Liu I-ming on How to Read the Hsi-yu chi (The Journey to the West)


Translated and Annotated by ANTHONY C. YU
Additional Annotation by DAVID L. ROLSTON

  1. The book, The Journey to the West, is the great way transmitted from mouth to mouth and from mind to mind by the sages, generation by generation. What the ancients dared not speak of was spoken of by Patriarch Ch'iu [Ch'iu Ch'u-chi 丘處機, 1148-1227]; what the ancients dared not relate was related by Patriarch Ch'iu [in this book]. When the heavenly mysteries are revealed so abundantly, this is a matter of the utmost consequence. Wherever this book resides, there are heavenly deities standing guard over it. The reader should purify his hands and burn incense before reading it, and it should be read with the utmost reverence. If he becomes bored or tired, the reader should close the book and return it to its place on high so that it will not meet with disrespect. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  2. The rhetoric of The Journey to the West is quite similar to the mysteries of Zen. The real message completely transcends the actual words of the text. Sometimes it is hidden in vulgar or ordinary language, sometimes it is conveyed through [the description] of the terrain and the characters. Sometimes truth and perversity are distinguished from each other through a joke or jest; sometimes the real is set off from the false in the space of a word or a phrase. Sometimes the real is made manifest through the false; sometimes truth is upheld in order to vanquish perversity. There are countless variations, appearing and then vanishing like gods or demons, and it is most difficult to divine their depths. The student must undertake a regimen of profound reflection and research; to be satisfied with but the surface meaning of the text is like scratching an itch with your boots on. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  3. The Journey to the West is a book of gods and immortals, quite different from those "books by and for geniuses" [ts'ai-tzu chih shu 才子之書]. "Books by and for geniuses" talk about the way of the world, and although they may seem true, they are actually false; the books of gods and immortals speak of the way of Heaven, and though they may seem false they are actually true. Since literary technique is what is valued in those "books by and for geniuses," the language is ornate but the meaning shallow. Since the meaning is what is valued in those books of gods and immortals, the style is plain but the ideas are profound. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  4. The Journey to the West is a book that is permeated through and through with the truth of the unity of the Three Teachings [Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism]. This truth is found in the Diamond Sutra and the Lotus Sutra in Buddhism; in Confucianism it is found in the Ho t'u 河圖 [The Diagram of the Yellow River], the Lo shu 洛書 [The Book of the Lo River], and the I Ching 易經[Book of Changes]; and in Taoism it is found in the Ts'an t'ung ch'i 參同契 [The Kinship of the Three] and the Wu-chen p'ien 悟真篇 [Poetical Essay on the Primary Vitalities]. Therefore the story of the acquiring of the scriptures in the Western Heaven is used to expound the mysteries of the Diamond and Lotus Sutras; the principle of Nine Times Nine to Return to the Real 6 is used to explain the secret of the Ts'an t'ung ch'i and the Wu-chen p'ien; and the T'ang Monk and his disciples are used to expound the meaning of the I Ching, the Ho t'u, and the Lo shu. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  5. In The Journey to the West each episode [an 案] has its own meaning, each chapter has its own meaning, and each word has its own meaning. The Adept [Ch'iu Ch'u-chi] never spoke without purpose or used a superfluous word. The reader must pay attention to every line and every phrase, not even a single word should be permitted to slip by. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  6. In The Journey to the West is to be found an exhaustive treatment of the principles of the mundane world and of the Tao, of the seasons of Heaven and the affairs of men. As for such as the method of learning the Tao, the art of self-cultivation, and the proper way to conduct oneself in the world, there is not one of these that is not dealt with completely. Among the various alchemical classics past and present, this is the number one extraordinary book. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  7. The Journey to the West possesses the power to alter [the processes of] birth and death and appropriate the secrets of Creation. [Like the Great Man], when it precedes Heaven [hsien-t'ien 先天], Heaven does not contradict it; when it follows after Heaven [hou-t'ien 後天], it never contradicts Heaven's timing. It is against complete immersion in one's own mind and thoughts and the mere playing with the concepts of vacuity [k'ung 空] and nirvana. The student must not become too preoccupied with the "monkey of the mind" [hsin-yuan 心猿], the "horse of the will" [i-ma 意馬], "the transformed body" [hua-shen 化身], or the "bag of flesh" [jou-nang 肉囊]. He ought rather to begin without any conception of form or image and from there work toward the apprehension of the real nature and pattern [of the cosmos]; only then will he not labor in vain. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  8. The great way of The Journey to the West deals with the methods of prefiguring Heaven [hsien-t'ien 先天] before it reveals itself in form; it has nothing to do with the various perverse manipulations of form and appearance after Heaven has revealed itself [hou-t'ien 後天]. One must first discard such things as the making of internal elixirs of immortality through refinement by brazier and fire. Only then can one go on to investigate thoroughly the correct doctrines and obtain success. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  9. As for the episodes [kung-an 公案] of The Journey to the West, some of them take up the space of one or two chapters, some take up three or four chapters, and some take up five or six chapters; the number of chapters is not equal. The central idea of each, however, is always to be found at the very beginning of each episode, where it is plainly and clearly pointed out. If one passes carelessly over these parts, the rest of the episode may seem completely without focus. Not only will the subtle meaning of the episode then be difficult [for the reader] to realize, but even the literal meaning of the sentences and phrases will be hard to construe. The reader will obtain results only by first distinguishing clearly the important points of connection [lai-mai 來脉] to the rest of the novel and then going on to read carefully what follows in the episode. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  10. The subtle meaning of each chapter of The Journey to the West is to be found in the titular couplet [t'i-kang 褆犅 (not sure about these characters -the transcriber), and the crucial words of the titular couplet are never more than one or two. Take for example the titular couplet for the first chapter: "When the spiritual root is nourished and brought to term, the origin emerges; / Once the moral nature is cultivated and maintained, the great Tao is born." The crucial words of the first line are "spiritual root" [ling-ken 靈根]; in the second line the crucial words are "moral nature" [hsin-hsing 心性]. We can see that the spiritual root is the spiritual root and the moral nature is the moral nature, but the spiritual root is used to cultivate the moral nature &emdash; it is not the case that the cultivation of the moral nature is [the same as] the cultivation of the spiritual root. How clear, how plain is the meaning! Again, take the couplet for the second chapter: "Thoroughly comprehend the true and wondrous doctrine of the Boddhi; / Destroy mara, return to the root and unify the soul." "Thoroughly comprehend" [wu-ch'e 悟徹] would be the crucial words of the first line, "destroy mara" [tuan-mo 斷魔] would be the crucial words of the second line. One must comprehend a principle thoroughly before one can act, for it is comprehension that unifies action, while it is action that verifies comprehension. When knowledge and action are seen to be mutually reliant, then one can return to the origin and unify the soul. Within the chapter, there may be thousands of words and countless transformations, but they are always contained within the central idea of the titular couplet. It is the same with all of the chapters, and the reader should pay strict attention [cho-yen 着眼] [to the titular couplets]. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  11. The acquisition of the true scriptures by means of The Journey to the West actually means the acquisition of the true scripture of The Journey to the West. Apart from The Journey to the West there are no other true scriptures to be acquired. The Journey to the West is transmitted through the story of the transmission of the scriptures by the Tathagata Buddha, that is all. If one can truly understand The Journey to the West, then the three baskets of the true scripture will be found within it. