The Alchemy of the Taoists
The Taoist Monasteries: A Kitsch Mystical Movement
The translators of Taoist my yoga blogs on meditation who introduced the notion of Chinese alchemy were probably influenced by Jung’s alchemical considerations (1953). He supported the translation and the distribution of an eighteenth-century Taoist treatise titled The Secret of the Golden Flower (Tai Yi Jin Hua Zong Zhi).33 The Chinese use the term meitan to designate an exploration that transforms the organism into a psychophysiological laboratory. Influenced by spiritual movements, Jung used the word alchemy in its large sense, to designate a process that seeks to ameliorate the dynamics of the vital energy in a body and thus transform the human organism The basic European metaphor, the operations used by the alchemists to transform a stone or lead into gold, is similar to those used to reach illumination. For alchemists, one cannot understand how to create gold without becoming illuminated. The alchemical transformation of the organism seeks immortality.
From Lao Tzu to Lie Tzu, the Taoist movement is suspicious of all forms of institutional organizations. At the arrival of Buddhism, some Taoists, inspired by the way the Buddhist monks live an organized monastic life, created similar communities of their own.34 These Taoist monks are the ones who associated the term Taoism to the meticulous pursuit of the mastery of chi. They claimed to be able to circulate chi in multiple ways throughout their entire body. These monks integrated the old Chinese religions, the Taoist philosophy, the I Ching, diverse forms of Buddhism, yoga, and gradually even ideas from European alchemicalâ movements. The chi thus acquired magical properties, an extraordinary power, something akin to what certain esoteric movements referred to as vital energy. In their development, they created a jungleâ of schools. Some of them took on the form of sects using black magic and supporting violent political movements. These movements promised health, eternal youth, immortality, joy, and sexual prowess.35 Some sought money and power by using every means at their disposal, such as blackmail, manipulation, prostitution for the wealthy, and deceit. The similarity between the definitions of chi and of the vital energy of Christian cultures intensified during the occupation of China’s maritime regions by Europeans and the United States. This synthesisâ influenced and was influenced by movements such as that of the theosophists.
These Taoist movements had an important influence on the development of Chinese thought as well as on the new body-mind methods. They created theories full of flashy and seductive concepts. They nonetheless deserve credit for having passed on useful ancient knowledge and for having proposed some important ideas like the notion of tan tien (hara in Japan) taken up by the martial arts.36 It is often this movement that represents the Chinese thought in the writings of and courses given by body psychotherapists.