Within the Daoist tradition there were three recognised paths to Dao that developed out of the various lineages. It was said that the most effective way to progress was through a study of all three but, ultimately, the first path was the most important so Dao could be reached through this path alone. This was the Jin Dan Da Dao or ‘great path of the golden elixir’. The other two paths were the Shuang Xiu or ‘paired cultivation’ path and the Dao Wai Cai Yao – ‘picking herbs to use as an external way to Dao’ path. In modern times, the ‘great path of the golden elixir’ is the umbrella under which the vast majority of internal practice falls, though we still see remnants of the other two branches of Daoism being practiced as well. Nei Gong, Qi Gong and alchemical training most certainly comes from the ‘great path of the golden elixir’ though there are aspects of the other paths present as well. Let us look at these three paths of Daoism individually:
Traditions that focused upon this path adhered to the ethos of working with the three treasures of Jing, Qi and Shen. The ‘gold elixir’ was the refined spiritual substances that could be developed within the ‘alchemical workshop’ of the body. Practices developed out of meditation as well as the shamanistic practices of the Wu people. From this root came the practices of Qi Gong and Nei Gong. Essentially, the vast majority of the practices and methods within this, and my other books are derived from the ‘great path of the golden elixir’.
‘Paired cultivation’ is comprised of various elements, all of these are based upon the idea that it is possible to harmonise your own energy system through harmonising it with the energy of another person or aspect of nature. The most well know aspect of the ‘paired cultivation’ path are the Fang Zhong Shu ‘bedroom arts’ or ‘sexual practices’ as they are commonly known. In actual fact, paired practice with an intimate partner was recognised as only one aspect of this path along with Cai Qi Gong or ‘gathering Qi’. This method involved using the trees, mountains rivers and other environmental bodies in order to draw in and re-align your own energetic matrix. The practice of Qi Gong with trees is a very important part of the ‘gathering Qi’ skill and most systems of Qi Gong utilise these methods in some way. Skilled practitioners of this method would also seek out Long Mai or ‘dragon lines’; powerfully conductive regions of the earth where pure energy could be gathered to aid you in your practice.
One classical path of Daoism involved the cultivation and preparation of herbs and medicines that could be consumed in order to regulate the quality of your Qi and Shen. The most well know surviving branch of this tradition is Chinese herbal medicine although Wai Dan ‘external alchemy’ is another surviving, though rare, branch of this path of Daoism. In the tradition of Wai Dan, practitioners develop herbal formula and pills that are directly fed by the practitioners Qi as well as environmental energies radiating from celestial bodies such as the stars and moon. The development of just one of these pills can take many months and only very few have the guarded knowledge of how these pills are made. These pills could be powerful enough to fully consolidate the Jing, open up the body’s channel or even, purportedly, help a practitioner develop immortality.