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  12. At the conclusion [shou-shu ch'u 収束處] of every episode [kung-an 公案] in The Journey to the West, there are two lines of summary [tsung-chieh 總結] which provide, as it were, the skeletal structure [ku-tzu 骨子] of the entire episode. Countless subtle meanings are to be found in these pairs of lines. They must not be lightly skimmed over. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  13. The Journey to the West treats the truth of the union of [the] Three and [the] Five 12 and that of "after firmness arises origination" [chen-hsia ch'i yuan 貞下起元]. This is why the T'ang Monk begins his journey in the thirteenth year of the Chen-kuan reign period [A.D. 639], why he takes on three disciples during the journey, and why he returns to the East after fourteen years. One must scrutinize [cho-yen 着眼] such passages carefully. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  14. The official rescript that serves as a passport [for Tripitaka] in The Journey to the West is in effect the certificate or license of one who practices the Tao. It is a key item [kuan-mu 關目] in the entire book. This is why it has stamped on it precious seals of the various nations and why it was obtained [from the emperor] at the beginning of The Journey to the West and returned [to the emperor] when the pilgrims returned to the East. From beginning to end, it has been handled with care and reverence, never leaving [its owner] for a single moment. One must think carefully and discriminate clearly before one can apprehend the truth behind this. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  15. There are many inconsistencies [p'o-chan ch'u 破綻處] in The Journey to the West, but those are the very places where secret formulas are likely to be found. For it is only by means of inconsistencies that the suspicion of later readers may be aroused. Without such suspicion, the reader will not ponder [the meaning hidden in the text]. These are places on which the Adept [Ch'iu Ch'u-chi] expended a lot of thought and where he employed his most subtle brushstrokes. Take, for example, the fact that Sun Wu-k'ung, the Great Sage Equal to Heaven, is refined in the Brazier of the Eight Trigrams and attains an indestructible, diamond-hard body. How then could he be imprisoned beneath the Mountain of the Five Phases [by the Tathagata Buddha]? Hsiian-tsang was born in the thirteenth year of the Chen-kuan reign period. By the time he avenges his father's murder eighteen years later, it would already be the thirty-first year of the Chen-kuan reign period. How could it be that it is still the thirteenth year of the Chen-kuan reign period when he begins his journey to acquire the scriptures? In the Lotus Flower Cave [episode], the fact that Sun Wu-k'ung has already killed Mountain-climbing Tiger and Sea-reclining Dragon was already known to the old fiends [the Gold-Horn and Silver-Horn Demons]. Why then does Sun Wu-k'ung change into [the form] of Sea-reclining Dragon when he tries to steal the magic gourd later? One must pay special attention to such places in the text. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  16. That the official rescript in The Journey to the West has been stamped with the precious seals of the various nations is the subtle message of the book. It makes the book a place where a person who practices self-cultivation may bring peace to his life and establish himself. It is, in effect, a formula for immortality when abroad. Concerning such places [in the text] one must tenaciously seek out the true reason for them. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  17. Every time the pilgrims pass through an ordeal in The Journey to the West, the author invariably records the year and the month first before continuing the narration. The hidden allegorical meaning found in the compression of years into months, months into days, and days into hours is similar to the device of relating how the official rescript issued in the thirteenth year of the Chen-kuan reign period is returned after the pilgrims return to the East with the scriptures. This is the so-called "after firmness arises origination" [chen-hsia ch'i yuan 貞下起元]. Within a single hour, the elixir of immortality is complete. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  18. Among the crucial and climactic episodes [cho-chin ho-chien ch'u 着緊合尖處] in The Journey to the West, there are none that surpass the episodes of the Plantain Cave, the Heaven-reaching River, and the Scarlet-Purple Kingdom. The way in which the "temperature, timing, and sequences" [huo-hou tz'u-hsü 火候次序] of alchemical refinement are treated in [the episode of] the Plantain Cave, the way that the "weighing out of medicinal substances" [yao-wu chin-liang 藥物斤兩] is treated [in the episode of] the Heaven-reaching River, the way that the process of "summoning and integrating the soul" [chao-she tso-yung 招攝作用] is treated in [the episode of] the Scarlet-Purple Kingdom may be said to be profound and exhaustive indeed. If the student will delve deeply into such places, he may be assured that he will come to understand a large part of the Great Way of the Golden Elixir. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  19. There is both unified narration [ho-shuo 合說] and separate narration [fen-shuo 分說] in The Journey to the West. The first seven chapters are [an example of] unified narration. They move from activity [yu-wei 有為] to nonactivity [wu-wei 無為]; and from the cultivation of life-store [ming 命] they proceed to the cultivation of nature [hsing 性]. The sequence of elixir formation and the labor of refinement by heat — none of this is not completely covered there. The rest of the ninety-three chapters treat either the orthodox or the heterodox, nature or life-store; or they speak of nature along with life-store or life-store along with nature; or they relate the true fire-times [huo-hou 火候] or point out the errors in the fire-times [of the alchemical refinement of the elixir of immortality]. They amount to nothing more than making analyses by means of single incidents and do not depart from the subtle truths [embodied] in the first seven chapters. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  20. [The heart of] The Journey to the West is the same as the teachings of Confucius on the exhaustive investigation of truth [ch'iung-li 窮理], the perfection of nature [chin-hsing 盡性], and the fulfillment of one's life-store [chih-ming 至命]. When the Monkey King learns the Tao at the West Aparagodamya Continent, this is illustrative of the exhaustive investigation of truth; when he thoroughly comprehends the wondrous doctrine of Boddhi, this also illustrates the exhaustive investigation of truth; when he destroys mara and returns to the origin, this is illustrative of the perfection of nature. His acquisition of the gold-hooped rod and full battle dress and his erasure of his name from the Register of Life and Death, his becoming Great Sage Equal to Heaven and his entering the Brazier of the Eight Trigrams to be refined are illustrative of the fulfillment of life-store. Kuan-yin's redemption of the three disciples and her search for the scripture pilgrim are illustrative of the exhaustive investigation of the truth. Again, the T'ang Monk's passing the Double-Fork Ridge and arriving at the Mountain of the Two Frontiers are illustrative of the perfection of nature, while the taking of the three disciples and the crossing of the Flowing-Sand River exemplify the fulfillment of life-store. Similarly, the episodes that relate the pilgrims' passing through countless foreign regions, traversing a thousand mountains and ten thousand waters, their arrival at Cloud-transcending Stream, and [their sailing in] the bottomless boat are all illustrative of such teachings. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  21. The Journey to the West has passages that have the power to strike a blow at perverse doctrine in order to bring the reader back to sound doctrine and there are passages that have the power to verify sound doctrine in order to strike a blow at perverse doctrine. For example, in the episodes of the marriage in the Land of Women and of becoming an imperial son-in-law in India, you have the attacking of perversity in the midst of the verification of sound doctrine. In the episodes of subduing the three fiends at Lion-Camel Kingdom, the submission of Yellow Brows at the Little Western Heaven, and the elimination of the leopard at Mist-concealing Mountain, you have attacking perverse doctrine in order to bring the reader back to sound doctrine. The reason why the Adept [Ch'iu Ch'u-chi] used such a double-edged [shuang-kuan 雙關] style and expended an immeasurable amount of compassionate care on this was surely his desire that every person might become an immortal or a Buddha. