Mahavairocana Buddha seated on a golden lotus flower, by Unkei, 13th C, Japan




















Summary of The Secret of the Golden Flower

The Secret of the Golden Flower is a Taoist text, that uses alchemical symbols to describe a method to control or dissolve the yin energy of the lower self (earthly po-soul) and bring about the pure yang energy of the Higher Self or Original Spirit (Celestial hun-soul). Because of the use of alchemical symbols the text is intimately connected to other Taoist (and also Buddhist) texts and often quotes from these texts. Many of these symbols are also used by other esoteric traditions since the inner meaning of all esoteric tradition is the same.

Would you think it odd if Hafiz said, " I am in love with every church and mosque and temple and any kind of shrine because I know it is there that people say the different names of the One God."-- Hafiz

Consequently, the Secret of the Golden Flower must be seen from larger perspective. The method used in the text is called turning around the light.

Turning the light around is the secret of dissolving yin and controlling the lower self. -- The Secret of the Golden Flower, Chapter 2
The method used by the ancients for escaping from the world consisted in refining away the dregs of yin in order to return to the pure qian ☰. -- The Secret of the Golden Flower, Chapter 2
If the learner refines the yin lower self completely, then he will become pure yang. -- The Secret of the Golden Flower, Chapter 2
The method of inner development which produces a divine Immortal uses man's ability to 'reflect back his brightness to light up within.
-- Yuyan, Commentary on the Cantong Qi — Triplex unity, 2nd c. Taoist text

Light is another word for awareness. When one is aware of something one sheds light on it. When one is not aware of something, it stays in the dark. Turning around the light means turning one`s awareness, which is normally focused on the externals, inward, and shedding light on one`s inner world. One of the many symbols for pure light or awareness is Jindan (金丹), which translates as the Golden Pill or Elixir of life.

Ancient immortals used the term Golden Pill as a metaphor of the essence of true consciousness. -- Liu Yiming (18th c. Taoist master)
The Golden Flower is the Golden Pill. -- The Secret of the Golden Flower, Chapter 1

Both the Golden Flower and the Golden pill (elixir) are simply symbols for true consciousness, which refers to the awareness of the Higher Self or Original Spirit. This consciousness is veiled by the discriminating or illusionary consciousness of the lower self. Making the lower self passive is done through internal action.

The secret of the elixir of life consists in using action in order to attain non-action. -- The Secret of the Golden Flower, Chapter 1

Action refers to turning around the light. This effort will be constantly interrupted by the yin energy of the lower self, the ten thousand thoughts and emotions. The alchemical symbol of lead refers to the firmness of the internal attitude to not allow any interruptions. This is also symbolized by the yang energy of the mind of Tao, the yang line in between two yin lines in the Kan (Water) trigram ☵ (not to be confused with the pure yang energy — the trigram Qian (Heaven) ☰ — of the Higher Self). Not allowing any thoughts to interrupt the effort of turning around the light is called bathing.

The deepest secret, which cannot be dispensed with from the beginning to the end. This is the washing of the heart and the purification of the thoughts, which is bathing. -- The Secret of the Golden Flower, Chapter 8

From the beginning to the end refers to the beginning and end of the method of turning around the light. Washing the heart refers to getting rid of all the interests of the heart, so that only the interest to experience the presence of the Original Spirit is left. This means the heart has "died".

When a man can let his heart die, then the original spirit awakens to life. To kill the heart does not mean to let it dry and wither away, but it means that it has become undivided and gathered into one. The Buddha said: "When you fix your heart on one point, then nothing is impossible for you". -- The Secret of the Golden Flower, Chapter 8

At the end, the method of turning around the light is abandoned.

Why is it necessary to use a method of deliberate action? The reason it is indeed necessary to use the method is to get rid of degeneracy. When all degenerations are effectively done away with, then the method is not needed, just as a raft needed to cross a river is to be left behind once the river is crossed and a net needed to catch fish is to be put away once the fish has been caught. -- Liu Yiming, Awakening the Tao

When one has been successful in not allowing the effort to be interrupted, the Original Spirit is unveiled. Inevitably, the yin energy of the lower self will return because one can only be without thoughts — the lower self can only die — for a short while. However, now one can attend to one`s affairs with the presence of the Original Spirit.

One attends to one’s affairs in the midst of the emptiness.....While practicing contemplation of the empty, one also knows that one cannot destroy the ten thousand things, and still one does not notice them. -- The Secret of the Golden Flower, Chapter 8
Freedom of thought means having no thought in the midst of thought.
-- Huineng, The Platform sutra

Sooner or later, depending on one`s firmness of the moment, the lower self will reaffirm itself and the Higher Self will become veiled again. Through practice, the Original Spirit can be present longer and longer.

