Thursday, February 16, 2023
HomeTaoismInternal Alchemy for Everyone---Review of a Book by Chungtao Ho

Internal Alchemy for Everyone—Review of a Book by Chungtao Ho

Sorry, that is the largest
measurement picture I might discover.

In each faith, for each considerate particular person there comes a time after they should make a determination about conventional texts. Are you going to learn them as being actually true—like a cookbook—or you going to learn them as metaphors and fantasy? The determination you make will inform each facet of what you do after that. Readers of this weblog will know that I’m somebody who reads Daoist literature as being evocative and metaphorical as an alternative of literal. Three Pines Press has lately revealed a e book, Internal Alchemy for Everyoneby somebody who has taken the choice route. I believed folks is perhaps excited about my tackle this e book. Unfortunately, there was virtually nothing on this e book that I’ve any sympathy with, so this publish will probably be much less a assessment than a meditation on the connection between modernity and a literal understanding of inner alchemy.


In a nutshell, Ho argues that it’s actually attainable to turn into an immortal by the apply of particular meditation methods that concerned the creation of a secondary spirit physique throughout the current bodily one. This includes creating a “heavenly fetus” that grows to maturity and over the course of a few years leads to a new non-corporeal physique that can go away the adept and slowly be taught to stay a new, immortal life with out being restricted by materials constraints.

How precisely is somebody supposed to answer this assertion? Could it probably be true? Are there folks in China who use esoteric meditation methods to dramatically prolong their lives and develop tremendous powers? Do some of them turn into literal immortals who find yourself residing in paradise with the Jade Emperor?

Is this image a lifelike depiction of a believable
occasion? Or is it simply a whimsical portray primarily based on an
elaborate metaphor?  Image from
Myths and Legends of China by E. T. C. Werner


I feel it is essential for informal readers to grasp a key ingredient of educational Daoist scholarship:  sociologists of faith do not truly care about whether or not or not a particular concept is “true”. It’s completely ample for them to easily report on a perception system. I noticed this level after I tried to learn the e book Opening the Dragon Gate:  the Making of a Modern Taoist Wizard, by Chen Kaiguo and Zheng Shunchao. I emailed a main knowledgeable on Daoism (I neglect his identify.) Because of all of the loopy magical occasions that have been described in the primary character’s life, I requested him “how might this probably be true?” . The response by the educational was one thing to the impact of “whether or not or not you consider that any of these things occurred, this type of e book is definitely the type of factor that Chinese Daoists have been writing about for a whole lot of years”. In different phrases, as a skilled educational he does not even care whether it is or is not true—it’s a topic that he research and writes about, merely as a phenomenon of human society.

That’s the perspective of a sociologist. I haven’t got the luxurious of considering that means as a result of I’m a thinker and a practitioner, in addition to somebody who writes standard books and a weblog. I want to come back to some type of conclusion about whether or not or not one thing might truly be “true”. This is as a result of there are important life selections one has to make on the idea of your perception system. If you truly do consider, for instance, that it’s attainable to turn into immortal and acquire tremendous powers by intensively meditating for ten or twenty years, then maybe it’s best to do it. If, then again, you consider that it is not attainable, then you’ll spend your restricted time on different pursuits. It’s so simple as that.

Chungtao Ho says that he has studied Western philosophy, psychology, and science, and is trying to convey a trendy sensibility to the topic.

Over the previous hundred years, Western philosophy has begun to affect Chinese thought, inspiring students to use epistemology to interpret inner alchemy. Although this provides a new presentation, it nonetheless doesn’t contact the core—which goes far past principle and facilities on apply, all the time carefully linked to verification of ideas by precise expertise. Overall, we will thus say that, regardless of a few years of philosophical dialogue and interpretation, the strategy of philosophy doesn’t provide a good interpretation.

Internal Alchemy for Everyone, p-13

“Epistemology” is the examine of what we will and can’t learn about a particular subject. This is clearly a fairly essential concern once we are speaking about experiences that solely a only a few folks have, and, which nearly all the time go away no tangible, bodily proof. It is precisely what we want to consider once we are deciding whether or not or to not spend a very giant chunk of our lives pursuing a particular set of non secular practices in pursuit of a purpose that will or might not truly be possible to realize. To be blunt, with regard to inner alchemy, the worth of epistemology is that it helps folks take into consideration whether or not or not one thing “truly occurs” or whether or not it’s “merely” a hallucination. 


With all due respect to Ho, I feel it’s secure to say that he actually does not perceive what trendy scholarship is all about.  (I discover the time period “Western” considerably annoying—philosophy and science are half of all the world’s heritage, not simply a small quantity of international locations in Europe and North America.) I say this as a result of he does not point out anyplace within the e book the completely core ingredient of scholarship: consensus constructing.

Naive folks assume of the world as consisting of “details” and “opinions”—and by no means the twain shall meet. But the method that resulted within the pc I’m scripting this weblog with, the vaccines that I’m injected with to forestall a flu pandemic, the robots which have created a rising prosperity that has unfold to most corners of the globe, and many others, all come from one thing as completely nebulous as a consensus amongst a small group of students who’ve devoted their lives to collaborating in a public dialog in regards to the particular set of concepts that outline their space of experience.

A small group of consultants affiliate with one another by membership in elite organizations similar to a college division, by subscribing to specialist journals, personal correspondence between people, and, assembly at conferences. Someone places ahead a speculation to elucidate a given set of observations. And then the very small quantity of individuals who have accomplished sufficient analysis on the problem to have an knowledgeable opinion on the topic enter into a dialogue about whether or not or not that speculation is sensible.

