Translation of Ten Discourses on Daoist Alchemy

"A Westerner with the knowledge of Daoist pharmacopeia and inner cultivation and the ability and dedication to present such materials to audiences in the West is rare. There's no money in such a pursuit, but we all have to eat and pay rent. I urge anyone with an interest in such subjects to support my friend Mattias Daly. I can't wait to read what he's working on."
-Red Pine (Bill Porter) 

** Please check out my interview on the Purple Cloud Podcast , hosted by Daniel Spigelman, to learn more about this project**

Dear Friend,

I'm humbly seeking funds to help me find time to complete a translation of Professor Ge Guolong's (戈國龍) 2010 book, Ten Discourses on Daoist Alchemy (《丹道十講》), which was originally published in Chinese. I have already completed drafts of the first three chapters, leaving seven to go, which amounts to approximately another 100,000 Chinese characters.

I describe the book in detail below, but in short it will be of value to anybody who wishes to gain an equal-parts practical and philosophical point of entry into Daoist self-cultivation. Ten Discourses on Daoist Alchemy stands apart from other books on Daoist meditation in English in that it is neither a discussion of qi-cultivation techniques, nor an academic overview of distant-seeming ideas and practices. The point of this book is to guide readers across a bridge spanning the gap between philosophy and personal experiential realization.

(Professor Ge Guolong/戈國龍教授)

As Red Pine indicated above, translating a dense spiritual text that contains long passages written in classical Chinese is very time-consuming, exhausting work. Receiving financial support will allow me to carve out a large block of time from my schedule to fully focus on rendering the essence of Professor Ge's book and its long passages  from master Huang Yuanji (see below) into English. I know that $10,000 may seem like an exorbitant for a work of translation, but if I raise this sum I will, in the end, earn about $0.07/character; the standard Chinese-English translation rate for a work on spirituality written in modern Chinese is ~$0.12/character, and a significant portion of this book is written in classical Chinese!

Any and all assistance will be deeply appreciated, but of course, the more the merrier. Please consider making a somewhat larger donation:

-To donors who give $100 I will mail a draft of chapter 1
-To donors who give $200 I will mail drafts of chapters 1 and 2
-To donors who give $300 I will mail drafts of chapters 1, 2, and 3 (please note that I will need a mailing address)
-To donors who give $500 or more, I will mail draft chapters and translate up to five questions you have about spiritual practice into Chinese and translate Ge Guolong's responses back into English
-To donors who give $1000 or more and come visit Taiwan, in addition to offering the above, I will act as your tour guide for 2.5 days and show you to local Daoist and Buddhist sites, tea houses, and vegetarian restaurants.
(If there is an e-book I promise to send a copy to anybody who makes a donation above $25 once it is published. If I find a publisher I will provide as many free copies of the printed book as I can to donors, starting with large donors. If I ultimately self publish, then I will send a paper copy to anybody who donates $100 or more. When the time comes I may need to ask you to pay for shipping via PayPal.)

Please continue reading for a very detailed overview of Ten Discourses on Daoist Alchemy.

(Left to right: Mattias Daly, Ren Gang/任剛, and Zhong Yingyang/鍾鷹揚 in Shanghai, 2019)

About the author
The original Chinese book was written by Ge Guolong (戈國龍), a professor of religion at the China Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. Each of the ten chapters begins with a full chapter from a well-known Qing Dynasty-era treatise on inner alchemy, Oral Records from the Hall of Joyous Teaching, which was composed in the 1800s by students of a traveling Daoist master named Huang Yuanji (黃元吉). 

Ge Guolong is a professor of religions at the China Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. He has been researching, practicing, and teaching Daoism and Buddhism for more than twenty-five years, and is the author of seven books on religion, including Travels of the Heart in Buddhism and Daoism, A Contemporary Explanation of Daoist Alchemy, and Searching for the Secrets of Life. He lives in Beijing where he is dedicated to teaching and promoting traditional methods of self cultivation.

