The history of neidan partakes of greater cultural processes in Chinese culture. Neidan textual traditions intermingle with early Buddhist and tantric traditions from the 3rd to 91h centuries. Over time, neidan develops peculiarly Chinese and Daoist interpretations of the body. These new interpretations respond to new cultural developments, particularly those of the Song and Yuan, when neidan reaches a 'mature' stage (cf. Kohn 2003). Following the Yuan, neidan continues to transform in response to socio-political and religious pressures. These pressures include new forms of Buddhist Tantra transmitted to China via Mongolia and Tibet, and the creation of the Qing political hegemony spanning regions of China, Inner Asia and Tibet. The means and degree of absorption of these new social and religious forces varies nom group to group, region to region, and era to era. A concurrent dynamic manifests in changing concepts of gender and understandings of the natural and the social order. These various and changing religious, gender, social, economic and political dynamics intersect during the Ming and. manifest in the form of new interest in gendered ritual nom the late Ming. Some of these concerns have been noted by scholars of the Confucian tradition. (See for example, Rowe 1998; Bray 55 1997) The rise of nudan provides lucid examples of this new found interest in gendered ritual manifest at the level of new neidan traditions and new understandings of gendered ritual bodies.
While we already presented a case study about early Hindu Tantra, our current investigation will use the the word 'tantra', as applied to both the Vajrayana school of Buddhist tantra and the elements of Daoist practice. In fact Tantra is that Asian body of beliefs and practices which, working from the principle that the universe we experience is nothing other than the concrete manifestation of the divine energy of the godhead that creates and maintains that universe, seeks to ritually appropriate and channel that energy, within the human microcosm, in creative and emancipatory ways.
And neidan in turn, falls into the same rubric of tantra as defined by scholars of Tibetan Buddhist tantras in the Kalacakra tradition such as Kilty, who defines tantra as follows. "[Buddhist highest yoga tantra] is tantra because its methodology involves the utilization of the transformative nature of the mind focused upon attainable forms of enlightemnent to initiate an alchemical process of transmutation. Forms of physical and mental enlightemnent are mentally imposed upon ordinary external and internal forms to such an extent that, through the power of faith, understanding, and concentration, these visualized enlightened forms are held to actually replace the ordinary phenomena that act as their bases" (Kilty: 1). While it is understood that "tantra" as used in the West, does not correspond directly to particular term in the Indian tradition (the term tantrika referring to tracts both within and without the rubic of 'tantra' as used in the West; and other tract, not employing the term tantrika also falling within the tradition), the term is useful for its understanding of a ritual tradition employing particular ritual elements (mantra, mudra, etc.), a concept of the human body as a microcosm of the heavenly realm and interactive with it; and, the concept that the individual may attain union with the sacred through a divinization process that entails reversing the cosmogonic process at the level ofthe individual. (Cf. White 2000: 6-10; Flood 2006: 10-12)
One aspect that distinguishes these traditions is the appearance of tantra-like elements.6O I provide a very broad overview of the introduction of introduction of tantra to China on the wings of Buddhism, and the pennutations of tantra in China over time. And weill attempt to draw together these two axes of development also in women's neidan in China.
The neidan tradition, is closely tied to Daoism's development as an organized religion in the 2nd century C.E. But its origins can be traced back to Han court rituals (Skar 2003: 12; Seidel 1987; Kohn 2003) and esoteric medical tracts. (Harper 1998; Strickmann 1995) Neidan can also be termed jindan, however, jindan may refer both to operative alchemy ( waidan), e.g. practices employing consumption of elixirs and herbs, and internal alchemy ( neidan), based on visualizations, meditation and yogic practices; neidan refers the internalization of the operative alchemy practices. Hereinafter neidan should be understood as comprising only internalized forms of alchemy whereas jindan refers to both internal and external alchemy.
Borrowing on elements from tantric Buddhist, Shangqing Daoism, and magico-religious medical therapies, neidan developed ftom an 'embryonic phase' during the period of division into an early systemization in the Tang and a resystemization in the Song-Yuan which Kohn identifies as the 'mature' period of neidan development. Strickmann, points out a tri-fold schema of operative versus ritual/magical forms of disease control and treatment among Daoists: treatment by confession, burning of talismans (non-operative) to the third century; adoption of operative therapies by Shangqing and Lingbao Daoism through the Tang; return to preference of talismanic, non-operative therapy in Song. Throughout this period, however, Strickmann insists that non-operative therapy is continuously preferred in Daoist circles; Daoism counterpoises operative (pharmaceutical, moxibustion, operative alchemy) therapies. Strickmann links this preference for non-operative forms of ritual control in part to the Celestial Masters' manner of conceiving demons: the Celestial Masters claimed the disease quelling deities of popular religions were in fact disease-spreading demons (Strickmann 1998: 4-5). It should however be pointed out that Strickmann uses disease as a catch-all terms for all types of social, political; economic, ecological, moral, mental and physical ailments.
