400 Words on the Golden Elixir
The Jindan sibai zi, or Four Hundred Words on the Golden Elixir, is attributed to Zhang Boduan (the author of the Wuzhen pian). Although this attribution does not seem to be trustworthy, the association with the first master of the Southern lineage (Nanzong) is one of the reasons of the popularity enjoyed by this work within the Neidan tradition.
The text is made of twenty poems, each containing four verses of five characters. The commentary translated here is by Peng Haogu (fl. 1586–99, from Hubei), also known for a commentary to the Cantong qi (The Seal of the Unity of the Three) and for several other works on Neidan.
These selections are quoted from:
This anthology presents complete or partial translations of sixteen important works belonging to the Taoist tradition of Neidan, or Internal Alchemy. The selections are representative of the main Neidan lineages and branches. Read more.
A complete translation of the 400 Words on the Golden Elixir, including Peng Haogu's commentary, is also found in:
From 400 Words on the Golden Elixir (Jindan sibai zi 金丹四百字)
The Medicine is born in the Mysterious Opening,
the Fire phases come forth from the Yang Furnace.
When Dragon and Tiger conjoin,
the Golden Tripod gives birth to the Mysterious Pearl.
The Mysterious Opening is the Mysterious-Female. The Mysterious is Yang, the Female is Yin. Together they are called “Mysterious Opening.”
In the human body, the lower [Cinnabar] Field is the Furnace, the place where Spirit lodges. Fire is sent forth from here; therefore it is called “the Yang Furnace.” Above the Furnace there is the Tripod. When quiescence culminates and there is movement, the Medicine is spontaneously born. You should collect it at that time. After you have obtained it, if it is not heated and refined by means of the Fire phases, it would disperse again. If that happens, how could the Mysterious Pearl be generated?
This Opening is not a common opening:
it is formed by the joining of Qian ☰ and Kun ☷.
It is called Cavity of Spirit and Breath,
and within there are the essences of Kan ☵ and Li ☲.
“This Opening” means the Mysterious Opening mentioned above.(1) It does not pertain to Being or Non-Being, and it does not fall into any category or rule; it lies outside and beyond the body and mind, and it emerges from the “vague and indistinct.”(2) Therefore it says, “is not a common Opening.”
Spirit is the Mercury within the mind, Breath is the Lead within the body. The mind is the chamber of Spirit, the body is the seat of Breath. Therefore it says, “it is called Cavity of Spirit and Breath.”
Within the body there is a particle of Breath of True Yang; that Breath pertains to Li ☲. Within the mind there is a particle of Essence of True Yin; that Essence pertains to Kan ☵. Therefore it says, “within there are the essences of Kan ☵ and Li ☲.”
1. See the previous poem.
2. Daode jing, sec. 21: “Vague and indistinct! Within there is something. Dim and obscure! Within there is an essence.”
© Fabrizio Pregadio and Golden Elixir Press 2023