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  22. In The Journey to the West there are passages that expound orthodoxy, and there are those that attack heterodoxy. The passages that portray the various monsters in different mountain caves are attacks on heterodoxy, whereas those treating the kings and rulers of various lands expound orthodoxy. This is the fundamental significance of the entire book. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  23. The so-called monsters in The Journey to the West are of two kinds: they are either monsters of the orthodox tradition or monsters of the heterodox tradition. Monsters like those of Little Western Heaven and Lion-Camel Cave belong to the heretical or heterodox tradition. Monsters like the Bull Monster King and the Raksa Woman, the Great King of Miraculous Power, Jupiter's Rival, and the Jade Hare are unenlightened monsters who nonetheless belong to the orthodox tradition and are thus different from the other monsters. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  24. Among the hexagrams and their images from the I Ching expounded in The Journey to the West, some are used more than once but, since each is used because of a particular incident, although the hexagram might be the same, the meaning is not the same. Therefore it does not matter that some are used more than once. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  25. In The Journey to the West, there is the method of first striking down the false when one wants to show forth the true [yü shih-chen erh hsien p'i-chia chih fa 欲示真而先劈假之法]. For example, when the author wishes to describe the true tiger [nature] of Pilgrim at the Mountain of the Two Frontiers, he first uses the ordinary tiger of Double-Fork Ridge to lead into [yin 引] the topic. When he wishes to describe the true dragon [nature] of the Dragon King of the Eastern Ocean, he first uses the serpents and snakes of Double-Fork Ridge to lead into the topic. When he wishes to describe the true yin 陰 and yang 陽 of Pilgrim and Pa-chieh, he first uses the false yin and yang of Kuan-yin Hall to lead into the topic. When he wishes to describe the dragon horse of the Serpent-coiled Mountain, he first uses the ordinary horse given by the T'ang emperor to lead into the topic. When he wishes to describe the true earth [nature] of Sha Monk, he first uses the false earth [nature] of the Yellow Wind Monster. Such a device is used extensively throughout the work. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  26. In The Journey to the West, there are some passages that are very difficult to understand, but are nevertheless really very easy to understand. Take, for example, the fact that Tripitaka's three disciples have attained immortality. How, then, could Sun Wu-k'ung end up pressed beneath the Mountain of the Five Phases? How could Chu Wu-neng [Pa-chieh] get reincarnated into the wrong womb and Sha Wu-ching [Sha Monk] be banished to the Flowing-Sand River? Why did they have to embrace Buddhism before they could truly attain ultimate fruition? That the three disciples must still embrace Buddhism points to the fact that they have perfected their life-stores but not their natures. Moreover, the episodes of the Mountain of the Five Phases, the Cloudy Paths Cave, and the Flowing-Sand River point to the fact that the T'ang Monk has not perfected his life-store though he has perfected his nature. This use of the same pen to treat two sides of a problem at once [i-pi shuang-hsieh — 筆雙寫] shows the truth that there can be no cultivation of nature without the cultivation of life-store and no cultivation of life-store without the cultivation of nature. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  27. There are many passages in The Journey to the West that seem to deal with different incidents, but ultimately refer to the same thing [pu t'ung erh ta-t'ung-che 不同而大同者]. The Journey to the West, for example, takes its name from the story of the T'ang Monk's journey to acquire scriptures in the Western Heaven. Why, then, does the story of Sun Wu-k'ung appear in the beginning? What the reader overlooks is the fact that Sun Wu-k'ung's birth in the Pūrvavideha Continent is analogous to the T'ang Monk's birth in Great T'ang of the Land of the East; that Sun Wu-k'ung's learning the Way in the West Aparagodānīya Continent is analogous to the T'ang Monk's acquisition of the scriptures in the Thunderclap Temple of the Western Heaven; that Sun Wu-k'ung's return to his mountain after attaining enlightenment is analogous to the T'ang Monk's return to his country after the acquisition of the true scriptures; and that Sun Wu-k'ung's being caught in Buddha's palm after getting out of the Brazier is analogous to the T'ang Monk's return to the Western Heaven after the transmission of the scriptures. Though the incidents are different, the meaning is the same, for they are all summed up and unified in the [idea of a] Journey to the West. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  28. Whenever a most difficult or perilous situation occurs during The Journey to the West, Pilgrim seeks assistance from Kuan-yin. This is a most important feature [kuan-mu 關目] of The Journey to the West, for it embodies the most crucial lesson for the person practicing self-cultivation. Success in the cultivation of life-store and nature is entirely dependent on the assistance of the superintending gods and spirits. [Both Ch'en Shih-pin and Liu I-ming insist on the importance of the teacher in self-cultivation and the impossibility of the project without external help.] Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  29. The first seven chapters of The Journey to the West proceed from life-store to nature, from activity to nonactivity. The remaining ninety-three chapters proceed from nature to life-store and return from nonactivity to activity. The profound truth of the entire work is nothing more than this. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  30. In The Journey to the West, Tripitaka represents the substance [t'i 體] of the Supreme Ultimate, while the three disciples represent the energies of the five phases. Tripitaka's acceptance of the three disciples thus refers to the control of the five phases by the Supreme Ultimate, while the fact that the three disciples make their submission to Tripitaka means that the five phases are what constitutes the Supreme Ultimate. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  31. When The Journey to the West speaks of the T'ang Monk and each of his disciples, two different sets of names are used, and they ought not to be thought of in the same breath. For example, [the names] Hsiian-tsang, Wu-k'ung, Wu-neng, and Wu-ching refer to the substance [t'i 體] of the Tao, whereas [the names] Tripitaka, Pilgrim, Pa-chieh, and Monk refer to the function [yung 用] of the Tao. Since function does not exist apart from substance nor does substance exist apart from function, therefore there are two names for each of them. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  32. The references in The Journey to the West to the T'ang Monk and his disciples have both primary and auxiliary functions [yung 用]. Take, for example, the names Ch'en Hsiian-tsang, Tripitaka T'ang, Sun Wu-k'ung, Pilgrim Sun, Chu Pa-chieh, Chu Wu-neng, Sha Wu-ching, and Sha Monk—these are made to serve the primary function. The names T'ang Monk, Pilgrim, Idiot, and Monk are made to serve the auxiliary function. The primary function serves solely to explicate the substantive truths of life-store and nature, whereas the auxiliary function serves simultaneously to give form to the meanings of the ordinary world. People should not regard them as if they were all the same. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  33. The Journey to the West uses the three disciples to represent the great medicine outside of the five phases. This belongs to the category of prenatal endowment [hsien-t'ien 先天] and is not to be compared with the perverse five phases that belong to the postnatal condition [hou-t'ien 後天], where they possess shape and form. One must clearly distinguish the true source of things and not try to locate it on the bag of flesh or skin [i.e., the body]. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  34. The Journey to the West describes all three disciples as having hideous features. Hideous features are, in fact, distinguished features, and distinguished features are marvelous features. They may be said to be hideous, but what they do is marvelous. Moreover, they possess neither "egotistical" features nor "popular" features, neither the features of the moral multitudes nor those of the long-lived ones. That is why, wherever the three disciples go, people fail to recognize them [for what they really are] and become afraid or amazed at the sight of them. In such places [in the text], one must take careful note of this feature. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  35. The Journey to the West describes all three disciples as having different abilities. Sha Monk is not capable of transformations at all, Pa-chieh knows thirty-six transformations, while Pilgrim knows seventy-two transformations. Though his number of transformations is said to be seventy-two, Pilgrim is actually capable of countless transformations. Why is this? He is the Metal within Water, the true yang principle external to one's self. Belonging to the category of life-store, lord of hardness and motion, he signifies the primal breath of all living creatures and unites the strategic nodes of the seventy-two time periods [hou 候] of the year. [These time periods were made up of five days each. There may be a pun involved here, as the name of the time period and the word monkey [hou 猴] are homonyms.] There is nothing that is not included in him, nothing that is not perfected by him. A perfect substance [t'i 體] having a great function [yung 用], he is an all-pervading principle of unity. That is why he is capable of boundless transformations, unimaginably wonderful and mysterious. Pa-chieh happens to be the Wood within the Fire, the true yin principle internal to one's self. Belonging to the category of nature, lord of pliancy and quiescence, he holds the handle by which the illusory body is controlled, but he can only change into substance that is posterior to Heaven [hou-t'ien 後天] and not the true treasure that is anterior to Heaven [hsien-t'ien 先天]. His transformations are incomplete, and that is why, of the seventy-two transformations, he is capable of only thirty-six. As for Sha Monk, he is the true Earth, and he lives to guard the Central Quarter and to harmonize the yin and yang. He is incapable of any transformations. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  36. There is great significance in The Journey to the West's description of the divine weapons belonging to the three disciples. Both Pa-chieh and Sha Monk carry their divine weapons along with them in their hands. The gold-hooped rod of Pilgrim, however, can be transformed into the size of an embroidery needle; it is then stored in his ear and taken out only when needed. Why is this so? The rake and the priestly staff, you see, though treasures in themselves, represent the practice of the perfection of form by means of the Tao. Once the matter has been pointed out by the teacher, the person himself can attain its realization. The gold-hooped rod, on the other hand, is actually the secret truth that has been transmitted from mouth to mouth by sages through succeeding generations, a secret that was whispered from ear to ear. It is the technique of prolonging one's life through magic, fabricated out of nothingness. It is so huge that it has no circumference, so small that it has no interior. It roams at will between Heaven and Earth, with nothing to withstand it, and that is why it must be stored in the ear. These mysterious and marvelous functions [of the gold-hooped rod] are as different as night and day from those of the rake and priestly staff. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  37. In The Journey to the West, the three disciples represent the substance [t'i 體] of the five phases, while the three weapons represent the function [yung 用] of the five phases. When the five phases are compressed together, [fully integrate the five elements] then both substance and function are perfectly present. This is why they can successfully escort the T'ang Monk to fetch the true scriptures and meet the real Buddha. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  38. There are many accounts in The Journey to the West of how Sun Wu-k'ung triumphs over the most difficult of obstacles by pulling off pieces of hair from his body and transforming them. The pieces of hair, however, are not all the same nor are the transformations. Sometimes he pulls off pieces of hair from behind his head or from either his left or right arm, sometimes he pulls off pieces of hair from both arms or from his tail. There are great differences here, and one must not be careless in distinguishing between them. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  39. When The Journey to the West describes Sun Wu-k'ung's changing into someone else, the accounts vary: sometimes he himself is transformed, sometimes he uses his rod, and sometimes he uses pieces of hair. The transformations of himself and his rod are true transformations, whereas the transformations of the pieces of hair are false transformations. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  40. In The Journey to the West, Sun Wu-k'ung is called the Great Sage and Pilgrim. These two names are vastly different from each other and they ought not to be thought of in the same breath. One must look to the source. If the source is real, then everything is real; but if the source is false, then everything is false. Never confuse the real with the false, or the false with the real. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  41. Sun Wu-k'ung calls himself Sun Wai-kung 孫外公 [Maternal Grandfather Sun] everywhere he goes and always mentions "that bit of business five hundred years ago." Now, Sun Wai-kung actually refers to the emptiness within, while "five hundred years ago" actually refers to that which is anterior to Heaven [hsien-t'ien 先天]. One must realize that the vital force anterior to Heaven originates from nothingness. It is the formula for immortality external to oneself and not something that one can produce within oneself. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  42. After Sun Wu-k'ung attains the Tao on his Journey to the West, he can neither be drowned in water nor burned by fire. When he caused a great uproar in Heaven, even the divine warriors of the various Heavens could not prevail against him. Why, then, is he repeatedly overcome by monsters when he is accompanying the T'ang Monk to acquire scriptures in the Western Heaven? The reader must take such problems and carefully distinguish the issues involved; only then can he discover their true meaning. If he just muddles through his reading, he will never gain any insight. Remember that the name Pilgrim is a nickname given by the T'ang Monk to Sun Wu-k'ung. Now this nickname may be explained as referring to someone who has understood the truth but who must still engage in action or as a name for any person practicing self-cultivation. The Pilgrim who is overcome by monsters refers, in fact, to any pilgrim practicing self-cultivation. Do not confuse one with the other. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  43. Whenever the T'ang Monk and his disciples pass through a country in The Journey to the West, the official rescript must first be examined and stamped with the precious seals [of the country] before they are permitted to proceed. This is a matter of primary importance in the whole enterprise of acquiring scriptures. One must seek out the true meaning of this matter. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  44. The Journey to the West has been annotated [chu-chieh 注解] countless times. As for quality explanations, there is not one per hundred. The Chen-ch'üan 真詮 [True Explication] of Wu-i-tzu [this refers to The True Explication of the Hsi-yu chi 西 遊真詮, 1696] may be considered the foremost set of annotations for this book, but it is unavoidable that even it overlooks certain things. The reader should not read only the annotations and neglect the text itself. He should rather read the annotations only from the perspective of the text. In this way he may avoid the mistake of compounding the errors of others. Only he who knows this can read The Journey to the West.
  45. The reader of The Journey to the West should first exert great effort on the text itself. He should again and again strive to comprehend its meaning, and he should not rest until he has savored its true flavor and truly gained insight [into its real meaning]. If he has indeed gained some insight, he can then read annotations [chu-chieh 注解] done by others in order to enlarge his understanding. This will enable him to distinguish between that which should be accepted or rejected in the other interpretations, and he can also find out the validity or speciousness of his own perceptions. If he persists in such efforts for a long time, he will certainly arrive at an advanced state of understanding. But even then he must not consider himself always in the right. He should seek out teachers for further illumination. Only then will he be able to see the bright flame of real knowledge and avoid the mistake of regarding the semblance of truth as truth itself. The foregoing forty-five items constitute the essentials of how to read The Journey to the West. I have carefully recorded them at the beginning of this volume as an act of friendship extended to the appreciative reader.


