] taking from Kan (Water) to fill in Li (Fire). The next two lines explain the function of the dipper handle, the whole mechanism of rising and descending. Does not in the water refer to Kan (Water) ☵? The eyes, as the breeze of Xun (Wind) ☴, shine into the chamber of Kan ☵ and beckon the vitality of dominant yang. That is what these lines mean. In Heaven means the house of Qian (the Creative) ☰. Traveling and returning, one absorbs the virtue of Kun (Earth) ☷. This shows how the spirit penetrates the energy, how Heaven penetrates the Earth. This is nurturing the fire.


Finally, the two last lines point to the deepest secret, which cannot be dispensed with from the beginning to the end. This is the washing of the heart and the purification of the thoughts; this is bathing. The learning of sages begins with knowing where to rest and ends with resting at the highest excellence. It begins in the infinite and returns to the infinite. In Buddhism, not attaching one’s identity to anything is considered the essential teaching; the whole work of completing life and essence in Taoism lies in the expression to bring about emptiness. In short, the three teachings are not beyond one saying, which is that a spiritual pill enables one to pass from death to life. What is the spiritual pill? It just means to be not attached to one’s heart in all situations. The deepest secret in Taoism is bathing. Thus the whole practice described in this book does not go beyond the words making the heart empty, that’s all. This single statement can save decades of seeking.


 If you do not understand how three stages are included in one, I will use the Buddhist teaching of contemplating emptiness, illusion, and the center as a metaphor. Emptiness is the first of the three contemplations. All things are looked upon as empty. Next is illusion. Though you know that things are empty, the ten thousand things are not destroyed, but one attends to one’s affairs in the midst of the emptiness. But though one does not destroy the ten thousand things, neither does one cling to them; this is contemplation of the center. While practicing contemplation of the empty, one also knows that one cannot destroy the ten thousand things, and still one does not notice them, this includes all three contemplations. Since the skill resides in the realization of emptiness, when one cultivates it, one knows that emptiness is empty, illusion is also empty, and the center is empty too. In practicing contemplation of illusion, the skill is attained in action; so while illusion is of course illusion, emptiness is also illusion and the center is illusion too. One stage of practicing contemplation of the center, is contemplating emptiness; instead of calling it emptiness, you call it center. When practicing contemplation of illusion, instead of calling it illusion, you call it center. When practicing contemplation of the center, you also call it center.


I sometimes speak only of Li (Fire) ☲, other times in addition to Li (Fire) I also speak of Kan (Water) ☵. Although I use different words, the meaning is still the same. In the beginning (section 2) I mentioned that the essential mechanism is all in the two eyes. The essential point of the mechanism is using it; you use it to manage Creation. This does not mean that only the two eyes are used for Creation; all the six senses and seven orifices are storage for light, so how could we use only the two eyes and leave out the rest?


To use the yang of Kan (Water ☵), you use the light of Li (Fire ☲) to illumine and absorb yang, then it becomes clear. Sun and moon are originally one thing. The darkness in the sun is the vitality of the true moon; the moon cavern is not on the moon but on the sun. That is why it is called the moon cavern; for otherwise it would be enough just to say the moon. The white of the moon is the light of the true sun. The sunlight being on the moon is what is called the root of heaven. Otherwise it would be enough just to say heaven. When the sun and moon are separated, they are but half; only when they come together do they form a whole. This is like a single man or a single woman, who cannot form a family if they live separate; only when they are husband and wife, we can speak of a family.

用坎阳,仍用离光照摄,即此便明。朱子云阳师讳元育,尝云:「瞎子不好修道,聋子不妨。」与吾言暗合,特表其主辅轻重耳。 日月原是一物,其曰中之暗处,是真月之精,月窟不在月而在日,所谓月之窟也,不然自言月足矣。月中之白处,是真日之光,日光反在月中,所谓天之根也,不然自言天足矣。一日一月,分开止是半个,合来方成一个全体。如一夫一妇,独居不成室家,有夫有妇,方算得一家完全。

But it is hard to symbolize the Way using things of the world. If a man and a woman are separated, they are still individuals, but if the sun and moon are separated, they do not form a complete whole. What I am saying just brings out the point of communion, so I do not see duality; you just cling to the separation, so you see only one point of view instead of the whole.