Great Clarity: Daoism and Alchemy in Early Medieval China

Great Clarity: Daoism and Alchemy in Early Medieval China

Great Clarity: Daoism and Alchemy in Early Medieval China

Great Clarity: Daoism and Alchemy in Early Medieval China

Synopsis

This is the first book to examine extensively the religious aspects of Chinese alchemy. Its main focus is the relation of alchemy to the Daoist traditions of the early medieval period (third to sixth centuries). It shows how alchemy contributed to and was tightly integrated into the elaborate body of doctrines and practices that Daoists built at that time, from which Daoism as we know it today evolved. The book also clarifies the origins of Chinese alchemy and the respective roles of alchemy and meditation in self-cultivation practices. It contains full translations of three important medieval texts, all of them accompanied by running commentaries, making available for the first time in English the gist of the early Chinese alchemical corpus.

Excerpt

In studies published during the last few decades in Chinese, Japanese, and Western languages, the doctrinal and religious aspects of Chinese alchemy have not received the attention that they deserve. This book attempts to fill that gap. Its main purpose is to illustrate the foundations of the Great Clarity (Taiqing) tradition, the earliest known Chinese alchemical legacy, and the background it shares with other traditions of the early medieval period (ca. third to sixth centuries CE).

My survey mainly focuses on the notion of elixir and the ritual features of the alchemical processes described in the Great Clarity texts. These two themes respectively define the specific nature of the alchemy of the Great Clarity and its relation to other forms of religious practice. I try to show, moreover, that the doctrinal and ritual aspects of the Great Clarity evolved from the same background and the same milieu that gave life to the early medieval legacies of Daoist religion. the interaction between these different trends of doctrine and practice allowed alchemy to develop in close association with them. in turn, the close association of the Great Clarity with Daoism is the primary reason for its decline after the Daoist revelations that occurred in the second half of the fourth century, and for the development of new forms of alchemy in later times. in this context, one of the questions that this book tries to answer is why the Great Clarity—named after a term that originally denoted an adept's highest realized state, and was later adopted as the name of the celestial dwelling of the highest deities—became the lowest of the three heavens to which the Daoist practices grant access.

Whereas in most later texts the system of correlative cosmology, with its abstract notions and images, plays a major role in formulating the import of . . .

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