The Golden Elixir Taoist Alchemy Articles

Beizong and Nanzong

The Northern and Southern Lineages of Neidan

Beizong and Nanzong are the two main lineages that emerged in the history of Neidan (Internal Alchemy) between the 11th and the 13th centuries. This article contains a concise description of the lineages and their main teachings.

Beizong, or Northern Lineage

The first of the two lineages is the Beizong, or Northern Lineage, consisting of Wang Zhe and his seven disciples, who lived between the 12th and the early 13th centuries:

● Wang Zhe (Wang Chongyang, 1113–70)
● Ma Yu (Ma Danyang, 1123-84)
● Tan Chuduan (Tan Changzhen, 1123-85)
● Liu Chuxuan (Liu Changsheng, 1147-1203)
● Qiu Chuji (Qiu Changchun, 1148-1227)
● Wang Chuyi (Wang Yuyang, 1142-1217)
● Hao Datong (Hao Guangning, 1140-1213)
● Sun Bu'er (Sun Qingjing, 1119-83)

The Northern Lineage is the original core of the Quanzhen or Complete Reality branch of Daoism. In addition, one of the Beizong masters, Qiu Chuji, is traditionally placed at the origins of the Longmen (Dragon Gate) lineage. The so-called Central Branch (zhongpai) of Neidan, originated by Li Daochun (13th century), also primarily claims descent from Qiu Chuji.

Nanzong, or Southern Lineage

The second lineage is the Nanzong, or Southern Lineage, which places at its origins Zhang Boduan, the author of the Wuzhen pian (Awakening to Reality). The lineage is formed by him and four other masters:

● Zhang Boduan (Zhang Ziyang, 987?-1082)
● Shi Tai (Shi Xinglin, ?-1158)
● Xue Daoguang (Xue Zixian, 1078?-1191)
● Chen Nan (Chen Niwan, ?-1213)
● Bai Yuchan (Bai Haiqiong, 1194-1229?)

It is now usually accepted that Nanzong was not a "lineage" in the common sense of the term, and that the sequence of its masters was established at a later time, apparently by Bai Yuchan himself in the early 13th century.

Views of Xing (Nature) and Ming (Existence)

The Northern and Southern lineages have performed the historical function of providing Neidan with two exemplary modes of self-cultivation.

Beizong/Quanzhen originally did not include only Neidan among its practices. From the point of view of the history of Neidan, however, its importance consists the establishment of a major type of Neidan self-cultivation. Beizong places emphasis on Xing (one's inner Nature, which is innately perfected), and accordingly focuses on practices meant to purify one's mind ("emptying the mind," "extinguishing the mind," "ending thoughts"). The underlying doctrines make use of Buddhist notions and terms — in particular, of the doctrine of "seeing one's Nature" (jianxing).

The Nanzong mode of cultivation, instead, places initial emphasis on Ming (one's life as an individual being, including one's "destiny" or function in existence as a whole, and one's endowment of "vital force"), and focuses on practices that intend to compound the Elixir by purifying the main components of the human being: Essence, Breath, and Spirit (jing, qi, shen). These practices follow the sequence Essence → Breath → Spirit → Dao, and consist of a process typically arranged into three main stages, the last of which lies in cultivating one's Xing, or inner Nature. The three main stages are usually called:

(1) "Refining Essence and transmuting it into Breath" (lianjing huaqi)
(2) "Refining Breath and transmuting it into Spirit" (lianqi huashen)
(3) "Refining Spirit and returning to Emptiness" (lianshen huanxu)

(See an article by Wang Mu on the stages of the alchemical process.)

"Immediate" and "Gradual" Realization

In the Beizong mode of Neidan self-cultivation, the immediate (dun) realization of one's Nature is equivalent to attaining the Elixir. According to a statement attributed to Wang Zhe, "The original True Nature is called Golden Elixir" (Chongyang quanzhen ji, Complete Reality: A Collection by Wang Chongyang, chapter 2). This is the same view that several centuries later would lead Liu Yiming, (a northern Longmen master, 1734-1821) to say:

Golden Elixir is another name for one's fundamental Nature, inchoate and yet accomplished (huncheng, a term derived from Daode jing 25). There is no other Golden Elixir outside one's fundamental Nature. (Commentary to Wuzhen pian, "Lüshi", poem no. 3. ☞ Read this poem online)

The Nanzong mode of Neidan self-cultivation, instead, consists of a gradual (jian) process that focuses on the cultivation of Ming at the initial stage, but is concluded with the cultivation of Xing. Cultivating Ming requires "doing" (youwei), while cultivating Xing is done by "non-doing" (wuwei). A poem of the Wuzhen pian ("Jueju", no. 42) describes the Neidan process as beginning with "doing" and ending with "non-doing":

It begins with doing, and hardly can one see a thing;
when it comes to non-doing, all begin to understand.
But if you only see non-doing as the essential marvel,
how can you know that doing is the foundation?

"Conjoined Cultivation"

The Northern and Southern lineages developed at a time in which China was divided in two different states (the Jin dynasty in the North, the Song dynasty in the South). Soon after the re-unification of Northern and Southern China, completed by the Yuan dynasty in the late 1270s, several Neidan masters began to merge the two lineages. What was merged was not only the lineages themselves — leading to the creation of multiple non-historical lines of transmission — but especially the respective modes of Neidan self-cultivation. This gave rise to the well-known formulation, xingming shuangxiu, or "conjoined cultivation of Xing and Ming," which has continued to be a major subject of Neidan until the present day.

"Conjoined cultivation" usually does not mean that Xing and Ming should be cultivated together. Only superior persons are deemed to be able to do this. In most cases, "conjoined cultivation" means that both Xing and Ming should be cultivated, but one should be cultivated first, and the other later. With regard to this point, the distinction between the two lineages concerns which one between Xing and Ming is seen as the basis for cultivating the other, in order to realize both. The Beizong/Quanzhen cultivation mode is defined as "first Xing then Ming" (xianxing houming), while the Nanzong cultivation mode is defined as "first Ming then Xing" (xianming houxing).