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In the East, alchemy has fared somewhat better. The Rasa-Jala-Nidhi,6 a sourcebook of Indian or Vedic alchemy, tells us that the science of alchemy is divine, and the translators of the
text add that its origins are unknown and go back to hoary antiquity.
In Ayurveda today, alchemical preparations are considered to be the capstone of this
traditional system both for healing and for promoting longevity. The current official Indian Ayurvedic pharmacopoeia contains a list of alchemical preparations and their manufacture.
Many of them start out with toxins, such as mercury, which are to be converted into "nectar"
by the art of the alchemist. What are the effects that can be expected of such potions that are still in use today?
Steven A. Feite reports on one of the uses of Makaradhwaj, a traditional preparation of Vedic alchemy: “Members of the Bhairavi
cult, worshippers of a particularly wrathful form of Lord Shiva, have been known to live hundreds of years through the alchemical use of
such mercury-based compounds. Indeed some are said to have obtained immortality by overcoming their innate addiction to time.” Very
apparently, some practitioners of this ancient art in the hinterlands of India are doing better than many exponents of Western science.
A look at alchemy in India today would not be complete without mentioning the vast number of schools of inner alchemy. Ancient temple murals
portray the blue gods of the Indian subcontinent in various positions of sexual embrace, a source of embarrassment for the uptight contemporary
culture of the land. Tantric alchemy always had components of harnessing and cultivating sexual energy for purposes of reaching transcendental
states of mind and achieving longevity, as well as utilizing laboratory-made substances. Today, many of these schools have dropped the ingestion
of potions —most likely due to dramatic cases of poisoning by unenlightened practitioners in the past. Inner alchemy on its own, however, can
and does produce the miraculous, too, if correctly taught and applied. Even the California version of Tantric inner alchemy7 may produce better
results for attaining longevity and joie-de-vivre than the latest drug promoted on TV.
The ancient Taoists of China aspired to raise the human being from the “Inferior Man” to the “Superior Man” of the I Ching, and in their quest for transcendence and immortality they gave us, as mere side-products, acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, bone-setting and the now widely known concepts of yin/yang and chi.
Taoist alchemist Ko Hung
At the core of Taoist alchemical studies were the development of laboratory-made pills of immortality,8 comparable to the Philosopher’s
Stone of the West, as well as the refinement of inner techniques of visualization, postures, breathing and energy cultivation, such as the ‘inner
circulation of the light.’9 Numerous variations of chi gung and nei gung practices, all originally derived from Taoist research, have evolved over
the centuries, and in China, energy work was soon incorporated into the training of the warrior, resulting in what we know today as the various martial arts
from the East.
China is the only country today that has fully implemented certain disciplines of inner alchemy for the masses – perhaps the most unexpected turn of
events ever in the long history of this secret science. After the Maoist revolution, China found itself with less than half of its former medical practitioners,
while the population increased during the Mao era from 400 to 800 million. The government needed to come up with a solution for the medical crisis in order not to
face the potential of a counter-revolution. The Chinese approach was radical: Taoists, Tai Chi and Chi Gung teachers who had basically no interest whatsoever in making
their secrets public were told to design Tai Chi and Chi Gung programs for the health of the general population or face the extermination of their entire clan. The blackmail
worked, a populist system of great efficacy was developed and from the mid 1950s to this day, about 200 million people in mainland China practice Tai Chi or Chi Gung, which
literally means ‘energy work’.10
Chinese alchemists are convinced that at least some of their brethren actually had become xian, or immortals. And despite the communist revolution and the official doctrine of atheism, these Xian have kept a place in the heart of the general population: The Eight Immortals rank among the most popular figures in Chinese folklore today.
In part two of this series, we shall gain some insights into the basic concepts of alchemy and how they apply to us today.
1 Principe, Lawrence M.: The Aspiring Adept – Robert Boyle and his Alchemical Quest, Princeton 1998, Princeton University Press
2 Two books and numerous articles by the late Betty Jo Teeter Dobbs (Cambridge University Press 1975 and Smithsonian Institution Libraries 1990) on the alchemical preoccupation of Sir Isaac Newton ushered in a completely new view of the man and his life. Reported symptoms of chronic mercury poisoning suggest that Sir Isaac is likely one of the many casualties of alchemical experimentation. Robert Boyle’s ill health and demise are well covered in Lawrence Principe’s book “The Aspiring Adept”
3 More on Egyptian Alchemy can be found in: Brier, Bob: Ancient Egyptian Magic, New York 1981, Quill
4 The disconnect of spirit from our contemporary sciences found its worst expression in the materialistic psychologies of Wundt and Pavlov, and for traditional alchemists it is with great delight to observe that today’s movers and shakers of the material science of physics, particularly quantum physics, are finally connecting back to the realm of the non-material
5 Several authors have compiled documents of independent third-party witnessed miraculous cures as well as metallic transmutations performed by various adepts of medieval Europe; books for further study are: Sadoul, Jacques: Alchemists and Gold, New York 1972, Putnam, as well as Doberer, K.K.: The Goldmakers – 10,000 Years of Alchemy, Westport, Connecticut 1972, Greenwood Press Reprint
6 Mookerji, Kaviraj Bhudeb (editor): Rasa-Jala-Nidhi or Ocean of Indian Chemistry & Alchemy, 5 vol., India : several editions by several publishers available
7 Saraswati, Sunyata and Avinasha, Bodhi: Jewel in the Lotus – The Tantric Path to Higher Consciousness, California 1996, Sunstar Publ.
8 Preciously little of the vast alchemical heritage of the Middle Kingdom has been translated into Western languages; three of the more readable works on Chinese lab alchemy are: Ware, James R.: Alchemy, Medicine, and Religion in the China of A.D. 320, the Nei P’ien of Ko Hung, Cambridge, Massachusetts 1966, The M.I.T. Press, and: Sivin, Nathan: Chinese Alchemy - Preliminary Studies, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1968, Harvard University Press, as
well as: Johnson, Obed Simon: Study of Chinese Alchemy, Shanghai, China 1928, The Commercial Press.
Please note: In order to preserve their secret knowledge, Chinese laboratory alchemists have, just like Western alchemists, always left out one or more ingredients or one or more steps of their often-involved preparation methods. Taking Chinese laboratory alchemy ‘recipes’ at face value will only produce poisons. The above quoted books are NOT uncovering the secret aspects of Chinese laboratory alchemy, but give an insight into general concepts and methodology.
9 The classic translation of one of the many variations of this meditation technique is by: Wilhelm, Richard: The Secret of the Golden Flower, first published in the United States in 1931, several editions in circulation.
10 Frantzis, B.K.: Opening The Energy Gates of Your Body – The Tao of Energy Enhancement Series, Berkeley, California 1993, North Atlantic Books