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

玉清留下逍遥诀,四字凝神入气穴;
六月俄看白雪飞,三更又见日轮赫;
水中吹起藉巽风,天上游归食坤德;
更有一句玄中玄,无何有乡是真宅。

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.

律诗一首,玄奥已尽。大道之要,不外无为而为四字。惟无为,故不滞方所形象,惟无为而为,故不堕顽空死虚。作用不外一中,而枢机全在二目。二目者,斗柄也,斡旋造化,转运阴阳。

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!

其大药则始终一水中金,即水乡铅而已。前言回光,乃指点初机,从外以制内,即辅以得主。此为中、下之士,修下二关,以透上一关者也。今头绪渐明,机括渐熟,天不爱道,直泄无上宗旨,诸子秘之秘之,勉之勉之!

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.

夫回光其总名耳。工夫进一层,则光华盛一番,回法更妙一番。前者由外制内,今则居中御外。前者即辅相主,今则奉主宣献,面目一大颠倒矣。

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.

法子欲入靜,先調攝身心,自在安和,放下萬緣,一絲不掛。天心正位乎中,然後兩目垂帘,如奉聖旨,以召大臣,孰敢不遵。

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.

次以二目内照坎宫,光华所到,真阳即出以应之。离外阳而内阴,乾体也。一阴入内而为主,随物生心,顺出流转,

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.

今回光内照,不随物生,阴气即住,而光华注照,则纯阳也。同类必亲,故坎阳上腾,非坎阳也,仍是乾阳应乾阳耳。二物一遇,便纽结不散,絪緼活动,倏来倏去,倏浮倏沉,自己元宫中,恍若太虚无量,遍身轻妙欲腾,所谓云满千山也。

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.

次剛來往無蹤,浮沉無辨,脈住氣停,此則真交媾矣,所謂月涵萬水也。俟其冥冥中,忽然天心一動,此則一陽來復,活子時也。然而此中消息要細說。

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.

既而欲寂者,一念不生矣。视内者,忽忘其视矣,尔时身心,便当一场大放,万缘泯迹,即我之神室炉鼎,亦不知在何所,欲觅己身,了不可得,此为天入地中,众妙归根之时也,即此便是凝神入气穴。

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.

夫一回光也,始而散者欲敛,六用不行,此为涵养本原,添油接命也。既而敛者,自然优游,不费纤毫之力,此为安神祖窍,翕聚先天也。既而影响俱灭,寂然大定,此为蛰藏气穴,众妙归根也。一节中具有三节,一节中具有九节,俱是后日发挥。今以一节中,具三节言之,当其涵养而初静也。翕聚亦为涵养,蛰藏亦为涵养,至后而涵养皆蛰藏矣。中一层可类推,不易处而处分矣,此为无形之窍,干处万处一处也。不易时而时分焉,此为无候之时。元会运世一刻也。

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.

凡心非静极,则不能动,动动忘动,非本体之动也。故曰感于物而动,性之欲也,若不感于物而动,即天之动也。是知以物而动,性之欲也,若不以物而自动,即天之动也。不以天之动对天之性,句落下说个欲字,

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.

欲在有物也,此为出位之思,动而有动矣。一念不起,则正念乃生,此为真意。寂然大定中,而天机忽动,非无意之动乎,无为而为,即此意也。

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.

诗首二句,全括金华作用。次二句是日月互体意,六月即离火也,白雪飞即离中真阴将返乎坤也。三更即坎水也,日轮即坎中一一阳将赫然而返乎乾也。取坎填离,即在其中。次二句说斗柄作用,升降全机,水中非坎乎。目为巽风,目光照入坎宫,摄召太阳之精是也。天上即乾宫,游归食坤德,即神入照中,天入地中,养火也。

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.

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 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.

子辈不明一节中具三节,我以佛家「空、假、中」三观为喻,三观先空,看一切物皆空;次假,虽知其空,然不毁万物,仍于空中建立一切事;既不毁万物,而又不著万物,此为中观。当其修空观时,亦知万物不可毁,而又不著,此兼三观也。然毕竟以看得空为得力,故修空观。则空固空,假亦空,中亦空。修假观,是用上得力居多,则假固假,空亦假,中亦假。中道时亦作空想,然不名为空而名为中矣。亦作假观,然不名为假而名为中矣,至于中则不必言矣。

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?

吾虽有时单言离,有时兼说坎,究竟不曾移动一一句。开口提云:枢机全在二目。所谓枢机者用也,用即斡旋造化,非言造化止此也。六根七窍,悉是光明藏,岂取二目,而他概不问乎,

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.

然而物难喻道,夫妇分开,不失为两人,日月分开,不成全体矣。知此则耳目犹是也。吾谓瞎子已无耳,聋子已无目,如此看来,说甚一物,说甚两目,说甚六恨,六根一根也。说甚七窍,七窍一窍也。吾言只透露其相通处,所以不见有两,子辈专执其隔处,所以随处换却眼睛。