About the translator
I began this project shortly after graduating from Beijing University of Chinese Medicine in 2017. After I began pursuing a MA in Chinese Literature at National Taiwan University in 2018 I ran out of time to devote to an unpaid passion project. When I'm not teaching acupuncture or doing Chinese medical massage and acupressure, my main employment is as a translator and interpreter. Last year I translated Taiwanese essential oil researcher June Wen (溫佑君)'s 300-plant pharmacopeia (《新精油圖鑑: 300種精油科研新知集成》, English title TBA, to be published in 2020 ) into English; I am currently working on Shanghai-based taijiquan master Ren Gang's (任剛 ) book《太极拳行法释要》, in which he unreservedly reveals all of the essential neigong instructions from his art, which trace to the Daoist master Zhang Sanfeng (張三丰). Previously I translated five book-length secret qigong instruction manuals (believe it or not) for a Chinese lineage with teachers in several countries, and I also do quite a bit of interpretation for FDP Brakes--that's got very little to do with Daoism, but we sure do make some damn fine brake pads, and of course they help people to slow down, which is probably a good thing to learn to do if you ever wish to get on Zhuangzi's wavelength!

I began training Chinese martial arts, qigong, and standing meditation in Chicago in 1999, and my first encounters with Daoism came shortly afterwards. I have been studying and practicing Daoism without break since 2006. My formal affiliation is with the Longmen  branch (龍門派) of Quanzhen Daoism (全真道), of which I am a 20th generation lay disciple. I have also received years of in-depth instruction from representatives of two lesser-known lineages, as well as from numerous Buddhist monks and nuns in the Chinese and Tibetan traditions and spent close to a year of my life living in temples, primarily in a Daoist monastery in the foothills of the Changbai Mountains in northeastern China.

Why this book?
The clear wisdom of the Daodejing and Zhuangzi has inspired millions, but for those who wish to bridge over the gap between the philosophy and daily practice, many Daoist works may seem too vague, too full of incomprehensible imagery, or too much like qigong manuals. If you’ve ever suspected that the foundations of the deepest Daoist practices really are just as straightforward and simple as the path that Laozi and Zhuangzi embraced, then this book is for you.

(Cover of the 2010 Chinese edition)

About the book
Early Daoist inner alchemists borrowed complex terminology from astrology, numerology, and so-called “external alchemy” to describe the process of individual transformation that occurs as one seeks firsthand understanding of the truth of human existence. While the terminology of classical Daoist meditation books can seem arcane, what it represents is in fact extremely simple and straightforward—things are, in the end, just as Laozi meant when he said, “the Great Dao is ultimate simplicity.” Ten Discourses on Daoist Alchemy guides the reader past the forest of unfamiliar vocabulary to a clearing where Daoist meditation practice trades enigmatic symbolism for immediate accessibility.

In engaging, accessible language, Ten Discourses on Daoist Alchemy makes it clear why so-called alchemy is not something one does, but a process that unfolds when one abides in one’s original, “primordial” state. Students of Chan/Zen Buddhism and Dzogchen may find the contents of this book deeply familiar, as it written at a time when the “three teachings” of Daoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism had already been blending for centuries. In the vein of this tradition, the discourses make liberal use of Buddhist terminology to elucidate Daoist concepts, showing the reader why millions of Chinese cultivators believe that in the realm of “wordless teachings,” all authentic schools are the same.

(Ge Guolong: Scholar-practitioner)

Chapter outline
1.      Unsurpassed Destiny - a discussion of how one comes to have an affinity with Daoist practice and the implications of such a life destiny

2.      Illuminating the Mind to See Its True Nature - an exploration of the mind training common to and central to all Daoist inner alchemy schools, as well as that which links these traditions to Chan/Zen Buddhism (the title of this chapter is a well-known Chan Buddhist concept)

3.      The Portal of the Mysterious Pass - a further exploration of mind training with an emphasis on explaining the uniquely Daoist concept of “the mysterious pass”

4.      Advancing the Fire and Gathering the Medicine - an in-depth exposition of practical terminology from Daoist meditation; makes abstruse “alchemical language” comprehensible

