The Secret of the Golden Flower

This eighth-century Chinese book, which Jung described as a Taoist-alchemical tract, had a major influence on his mature thinking. In 1928 he received a German translation from Richard Wilhelm (1873-1930), a distinguished German sinologist.

In Memories, Dreams, Reflections Jung states that “light on the nature of alchemy began to come to me only after I had read the text of the Golden Flower.”

Jung’s intense study of alchemy subsequently occupied him to such an extent that he discontinued work on the Red Book.

At Wilhelm’s request, Jung wrote a commentary on the Secret of the Golden Flower, which forms the preface of the book.

[The post below can be difficult reading and should be read slowly and more than once as it reflects the Taoist view on the structure and dynamics of the Human psyche. In an attempt to assist the reader in not getting captured within a “web of words” the English translation of some Chinese terms are given below.]

Tao = Meaning
Hsing = Essence [Logos]
Ming = Life
Hsin = Heart
Sheng = Born
Hun = Animus
P’o = Anima]

The Psychological and Cosmological premises of The Secret of the Golden Flower:

Out of Tao, that is to say, out of the T’ai Chi, there develop the principles of reality; the one pole being light (yang) and the other darkness (yin).

Among European investigators, some have turned first to sexual references for an explanation, but the characters refer to phenomena in nature.

Yin is shadow, therefore the north side of a mountain and the south side of a river (because during the day the position of the sun makes the river appear dark from the south). Yang, in its original form shows flying pennants, and, corresponding to the character yin, is the south side of a mountain and the north side of a river.

Starting with the meaning of “light” and “dark” the principle was then expanded to all polar opposites, including the sexual.

However, both yin and yang are only active in the realm of phenomena, and have their common origin in an undivided unity, yang as the active principle appearing to condition, and yin as the passive principle seeming to be derived or conditioned.

It is therefore quite clear that a metaphysical dualism is not at the bottom of these ideas.

Less abstract than yin and yang are the concepts of the creative and the receptive (Ch’ien and K’un) that originate in the Book of Changes [I Ching], and are symbolized by Heaven and Earth.

Through the union of Heaven and Earth, and through the activity of the two primordial forces within this scene (an activity governed by the one primal law Tao), there develop the ” ten thousand things that is, the outer world.

Viewed objectively as a physical organism, which in all its parts is also a small universe (Hsiao T’ien Ti) man is one of the “ten thousand things.”

So, according to the Confucians, the inner nature of man comes from Heaven, or, as the Taoists express it, it is a phenomenal form of Tao.

In his phenomenal form man develops into a multiplicity of individuals in each of whom the central monad is enclosed as the life-principle; but immediately, before birth even, at the moment of conception, it separates into the bi-polar phenomena of essence and life (hsing and ming).

The character for essence (hsing) is made up of those for heart (hsin), and origin, being born (sheng). The heart (hsin), according to the Chinese idea, is the seat of emotional consciousness, which is awakened through feeling reactions to impressions received from the external world by the five senses.

That which remains as a substratum when no feelings are being expressed, but which lingers, so to speak, in a transcendental super-consciousness condition, is essence (hsing).

Varying according to the more exact definition of this concept, essence is either originally good, if looked at from the standpoint of the eternal idea, or it is originally evil or at least neutral (if taken from the standpoint of empirical evolution), and has to be made into something good by a long development of custom.

Essence (hsing), undoubtedly related to logos, appears closely knit with life (ming) when entering phenomena.

The character ming really signifies a royal command then, destiny, fate, the fate allotted to a man, so too, the duration of life, the measure of vitality at one’s disposal, and thus it comes about that ming (life) is closely related to Eros.

Both principles are, so to speak, super-individual. Man as a spiritual being is made human by essence (hsing).

The individual man possesses it. but it extends far beyond the limits of the individual. Life (ming) is also super-individual in that man must simply accept a destiny which does not come from his conscious will.

Confucianism sees in it a Heaven-made law to which man must adapt; Taoism takes it as the multi-colored play of nature which cannot evade the laws of Tao, but which, as such, is pure chance; Chinese Buddhism sees it as the working out of karma within the world of illusion.

To these dualities there correspond in the corporeal-personal man the following bi-polar tensions.

The body is activated by the interplay of two psychic structures: first, hun, which I have translated as animus the masculine soul, because it belongs to the yang principle, and secondly, p’o, which belongs to the yin principle, and is rendered by me as anima.

Both are ideas coming from an observation of the events connected with death, and therefore both contain in their written form the sign for daemon, that is, the departed one (kuei).

