Li Daochun 李道純 (late 13th century)


Li Daochun is one of the great masters of the Mongol Yuan dynasty (1279–1368), an extremely important period in the history of Neidan. The reunification of the Chinese empire after the division into the Jin and the Southern Song dynasties (in the north and the south, respectively) had the indirect consequence of encouraging several attempts to “merge” the Northern and Southern lineages (Beizong and Nanzong), which had independently developed in the previous two or three centuries. Li Daochun is the creator of one of the most remarkable of these attempts. As a major example of the Neidan gift of “crossing boundaries,” his works also incorporate Buddhist and Neo-Confucian concepts.

The selections translated here show that Li Daochun establishes two main levels of Neidan, summarized by the terms Internal Medicine and External Medicine. The higher level, inspired by the principles of the Northern Lineage, is reserved to those who have an innate comprehension of the Dao. The lower level, which substantially corresponds to the principles and practices of the Southern Lineage, is addressed to all other adepts. The first way focuses on the cultivation of inner nature (xing); the second one gives initial priority to the cultivation of individual existence (ming). Both ways, however, are said to lead to the same result.

These selections are quoted from:

Taoist Internal Alchemy

Taoist Internal Alchemy: An Anthology of Neidan Texts

Fabrizio Pregadio

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.

From The Harmony of the Center (Zhonghe ji 中和集)

Chrome bullet   Essence, Breath, and Spirit

By keeping the Essence complete, you can protect the body (shen). To keep the Essence complete, first the body must be at rest and stable. When it is at rest and stable, there are no desires, and thus the Essence is complete.

By keeping the Breath complete, you can nourish the mind (xin). To keep the Breath complete, first the mind must be clear and quiescent. When it is clear and quiescent, there are no thoughts, and thus the Breath is complete.

By keeping the Spirit complete, you can return to Emptiness. To keep the Spirit complete, first the Intention must be sincere. When the Intention is sincere, body and mind join one another, and you return to Emptiness.

Therefore Essence, Breath, and Spirit are the three original ingredients; and body, mind, and Intention are the three original essentials.

Chrome bullet   Nature and Existence

Note: Xing and ming are two of the main terms and concepts in Neidan. Xing can be understood and translated as “nature,” in the sense of “human nature,” “inner nature,” or “inborn nature.” Ming is in several respects a more complex concept. In addition to the literal translations as “order, command, mandate,” this term means “destiny,” “fate,” “existence,” and has also been understood by some Western authors as “vital force.”

It is because Existence is burdened by the body that there are birth and death. It is because Nature is yoked by the mind that there are coming and going.

Nature (xing) is what we call the perfect precelestial Spirit and the One Numen. Existence (ming) is what we call the perfect precelestial Essence and the One Breath. Essence and Spirit are the roots of Nature and Existence.(1)

The creations and transformations brought about by Nature pertain to the mind. The creations and transformations brought about by Existence pertain to the body. Understanding and cognition emerge from the mind: with thoughts and cogitations, the mind yokes one’s Nature. Responses and reactions emerge from the body: with speech and silence, with sight and hearing, the body burdens one’s Existence.

It is because Existence is burdened by the body that there are birth and death. It is because Nature is yoked by the mind that there are coming and going.(2)

Thus we know that these two words, “body” and “mind,” represent the dwellings of Essence and Spirit, and that Essence and Spirit are the foundations of Nature and Existence. Nature cannot be established without Existence, and Existence cannot be preserved without Nature. The names are two, but the principle is one.


1. The Daozang text erroneously omits the character 「神」 in the last sentence.

2. I.e., the “coming and going” of thoughts.

Chrome bullet   The Mysterious Barrier

The Mysterious Barrier (xuanguan) is an extremely mysterious and extremely wondrous mechanism. Many of the present-day students are mired in their bodily form. Someone says that the Mysterious Barrier is between the eyebrows; someone says that it is in the wheel of the navel; someone says that it is in the space between the kidneys; someone says that it is before the kidneys and behind the navel; someone says that it is in the gallbladder; someone says that it is in the Cinnabar Field. Someone says that in the head there are nine palaces, and that the central one is the Mysterious Barrier. Someone refers to the Gate of Birth (chanmen, the vagina) as “the place where one comes to life,”(1) or to the mouth and the nose as the Mysterious-Female.

All of this is wrong. If the Mysterious Barrier is situated in the bodily form, it is entirely incorrect; yet, it cannot be separated from the person and cannot be searched outside of the person. Why does no book on the Elixir exactly say where it is found? Because this is something difficult to frame in writing or in speaking, and it is something that words cannot attain; and this is precisely why it is called Mysterious Barrier. Therefore the sages showed it only by writing the character 中 (zhong, “center”), because this character illustrates the Mysterious Barrier.

What I call center is not the center between “internal and external,” is not the center of “the center of the four directions and above and below,” and is not the center that is within.


1. See Wuzhen pian (Awakening to Reality), poem no. 9.


© Fabrizio Pregadio and Golden Elixir Press 2023