The Secret of the Golden Flower

The Secret of the Golden Flower

I want to share a story with you about The Secret of the Golden Flower. How I came across it, the journey it took me on and something of what I learnt along the way.

The story begins

Lu Yen,( also known as Lu Tung-pin: the Guest of the Cavern), the legendary Taoist Master taught the Golden Elixir of Life in the ninth century CE – this alchemical formula is amongst the most intriguing and mysterious texts in the whole of Eastern Mysticism. Lu Yen himself attributes it to Kuan Yin-his who may also have been the original inspiration for the Tao Te Ching ‘ the bible of Taoism.

More than a thousand years later, in the early 1920’s, a thousand copies of this alchemical text were printed and distributed in Peking, under the name The Secret of the Golden Flower. A copy of this book fell into the hands of Richard Wilhelm, and that, I suppose, is where our story truly begins

Wilhelm the German sinologist and theologian spent twenty years in China making an in-depth study of Oriental culture. He translated the text (as well as the I Ching) and being a personal friend of Carl Gustav Jung asked him to write a psychological commentary to be included in the published versions in German and English.

The idea of having Jung write an accompanying commentary was to make this most mystical of Oriental texts accessible to the Western Mind. Anyone who has reads the original text will understand the difficulty of penetrating to the essence of the Lu Yen’s teaching. Jung’s commentary, although itself challenging, framed the text and provided a ‘psychological’ interpretation.

About eighty years later, in the late 1990’s, I enter the picture’

My Story

At the time I was studying martial arts, specifically aikido and Chinese boxing, with Dr. John Williams. Dr. Williams was the third of three masters I studied under over a period of fifteen years. Speaking frankly, I was a fanatic. My training regimen at the time (and understand I was not a professional athlete) was a minimum of two to three hours a day.

I began every single morning with an hour long exercise called the Iron Body. An exercise involving standing a single posture, a deep horse stance, and performing various stretches and rhythmical breathing whilst remaining in the posture. The experience of the exercise is difficult to relate but suffice to say that like all true martial arts the body and mind were used a tools to temper the spirit. – a form of physical alchemy, if you will.

During this time, at a point where my training was at its zenith, I accompanied Anja to an antiquarian book store in the centre of Johannesburg. The bookstore was spellbinding. Small and hidden away with towering shelves, placed too close to one another, laden with the most fascinating books. Well fascinating that is if your interests were of a Gnostic and mystical bent. Ours were, and we spent hours going through books we had not come across before.

We left carrying out as many of these treasures as we could possibly justify and more than we could afford at the time. Amongst these books was a little volume with Chinese characters inscribed on the cover, published in 1950, a copy of the book in question The Secret of the Golden Flower. It is lying next to me on my desk as I write this post. (Somewhat worse for wear I’m afraid).

I read it in a sitting ‘no great feat, it is only 138 pages cover to cover.

This wasn’t exactly the first time I heard the name Carl Gustav Jung, but I would say it was the first meaningful impression he made on me. Not a good impression I must say. I was downright angry with him and his arrogance, psychologising this profound mystical text!

I can look back on it and smile now, but it was far from humorous at the time. The golden light that Lao Tzu spoke of; its circulation through the microcosmic orbit and its crystallisation into the Golden Flower was after all an exercise to which I had by this time devoted not hundreds but thousands of hours.

And here was Jung suggesting that this whole process could and possibly should (!) be understood psychologically. God damn-it that was irritating!

Well maybe you can guess what came next’

Yes you got it . I spent the next decade (well 12 years and counting, to be exact, at the time of writing) studying the magnum opus, the 20 volumes of the Collected Works, of C. G. Jung. Determined to penetrate to the core of the mystery I had stumbled upon ‘ the secret of the Golden Flower, the Diamond Body and the promise of eternal life!

Now that the time has come as the the Walrus said,
To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.

Seriously, it is difficult to put into words what I learnt. I am going to try though, but I ask you to bear in mind that the map is not the territory.

So what exactly is the Secret Lu Yen taught?

To speak of everything here would be too much. I will try and explain the core though, the key point that when truly understood reveals everything.

To be alive is to find yourself split between two opposite poles:

What you want, and

What you have.

As long as you are alive, and I mean really alive, not breathing and pretending to be alive, those two poles are not destined to meet. There may be the occasional moment in the throes of passion or the ecstasy of a transcendent experience (more or less the same thing ) where you feel as though the two opposites are united. However this moment of non duality is necessarily brief, and all too soon you return to your default condition of longing.