5.      Empty, Nonexistent Qi - unpacks the paradoxical nature of the chapter title while at the same time clarifying why Daoist meditation is fundamentally different from qigong or “energy work”

6.      Dual Cultivation of Xing and Ming - explains what is really meant by the well-known Daoist adage that xing and ming—respectively, the essence of the mind’s nature and the essence of one’s life—must be simultaneously trained

7.      Primordial Jing and Primordial Shen – clarifies the importance and significance of  using that which is “primordial” or “original” in Daoist meditation, in addition to defining “essence” and “spirit”—jing and shen

8.      Two Heavens and Earths – building on the last chapter’s discussion of the “primordial,” this chapter explains the differences between “prior heaven” and “later heaven” and what they mean to the cultivator

9.      Going Back to the Root, Returning to the Source – by explaining Laozi’s famous dictum that “one births two, two births three, three births the myriad things,” this chapter illustrates what “returning” means in the actual practice of Daoist meditation

10.      Universe and Individual, Interconnected – a summary chapter that speaks of the fruition of Daoist practice while also offering more practical instructions

For whom is the book primarily written?
The book is for anybody who has ever asked the following sort of questions:

·         Laozi and Zhuangzi’s books were great—but does anybody have any idea how to approach their wisdom through actual practice?

·         Can a normal person like me learn anything practical from this tradition, or is it only aloof hermit characters and people who want to take on a bunch of ancient Chinese dietary and cultural habits?

·         Many people say that Daoism and Buddhism blended during the centuries of Chan/Zen’s development in China—does this mean that Daoist theories and meditation practices are actually similar to those of Chan/Zen?

·         Is Daoist alchemy really just a sort of complex, esoteric “internal” qigong? Do I need to do qigong or taiji or something like that to learn Daoist meditation?

·         Are all those weird Daoist meditation vocabulary words meant to be taken literally? Do I need to know what all of them mean in order to practice?

·         If “wuwei” means “non-doing,” then what the heck do practicing Daoists actually do?!?

(With Abbess Liu Yuanhui/劉圓慧, nuns, and lay practitioners in Jilin Province, 2019)

What needs does this book fulfill?
Many English language books on Daoism suffer from being too vague, too fanciful, too interpretive, too laden with impenetrable vocabulary, or too much like qigong manuals. This book helps readers by addressing the following points in detail:

·         The distinction between “prior heaven” and “later heaven” is of vast importance to Chinese cultivators—these two terms are used by not only by Daoists, but also Buddhists and Confucians, as well as qigong practitioners and physicians practicing Chinese medicine. This book will help readers become clear on what these terms mean, why they are important, and how to access the “primordial” or “original” aspects of our “prior heaven” nature.

·         This book illustrates the way in which many of the philosophical statements found in the Daodejing and Zhuangzi are directly pertinent to meditation practice.

·         This book shows how the “three teachings [Daoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism] are one” tradition that came out of the Song Dynasty and continues to this day was not slapped-together syncretism, but rather a vital and expedient way of transmitting a single wordless wisdom by approaching it from three distinct angles. Readers will see both how important Buddhism’s contribution to this body of knowledge was, as well as glimpse the way in which many students of Chinese spirituality artfully sidestepped the pitfalls of sectarianism.

·         This title illustrates aspects of Daoist training that are close to if not analogous with teachings from Chan/Zen and Dzogchen traditions.

·         Finally, “the three teachings are one” did not mean a total blending of Daoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism—each remains to this day as a stand-alone, unique tradition. This book will bring readers more deeply than most have gone into the ancient but very much alive world of Daoist cultivation.

I have permission from Professor Ge Guolong to translate this book into English and publish it. Huang Yuanji lived during the Qing Dynasty. His works, which make up the first section of each chapter, have long been in the public domain and are widely circulated in China and Taiwan.

Now available on Purple Cloud Press, The Heart Treasure of Taijiquan , translated by Mattias Daly

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