Lowell Skar in turn provides a 4-phase breakdown of the jindan tradition, based on 'audience': 1. imperial/court (Han); 2. aristocratic (Period of Chaos); 3. gentry (Tang); 4. popular (Song-Modern times). (Skar 2003: 12-17) Thejindan tradition maps to an earlier period in Chinese history; the development presented above omits the first phase or audience (imperial/court) and moves directly to the aristocratic. Difference in transmission styles between the Tang and Song importantly influence the development of neidan. This shift follows wider social shifts in religious transmission which Skar differentiates through recourse to the "aristocratic“ versus "gentry" audience. Neither Kohn nor Skar accounts for post-Yuan developments in the "audience" ( understood to incoi-porate women and wider segments of the increasingly literate society of China).
Research on neidan treats neidan history often only covers the Yuan, leaving Ming, Qing, Republican and 20th century neidan untreated. Significantly, this untreated, "empty" period following the Yuan, i.e., Ming-Qing, is precisely that period however when inner alchemy for women, nudan, began to develop. Thus two additional periods may be added to Kohn's 2003 periodization: 4. popularization of neidan and emergence of gender-specific textual traditions (MinglQing); 5. Emergence of Sinofiliac practices, development of gender-equality, and internationalization. (post imperial period)
Embryonic neidan (late Han through Six Dynasties) borrowed from imperial court "medico-operative" ritual practice characterized by the search for immortality elixirs held by so called immortals, and the performance of sacrifices at Mount Tai (Skar 2003: 12). These practices of the imperial court extended out to an aristocratic audience and began to transfonn, in response perhaps to early Buddhist meditation techniques, into a complex of "operative-cumvisualization" practices. Operative alchemy practices were prioritized over internal practices. Strickmann (1995) associates Daoism in general, and the early practices of neidan in particular, with bodily demon quelling, e.g. disease control. These practices merged with yogic ~d breathing therapies which are already evident from the mid-Han (Harper 1998). Such therapies are also associated with health and disease control, and could be associated with embryonic neidan developments.
Although not all these elements derive from Daoism, generally speaking the 'embryonic-aristocratic' phase of neidan is paralleled with the rise of the major Daoist cults (early Celestial Masters, Shangqing, Three Worthies, Lingbao, Southern Celestial Masters, Northern Celestial Masters) in the Six Dynasties period (220-589 CE). At this time Daoist knowledge became an essential of speculative and philosophical refinement. However, the search for immortality remained an esoteric art and the systems of neidan tradition remained highly disparate. The two postulates are not incompatible: the embryonic phase is a period when many practices, world-concepts and textual/non-textual traditions emerged. Both bodily and non-bodily practices were operative in the society at large; the peculiarity of how these practices came together shapes the neidan textual traditions.63 All later understandings of the body and all later textual traditions build upon these early formations of neidan; the latter provide the fundamental structure and processes of ilnmortality seeking and the metaphors and discursive paradigms structuring the fundamental goal of neidan practice: divinization of the body.
During the Tang period, the newly forming gentry began the spread of neidan practices. Early neid'm is characterized by the predominance of meditation and visualization techniques, and the interaction of inner alchemical practice (creation of non-tangible 'elements' for spiritual transformation) and outer alchemical practice (compounding of tangible elixirs). Associated literature is the popularization of 'pacings' and other Daoist forms of poetry. In fact, during this period, the term neidan actually refers to meditation and breathing exercises; practices later labeled with the same tenn existed in the Tang, but were referred to as jindan (Baldrien-Hussein 1990: 178-81). The impossibility of actually manufacturing some of the alchemical compounds is noted in Bokenkamp (1997).
This has led researchers to re-evaluate which texts belong to inner alchemical and which to outer alchemical traditions (See for example Bokenkamp 1997; Strickmann 1979, 1985), allowing the development of neidan to be traced further back in history. The importance operative and non-operative alchemical language sharing highlights the prevalence of laboratory tenninology in early neidan traditions.