Turning around the light is also referred to as the firing process and is one of the many symbols for the method of turning around the light.

The turning around of the light is the firing process. -- The Secret of the Golden Flower, Chapter 3

The firing process is the central idea in Taoist Alchemy.

The firing process spoken of in the alchemical classics and writings of the masters is a metaphor for the order of practical spiritual work.
-- Liu Yiming, The Inner teachings of Taoism
The inner development of the elixir and the timing of its firing are no different at all from the ebbing and the flowing of the phases of the moon. -- Yu Yan, Commentary on the Cantong Qi — Triplex unity, 2nd c. Taoist text

The firing process is not openly described in the Secret of the Golden Flower, because according to Liu Yiming, one needs to be guided by an enlightened teacher.

The moon waxing to fullness is a secret passed on by word of mouth. The medicinal substances are hard to know, and the firing process is not easy to understand. Students should hasten to find a genuine teacher. -- Liu Yiming, Commentary on Understanding Reality

The 2nd century text Cantong Qi connects the waxing and waning of the moon to the eight trigrams and also hexagrams of The I Ching. The inner meaning of the I Ching is the firing process. Each hexagram (and also the trigrams making up each hexagram) describes the firing process.

The firing process is the sixty-four hexagrams. The alchemical classics and writings of the adepts, amounting to thousands of volumes, do not go beyond the principles of the I Ching. -- Liu Yiming, The Taoist I Ching, Mixed Hexagrams #43 Parting and #44 Meeting

The process of refining the yin lower self completely, and becoming pure yang is described in terms of the I Ching hexagrams.

Except for the secret of turning the light around, there is no other exercise to return to qian. The light itself is qian; to turn it around is to return to it. -- The Secret of the Golden Flower, Chapter 2

Qian refers to the trigram ☰ and hexagram  ䷀ of pure yang called Heaven.

Growing from one yang to gradually reach the pure wholeness of six yangs, going from vague to clear, the Gold Elixir develops naturally.
 -- Liu Yiming, The Inner Teachings of Taoism

This is the wonderful charm that is spoken of.

All changes of spiritual consciousness depend upon the heart. This wonderful charm, although it works very accurately, is yet so fluid that it needs extreme wisdom and alertness, and the most complete absorption and tranquility. People without this highest degree of wisdom and alertness do not find the way to apply the charm; people without this utmost capacity for absorption and tranquility cannot keep fast hold of it. -- The Secret of the Golden Flower, Chapter 1

Through this process (also shown in the first six oxherding pictures on the right) the Golden Flower gradually opens and comes in full bloom.

The further the work advances, the more the Golden Flower blooms, and the subtler the method of turning around the light becomes.
 -- The Secret of the Golden Flower, Chapter 8

Now that the Golden Flower is in bloom, the mystical pearl can stabilize.

The Cantong Qi says, "The unstable Pearl of the sun always wants to leave people; finally finding the Golden Flower, they change and stay by each other." The Golden Flower is the mind of Tao …. The use of the mind of Tao is to govern the human mind. After the human mind is quiet, and discriminatory awareness is extinguished, the mind of Tao has no function. -- Liu Yiming, Commentary on Understanding Reality

The practice of turning around the light needs to occur in any circumstance.

If you are able to perform the correct technique, the method of turning around the light works whether you are walking, standing, sitting, or reclining. -- The Secret of the Golden Flower, Chapter 10
When you follow the teaching of turning around the light, a man doesn`t need to give up his ordinary occupation in doing it. -- The Secret of the Golden Flower, Chapter 7

Turning around the light is active meditation. One can practice it sitting in a quiet room, as preparation for practicing it in one`s daily circumstances.

An ancient said, "When people are in the midst of the disturbance, this is a good time to apply effort to keep independent." Stay comprehensively alert in the immediate present, and suddenly an awakening will open up an experience in the midst of it all that is millions of times better than that of quiet sitting. -- Huang Yuan-Ch'i, Annals of the Hall of Blissful Development
People meditating on the fundamental, carry out their ordinary tasks and activities in the midst of meditation, and carry out meditation in the midst of ordinary tasks and activities. There is no disparity between meditation and activity. It is for those as yet incapable of this, those weak in focusing their intent on the Way, that special meditation periods were set up. -- Muso Soseki, 14th c. Japanese poet and garden designer

Lao Tzu, Christ and Bodhisattva Manjusri seated on their animals represents the Mind of Tao controlling the lower self, while the lower self is in the midst of ordinary tasks and activities.

I Ching, Hexagram #11, Peace/Tranquility: When the spirit of heaven rules in man, his animal nature takes its appropriate place.
Sufi tradition -- Al-Jilani (12th c. Sufi): When the believer has mastered his lower self, so that it serves as a riding mount beneath him, the deeds of his heart will shine forth upon his face.