As a basic rule, they do that not by attempting to show it however fairly by disproving it. (Only a deductive discipline—math—works on “proof”. Everything else is inductive—evidence based—which can solely show a speculation incorrect by statement.) They do that by creating experiments that try and isolate one explicit prediction of the speculation. If this prediction truly proves true, this does not imply that the speculation is right simply that one explicit prediction appears to be true on this explicit state of affairs. But if the prediction does not come true, then they know that there could also be one thing considerably incorrect with all the speculation.

Usually, if many experiments are undertaken—and hopefully repeated by a number of experts—and none of them invalidate any of the predictions, then the speculation turns into adopted by the bulk of consultants within the area. At this level, it turns into a principle. Contrary to how folks typically use this time period, “principle” doesn’t suggest provisional.  Instead, it means an understanding of the world that explains a nice many various phenomena and which is accepted by the overwhelming majority of individuals who have put within the effort and time to have an knowledgeable opinion on the topic. Once it’s accepted, it then turns into a constructing block that the students use to develop future hypotheses, create new experimental know-how, and, future experimentation.

Uninformed folks will typically assert that one principle displaces another—like after they say that Einstein “proved” Newton “incorrect” about gravity. This is nonsense. Einstein’s principle of gravitation did not make any of Newton’s insights go away, as an alternative, it “provides to” elements of Newton’s clarification that cope with excessive conditions that Newton might by no means have observed—like huge plenty (eg:  stars) bending gentle. Similarly, evolutionary biologists have discovered that below intervals of extraordinarily quick local weather change species can evolve a lot sooner than Darwin would have predicted. But this does not change the truth that Darwin was proper within the overwhelming majority of cases, simply that there are odd conditions the place his principle must be “polished” to elucidate what occurs.


I believe that Ho would take concern with the concept that inner alchemy as he describes it does not comply with a comparable methodology. There are teams of people working inside an elite Daoist neighborhood who apply what he would name “experiments” to learn to create the heavenly fetus and learn to journey a phoenix to the Jade Emperor’s court docket. Why is not this the identical factor as Charles Darwin being a member of the Royal Society and learning finches to elucidate evolution?

One drawback instantly involves thoughts.

Our trendy world of scholarship and science has one very fascinating characteristic:  it hangs collectively. That is to say, as we be taught increasingly about every particular person self-discipline we discover that they praise and bleed into one another. Physics bleeds into chemistry in a means that atomic principle explains issues like the Periodic Table. And, chemistry additionally explains some parts of psychology—we know, for instance, that the human mind accommodates receptors that join with many of the chemical compounds in hashish, which explains it is many results on the thoughts and physique. Anthropologists are capable of perceive essential details in regards to the life-style of historic societies by learning the genetic composition of animal stays present in digs. And even wildlife biologists have defined flocking and education behaviour in social animals utilizing pc modeling.

Does any of this wide-ranging, more and more finely-grained understanding of the world and humanity’s place in it go away any room for a person to create a “spirit fetus” of their physique and nurturing it over a decade of apply into an immortal who has super-human talents?


This results in the subsequent query. Why ought to anybody trouble with these things? 

I’m not a sociologist of faith, and I’m definitely not getting any cash from this weblog different the the odd donation within the tip jar or e book sale (which averages round $10/month in royalties.) But I do assume that there’s something helpful within the Daoist custom or I would not have expended so many hours learning and popularizing it through the years. That is, it may be a means of dwelling your life that’s very important and dynamic whereas on the similar time in concord with nature and humanity. As I clarify in my e book, Digging Your Own Well, there may be a means of dwelling the place you do not battle in opposition to unattainable odds and destroy your self within the course of however on the similar time do not quit and “go alongside” with a basically harmful society. It is a means that helps you squeeze each iota of consciousness from life and on the similar time helps you come to phrases with our personal restricted understanding of a huge and incomprehensible universe. It does not require that you simply flip your again on private freedom, and, trendy knowledge—but it does increase them with a deep knowledge about what it means to be a human being.

For me, gaining the knowledge of the Dao is the key elixir of inner alchemy. It is what I search after I do issues like working towards “holding onto the One”, “sitting and forgetting”, or, taijiquan. It is what I look for after I learn Daoist texts. Whenever I come throughout the phrase “Xian“, or discuss Daoists and Daoism, I by no means use the frequent phrase “immortal”. Instead I take advantage of the phrase “realized man”.

From this level of view, the thought of creating a “heavenly fetus” over a lengthy interval of sustained non secular apply is a metaphor for reforming my persona and changing into a higher particular person. And the wonderful non secular powers like using Phoenixes or becoming a member of the Jade Emperor’s Court, are in regards to the serenity and knowledge that come from that reformation. Ask a reformed opium addict or alcoholic about what’s extra important—power over others or the power to beat their dependancy, and I believe that they’d decide for the latter over the previous each time. That’s actual energy. Immortality is far the identical. What worth would there be in dwelling eternally if it meant that should you needed to watch everybody you’re keen on develop previous and die? As a Zen story says, it’s a actual blessing to easily be in concord with the pure order of life and loss of life:  “father dies, son dies, grandson dies“.


I began out suggesting that in all religions one has to resolve whether or not or not you see the texts as being actually factual, or metaphoric. All the faiths of the world have needed to cope with conflicts with trendy science and tradition. And every of them, in flip, has cut up alongside this fault line into “fundamentalist” and “reform” our bodies. It is hardly stunning that Daoism additionally has this tendency. Ho’s e book is a suggestion of what a fundamentalist sort of Daoist spirituality would possibly seem like. I’m a trendy, educated Canadian man and this type of Daoism has little enchantment to me. Unfortunately, a lot of what calls itself “Taoist” within the West comes all the way down to not far more than “don’t fret, be completely satisfied” and the Dao of Pooh. My hope is that I can push a little bit in opposition to each tendencies with my writing.


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