Saturday, December 29, 2007

Internal Work III: Cultivating the Three Treasures

In my last post on the Internal Work I mentioned the san bao (三寶, three treasures), namely jing, qi, shen, and their progressive transmutations at different stages of the work. Their collective name, three treasures, is far from accidental, as they are the basis of the elixir. They must be preserved and cultivated at all cost, as life and well-being depend on them.

But, how?

I know no better advice than the one given in Chapter IV of Taoist Yoga, a translation by Charles Luk of a treatise on internal development by the Daoist Master Chao Pi Chen. Here it is:
  • The essence (jing) changes into vitality (qi) when the body is immobile,
  • The vitality (qi) changes into spirit (shen) when the heart is not agitated,
  • The spirit (shen) turns into Void (xu) as a result of the Immutable Thought.
So, now you have it. Notice that in all three case immobility plays the pivotal role. Immobility, not death: the conscious outcome of letting go, immobility that is the very height of awareness.
Not easy to come by, of course (just try to keep your body relaxed and immobile for a few minutes). But think of this: every moment you reach this immobility in the midst of ordinary life, the san bao are cultivated.
The Three Treasures are our true inborn treasure. We can be wealthy beyond our wildest dreams, if we use them judiciously.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Musical Rambling IV: Christmas with Torelli

Giuseppe Torelli is, with his contemporary Arcangelo Corelli, one of the creators (*) and chief exponents of the Concerto Grosso.

The Concerto Grosso is a form of baroque music where two groups, a smaller one known as the concertino, and a larger one, colorfully named ripieno (i.e. filled), play together a musical ping-pong of sorts that fuses into a stately harmonious whole.

I love the Concerto Grosso: it is full of great pathos that never decays into sentimentalism. You can clearly feel that each story in the Seicento was still a destiny...

Please enjoy Torelli's Christmas Concert Opus 8 Number 6, skillfully played by the Solistes de Versailles.

Merry Christmas everybody!

(*) actually, some attribute the paternity of this form to Stradella, but the first printed Concerto Grosso is, as far as I know, one by Corelli.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Poetry Readings I: Abdication, by Fernando Pessoa


Toma-me, ó noite eterna, nos teus braços
E chama-me teu filho... eu sou um rei
que voluntariamente abandonei
O meu trono de sonhos e cansaços.

Minha espada, pesada a braços lassos,
Em mão viris e calmas entreguei;
E meu cetro e coroa - eu os deixei
Na antecâmara, feitos em pedaços

Minha cota de malha, tão inútil,
Minhas esporas de um tinir tão fútil,
Deixei-as pela fria escadaria.

Despi a realeza, corpo e alma,
E regressei à noite antiga e calma
Como a paisagem ao morrer do dia.


Take me, O eternal night, in your arms
and call me your son.... I am a king
who willingly forsook
my throne of dreams and fatigues.

My sword, heavy in tired arms,
I entrusted to virile and calm hands;
my scepter and crown-I have left them
in the antechamber, broken in pieces.

My chain mail, so useless,
my spurs of so futile tingling
I have left them on the cold staircase.

I dismissed royalty, body and soul,
and went back to the ancient and calm night,
like the landscape at the end of the day.

Fernando Pessoa, 1913

Translated from the original by Polymathicus, the 18th December AD 2007

PS F. Pessoa will appear again in this blog, but not as the great gnostic poet he most certainly was. Instead, he will crop up as a remarkable example of accomplished personality shifter.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A Proverb From Hell

Today at lunch an hispanic friend & colleague was telling me about his previous life as an investigative reporter in the Southern California's area.
At one point of his captivating story he quoted the following dictum, coming from some anti-crime operative:

-Los crimenes que se cometen en el Infierno no tienen angeles como testigos-
-The crimes that are committed in Hell do not have angels as witnesses-

Now, that is a hell of a proverb!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Internal Work II: The Three Crucibles

In my last post on the Internal Work I have talked about the meaning of dantian. As it turns out, there are three dantian, not just one. They are known as the xia (low) dantian , zhong (middle) dantian, and sha (high) dantian. Their location is in the belly, in the solar plexus, and in the middle of the front, respectively.

