Introduction to
The Seal of the Unity of the Three (Cantong qi)

Cantong qi: The Seal of the Unity of the Three

Based on the Introduction of:

The Seal of the Unity of the Three: A Study and Translation of the Cantong qi, the Source of the Way of the Golden Elixir

Fabrizio Pregadio
Golden Elixir Press, 2011
Paperback ● Hardcover ● PDF (abridged)

Under an allusive poetical language and thick layers of images and symbols, the Cantong qi hides the exposition of the teaching that gave origin to Taoist Internal Alchemy (Neidan). In addition to a complete translation, this book contains a detailed introduction to the history and teachings of the Cantong qi, explanations of each of its sections, and notes on its verses.

Chrome bullet   This page is part of a series on the Seal of the Unity of the Three. See the complete index.

4. Cosmology

Qian, Kun, Kan, Li

Qianthe firm and Kunthe yielding join and embrace one another; Yang endows, Yin receives, the masculine and the feminine attend one to the other. Attending, they create and transform, unfolding their Essence and Breath.

Book Icon Cantong qi (The Seal of the Unity of the Three)

The main cosmological emblems in the Cantong qi are Qian, Kun, Kan, and Li. Although these names belong to the vocabulary of the Book of Changes, in the Cantong qi they denote formless principles that explicate how the Dao generates and manifests itself in the relative domain. The corresponding trigrams (Qian ☰, Kun ☷, Kan ☵, Li ☲) and hexagrams (Qian QIAN hexagram, Kun KUN hexagram, Kan KAN hexagram, Li LI hexagram) are symbolic forms used to represent those principles.

Qian is the active ("creative") principle, essence, Yang, and Heaven; Kun is the passive ("receptive") principle, substance, Yin, and Earth. Being permanently joined to one another in the precosmic domain, Qian entrusts its creative power to Kun, and Kun brings creation to accomplishment. In the everlasting instant in which Qian and Kun give birth to the cosmos, the Yang of Qian moves into Kun, and, in response, the Yin of Kun moves into Qian. In the symbolic representation by the corresponding trigrams, Qian ☰ entrusts its essence to Kun and becomes Li ☲; Kun ☷ receives the essence of Qian and becomes Kan ☵.

Kan and Li, therefore, replace Qian and Kun in the cosmic domain. Since they harbor the Yang of Qian and the Yin of Kun, respectively, as their own inner essences, they enable the Yin and Yang of the precosmic domain to operate in the cosmic domain. The main images of Qian and Kun are Heaven and Earth, which are immutably joined to one another. The main images of Kan and Li are the Moon and the Sun, which alternate in their growth and decline during the longer or shorter time cycles.

Five Agents

The five agents (wuxing) are Wood, Fire, Soil, Metal, and Water. They are generated in the first place by the division of original Unity into Yin and Yang, and by the further subdivision of Yin and Yang into four states. In the Cantong qi, Water and Fire are the Yin and Yang of the postcelestial state, and Wood and Metal are True Yin and True Yang of the precelestial state. Soil, the fifth agent, has both a Yang and a Yin aspect. Being at the center, it stands for the source from which the other four agents derive.

Time Cycles

The cosmological portions of the Cantong qi give emphasis to three emblematic time cycles: the day, the month, and the year. These cycles manifest the presence of the One Breath (yiqi) of the Dao in the cosmos. All of them became models of the "fire phases" (huohou) in alchemy, which determine the process needed to heat the Elixir.

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