Titus Burckhardt on Sufism and Alchemy

Image from Burckhardt's Mystical Astrology According to Ibn 'Arabi


The following is excerpted from Titus Burckhardt's Introduction to Sufi Doctrine:

The term "alchemy" is very suitable as applied to the art of concentration considered in itself because, from the point of view of this art, the soul is like "a matter" which is to be transformed even as in alchemy lead is to be transmuted into gold. In other words the chaotic and opaque soul must become "formed" and crystalline. Here, form does not mean a fixation within certain limits but on the contrary a quasi-geometric coordination, and hence even a virtuality of deliverance from the limiting conditions of the arbitrary psychic tyranny, just as gold or crystal manifests on the level of solid substances the nature of light, the second both by its geometrical form—the propagation of light being rectilinear—and by its transparence.

According to the same symbolism—the nearest to alchemy properly so called—the soul, fixed in a state of sterile hardness, must be "liquefied" and then again "congealed" in order to be rid of its impurities. This "congelation" will in its turn be followed by a "fusion" and this again by the final "crystallization". In order to bring about these changes the natural forces of the soul are actualized and coordinated. They may be compared to the forces of nature—heat, cold, moistness, and dryness. There is in the soul an expansive force which normally shows itself as confident joy (basṭ) and as love and so as "heat", and there is a contractive force—a "coldness"—which shows itself as fear, its spiritual form being the extreme contraction (qabḍ) of the soul, in face of death and eternity, into the single point of the present.

As for moistness and dryness these correspond respectively to the "liquefying" passivity of the soul and the "fixing" activity of the spirit. These four forces can also be connected with two complementary principles which are analogous to the "Sulfur" and "Mercury" of the alchemist. In the Sufic method these two principles are to be identified respectively with the spiritual act—the active affirmation of a symbol—and the plasticity of the psyche. Thanks to the intervention of Grace the voluntary affirmation of the symbol becomes the permanent activity of the Spirit (ar-Rūḥ) while the plasticity or receptivity of the soul takes on a cosmic amplitude. [According to Muḥyī-d-Din ibn 'Arabī the universal meaning of Sulfur is the Divine Act (al-Amr) and that of Mercury, Nature as a whole (Tabī at al-kull).]