By the end of the Tang, interest in operative alchemy was on the wane. The deaths of several operative alchemy sponsors, particularly emperors, and the draw of vajrayoga, yogacara and other Buddhist schools appears to have contributed to the gradual fading of a tradition of operative alchemy compositions. Skar and Pregadio note that by the end of the Tang, no further new tracts emerge: those works produced from the Song period onwards are compilations of earlier tracts,with little innovation (Skar and Pregadio 2000: 172). While operative alchemy continued to be practiced throughout the imperial period, neidan seized precedence.
While during the Song-Yuan, popular literary genres were embraced, the Song-Yuan period is further characterized by the codification of texts, stabilization of language, elaborate standardization of practices, and the creation of spiritual genealogies. These genealogies, Zhong-Lii, Nanzong, Beizong and Zhongzong, are identified with particular practices, theoretical imperatives, geographic regions, political biases, and with major Daoist schools (Skar and Pregadio 2000: 464-472). Esposito further characterizes the major shift toward this phase to be the attention to fabrication of a new body (shen-wai-zhi-shen) rather than an embryo (embryonic phase). (Esposito 2000:1). This characterization is explicitly manifest, for example, in Zhang Boduan's seminal Wuzhen pian (1075 CE).
During the Yuan, the students of the Quanzhen (Complete Perfection) school of Daoism separated into eight branches. These branches of the Quanzhen school appear to be relatively independent groups whose teachings organized around a major text or set of texts. These new branch-schools include the Qingwei, Jing and other major schools of Song-Yuan Daoism; across the Late Imperial period, these various branches of Quanzhen fade out or are absorbed into other Daoist lineages. DeBruyn suggests that this process was facilitated by the Ming government's selective recognition of schools. Without official recognition, schools remained peripheral, and subject to occasional persecution. The Longmen branch later emerged as dominant, absorbing diverse texts and traditions into its fold. (DeBruyn 2003: 594)
The Major Branches of Neidan
The Zhong-Lii tradition was carried forward by the great popularity of its founding immortals, Zhongli Quan (traditionally said to have flourished in the second century) and Lii Dongbin (usually said to have flourished from the seventh century). Many practices associated with this school- taixi (embryonic breathing), bunao (circulating the semen to nourish to brain), etc., eventually form a body of preparatory exercises engaged prior to alchemical training proper. (Skar and Pregadio 2000: 472-3) However, the miracles that Zhongli and Lii performed for local peoples account for the immortals' great popularity, and eventually their associated practices. (See Baldrian-Hussein 1984)
The term Nanzong, or Southern lineage, was coined by Xiao Tingzhi (fl. 1260), but the earliest lineage was probably fonnulated by a student of the Fujianese Bai Yuchan (1194- ca. 1227), who traced the tradition from Zhang Boduan ~iajffij (fl. 11th c.) through Shi Tai ::E"~ (d. 1158), Xue Shi (d. 1175/1191), and Chen Nan (d. 1213) to Bai Yuchan. The tradition developed during the Northern Song in the regions around Chengdu, Sichuan, where Zhang Boduan was employed as a minor official. This tradition adopted the Zhong-Lti tradition, Peng Xiao's (d. 955) Cantongqi commentary, and the fire-phasing terminology of jindan. Practices included earlier neidan traditions, Buddhist quietiSm, and thunder rituals. This tradition and its deities remained a hallmark of Sichuan nudan into the 20th century.
Beizong , or Northern lineage, refers to the lineage created by Xiao Tingzhi. Xiao divides the lineage from a tradition beginning several generations before Lord Lao through the lord to Liu Haichan (fl. 1031). who is named the teacher of Zhang Boduan and Wang Chongyang (1113-1170). In Xiao's description, Zhang went on to form the Nanzong, while Wang and his seven disciples formed the Beizong. (Esposito 1997: 161) The difference between these lineages rests on the relative priority of xing and ming cultivation; both schools agree that both xing and ming must be cultivated. (See Definitions of Terms below.) Liu Cunyan reads this distinction as a difference between solo and dual cultivation. (Liu 1984: 184-196)
The major figure associated with the Zhongzong (Central lineage) is Li Daochun (fl. 1288-1290). Li Daochun and several important Daoists active in the Jiangsu and Jiangxi regions between the end of the 13th century and the early 14th century promoted the harmonization of the Northern, Southern and Buddhist schools of thought. During the 18th century, Daoist ritualists of the Wu-Liu ffiltl school returned to Li's teachings, giving it this retrospective appellation. On this important thinker, Pregadio notes, Li thoroughly rejects sexual practices and waidan (external alchemy), and assigns a low rank to physiological practices (including daoyin, breathing techniques, and diets), to practices based on meditation and visualization, and to ceremonies and precepts. Second, he distinguishes among three "vehicles" of neidan; these may be characterized as physiological, cosmological, and spiritual. Above them, he describes (using a mixture of Taoist and Buddhist terms) a "highest One Vehicle" that is not specifically related to any practice. In addition to this, Li criticizes the association of terms found in texts such as the Cantongqi and the Wuzhen pian with loci in the human body or with practices that he deems to be inferior. Also of importance in his essay is the notion of "point of application" or "point of operation" (zuoyong chu), according to which certain notions and practices operate at different levels according to the way they are understood. Finally, Li's elaborate construction invites comparison with Buddhist classifications of teachings and practices. (pregadio 2005)
The Ming-Qing period saw general popularization and gendering of neidan practice. Jindan symbolism is fully incorporated into folklore and theatre. New schools of neidan formed during this period, and their saints and their practices emerge in Ming-Qing period popular novels and plays. Whereas. formerly neidan was largely codified in poetry and ritual verse, now the symbols of alchemical practice become convertible cultural currency. Moreover, icons and terminology of popular religion seep into tracts. These practices are accompanied by others which put devotees in direct communication with immortals and deities: mediumship and revelation through planchette became common modes of direct communication with popular gods. The intermediary of a priest is not necessary, but gentry practitioners and monastic devotees alike communicate with and receive revelations from these deities. Tracts are explicit and their language often colloquial.
