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Alchemy in China

The Elixir In External Alchemy, Role Of Cosmology, Doctrines And Practices Of Inner Alchemy, Bibliography

Chinese alchemy is based on doctrinal principles, first set out in the founding texts of Daoism, concerning the relation between the domains of the Absolute and the relative, or the Dao and the "ten thousand things" (wanwu). Its teachings and practices focus on the idea of the elixir, frequently referred to as the Golden Elixir (jindan), the Reverted Elixir (huandan), or the Medicine (yao). Lexical analysis shows that the semantic field of the term dan (elixir) evolves from a root-meaning of "essence"; its connotations include the reality, principle, or true nature of an entity, or its most basic and significant element or property. The purport of alchemy as a doctrine is to illustrate the nature of this underlying "authentic principle" and to explicate its relation to change and multiplicity.

In the associated practices, compounding the elixir has two primary meanings. In the first sense, the elixir is obtained by heating its ingredients in a crucible. This practice, as well as the branch of alchemy that is associated with it, is known as waidan, or "external alchemy" (literally, "outer elixir"). In the second sense, the ingredients of the elixir are the primary components of the cosmos and the human being, and the entire process takes place within the practitioner. This second form of practice (which incorporates some aspects of Daoist meditation methods and of physiological techniques of self-cultivation), as well as the corresponding branch of the alchemical tradition, is known as neidan, or "inner alchemy" (literally, "inner elixir"). The Chinese alchemical tradition has therefore three main aspects, namely a doctrinal level and two paradigmatic forms of practice, respectively based on the refining of an "outer" or an "inner" elixir.

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