This longing can take many, many varied forms. It is however in the final analysis a simple dynamic- you are not where/who/how you want to be.

There is an image that you hold close to your heart that if realised would be a balm for your soul. Realising this desire is what drives you and keeps you awake at night. You dream of it when you sleep and imagine it when awake.

No price seems too high.

It is the Crown Jewel that when obtained will satisfy the deep longing in your heart.

That desire lives in all of us. It lives in you and it lives in me. What differs between us is only what it looks like and our willingness to admit it to ourselves and others. Also it doesn’t stay the same, what it was yesterday is not necessarily what is today. You know what I’m talking about:

  • The perfect job.
  • The perfect home.
  • The perfect lover.
  • The perfect holiday.
  • The perfect child.
  • The perfect life.
  • The perfect you.

From this tension between have and want– the golden light is created. This is a precious commodity; one might say it is our very life force. Typically it is spent in pursuit of the want or what the Buddhists call the ten thousand things.

However the Master teaches us that when the light is held within and circulated through the microcosmic orbit and when this is done for one hundred days without fail the light crystallises and the Golden Flower is born.

This is the secret, this tension between have and want is not an affliction, a curse, nor should it be the cause of frustration (although it so often is). Rather it is this very divide that propels you into the future, a much brighter and bigger future than the one you imagine, if only you allow it to.

And how do you know when this has happened? Well simple’

The whole body feels strong and firm so that it fears neither storm nor frost. Things by which other men are displeased, when I meet them, cannot cloud the brightness of the seed of the spirit. Yellow gold fills the house; the steps are white jade. Red blood becomes milk. The fragile body of the flesh is sheer gold and diamonds. That is the sign that the Golden Flower is crystallised (SGF, p. 54-55).

What does this mean to us mere mortals, in real terms, in the world today- you ask?

Well bear in mind that any answer is reductive, it is a truth that needs to be experienced rather than spoken about. However I would put it this way- from the fire that is your desire, when properly contained, a phoenix rises. A new you is born: stronger and more refined. Your subtle body is created.

This subtle body is capable of great things. Things that right now you cannot even imagine. Things that transcend the mundane, the pedestrian and the commonplace. We might say that until this subtle body arises, you, the big you, remain unborn.

What does it take?

It takes a high degree of honesty with yourself and not a small amount of courage.

The realisation and admission of your desire/s. Liberation from the rationalisation that it is okay, that actually you don’t really want ‘it’ whatever it may be.

You need to own your pain, your longing, your desire- not deny it.

Then knowing that there is every possibility of failure you need to pursue your dream.

In this act of owning and pursuing (but not having) an inner tension arises in you, this is the light from which the Golden Flower can be crystallised.

If you allow it, tending the alchemical furnace with careful attention and love this tension will grow inside you (this is circulating the light through the microcosmic orbit) until it reaches a point where it (you) feel as though you can take it no more and are ready to burst.

This is the eye of the needle- hold on.

What comes next I cannot tell you, you need to experience it. To quote the Master though:

This crystallised spirit is formed beyond the nine heavens. It is the condition of which it is said in the Book of the Seal of the Heart: Silently in the morning thou fliest upward (SGF, p. 24-25).

It would be less than honest if I were to say this is easy, or that it is open to everyone- it’s not and it isn’t. Not everyone’s fire burns that brightly, once it may have, but a thousand compromises and ten thousand rationalisations frequently dampen the flames.

And even for those that the fire burns very brightly an intelligence is required to see the process through that God or nature does not seem to bestow in equal measure to all.

That is to say this is not for everyone.

For those few that are able to heed the Master’s teaching and practice this inner alchemy the rewards are abundant. A great adventure, a journey through forgotten lands to a new world- a world waiting for you to arrive.

Is it worth it you ask?

What do you think’

If this sounds like something you would like to know more about join me for a workshop on the topic. For more info on the workshop simply follow this link workshop details

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  • Peter Todesco Reply

    Hello Anja, did you read also the translation of Thomas Cleary from 1991? It can give you much more insight. There is also a new translation in the net:
    and you can find a lot more informations on one of my websites
    School of Meditation
    Peter Todesco
    Tannenzaunstrasse 5
    PO Box 1463
    CH-8610 Uster 1
    +41 44 941 94 19
    +41 79 765 61 11

    November 12, 2015 at 22:33

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