The dantian that is mentioned all over internal martial arts is in fact only the lower elixir field. One could then ask why the other two are usually ignored. They are not. Quite simply, one must start with a good foundation, and that comes from the work with the lower crucible. To be precise, the work that is accomplished in the xia dantian is epitomized by the saying 煉精化氣 lianjing huaqi, refine (lian) the essence (jing) and transform it (hua) into the vital force (qi).

The essence, or generative force, is the basic raw fuel without which the body decays. It is "boiled" into qi by the fire of attention in the lower dantian.

Later on, when sufficient qi has been produced and stored, the further steps are 煉氣化神 lianqi huashen, refine the vital force & turn it into spirit, which takes place in the middle dantian, and finally 煉神還虛 lianshen huanxu, refine the spirit & turn it into the Void (xu), inside the upper dantian.

As everything comes from the Void, or hunlun (the Primordial Chaos, see the recent post by Unurthed), everything must go back to it.

Before I leave, let me just point out one thing: each of the three stages is made of two components, the refinement and the transmutation of one substance into the next one.
Indeed, these two are one: it is by proper refinement that transmutation occurs.

PS The picture at the top, known as the neijin tu, beautifully illustrates the alchemical work in its entirety (notice the three levels, corresponding to the three dantian). You can take a more detailed look at the neijintu here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Musical Rambling III: Damrau in Der Hölle Rache

A friend and true opera's lover has brought to my attention this outstanding interpretation of the immortal Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen ("Hell's vengeance boils in my heart") by coloratura soprano Diana Damrau.

Magic Flute is my all-time favorite operatic masterpiece. It is at once:

  • an unbelievable musical tour de force
  • a deep masonic & alchemical journey
  • an amusing, spirited fairy tale

I can hardly imagine anything more appealing to my taste.

As for the Queen of the Night, she says it all in the final somber pentameters:

Hört, Rachegötter,
hört der Mutter Schwur!

Hear, Gods of Revenge,
hear the mother's curse!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Winter Landscape

Winter has finally arrived. Just a couple of hours ago I was driving home with my friend Zeno along some back road in the midst of a (moderate) snow storm, and I truly felt elated: finally nature was once more on the front stage. The endless row of cars, the hosts of grey workers and their bad moods, the maddening noises, the silly malls, all gone. One occasional pair of car lights would suddenly pop up and disappear, leaving the scene unspoiled.

How majestic must life have been in the not so remote past, when mankind was still small in the vast canvas of life! My thoughts went back to the sublime paintings of Caspar David Friedrich, and particularly to Winter Landscape (1811). What was the name of that castle in the distance, or was it a church? Who lived there? Nothing is spoiling the sober beauty of the capacious expanse, nothing pollutes the unassailable silence that envelops the world.

There is peace, in that silence.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Internal Work I: The Field of Cinnabar

-Focus on the Dantian-, -Sink Qi in the Dantian-, -Center yourself in the Dantian-. Practitioners of Internal Arts are reminded of these basic principles innumerable times during their practice.

But, what really is this Dantian after all? If you feel uncomfortable listening to the often muddy explanations on the life-force, you can just think of the dantian as the area near the belly, the ideal centre of gravity of the body, as well as the set of muscles and fasciae that make it up. It is, interestingly enough, what Joseph Pilates called the powerhouse of the body (and right he was).

If, on the other hand, without falling under the easy spell of New Age mumblings, you crave for more, keep on reading.

A good starting point is (as it is almost always the case) the etymology: Dāntián (in Japanese Tanden) is a double word. The first character means elixir, and the second one field. It is thus the field of the elixir, the place where the alchemical process leading to the body's transformation takes its dutiful place. But there is more: Dān is actually a very specific substance, the red cinnabar, or mercury sulfide, the chemical HgS ( is made up of the root for well, and a dot inside, representing the cinnabar in its ore). Why then elixir? Students of western and eastern alchemy will immediately recognize the elixir par excellence, composed by the two main alchemical agents, sulphur and quicksilver.

Two agents, one result.

Summing up: the dantian is a crucible, the meeting place of two agents whose merging brings about the body's medicine, the sought-after elixir of long life and physical power. I have not said what the sulphur is, nor the mercury, and I am not going to. I shall stop here instead, and wish you good practice.

Time to focus on my own dantian.