The anima was thought of as especially linked with the bodily processes; at death it sinks to the earth and decays.

The animus, on the other hand, is the higher soul; after death it rises in the air, where at first it is active for a time and then evaporates in ethereal space, or flows back into the reservoir of life.

In living men, the two correspond in a certain degree to the cerebral and sympathetic nervous system. The animus dwells in the eyes, the anima in the abdomen.

The animus is bright and active, the anima is dark and earth-bound. The sign for hun (animus) is made up of the character for “daemon” and “cloud”, while that for p’o (anima) is composed of the characters for “daemon” and “white.”

This would indicate ideas similar to what we find appearing elsewhere as shadow-soul and body-soul, and without a doubt the Chinese concept is meant to include something like this.

None the less we must be cautious in the matter of derivations, because the most ancient script known in China had no sign for daemon, and so we may perhaps be dealing with primordial symbols whose derivations are lost.

In any case, animus (hun) is the light, yang-soul, while anima (p’o) is the dark, yin-soul.

The usual, unchecked, that is, downward movement of the life-processes, is the one in which the two souls are related as the intellectual and animal factors.

As a rule, it will be the anima, the blind will, which, goaded by passions, forces the animus or intellect into its service.

At least the anima will do this to the extent that the intellect directs itself outward, whereby the powers both of animus and anima leak away and life consumes itself.

A positive result is the creation of new beings in which life continues, while the original being externalizes itself and “ultimately is made by things into a thing”.

The end result is death.

The anima sinks, the animus rises, and the ego, robbed of its strength, is left behind in a dubious condition.

If the ego has acquiesced in the “externalization” it follows the downward pull, and sinks into the dull misery of death, only poorly nourished by the illusory images of life which it still attracts to itself without being able to participate in anything actively (hells, hungry souls).

But, if the ego has made an effort to strive upward in spite of the process of “externalization, it maintains for a time (as long, in fact, as it is reinforced by the powers of sacrifice of its survivors) a relatively happy life, each according to its deserts.

In both cases, if the ego follows the anima, the personal element retreats and there ensues an involution corresponding to the amount of “externalization.”

The being then becomes an impotent phantom because the forces of life fail and its fate is ended. It now partakes of the fruits of its good or bad deeds in heavens or hells, which, however, are not external things, but purely subjective states.

The more the being is sunk in these states, the more entangled in them it becomes, till finally it disappears from the plane of existence, of whatever nature that may have been, and then by entering a new womb begins a new existence formed out of its supply of images and memories.

This condition is the state of the daemon, the spirit, the departed one, the one who withdraws.

The Chinese word for this ghost-being is kuei, often wrongly translated by “devil.”

If, on the other hand, it has been possible during life to set going the “backward-flowing”, rising movement of the life-forces, if the forces of the anima are mastered by the animus, then a release from external things takes place.

They are recognized but not desired.

Thus the illusion is robbed of its strength. An inner, ascending circulation of forces takes place.

The ego withdraws from its entanglement in the world, and after death remains alive because “interiorization” has prevented the wasting of the life-forces in the outer world.

Instead of these being dissipated, they have made within the inner rotation of monad a center of life which is independent of bodily existence.

Such an ego is a god, Deus, Shen. The character for shin means to expand, to produce an effect, in a word, the opposite of kuei.

In the oldest Chinese script, it is represented by a double serpentine coil, which can also mean thunder, lightning, electrical activity.

Such a being survives as long as the inner rotation continues.

Also, it can invisibly influence men to great thoughts and noble deeds.

The saints and sages of ancient times are beings like these, who for thousands of years have stimulated and educated humanity.

But there remains a limitation.

These beings retain a personal character, and are therefore subject to the effects of space and time.

Neither are they immortal any more than Heaven and Earth are eternal.

Eternal is the Golden Flower only, which grows out of inner liberation from all bondage to things.

A man who reaches this stage transposes his ego; he is no longer limited to the monad, but penetrates the magic circle of the polar duality of all phenomena and returns to the undivided One,

Tao. Herein lies a difference between Buddhism and Taoism.

In Buddhism, this return to Nirvana is connected with a complete annihilation of the ego, which, like the world, is only illusion.

If Nirvana may not be explained as death, cessation, still it is something transcendent.

In Taoism, on the other hand, the goal is to preserve in a transfigured form, the idea of the person, the “traces” left by experience.

That is the Light, which with life returns to itself, symbolized in our text by the Golden Flower. ~Richard Wilhelm, The Secret of the Golden Flower.

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