The Golden Elixir Taoist Alchemy Articles

A Japanese Alchemical Chart of the Human Body

Japanese chart of the human body

The Japanese alchemical chart of the body reproduced on this page is entitled Shūshin kyūten tandō zu 修真九轉丹道圖, or Chart of the Way of the Elixir in Nine Cycles for the Cultivation of Reality (the Chinese reading of the title is Xiuzhen jiuzhuan dandao tu). Although no precisely corresponding picture seems to be found in Chinese texts, it is likely that this chart is either copied from, or based on, an earlier Chinese exemplar that may now be lost.

The Chart, which is undated, is now kept in the library of Tenri University in Japan. It is reproduced here from the book by Katō Chie 加藤千恵, Furō fushi no shintai: Dōkyō to "tai" no shisō 不老不死の身体 — 道教と「胎」の思想 (The Ageless and Deathless Body: Taoism and the Idea of the "Embryo"; Tokyo: Taishūkan shoten, 2002), p. 121. Dr. Katō is one the main Japanese scholars of Taoist Internal Alchemy. She has published extensively in particular on the Wuzhen pian (Awakening to Reality) and on the Taoist views of the "embryo."

Description of the Chart

From top to bottom along the vertical axis, the Chart shows: the upper Cinnabar Field; the eyes; the tongue; the trachea; the middle Cinnabar Field; the lower Cinnabar Field; and the Caudal Funnel.

Like most similar Chinese pictures, the Chart contains short captions. Below are translations of the captions, with short notes:

1. "As I sit and forget my form (xing), all the mountains, the rivers, and the ten thousand things are within my body". The word used here for "body" is shen 身, which denotes not only the physical body, but the whole person.

2. "The Breath (qi) of the gallbladder rises above".

Japanese chart of the human body

3. "Caudal Funnel" (weilü). Located near the coccyx, this is the first of the Three Barriers (sanguan) in the back of the body. (See an article by Wang Mu on the Three Barriers.)

4. "Cinnabar Field" (dantian). The lower Cinnabar Field is the dantian proper.

5. "At its first descent, the Elixir is similar to a Luminous Pearl." This sentence refers to the first stage in the formation of the Elixir, i.e., the first of the nine cycles mentioned in the title of the Chart.

6. "The heart is the Crimson Palace" (jianggong). The middle Cinnabar Field, commonly called Crimson Palace, is shown at the center of the picture.

7. "The throat is the Twelve-Storied Pavilion" (shi'er lou). This is a common name of the trachea in Neidan and meditation texts.

8. "The tongue is the Red Lotus" (honglian).

9. "Under the tongue, on each [side], there are two openings". These openings are the Cinnabar Cavities (danxue), which should be kept closed by the tongue so that the True Breath (zhenqi) does not escape.

10. "Through two [of the four] openings, Breath (qi) flows and pervades the body".

11. "On the right the Great Yin". This caption and the next one refer to the eyes. The right eye represents Great Yin.

12. "On the left the Great Yang". The left eye represents Great Yang.

13. "Palace of the Muddy Pellet" (niwan gong). The upper Cinnabar Field, commonly called Muddy Pellet.

Origins and Transmission

Although its origins and transmission deserve more study, the Japanese Chart appears to be closely related to a work attributed to Chen Nan (?-1213), a Neidan master belonging to the Southern Lineage (Nanzong) of Internal Alchemy. His Cuixu pian (The Emerald Emptiness), which is part of the Xiuzhen shishu (Ten Books on the Cultivation of Reality), contains these verses:


The result (gong) of the first cycle is similar to a Precious Pearl;
mountains, rivers, and the whole cosmos pervade the Numinous Body.
Under the petals of the Red Lotus are stored the Cinnabar Cavities;
the Vermilion River flows and pervades the Pearl of the Nine Times.

The Precious Pearl in Chen Nan's first verse is equivalent to the Luminous Pearl of the Chart (no. 4 above). The second verse is matched by one of the captions in the Chart (no. 2). The term Red Lotus in the third verse is found in the Chart (no. 10), which also mentions the two pairs of "openings", i.e., the Cinnabar Cavities (no. 9). The expression "flow and pervade" in the fourth verse is used in the Chart (no. 7).

(According to Chen Nan's own explications, the "nine times" in the fourth verse refer to a form of breathing in nine stages performed after the Pearl of the Elixir descends into the Cinnabar Field.)

In his work, Chen Nan also writes:


The True Water [generated] by [number] 1 of Heaven is stored in the gallbladder. When Yin and Yang conjoin, they descend [into the lower Cinnabar Field] and form the Elixir. At its first descent, its shape is similar to a Luminous Pearl made of one drop of dew.

Besides including the term Luminous Pearl, one of captions in the Chart (no. 4) consists of sentence that alludes to the final part of this passage. Finally, another caption in the Chart (no. 1) mentions the gallbladder.

(The words "The True Water [generated] by [number] 1 of Heaven" allude to Water, the first of the five agents, which is given birth by Heaven and is associated with number 1.)

Considering these multiple analogies, it is significant that the Cuixu pian is concerned with a Neidan process in nine cycles, which are also mentioned in the title of the Japanese Chart of the Way of the Elixir in Nine Cycles for the Cultivation of Reality. As for the words Cultivation of Reality, they may be a direct reference to the above-mentioned work that now contains the Cuixu pian.