If Yijing aficionados put on their thinking cap for a while; they would realized that the holy sages who wrote the Book of Changes and the three great ancient sages – Laozi, Confucius, and the Buddha - were incredibly wise. If intended neidan (inner alchemy) practitioners have the affinity to consult Daoist celestial immortals; they would also find these divinities extremely wise.
The question to be addressed in this article is how that these personages and divinities became so wise?
Since there is a dearth of records on how the holy sages, Laozi, and the Buddha became so knowledgeable, intelligent, and wise; it could be appropriate to look into what Confucius and Daoist celestial immortals had done before they became great.
However it would be pertinent to first look into the Ten Wings on what the holy sages had done:
In the Discussion on the Trigrams (Shou Gua) (Eight Wing), ancients of great antiquity indicated that “the holy sages by thinking through the order of the outer world to the end, and by exploring the law of their nature (Xing) to the deepest core, they arrived at an understanding of fate (Ming).
Their purpose was to follow the order of their nature and of their fate. Therefore they determine the Tao of heaven and called it the dark and the light. They determined the Tao of earth and called it the yielding and the firm. They determined the Tao of man and called it benevolence (Ren) and righteousness (Yi).” [Book of Changes - W/B]
Since the very actions of the holy sages stated in the Eight Wing could act as a guide but could be beyond many a Yijing aficionado or a neidan practitioner, it is suggested that they look at something simpler to learn more about human nature and fate.
Confucius had had compiled five ancient classics for posterity. They are the Book of Changes (Yijing), Book of History (Shujing), Book of Odes (Shijing), Spring and Autumn Annals (Chun Chiu), and the Book of Rites (Li Ki).
According to Sima Qian (the grand historian of Han), Li Er better known as Laozi was a Royal Zhou Court librarian which means that he also had access to versions of the five ancient classics.
Since both sages are known to greatly admire the ancients, they would have studied and practised their teachings embedded in these five classics. Probably by studying and practising the teachings, both became knowledgeable, intelligent, and wise.
Confucius, his students, and his grandson’s student, Mencius, had had made it even more simpler and easier for posterity to learn about human nature and fate by recording their thoughts and teachings in what is known as the four books. These books are the Analects of Confucius, the Great Learning, the Doctrine of the Mean (Chung Yung), and the Works of Mencius.
The Chinese called these writings; the “Four books and five classics”.
From tradition, the four books and five classics were imperative readings for scholars who sat for and/or passed the imperial exams to become court officials in olden China. By diligently studying the writings over the years or decades, a student could gain extreme intelligence and clarity. This is important for the intended neidan practitioner since according to Lu Dongbin in his Secret of the Golden Flower, only those with extreme intelligence and clarity can work the secret charm in the ancient Circulation of the Light.
Therefore those who delve into the Circulation of the Light meditation without first having the extreme intelligence and clarity would find to their chagrin that they have wasted much of their time and efforts. That probably explains why the many who have had claimed online that they got it after spending decades practising what is taught in the Secret of the Golden Flower actually never did. How could they when they seemed not to possess the extreme intelligence and clarity to make it work?
Furthermore, none of them have had ever mentioned the requisite studies and/or the eternal signposts of the Way that can be witnessed. This statement is equally applicable to the many ‘masters’ who currently teach neidan or its meditation. So be careful.
The dual cultivation of nature (Xing) and fate (Ming) start not with meditation as many tend to believe but with the studies. For without the requisite studies how do students emulate the holy sages to think through the order of the outer world to the end and investigate into their own nature to understand fate? And without the studies, how could they possess extreme intelligence and clarity to work the secret charm in the Circulation of the Light?
The skeptical and those with bias of things Confucian could be in for a surprise to know that several of the renowned Neo Daoists who went on to become celestial immortals have had read the four books and the five ancient classics from a young age. From their biographies, most of these Neo Daoists have been court officials or have had sat for the imperial exams.
If anyone can penetrate the real teachings in the four Confucian books and the Book of Changes; they would deepen their knowledge of the Yijing, they would be able to change and/or master their fate (Ming), they could rectify and keep still their heart (Xin) and by cultivating the four cardinal virtues taught therein they could become good to also enjoy the protection of Heaven. By putting these teachings into practice, they could become a Junzi (superior person) of old.
In the Records of the Grand Historian, Sima Qian had indicated that the Han Court officials who followed the Huang / Lao tradition read the Tao Te Ching during their leisure. Intended neidan practitioners must also study this ancient classic in time to come. Reading the Tao Te Ching could become rather more meaningful after several years of practising the Circulation of the Light meditation; since this particular ancient classic contains many eternal signposts of the Way.
By now, readers would understand a bit more on how the holy sages, the great ancient sages and the Daoist celestial immortals had had become so incredibly wise.
Therefore whether you are young or old, if you really want to practise neidan and/or learn more about Chinese culture, it is best that you read the four books and five classics.
However since the studies, the meditation, and the cultivation could take a lifetime to master, it is for those with seriousness of purpose to consider properly before they decide to embark on the magical far journey to Tao. Probably millions have tried and only a handful of them have had succeeded in the return to Tao.
This brings to mind, an archaic truth where Confucius said: “By nature, men are nearly alike: by practice, they get to be wide apart.” This deep insight into humanity remains true till today.