Perhaps the most important development in Ming-Qing Daoism is the rise of texts on female-specific inner alchemy. A precursor to this development can be found in the person ofXue Shi (d. 1175/1191). Xue Shi is credited with the first composition for female inner alchemy (Skar and Pregadio 2000: 490).
Generally, traditional sources credit this honor to Sun Bu-er (1119-1182); but those gender-specific texts credited to Sun turn out to be Ming or Qing revelations via planchette. Likewise the instructions of Lady Wei a1CA. (3rd century CE) are also late revelations.
New schools of inner alchemy developed. The Western school, which arose in the Ming (1368-1643), centered around Chengdu; and an eastern school, sometimes associated with the Wu-Liu, developed in the Qing. However, there is an inherent contradiction in this association: As noted above, the Wu-Liu school rejects sexual alchemy and specificity of loci in the body; Lu Xixing (15201601) of the Eastern school explicitly advances the idea of using dual cultivation during particular stages of neidan cultivation for men and women. The two schools are here considered independent. The Wu-Liu school derives trom the Qing branch of the Longmen tradition, and in concert with the rising influence of Longmen Daoism in the Qing, became the "orthodox" brand of inner achemy. Its putative founder, Wu Shouyang (1563-1644), rejected Confucian dialectics and Buddhist notions of nirvana; attention returned to the body and circulation of qi. He promoted the teachings of the Central school' of inner alchemy. Liu Huayang (fl. 1736) extended and popularized the teachings, adding a level of simplification to the practices and creating stable identifications of certain mystic pairs and triads with substances in the body. Liu Cunren posits this as a "northern" school, which set itself against the sexual practices of the "southern school." However, Pregadio and others express skepticism with this reading of the development. (See Pregadio 2005; Pregadio and Skar 2000; Esposito 1997) Pregadio and Skar read the North/South dichotomy as a reflection of the relative emphasis placed on cultivation of xing and that of ming (Pregadio and Skar 2000: 486-87). It should be noted that the two positions are not necessarily exclusive.
The Western school of inner alchemy (Xipai) was largely centered around Mount Lu, the Leshan District of South-eastern Sichuan, and Mount Emei. The principle alchemical teacher is Zhang Sanfeng of Guangdong (fl. ca. 1795 to 1850), responsible for fonnulatinglcompiling the Zhang Sanfeng quanji (ZWI5), attempted to dissociate Zhang Sanfeng teachings from the similarly named Sanfeng (Three Peaks) cult. (Huang 1988: 61-2). This region is noted for active Sanfeng worship in the region by planchette-writingpoetry cults. Xipai is a late designation, probably ftom Chen Yingning (1880-1969), ca 1935. Prior, the Xipai, or Western sect, was known as Youlongpai (hidden dragon sect), or Yinxianpai (hidden immortals sect). The sect was named youlong after Zhang Sanfeng, to whom was applied a tenn youlong, or Hidden Dragon. The name Yinxianpai (hidden immortals sect) was the more common term for the sect during Li Xiyue's time. The 72 immortals of Qingchengshan as we will see however, are also associated with the 72 nadis of the cosmic and the human bodies in the Kalacakratantra.
