As you may remember from my previous article, while verse 8, chapter two of the DaoDeJing (ChangDunXiangXing 長短相形) is traditionally translated as “Long and short determine one another,” I further interpreted it as “Refine the elixir with long and short seasonal breathing methods” and mentioned that in internal alchemy practices, Chang symbolizes the Eastern Dragon and Duan embodies the Western Tiger. In this article, I would like to delve into a more detailed explanation on my new insights into the symbolic meanings of Chang and Duan.
Let us start with a little “gossip” to help us understand the connections between Chang 長 (long or tall) and Dong 東 (east), Duan 短 (short or less) and Xi 西 (west). There are three commonly used Chinese phrases that mean gossiping about someone or something: ShuoChangDaoDuan 說長道短 (talk about long and short), ShuoDongDaoXi 說東道西 (talk about east and west), DongChangXiDuan 東長西短 (east is long and west is short). You might be able to guess that in these phrases, Chang and Dong have similar meanings – growing, strength, richness, pro, or good, while Duan and Xi are also similar in meaning – aging, weakness, poor, con, or bad. These meanings are actually related with the Five Elements principle. East is associated with the Wood Element, which is also the symbol for spring season, the growing stage of life, compassion, flourishing, and the liver system in our body. The spiritual animal of the East, the Liver, and the Wood element is the Dragon. West is associated with the Metal Element, which stands for autumn, the aging stage of a life, justice, withdraw, and the lung system in our body. The spiritual animal of the West, the Lung, and the Metal element is Tiger.
Interestingly, as you look at the Chinese characters Dong 東 and Xi 西, it gives you a feeling that Dong is long/tall and Xi is short. Dong is composed with the Chinese character Ri 日 (sun) within the character Mu 木 (wood, trees), which symbolizes that the sun rises from the east and plants are growing and getting taller/longer. Sunrise marks the start of the day, which signifies that Dong also means the Yang Qi is expanding and Yin Qi is retreating. The ancient oracle style Xi looks like a bird resting in the nest and indicates the sunset in the west - for at least a couple of thousands of years, Xi has been used to mean the western direction and time of sunset. In contrast with Dong, Xi’s quality of sunset embodies the shortening of Yang Qi and increasing of Yin Qi. Furthermore, the alternations of long to short daylight between Dong (east, morning, spring) and Xin (west, evening, autumn) denotes the waxing and waning of natural patterns of energy and the rhythm of life. This is how the Chinese came to infer a new meaning of “DongXi,” beyond East and West: together, DongXi can be used to mean any item or object.”
In Chinese daily life, this phrase DongXi simply means “thing” or “object” and is rarely used to mean “east and west.” It is understood that the oneness and non-separation of east and west / long and short represents a peaceful and harmonious condition/environment/world. We can add thus another layer of interpretation to the verse ChangDunXiangXing - the universe brings Dong and Xi or Chang and Duan into union in order to create DongXi 東西 (all things, events, or objects). Perhaps then, you can now understand that gossiping, or talking about the good/bad-east/west-long/short of others in idle conversation is a moving away from a peaceful and harmonious world.
In Daoism, the sun represents Yang 陽 and the moon signifies Yin 陰. The movements of the sun and moon embody the way of Dao. Therefore, east and west is the pathway of Yang and Yin. Within the body, the sun is equal to the Heart/Fire Element, the moon is equivalent to the Kidneys/Water element, east stands for the Liver/Wood element, and west characterizes the Lung/Metal element. The key method of Daoist internal alchemy cultivation is how to work with the above four Elements to transform the postnatal body/consciousness back to the prenatal body/consciousness.
In my Speechless Teaching Diagram above, the Prenatal Bagua symbolizes the prenatal body/consciousness while the Postnatal Bagua exemplifies the postnatal body/consciousness. I will apply the trigrams in the northern and southern positions in these two Bagua arrangements to explain an important internal alchemy principle:
In the Prenatal Bagua, in the south, Qian/Heaven ☰ signifies YuanShen 元神 or the prenatal consciousness/spirit; whereas Kun/Earth ☷ is located in the north and it stands for YuanJing 元精 or the prenatal body. In the Postnatal Bagua, Li/Fire ☲ is located in the south that symbolizes ShiShen 識神 or postnatal mind/consciousness; then Kan/Water ☵ is located in the north and denotes ZhuoJing 濁精 or the physical body. In order to transform the postnatal state back to the prenatal state, we must learn how to cultivate Li/Fire back to Qian/Heaven and Kan/Water back to Kun/Earth. This principle is known as QuKanTianLi 取坎填離, which literally means Fetch Kan/Water to fill up Li/Fire.
Allow me to provide a little explanation to help you understand this principle. Please pay attention to the patterns of above four hexagrams. In the postnatal condition, if we take the middle Yang line from Kan/Water ☵ to fill up the middle Yin line of Li/Fire ☲, and replace the middle Yang line of Kan/Water ☵ with the middle Yin line from Li/Fire ☲, then we would see that the northern postnatal position Kan/Water ☵ becomes the prenatal position Kun/Earth ☷ while the southern postnatal position Li/Fire ☲ returns to the prenatal position Qian/Heaven ☰. Within the body, Kan/Water ☵ represents the kidneys/Water and Li/Fire ☲ stands for the Heart/Fire, so in order to transform the postnatal body back to the prenatal Qian/Heaven ☰ YuanShen and Kun/Earth ☷ YuanJing state, we must understand how to fetch the true Yang Fire within the Kidneys to nourish the Heart Fire and allow the true Yin Water within the Heart to tonify the Kidney Water.
The method of QuKanTianLi is commonly called LongHuDanGong 龍虎丹功 – Dragon and Tiger Alchemy Qigong. Remember, the Dragon is the spirit of the east and the Tiger is the spirit of the west. The key of Daoist internal alchemy practices is knowing how to apply the Eastern Dragon/Liver/Wood and Western Tiger/Lung/Metal to transform the Northern Kidney/Water and Southern Heart/Fire back to the prenatal or enlightened state. Also the Wood and Fire Elements belong to the Fire Family, while Metal and Water Elements belong to the Water Family, so in LongHuDanGong, uniting these two families is another way of discussing QuKanTianLi.
This diagram illustrates the union of the Fire and Water families in internal alchemy cultivation:
Dragon emerges from Fire and Tiger gives birth in Water
As words can never fully describe technical details of traditional internal cultivation practices, I will hopefully be able to share some practical LongHuDanGong secrets with you through direct bodily experience - I will look forward to share the Dragon and Tiger practice through my online and in person classes in the near future. Stay tuned!