Chinese alchemy has been around for a very long time. In fact, its origins predate
The oldest element in Chinese alchemy may be the ‘xian’ culture. Xian refers to people
who till today are often referred to as ‘strange’ because of their unusual capacities
and who usually spent their days as hermits in the mountains of China, perfecting
their life and searching for immortality. They discovered and used herbs and minerals
to promote and preserve their health and found out about the inner secrets of the
Then there were the experts who knew all about metal ores and metallurgy. They were
the chemists of ancient China. During their experiments they realized that metals
could be transformed and they started looking for means to change metals into the
most precious metal of all: gold.
And there were also the Taoists: philosophers, revolutionaries, scientists, specialists
of rituals, masters of astronomy and astrology, physicians, health specialists, etc.
They were occupied with all facets of life and science. These people maintained
the view that people and the universe are very similar and that by studying the mysteries
of both, man can become one with that which produces this unity. That ‘thing’ by
lack of a suitable name is called the Taoist ‘Way’ or ‘Dao’.
These ingredients combined about two thousand years ago into a Taoist way of practicing
alchemy. At first the influence of metallurgy and external means (Chinese chemistry,
herbal and mineral medicines) prevailed and an external or experimental type of practice
developed. Alchemists tried to find the perfect ‘medicine’ to live forever. This
medicine had to be absorbed into the human body. It was thought to be or to produce
a special kind of ‘gold’. To transform substances into gold other metals (such as
lead) and minerals (such as cinnabar, called ‘dan’ in Chinese) were used. We call
this practice ‘waidan’ (external cinnabar or external alchemy). One should not think
that waidan was only based on external means. The other part of the practice was
equally important. Alchemists also trained their body to be able to cope with the
transformations caused by the external ‘elixirs’.
After several hundreds of years of experimenting with all kinds of alchemical medicine
the final conclusion was inevitable: external means could not create eternal life
nor could they produce real gold. It was time to move on and explore other ways.
This realization re-opened the internal road to self perfection: by using as little
as possible from the external means and enhancing the internal work new insights
came about. This road is called ‘neidan’ (internal cinnabar or internal alchemy).
Several traditions were created. They profited not only from the existing knowledge
of the external alchemists but also from the findings of other (non-Taoist) traditions
such as Buddhism and even Confucianism. Some stressed the importance of Taoist religious
practice as being the most important ingredient, others stressed the alchemical practice
and criticized the three main philosophy-religions of China.
The latter view can be found in the tradition that is studied and continued by us:
the Southern Tradition of the Golden Cinnabar (Nanzong Jindan Dao). This tradition
originated in the 10th-11th century. Its founder was Zhang Boduan (984 - 1082), a
former Confucianist, turned Buddhist and finally Taoist but foremost an alchemist
or danshi. His main focus was on ‘reality’ or ‘authenticity’. Many traditions, including
some alchemical traditions, promote and create illusions and hallucinations. True
internal alchemy practice destroys these aberrations and makes the practitioner ‘awake’.
To reach this goal simple but continuous practice is sufficient.
However, because of its simplicity and lack of illusions, this tradition was not
as successful as those that ‘entertained’ people with fake ‘realizations’. In the
end, part of the tradition was integrated into the later (very successful) Quanzhen
(Complete Authenticity) Taoist tradition. The more authentic tradition continued
to be transmitted ‘among the people’, meaning from master to student and outside
of Taoist monasteries and official interference.
Very few authentic masters are alive today and they have little to gain from publicity.
On the other hand, they also realize that without further transmission a precious
treasure may be lost forever and that is why most still teach a limited number of
students. Dan Vercammen (Chinese name: Fei Danning), head of research at our Taoist
Alchemical Studies Center, met a ‘strange’ person while practicing with other masters
in Shanghai in 1986. This person, Fu Qinglong from Hangzhou, did not want to become
famous but stressed the importance of his tradition and for some reason thought it
useful to transfer his knowledge to a Western student. It was the beginning of our
lifelong commitment to neidan research and practice. Fu transmitted the essence of
the Yinyang tradition of Nanzong Jindan Dao and Taoist ways of practicing the internal
martial arts. After making sure that his heritage was safe, he disappeared. He left
us with the heavy but joyful ‘burden’ of preserving the tradition. We feel honored
to be able to bridge the gap between this ancient tradition and the modern world.
Please feel free to browse this web site to find out about what we do and get in
touch with us if you are sincerely interested in internal alchemy. You won’t be disappointed.