These hidden immortals refer specifically to Zhang Sanfeng, the legendary Daoist that emperors failed to locate; but the hidden immortals also include numerous local immortals that populate the divine landscape of Sichuan. Seventy two of these immortals are said to be hidden within. cosmic landscape of Qingchengshan which holds seventy two minor caverns, associated with the seventy two avatarssaints, and eight major caverns associated with the eight major immortals.
Including Zhang Sanfeng, six patriarchs of the Western school of inner alchemy are identified. The lineage runs from the mythical, Laozi to Yi Xi to Ma Yi to Xi Yi to Huo Long to San Feng (cited in Huang: 63-4).
The Western school, as described by Li Xiyue, focused on xingming shuangxiu, or the dual cultivation of the xing (innate nature). and ming (destiny, life force).68 Although the Wu-Liu school similarly speaks of xingming shuangxiu, the Western school is noted for its sexual interpretations (but see Huang 1988: 82, note 14). This distinguishes the Western school 'philosophy' from the Wu-Liu school and Longmen Daoism as identified by Chen Yingning, the latter two schools are generally understood to interpret xingming shuangxiu in an ascetic, nonsexualized, symbolic manner.69 Two important local Daoists, Li Xiyue and He( Longxiang M n.m (fl. 1900-1906), attempted to. dissociate these tracts from their sexual applications; yet their fierce criticism over a century indicate that sexual applications remained a continuing factor. And while many claim the Western school to have non-sexualized practices, given the explicit nature of some sections of text, descriptions from the Emeiban and similar practices in tracts 15-16 of this compilation, a non-sexual reading of these practices appears questionable at this point.
Neidan underwent dramatic changes just before and following the fall of the imperial system and the emergence of new social and national ethos. The 20th century saw the emergence of Sinophiliac practices, development of a program of gender-equality in practice, and the internationalization of neidan practice. Debates on neidan practice were moved as ethnic and nationalistic discourse (Sinophiliac practices), with the unintentional consequent 'internationalization' of jindan/neidan.
The jindanlneidan literary arena extended to new media such as letters to the editor in magazines and newspapers, and to movie theatres and anime. Liu Xun'g recent dissertation on Chen Yingning (Xun 2001) shows a new parameter of neidan that developed from the late Qing and into the Republican period:neidan as a part of the self-strengthening movement. Chen's reformulation rewrote the neidan tradition as a gender-equal tradition in which nudan (women's elixir) became a practice co-equal with nandan (men's elixir). In this reformulation process, Chen criticized previous inner alchemists such as the female practitioner and compiler of the Nannu dan 'gong yitongbian Yan Zehuan (zi Yanqing ca. 1880 to 1906), for her failure to assert women's equal access to higher levels of attainment. Chen asserted that women were capable of attaining equal if not higher levels of transcendence; their only hindrances were social limitations China's previous backward social organization imposed on women, and lack of access to texts and appropriate training. The latter limitations were- linked to gender constraints of the old China. These constraints, Chen argued, created a weakened nation in which fully half of its population was excluded trom participation in not only nation-building activities, but also the health-augmenting and disease-dispelling practices associated with neidan (Liu 2001: Chapter one, esp. 45-88).
Chen - innovated a medicalized system of neidan therapies. Western technology and medical science (especially anatomical charts and micro-biology) was invoked to explain and rationalize the traditional processes and sensory phenomena his followers encountered, drawing both on the authority of traditional neidan, and on the modernisms of Western medical technologies. This innovative approach drew the attention of Westerners and Chinese alike. Using newly emergent periodical media, Chen reached out to practitioners in a unique manner. No longer was it necessary to meet with a master to receive instruction in direct communication (although they continue to), nor need adepts gather in monastic or public ritual halls (although this practice was also encouraged and continued) Chen supplemented his network of personal contacts through the press media; Chen advised, communicated and networked with large, mobile numbers of practitioners, both men and women (ibid).
Unexpectedly, neidan was drawn into the Communist nationalist
infrastructure as an inexpensive and indigenous solution to medical, health and
sanitary needs under the aegis of Chen Yingning. A
whole generation of western scholars was introduced to Chen's gender-equal
conceptualization of the neidan phenomenon; Chen's
interpretations profoundly affect Despeux's
interpretation of women's alchemy (Despeux 1990), and
his Nudan xiao congshu imned the basis for Thomas Cleary's Immortal Sisters
(Cleary 1989). Chen's influential reinterpretation ofthe
tradition has led some scholars to read neidan as a
gender-equal tradition offering women equal access to sotis,
promoting gender-equal symbolism, and operating under a relatively gender-equal
attitude regarding access to the tools of and opportunities for neidan practice.