The Secret of Freedom / 逍遥诀

Taoist immortals have left behind a magic spell for freedom:
Through four Chinese characters 無為而為 (Perfect action attained through nonaction), the spirit crystallizes in the chamber of power.
In the sixth month, white snow is seen to fly.
At the third watch, the sun is round and radiant.
In water the wind of Xun ☴ blows.
In Heaven one returns to Earth and absorbs the virtue of Kun ☷.
Yet the still deeper secret of the secret is –
The land that is nowhere, that is the true abode.


The poem above has revealed it all. The Great Way is nothing other than 無為而為 – action through nonaction. Live purposefully without self-centered striving, that is the essence. Non-striving can prevent you from clinging to conventions, forms or images. While purposeful action can prevent you from sinking into indifferent emptiness and dead nothingness. The practice of ‘action through nonaction’ is focusing on the center chamber, while the essential mechanism of this practice 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 Elixir is the metal in the water, that is, the lead in the water region – the primordial unified energy in mindfulness. 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 cultivate the two lower passes in order to penetrate 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. Let’s 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 clings to 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 gaze inward at the chamber of water (Kan ☵). Wherever the light (Golden Flower) reaches, positive energy (yang) comes forth in response. Fire (Li ☲) is yang outside and yin inside; it is the body of the creative (Qian ☰). Once Yin enters and becomes master, 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 a concentrated glow, which is pure yang energy. Things of a kind attract each other, so the yang energy in water (Kan ☵) leaps upward. Then it is no longer just the yang energy in water, but it is creative Light meeting creative Light. Once the two substances connect, they unite inextricably; the creative energy then flows lively, 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.


Next, the coming and going become traceless; rising and sinking become imperceptible. The channels are stilled, energy stops; this is true intercourse. This is what is called The Moon pervades Ten Thousand Waters. When the heavenly mind suddenly stirs in the midst of the darkness, this is the return of the primordial yang energy – the one Light, called Living Midnight (The time when the child comes to life). However, it 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 quietude 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。

If you move before the right time, while the heavenly mind has not yet moved, it is an error of premature. If you move after the heavenly mind has moved, it is a fault of staleness. As soon as the heavenly mind stirs, one must immediately raise the pure attention to the chamber of Heaven (Qian ☰), with the light of the spirit focused on the crown of the head to guide it. This is acting in accordance. The heavenly mind rises to the summit of the Creative, it floats upward of its own accord. Then suddenly it perches on utter quiescence, and one must quickly use pure attention to guide it 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。

Now the heavenly mind is completely quiet, not a single notion arises. Looking inward, one suddenly forgets the gazing. At that time body and mind are in a state of total freedom. All the ten thousand entanglements have vanished without a trace. Then one no longer knows where the furnace and cauldron in the spiritual room are. You can’t even find your 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 cavern.


At the beginning stage of turning around the light, the scattered mind needs to become collected; the six senses remain inactive. This is called nurturing the root source, adding fuel to continue life. Once it is collected, you feel light and free, without exerting any deliberate effort. This is called Settling the spirit in the original 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 cavern, where all that is miraculous returning to its root. There are three stages in each of the three stages, which can also be seen as nine stages; this is a gradual development. For now I will speak of three stages in one. During the initial quieting stage, collecting and taking refuge are 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 ten thousand places are one place. Don’t distinguish time (past or future), time will manifest itself. This is immeasurable time when all the aeons are like a moment.


As long as the mind has not attained absolute tranquility, it cannot move mindfully. If it moves absentmindedly, it is false movement, not mindful movement. Therefore, if one’s movement is stimulated by external things, it is human instinct/desire. If one’s movement is not influenced by external things, then it is the action of Heaven. This does not contrast the action of Heaven to the nature of Heaven. I’ll now explain the word desire.


Desires are based upon the existence of outer things, which are thoughts that are all over the place, moving from one thing to another. When not a single thought arises, true awareness is born; this is pure intent and true attention. When in absolute quietness and stability, the celestial mechanism is suddenly activated, is that not movement without thought? This is what is meant by acting without striving, action through nonaction.


The first two lines of the verse at the beginning of this chapter wrap up 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 water refer to Kan ☵? 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.


The last two lines of the verse point to the deepest secret, which cannot be dispensed with from start to end. This is what is called cleansing the mind and purifying the thoughts, which 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 mind to anything, not dwelling on any identity, is considered the essential teaching. In Taoism, “attaining emptiness” is the whole point of life. In sum, all teachings are about one thing – a spiritual pill to enable one to pass from death to life. What is the spiritual pill? It is nonattachment in all situations. The deepest secret is bathing. Thus the whole practice described in this book does not go beyond the words emptying the mind, that’s all. This single statement can save decades of seeking.

末二句是指出诀中之诀,诀中之诀,始终离不得,所谓洗心涤虑,为沐浴也。圣学以知止始,以止至善终,始乎无极,归乎无极。佛以无住而生心,为一大藏教旨。吾道以「致虚」二字,完性命全功。总之三教不过一句,为出死入生之神丹。「神丹」为何? 曰一切处无心而已。吾道最秘者沐浴,如此一部全功,不过「心空」二字,足以了之,今一言指破,省却数十年参访矣。

 If you do not understand how three stages are included in one, I will use the Buddhist teaching of emptiness, illusion, and middle-way as a metaphor. First is emptiness; you see all things as empty. Next is illusion: though you know the ten thousand things are just illusion, you let them be without trying to destroy them; you just practice constructive attitude toward everything in the midst of emptiness. Then it comes the middle-way: you neither resist nor cling to the ten thousand things; you just practice contemplation of the center.

While contemplating the emptiness, you know that the ten thousand things are there, yet nothing clings to you and you hold to nothing – in this way the three contemplations come together. Since the essential strength lies in the realization of emptiness, once you cultivate it, you know that emptiness is empty, illusion is empty, and the middle-way is empty. While in contemplation of illusion, it takes great effort, then you can see illusion is illusion, emptiness is illusion, and the middle-way is illusion too. And the contemplation of middle-way is also the contemplation of emptiness; but instead of calling it emptiness, you call it middle-way. And the contemplation of middle-way is also the contemplation of illusion, but instead of calling it illusion, you call it middle-way. As for the rest, there is no need to say further.


Although I sometimes speak only of Li (Fire) ☲, sometimes I also speak of Kan (Water) ☵. Although I use different words, ultimately their meaning are 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 it, 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 separately; only while uniting as husband and wife, they become 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 inadequate to symbolize the Way using things of the world. If a man and a woman are separated, they are still two individuals; if the sun and moon are separated, they do not exist respectively. What I am saying brings out the point of unity, so that there is no duality. If you cling to their separation, you don’t see the whole picture.