The fiery quality and the "fixative" quality are connected with the active pole which corresponds to Sulfur, while the contracting quality and the "moist" dissolving quality are connected with the passive pole, which is the Mercury of alchemy. Thus it is easy to see how the different "natural" qualities of the soul are combined in different states. Sterile hardening of the soul results from an alliance between the fixing quality (dryness) of the mind and the contracting quality in the psyche. Dissipation, on the other hand, comes from a link between the expansive force of desire and the dissolving power of the passive psyche. Moreover these two states of disequilibrium may be piled one upon the other, as is often the case. Equilibrium of the soul consists in a steady alternation of expansion and contraction, comparable to breathing, and in a marriage of the "fixative" activity of the spirit with the "liquid" receptivity of the soul.

In order that it may be possible for this synthesis to take place the powers of the soul must not let themselves be determined in any way by impulsions coming from outside; they must instead respond to the spiritual activity centered on the heart. [This corresponds to what in alchemy is called the "hermetic sealing" of the vessel.]

The art of concentration has been indicated here in alchemical terms because these bring out the correspondence between the powers of the soul and the natural forces—the physical forces one might say—of the human organism. The process of harnessing these powers brings this aspect of Taṣawwuf near to the methods of Raja Yoga. Clearly the technique in question can be described by means of different symbolisms. Sufi writers usually treat of this question implicitly by indicating the use of the symbols which are the object of concentration; indeed the "alchemical" work, in the sense in which it is envisaged here, cannot be separated from the nature of the symbols used as "means of Grace" and these symbols are the intermediary through which the "alchemical" aspect of spiritual work is linked with its intellectual aspect. The pre-eminent spiritual means of Taṣawwuf is the verbal symbol repeated either inwardly or aloud with or without a synchronizing of the breath; hence the various phases of the inner alchemy—the successive "liquefactions" and "crystallizations"— appear as permutations (taṣrīf) of the symbol in the soul in conformity with the different Divine Realities (ḥaqā'īq) it expresses.


The hierarchic "placing" of the faculties of the soul is one aspect of the reintegration of the soul into the Spirit. The state of a soul which has been spiritually regenerated has already been compared to a crystal which, though solid, is akin to light both in its transparence and in its rectilinear form. The various intellectual faculties are like the facets of this crystal, each one reflecting in its own way the unique and limitless Intellect.

The faculty which is specific to man is thought (al-fikr). Now the nature of thought, like the nature of man, is two-faced. By its power of synthesis it manifests the central position of man in the world and so also his direct analogy with the Spirit. But its formal structure, on the other hand, is only one existential "style" among many others; that is to say it is a specific mode of consciousness which could be called "animal" were it not distinguished, for better and for worse, by its connection with man’s unique—and intrinsically "supernatural"— function from those faculties of knowledge that are proper to animal species. In fact thought never plays an entirely "natural" part in the sense of being a passive equilibrium in harmony with the cosmic surroundings. To the degree that it turns away from the Intellect, which transcends the terrestrial plane, it can only have a destructive character, like that of a corrosive acid, which destroys the organic unity of beings and of things.

We have only to look at the modern world with its artificial character devoid of beauty and its inhumanly abstract and quantitative structure in order to know the character of thought when given over to its own resources. Man, the "thinking animal", must necessarily be either the divine crown of nature or its adversary, [In animals there does not exist, as in man, a refraction of the intellect which is at the same time subjective and active, a refraction which would stand between the intellectual essence immanent in the form of the species and the individual psychic organism. For this reason animals are more passive than man in relation to the cosmic surroundings. At the same time they more directly express their intellectual essence. The beauty of a sacred art—an art divinely inspired—heightens that of virgin nature, while the creations of a civilization that is profane and practically atheistical, such as modern civilization, are always hostile to natural harmony.] and this is so because in the mind "to be" becomes dissociated from "to know" and in the process of man’s degeneration this leads to all other ruptures and separations.

This double property of thought corresponds to the principle which Sufis symbolize by the barzakh, the "isthmus" between two oceans. The barzakh is both a barrier and a point of junction between two degrees of reality. As an intermediate agent it reverses the pencil of rays of the light it transmits in the same manner as does a lens. In the structure of thought this inversion appears as abstraction. Thought is only capable of synthesis by stripping itself of the immediate aspect of things; the more nearly it approaches the universal, the more it is reduced as it were to a point. Thought thus imitates on the level of form—and hence imperfectly—the essential "stripping bare" (tajrīd) of the Intellect.

The Intellect does not have as its immediate object the empirical existence of things but their permanent essences which are relatively "non-existing" since on the sensory plane they are not manifested. [When certain modern thinkers would see in the act of knowing a sort of annihilation—relative and subjective—of the object of knowledge considered as pure existence they merely reproduce the unreal and implicitly absurd character of thought which has turned aside from intellectual principles and ended by emptying itself of any qualitative content. The crude and undifferentiated "existence" which these philosophers oppose to the intellectual act of the subject is nothing but the shadow cast by this absence of intuition in their own thought: it is pure unintelligibility. What is real "in itself" is essence; if perception does not simultaneously grasp all aspects of a sensory object that is because both the level of manifestation and the knowledge are alike relative.]

Now this purely intellectual knowledge implies direct identification with its object and that is the decisive criterion which distinguishes intellectual "vision" from rational working of the mind. This "vision" does not, however, exclude sensory knowledge; rather it includes it since it is its essence, although a particular state of consciousness may exclude one in favor of the other.

Here it must be made quite plain that the term "intellect" (al-'aql) is in practice applied at more than one level: it may designate the universal principle of all intelligence, a principle which transcends the limiting conditions of the mind; but the direct reflection of Universal Intellect in thought may also be called "intellect" and in this case it corresponds to what the ancients called reason.

The mode of working of the mind which is complementary to reason is imagination (al-khayāl). In relation to the intellectual pole of the mind imagination may be considered as its plastic material; for this reason it corresponds by analogy to the materia prima on which the plastic continuity of the "cosmic dream" depends just as, subjectively, it depends on imagination.

