The History of Great Light

Commentary

The idea of immortality permeates the whole of the Taoist teachings and finds expression in various passages of The History of Great Light.  Its conscious attainment is one of the fruits of the truly alchemical life with which the more profound teachings of Taoism are concerned. It is realised only through the soul's perfective union with Tao, which union, as all true mystics teach, may be accomplished in this present life and is not necessarily reserved for the after-death state or for some distant future life.

Taoism, while appearing to depreciate the things of this world, does so only in contrast to the world of reality, in comparison with which they are as shadow to substance; as the reflected beauty of nature to the transcendent beauty of the spiritual world; as the temporal existence of body to the immortal life of the soul.

The aim of Taoist teachings is to free man from attachments to all that is transient, thus enabling him both to use and to enjoy all things to the fullest possible extent by assigning them to their proper place in his life...

The unfoldment of the higher faculties of the mind whereby it is related to the realities of the spiritual realms, and the control of the lower nature so that it functions normally, will ever be man's chief means for the elevation of the little self to the great Self, whereby he participates consciously in Eternal Life.

A body kept fit and healthy by proper exercise and diet can, however, help in the accomplishment of the soul's purpose; consequently most mystical systems contain instructions regarding the care of the physical part of man, in order that it may be given its correct place in a complete rule of life, and neither hinder him by its ill-health nor prematurely decay and perish...

The search for the true Elixir of Immortality through the discipline of the whole nature and through identification with Tao often degenerated in the later decadent ages into a superstitious hunt for longevity, or the preservation of physical existence by numerous magical arts of an inordinate and godless character.

A clear distinction should, however, be made between immortality and longevity, since the former belongs to the soul, while the latter pertains merely to the external nature.

The physical body, being generated in time, is subject to the constant changes which are inseparable from all corporeal existences; consequently, although it is said mystically to "put on immortality", it can neither be immortal nor can it become immortal, whatsoever processes are employed in endeavouring to make it so.

The essence of soul, however, belongs to the spiritual realm, which is eternal: soul, therefore, is essentially immortal.

But until his spiritual nature is unfolded, man identifies himself with his body and the material world and these obscure his real Self and prevent him from realising his true nature: thus he is not conscious of his essential immortality...

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"The world possesses me, and I possess the world; what difference is there between the world and myself? Is it necessary for a ruler that he should monopolise power, hold fast to authority, maintain his control of life and death, and thus promulgate his decrees? What I call a ruler is not such a one as this; it is one who is master of himself - that it all.  For if I am master of myself, the world also obtains me as its ruler; if I and the world thus obtain each other, our mutual possession will continue permanently, and then how can either not tolerate the other? He who is said to have acquired self-mastery preserves his body in its entirety; and he who preserves his body in its entirety is one with Tao."

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The Shrine of Wisdom 1937, Second Edition 1960