Refining the Spirit

by Sun Buer

English version by Thomas Cleary
Original Language Chinese

The relic from before birth
Enters one's heart one day.
Be as careful as if you were holding a full vessel,
Be as gentle as if you were caressing an infant.
The gate of earth should be shut tight,
The portals of heaven should be first opened.
Wash the yellow sprouts clean,
And atop the mountain is thunder shaking the earth.

-- from Immortal Sisters: Secret Teachings of Taoist Women, Edited by Thomas Cleary

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

The relic from before birth
Enters one's heart one day.

The "relic from before birth" can be understood as the original, pure, radiant state of awareness. It is that which we had and were before being born into the world of form. In Buddhist language, this is sometimes called "original face."

This "enters one's heart one day." That original nature is most powerfully experienced in the heart. It is an awareness that is actually everywhere without limitation, but it is usually felt as being seated or centered within the heart. It doesn't actually "enter" the heart -- it is already present -- but it is revealed in the heart.

The initial experience in the heart is one of blissful overflowing, of being filled with a great energy or a heavenly liquid. You are a "full vessel" and you must carefully retain what you hold.

There is a new sense of life within you, as if you are pregnant or cradle a newborn infant at your breast, and you must gently care for it.

Sun Buer reminds us that "the gate of earth should be shut tight," meaning that the internal energies should not be allowed to flow out through the seat into the earth; instead it should be circulated upward. In Yoga, this is called the mula bandha or "root lock."

"The portals of heaven should be first opened." Sun Buer is tell us to open the energy center at the crown, allowing the heavenly energies to fully flow in.

About the Yellow Sprouts...

What does Sun Buer mean when she says to "Wash the yellow sprouts clean"? To begin to understand this we need to explore the complex language of Taoist inner alchemy. When the mind is still, the heart is clear, and one is fully present, then a wonderful fire emerges from the heart. This fire, in Taoist language, is thought of as the released yang essence, the dragon. The yin essence, the tiger, is discovered through spiritual practice, purification, and energetic refinement. When these two fundamental energies are discovered, they can then be consciously brought together in union (referred to as the mating of the dragon and the tiger) resulting in a profound wholeness and nondual awareness. From this awareness of union, a spark of new life awakens in the individual, called the "yellow sprouts" or the "egg". As this spark of new life is nurtured by the nondual awareness (that is, the sprouts are watered and kept clean), it matures into the "medicine" or the "golden pill" or the "elixir" or the "child". This medicine cures the fundamental illness of separation; the child is the new energetic body that is free from the taint of death. It is the new Self, the vast, eternal Self. It is the immortal body. Some Taoist traditions interpret this literally as being free from physical death; others understand this to be a state of awareness that is deathless in the present moment in that it is finally and truly alive in a way not known before -- one has been dead until that discovery of life.

Sun Buer's "yellow sprouts," then, are the proof of new life resulting from complete union, the new life that matures and becomes one's identification with the Unlimited. Then you will discover that "atop the mountain is thunder shaking the earth..."

Recommended Books: Sun Buer

Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women The Shambhala Anthology of Women's Spiritual Poetry Immortal Sisters: Secret Teachings of Taoist Women

Refining the Spirit