If the imagination can be a cause of illusion by binding the intelligence to the level of sensory forms it none the less also has a spiritually positive aspect in so far as it fixes intellectual intuitions or inspirations in the form of symbols. For imagination to be able to assume this function it must have acquired in full measure its plastic capacity; the misdeeds of imagination come not so much from its development as from its being enslaved by passion and feeling. Imagination is one of the mirrors of Intellect; its perfection lies in its remaining virginal and of wide compass.

Some Sufi writers, including 'Abd al-Karīm al-Jīlī, have said that the dark pole of the mind is al-wahm, a term which means conjecture and also opinion, suggestion, and suspicion and so mental illusion. This is the reverse of the speculative freedom of the mind. The power of illusion of the mind is, as it were, fascinated by an abyss; it is attracted by every unexhausted negative possibility. When this power dominates the imagination, imagination becomes the greatest obstacle to spirituality. In this context may be quoted the saying of the Prophet that "the worst thing your soul suggests to you is suspicion".

As for memory, this has a double aspect; as the faculty of retaining impressions it is passive and "earthly" and it is called al-ḥafẓ in this relationship; in so far as it is the act of recollection (adh-dhikr) it is directly connected with the intellect, for this act refers implicitly to the timeless presence of the essences, although they cannot appear as such in the mind. The recapitulation of perceptions in recollection may be inadequate and in a certain sense even must be so since the mind is subject to the attrition of time, but, if recollection were not implicitly adequate, it would be only pure illusion—something which does not exist. If recollection can evoke the past in the present it is because the present contains in virtuality the whole extension of time; all existential "flavors" are contained in the "flavorlessness" of the present moment. This is what is realized by spiritual recollection (dhikr): instead of going back "horizontally" into the past it addresses itself "vertically" to the essences which regulate both past and future.

The Spirit (ar-Rūḥ) is both Knowledge and Being. In man these two aspects are in a way polarized as the reason and the heart. The heart marks what we are in the light of eternity, while the reason marks what we "think". Seen from one angle the heart (al-qalb) also represents the presence of the Spirit in both aspects, for it is both the organ of intuition (al-kashf) and also the point of identification (wajd) with Being (al-Wujūd). According to a divine saying (ḥadīth qudsī) revealed through the mouth of the Prophet, God said: "The heavens and the earth cannot contain Me, but the heart of my believing servant does contain Me." The most intimate center of the heart is called the mystery (as-sirr), and this is the inapprehensible point in which the creature meets God. Ordinarily the spiritual reality of the heart is veiled by the egocentric consciousness; this assimilates the heart to its own center of gravity which will be either mind or feeling according to the tendencies of the particular being.

The heart is to the other faculties what the sun is to the planets: it is from the sun that these receive both their light and their impulsion. This analogy, which is even more clear in the heliocentric perspective than in the geocentric system of the ancients where the sun occupies the middle heaven between two triads of planets, was developed by 'Abd al-Karīm al-Jīlī in his book Al-Insān al-Kāmil ("Universal Man"). According to this symbolical order, Saturn, the most distant of the planets that are visible to the naked eye, corresponds to intellect-reason (al-'aql). Just as the heaven of Saturn includes all the other planetary heavens, intellect-reason embraces all things; moreover the "abstract", cold, and "saturnian" character of reason is opposite to the solar and central nature of the heart, which marks intellect in its "total" and "existential" aspect. Mercury symbolizes thought (al-fikr), Venus imagination (al-khayāl), Mars the conjectural faculty (al-wahm), Jupiter spiritual aspiration (al-himmah), and the moon the vital spirit (ar-rūḥ). Anyone with some knowledge of astrological "aspects" can readily deduce from this outline both the beneficent and the harmful "conjunctions" of the different faculties represented by the planets.

Images from Burckhardt's Alchemy: Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul

From another point of view the heart is compared to the moon which reflects the light of the divine sun. In this case the phases of the moon correspond to the different states of receptivity of the heart direct "enunciation" of Being. Both these aspects are to be found in the Greek word Logos which means principle and also idea and speech; in the same way man is defined either as a "thinking animal" or as an "animal endowed with speech" (ḥayawān nāṭiq).

From the principial point of view the idea is dependent on the Word, inasmuch as it is an intellectual reflection of Reality, but in man the idea precedes speech. In the rite of invocation (dhikr) the principial relationship is symbolically re-established since the revealed speech— the sacred formula or the Divine Name which is invoked—affirms the ontological continuity of the Spirit whereas thought is—practically speaking—cut off from its transcendent source through being the seat of individual consciousness. In this way the faculty of speech, which is a faculty of action, becomes the vehicle for knowledge of Being.


The Treatise on Oneness


(There is a newer translation of this work entitled Know Yourself: An Explanation of the Oneness of Being reviewed here)

Art. XXIX. — Translation of an Arabic Manuscript in the Hunterian Collection, Glasgow University.
By T. H. Weir, B.D., Assistant to the Professor of Hebrew and Semitic Languages in the University of Glasgow.

[In the Hunterian MS. the following tractate is ascribed to Ibnu'l 'ArabI, d. 638 a.h. = 1240 a.d. In one of the Berlin MSS., however, it is called Risiālatu'l Balbānīyah, by Muḥammad al Balbānī (Ahlwardt, 3,250); in another Suyūṭī is given as the author (Ahlwardt, 1,830). In the British Museum MSS. (Arabic Catalogue, No. DCCCLXXXI, ix, and Supplementary Catalogue, No. 245, x) the author is given as Auḥad al Din 'Abdallah al Balyānī, d. 686 a.h. These MSS. have been used in the Translation. The Librarian of the Royal Library, Berlin, most kindly sent the two raentioued above (as well as a third imperfect one) to the care of the Glasgow University Librarian.]

The Kitābu'l Ajwibah—and it is also called the Kitābu'l Alif—by the learned Imâm, the Strong One of the Age, the most Great Shaikh Muḥyī al Dīn Abū 'Abdallah Muḥammadi ibn 'Alī, Ibn 'Arabī, al Ṭā'ī, al Ḥatimī, al Andalusī—may God sanctify his mighty Secret.

