The ideas of lead and mercury use the ideas of “lead”, which is heavy and dense and lasts a long time without disintegrating, and “mercury” which is lively, active, and doesn’t last a long time, to refer to states of mind. What is called “lead” in the alchemical texts is not ordinary material lead but the deep rich sense of true knowledge. This true knowledge is solid, deep, long-lasting and unbending like the sense one gets from “lead”. What is called “mercury” in the alchemical texts refers not to actual material “mercury”, but to the yin aspects of reality’s nature; the side which is pliant, effervescent, spontaneous, unfathomable, and metaphysical. Because it is difficult to pin down and is formless and elusive this aspect of reality and consciousness is likened to mercury.
The Tiger and the Dragon
Alchemical language, when speaking of the “tiger” and the “dragon”, in most cases refers to either of two basic considerations. It means either the “tiger” as the physical aspects of life and the “dragon” as the spiritual aspects—these are sometimes called the ordinary tiger and ordinary dragon. However, the terms are also used to refer to the non-ordinary aspects, or the aspects such as those of the conditioned consciousness and the emotionally obsessed or illusioned consciousness in relation to the evolved consciousness which has learned to transcend the “ordinary” states of being conditioned or being emotionally obsessed. When, through the self-cultivation work, one refines away the conditioned temperament and the obsessing emotional habits and feelings, then the “ordinary” tiger and dragon are overcome, and the “true tiger” and “true dragon” of primordial essence arise. When this happens a clarity is awakened which is so clear and fundamentally beautiful that it seems like a bright light or a shining “mystic” pearl. When this clarity is firmly in place it pervades the universe without hindrance.
The Jade Furnace
The “jade furnace” is symbolic language for the “container” within which the work of self-cultivation and empowerment takes place. It is called “jade” because the mellow and beautiful tones of jade are like the calm serenity and steady going quality of the work. The term “furnace” is used because it evokes the idea of slow cooking or slow evolution, just as one slowly evolves and changes when one applies oneself diligently and perseveringly in self-cultivation practice. The jade furnace does not refer to some specific place in the body. It would be a mistake for people to conceive of it in such a manner. One must go deeper than such surfacy approaches.
The “medicines” of alchemical language don’t refer to physical medicines one should take into one’s physical body, but to the medicines of real inner knowledge and conscious and conscientious practice. Ideas of yin, yang, subtlety, sensitivity, quietude, tranquility, perseverance, balance, evenness, honesty, sincerity, patience, simplicity, objectivity, etc. are the real “medicines”. To think that the terms alchemical “medicines” or spiritual medicines refer to mundane physical substances is to fall way short of proper and deep understanding.