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THE following treatise, belonging though it does to a corrupted development of Taoism proper, may claim a place in the present series as being an amplification of the sixth chapter of the Tao Tê Ching. It teaches that in the whole Universe there is but one Breath, or Being, a participation in which results in Life or Birth. This Breath is as it were a vast and inexhanstible reservoir, whence all things derive their existence; but it is double, embodying the Yin or feminine Principle of Nature with the Yang, and from these producing all things. The sixth chapter of the Tao Tê Ching, constituting the text or key-note of the present essay, is to the following effect:—
"The Breath, or Spirit, of the Deep is imperishable. It is called the Azure (Heaven) and the Mother (Earth). The passage through which these Two Influences emerge and enter is called the root of the visible creation. They are ceaseless in action as though permanent, and may be used without ever being exhausted."
The Embryo is formed by the concretion of concealed Breath;* and the Embryo being brought into existence, the Breath begins to move in Respiration.
The generative auræ of the Great Empyrean all constitute one Breath. The Great or Universal Spirit,† lying in readiness, becomes united with the embryo, and the embryo, being thus united with it, develops respiration. Then the embryo is like a flower, of which the navel is the peduncle; and as the umbilical cord is connected with the placenta, the embryo inhales and exhales simultaneously with the mother, p. 64 one inhalation and one exhalation constituting Respiration. A period of absolute quiescence follows, [during which] the unmixed virility of the embryo—the pure Yang—increases day by day; and when the months are fulfilled the body is fully formed and parturition takes place. This is what Yuen Shih—the First Person in the Taoist Trinity—makes known to men, in order that they may preserve their breath intact until it becomes soft and pliable as a little child's.
The entrance of Breath into the body is Life; the departure of the Spirit from the external form is Death.
The external form of a man is his body; the spirit is the intelligent part of the breath; perception is the controller of the external form. The breath effects the completion of this form; as long as the outer form and the spirit are not separated, the breath will enter the body; and if the spirit remains in the body, the body will assuredly live for ever. But if the spirit departs, the breath will be dispersed and the body will decay; that is death. Therefore it may be said that death is the source of the life and life the source of death.
He who understands the Spirit and the Breath may live for ever; he who rigorously maintains the Empty and Non-existent may thereby nourish the Spirit and the Breath.
Spirit and Breath are One; they come from Emptiness and Non-existence. From the disruption of Chaos until now they have never either diminished or increased. Wherefore it is said that the Spirit of the Deep is immortal. When a man is able to discard his senses of sight and hearing, and to abstain from understanding and knowing, this amounts to a rigorous maintenance [of the Empty and Non-existent], by means of which he nourishes [the Spirit and the Breath]. But if he recognises the Actual and the Existent he will be deceived, and he himself the means of shortening his own life.
When the Spirit moves the Breath moves; when Spirit is still the Breath is still.
The Spirit is identical with the Will. The Breath is that which pervades, or is co-extensive with, the whole body. The Will is the conductor of the Breath. The Breath accompanies the Spirit, and the Spirit conducts the Breath, which, in moving or resting, takes its cue from the Spirit; so that the Spirit and the Breath necessarily nourish one another.
If you desire to attain to immortality, the Spirit and the Breath must be diffused through one another.
The Spirit of the Deep is immortal. It is called the Azure (Heaven) and the Mother (Earth); the Emptiness which exists in the centre of the ancestral Breath before the birth takes place. Heaven and Earth p. 65 are also called the Cavity where resides the Breath. If one closes the eyes and looks inwards, consolidating the Spirit and causing it to enter this Cavity, the Spirit and the Breath will pervade each other and be firmly maintained within; and by this means immortality may be obtained.
If the Heart is perfectly devoid of thoughts—neither going nor coming, issuing nor entering—it will dwell permanently within of its own accord.
The Heart is the abode of the Spirit. If it exercises itself in thinking, it will go backwards and forwards and out and in, and be unable to dwell permanently within. The spirit and the breath of an infant in the womb are both alike motionless; so that [the heart], being devoid or thoughts, neither comes nor goes, emerges nor enters in. Now if a man is able to concentrate his breath and enfold his spirit like a little child, the pure virile principle will be agglomerated, and he will return from a state of age to that of a boy and live for ever. This is the nourishment of the Spirit and the Breath by rigorously maintaining the Empty and the Non-existent. Wherefore I say, Discard the will, revert to the Empty and Non-existent, and let your mental vacuity be permanent.
Be diligent in pursuing this course; for it is the true road to take.
To sum up the whole: Act permanently and strenuously. Lao Tsze said, "If you employ [such methods] without diligence you will receive no help." The meaning of "diligence" as here used implies never neglecting; that is, a constant practice, as though permanent. "True" means not false; it is the straight road, not a side gate.
In the Thirty-six Imbibements the first thing is that the exalation should be very slight; the inhalation very long drawn. Whether sitting or lying, this rule should be alike observed; walking and standing there should be tranquillity. Guard against clamour and crowds; avoid the odour of fish and meat. That which is metaphorically called the Respiration of the Embryo is truly called the Inner Elixir. It not only cures diseases, but confers immortality. He who continuously pursues this practice will have his name inscribed upon the Register of the Immortals.
This is a guide-book to Embryonic Respiration. If the breath be regulated and the saliva [properly] swallowed, the primogenial breath of the Inner Palace may be recruited. The saliva should be swallowed thrice every two hours; to swallow during the period between eleven and one at night will do still more towards the nourishment of Life.
* This might perhaps be rendered "by being united with, or brought into conjunction with, the concealed Breath." The character is ###, which may be elliptical for either ### or ###.
† Or, the Spirit of the Abyss, ###; apparently identical with the ### of the Tao Tê Ching.