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.


Sunflower said...

Dear Polymathicus,
During my conversation with you on Friday, I erroneously mentioned that "sindoor" (which is the symbolic name for a red powder used in many auspicious Hindu ceremonies) is the ancient Sanskrit name for cinnabar (mercury sulphide) but it is actually the name for the other toxic compound of mercury mercuric oxide.

However, I do have a little sanskritized nugget for you. The origin of the name of the element sulphur comes from the Sanskrit word for sulphur : "sulvere" (P.W. Atkins's book: The Periodic Kingdom).

Polymathicus said...

Thanks for your comment, and also for the interesting nugget on sulphur's sanskrit name.

As for the red cinnabar, it turns out that it played a central role in indian alchemy, just as it did in its western and chinese counterparts. It was known as darada (a good ref is White's book The Alchemical Body). But this is material for another post...

Anonymous said...

Sulphur is Yang!!
Quicksilver is Yin!!

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