True and False Body and Mind

Liu Yiming (1734-1821), Cultivating the Tao, Chapter 4

Liu Yiming, 'Cultivating the Tao: Taoism and Internal Alchemy'

Reproduced from:

Cultivating the Tao: Taoism and Internal Alchemy (Xiuzhen houbian)

Liu Yiming (1734-1821)
Translated by Fabrizio Pregadio
Golden Elixir Press, 2013

Divided into 26 short chapters, this book provides a comprehensive overview of the main principles of Taoism and an introduction to Taoist Internal Alchemy, or Neidan, written by one of the most important masters of this tradition.

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People nowadays speak of the body and the mind, but they only know the illusory body and mind, and do not know the true body and mind. As they leave the true to follow the false, it is no wonder that even before their number of years is exhausted, their bodies and minds are worn out. They have the forms of living human beings, but their souls have entered the lair of demons.

Translations from Cultivating the Tao

True and False Body and Mind

Precelestial and Postcelestial Yin and Yang

The One Opening of the Mysterious Barrier

Superior Virtue and Inferior Virtue

Translations from Liu Yiming's commentary to Awakening to Reality

Commentary to Poem 3

Commentary to Poem 7

Why is this so? The illusory body (huanshen) is the body of flesh; the illusory mind is the human mind. Eyes, ears, nose, tongue, mouth, and intellect all come forth from the illusory body; pleasure, anger, sorrow, joy, love, hate, and desire all come forth from the human mind.(1) Each of the six senses as well as the gatekeeper is sufficient on its own to take your life; each of the seven emotions and each errant thought is capable on its own of giving you death.(2) If they are even accidentally activated, how many are those whose Nature (xing) and Existence (ming) would not be harmed and injured? Deeming the illusory body and mind to be real is like mistaking a thief for one's son, or a servant for the landlord. If one day Heaven does not grant you one more year of life, where does the body go, and where does the mind go? There is no doubt that they are illusory things.

Neidan: Portrait of Liu Yiming (1734-1821)

Liu Yiming
Portrait by Qing-dynasty artist Tang Lian (唐璉)

As for the true body and the true mind, they are the dharma-body (fashen) and the celestial mind (tianxin). Yin and Yang and the five agents come forth from the dharma-body; the Infant, the Lovely Maid, the Mother of Wood, the Lord of Metals, the Yellow Dame, as well as coral, agate, crystal, jasper, and gold are all born from the celestial mind.(3)

The causes and conditions of the five natures are all seeds for attaining the Tao; the perfect treasures of the five qualities are all materials for refining the Elixir.(4) When they are collected and refined, one rises from death and returns to life, one inverts aging and reverts to youth.

However, most people are not aware of this dharma-body and this celestial mind. Thus the dharma-body is buried and the illusory body takes charge, the celestial mind retires from its position and the human mind takes power. Therefore there are continuous births and deaths, transmigration is unceasing, and there is no solution to this.

I advice my companions on the Way: Establish an enduring commitment and maintain a steady mind; remove errant thoughts and give prominence to the undertaking of Nature and Existence; inquire into the principles of creation and transformation with an unwavering mind.

Book Icon Liu Yiming, Cultivating the Tao

This dharma-body "supports Heaven above and supports the Earth below."(5) It has no head and no tail, no front and no back; it stands at the center and does not slant. Through its firmness, it breaks up Emptiness; through its yieldingness, it puts the ten thousand things to rest; through its solidity and stability, it enters water without becoming wet, enters fire without being burnt, and enters metals and stones without meeting obstructions. A tiger cannot harm it, a weapon cannot impose itself on it.(6) This is what your Existence depends on.

This celestial mind is neither dirty nor clean; it is utterly empty and utterly numinous, silent and unmoving, and pervades throughout by responding to impulses. In its quiescence, it is soundless and scentless; in its movement, it is utterly spiritual and utterly wondrous; in its form and its image, it is like the crescent moon, an upward-facing basin, and the Pearl of Millet.(7) It is neither form nor emptiness, and yet it is both form and emptiness; it is neither Being and nor Non-Being, and yet it is both Being and Non-Being. This is what your Nature depends on.

When you know this body and this mind and cultivate your Nature and your Existence, then fulfilling Nature and Existence becomes as easy as turning over your hand. Therefore the ancients taught:

        Ever and ever, the two words "body" and "mind"
        are concealed in the ten thousand scrolls of scriptures on the Elixir.(8)

If the illusory body and the human mind were actually luminous and bright, and if even a foolish man or a foolish woman were actually able to know them, why then should the ten thousand scrolls of scriptures on the Elixir keep this subject concealed and not talk about it? Obviously they keep it concealed because there is something secret and difficult to say in words. How could the illusory body and mind see it?

Alas! Are the body and the mind something easy to know? Unless you inquire into these principles and practice several dozens of years, the dharma-body will be not easy to see and the celestial mind will be not easy to understand. Until you know both the body and the mind, how can you cultivate your Nature and your Existence? Students should strive about this.


1. Although Liu Yiming refers to the six senses (liugen) in the next sentence, the list he gives here does not fully correspond to the ordinary Buddhist list of the senses, as he replaces the "body" (the organ of touch) with the mouth. By the mouth, Liu Yiming intends the organ of speech. Pleasure, anger, sorrow, joy, love, hate, and desire are the seven emotions (qiqing).

2. On the "gatekeeper" see note 5 to Chapter 3.

3. The Infant and the Lord of Metals are images of True Yang; the Lovely Maid and the Mother of Wood are images of True Yin; and the Yellow Dame is an image of the True Intention, which makes the conjunction of True Yin and True Yang possible. Coral, agate, crystal, jasper, and gold are five of the "seven treasures" (qibao; other items mentioned in different lists of the "treasures" include jade, amber, agate, pearls, etc.).

4. In Buddhism, the "five natures" (wuxing) correspond to five types of beings who have different possibilities of realization. In Confucianism, the "five qualities" (wuban) are the virtues of humanity (ren), righteousness (yi), propriety (li), wisdom (zhi), and trustworthiness (xin).

5. These or similar words are attributed to several Buddhist masters, including Huineng (638–713), the sixth Patriarch of Chan (Zen).

6. These sentences allude to a passage in Daode jing 50: "I have heard that one who is good at assisting life travels by land and does not encounter rhinoceroses and tigers, passes through an army and does not bear armor and weapons. Rhinoceroses have no place to plant their horns, tigers have no place to thrust their claws, and weapons have no place to stab their blades."

7. The "upward-facing basin" is a common image of Zhen ☳, the trigram that represents the crescent Moon, which in turn is an image of the first stage in the growth of the Yang principle. On the Pearl of Millet see note 12 to Chapter 3.

8. These verses are quoted in the Xingming guizhi (Principles of the Balanced Cultivation of Nature and Existence), sec. "Heng," no. 5, as coming from a poem in the Qunxian zhuyu (Pearls and Jade of the Immortals). Here the first line reads, "Ever and ever, the two words Nature and Existence . . ." There is no substantial difference in Liu Yiming's quotation, as Nature pertains to the "mind" (xin) and Existence pertains to the "body" (shen).