In all ancient Daoist methods the whole process of speaking about things symbolically was a way of approaching real truths. The methods and words were meant to help people understand life and to approach certain ways of cultivating themselves. Often these old methods were given Alchemical contexts. This has been and oftentimes continues to be the reason why many ideas are misconstrued and misinterpreted. Many people in the past and some to this day continue to misunderstand the alchemical texts. They unfortunately think the texts refer to the use of actual chemical substances to induce enlightenment, but of course this is not in fact what alchemy was truly about.
Alchemical language was chosen because of the subtle intonations of the words. These intonations were used to guide the practitioner through the morass of intricate meanings which arise from philosophical and psychological concepts. Words like heaven and earth, fire and water, lead and mercury, tiger and dragon, the jade furnace, medicine, the mysterious pass, golden elixir, immortal embryo, gate of no gate, and many more terms act as cryptic and symbolic guides to the world of truth and self-empowerment. One simply needs to look at the words and phrases closely, study the inner meanings, and relate the symbolic words to what is actually happening in real life.
Alchemical language is a challenge, to be sure. In the end, it is at the very least, an intriguing and interesting and unusual path with which one can explore the incredible truths of inner and outer life. Scholars and practitioners who are willing to explore the ancient alchemical language can be rewarded with deep insights about the present—and, as well, about the way the ancient practitioners of Daoism perceived the world.
Once true sense is enjoined, without concealing, without deception, the original spirit can arise and the biased and illusioned spirit can be overcome. The method of reaching this point is not a matter of conscious contrivance or manipulation; it is a matter of attaining the natural, “living” sense of vitality and reality which exists in every being. To do this is to understand outside cultural prejudice and learning. One must be very clear-minded. Impartial objectivity must be used to see past one’s own personal agenda and what it calls for or needs. Such a mindset is sometimes referred to as non-doing. It is very important in solving the cryptic problems of alchemical language.
Those who are interested in Daoist alchemical language and its deeper meanings must look into the code words and figure out the hidden meanings behind the cryptic and difficult to fathom symbols and phrases. Hearing ideas like “heaven” and “earth, “fire” and “water”, lead”, “mercury”, “tiger” and “dragon”, “jade furnace”, “medicine”, the “mysterious pass”, “golden elixir”, the “immortal embryo”, and the “gate of no gate” one must not think such words refer to the preparation of chemical potions to ingest or parts of the body, but remember that these words and phrases are symbols. They use a language which speaks of one thing to allude to another.
Fire and Water
The concepts of “fire” and “water” do not refer to actual fire and water. They are symbolic of deeper sides of our nature. The fervor and impetuosity of people is passionate and volatile and so it is referred to as fire. The other side of people’s character, the calm, centered, more contained and wise side is steady and careful. It has a more settled quality, a “softness”, a “flexibility” which contrasts with the fiery and volatile side, and so it is referred to as water. Using the more contained and settled “water” side is using thoughtfulness, logic, and control to nurture and guide our more impulsive and wild side. Using the other side of our disposition, the excitable and temperamental “ fire” nature, to complete and balance the often too staid and overly controlling “water” nature is allowing that side of our character expression. By finding a balance between these two sides of our makeup we become more complete and whole.