The Saying of the most Great Shaikh Muḥyī al Dīn 'Arabī — may God sanctify his mighty Secret — in Explanation of the saying of him (upon whom be peace): "Whoso knoweth himself knoweth his Lord."

In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate, and Him wc ask for aid: Praise be to God before whose oneness there was not a before, unless the Before were He, and after whose singleness there is not an after, except the After be He. He is, and there is with Him no after nor before, nor above nor below, nor far nor near, nor union nor division, nor how nor where nor when, nor times nor moment nor age, nor being nor place. And He is now as He was. He is the One without oneness, and the Single without singleness. He is not composed of name and named, for His name is He and His named is He. So there is no name other than He, nor named. And so He is the Name and the Named. He is the First without firstness, and the Last without lastness. He is the Outward without outwardness, and the Inward without inwardness. I mean that He is the very existence of the First and the very existence of the Last, and the very existence of the Outward and the very existence of the Inward. So that there is no first nor last, nor outward nor inward, except Him, without these becoming Him or His becoming them.

Understand, therefore, in order that thou mayest not fall into the error of the Ḥulūlīs [who believe in incarnations of God]:—He is not in a thing nor a thing in Him, whether entering in or proceeding forth. It is necessary that thou know Him after this fashion, not by knowledge ('ilm), nor by intellect, nor by understanding, nor by imagination, nor by sense, nor by the outward eye, nor by the inward eye, nor by perception. There does not see Him, save Himself; nor perceive Him, save Himself. By Himself He sees Himself, and by Himself He knows Himself. None sees Him other than He, and none perceives Him other than He. His Veil [that is, phenomenal existence] is [only a part of] His oneness; nothing veils other than He. His veil is [only] the concealment of His existence in His oneness, without any quality. None sees Him other than He — no sent prophet, nor saint made perfect, nor augel brought nigh [Koran, iv, 170] knows Him. His Prophet is He, and His sending is He, and His word is He. He sent Himself with Himself to Himself. There was no mediator nor any means other than He. There is no difference between the Sender and the thing sent, and the person sent and the person to whom he is sent. The very existence of the prophetic message is His existence. There is no other, and there is no existence to other, than He, nor to its ceasing to be (fanā'), nor to its name, nor to its named.

And for this the Prophet (upon whom be peace) said : "Whoso knoweth himself knoweth his Lord." And he said (upon him be peace): "I know my Lord by my Lord." The Prophet (upon whom be peace) points out by that, that thou art not thou: thou art He, without thou; not He entering into thee, nor thou entering into Him, nor He proceeding forth from thee, nor thou proceeding forth from Him. And it is not meant by that, that thou art aught that exists or thine attributes aught that exists, but it is meant by it that thou never wast nor wilt be, whether by thyself or through Him or in Him or along with Him. Thou art neither ceasing to be nor still existing. Thou art He, without one of these limitations. Then if thou know thine existence thus, then thou knowest God; and if not, then not.

And most of 'those who know God' (al 'urrâf) make a ceasing of existence and the ceasing of that ceasing a condition of attaining the knowledge of God, and that is an error and a clear oversight. For the knowledge of God does not presuppose the ceasing of existence nor the ceasing of that ceasing. For things have no existence, and what does not exist cannot cease to exist. For the ceasing to be implies the positing of existence, and that is polytheism. Then if thou know thyself without existence or ceasing to be, then thou knowest God; and if not, then not. And in making the knowledge of God conditional upon the ceasing of existence and the ceasing of that ceasing, there is involved an assertion of polytheism. For the Prophet (upon whom be peace) said, "Whoso knoweth himself," and did not say, "Whoso maketh himself to cease to be." For the affirmation of the other makes its extinction impossible, and [on the other hand] that of which the affirmation is not allowable its extinction is not allowable. Thine existence is nothing, and nothing cannot be added to something, whether it be perishing or unperishing, or existent or non-existent. The Prophet points to the fact that thou art non-existent now as thou wast non-existent before the Creation. For now is past eternity and now is future eternity, and now is past time. And God (whose name be exalted) is the existence of past eternity and the existence of future eternity and the existence of past time, yet without past eternity or future eternity or past time ever existing. For if it were not so He would not be by Himself without any partner, and it is indispensable that He should be by Himself without any partner. For His 'partner' would be he whose existence was in his own essence, not in the existence of God, and whoever should be in that position would not be dependent upon Him. Then, in that case, there would be a second Lord, which is absurd: God (whose name be exalted) can have no partner nor like nor equal. And whoever looks upon anything as being along with God or apart from God or in God, but subject to Him in respect of His divinity, makes this thing also a partner, [only] subject to God in respect of divinity. And whoever allows that anything exists side by side with God, whether self-subsisting or subsisting in Him or capable of ceasing to exist or of ceasing to cease to exist, he is far from what smells of a breath of the knowledge of the soul. Because, whoever allows that he is existent beside God, subsisting in Him, then in Him becoming extinct, and his extinction becoming extinct, then one extinction is linked to another, and that is polytheism upon polytheism. So he is a polytheist, not one who knows God and himself.

Then if one say: How lies the way to the knowledge of the soul and the knowledge of God (whose name be exalted) —

Then the Answer is: The way of the knowledge of these two is, that thou understand that God is, and that there is not with Him a thing. He is now as He was.

Then if one say: I see myself to be other than God and I do not see God to be myself,—

Then the Answer is: The Prophet (may God bless him and give him peace) meant by the soul thine existence and thy reality, not the 'soul' which is named 'commanding,' 'upbraiding,' and 'pacified'; [For 'soul' here we would say 'flesh'; see Mr. Gibb's "Ottoman Poetry," p. 198.] but in the 'soul' he pointed to all that is beside God (whose name be exalted), as the Prophet (may God bless him and give him peace) said: "O my God, show me things as they are clearly," meaning by 'things' whatever is beside God (whose name be exalted), that is, "Make me to know what is beside Thee in order that I may understand and know things, which they are — whether they are Thou or other than Thou, and whether they are of old, abiding, or recent and perishing." Then God showed him what was beside Himself, without the existence of what is beside Himself. So he saw things as they are: I mean, he saw things to be the essence of God (whose name be exalted) without how or where. And the name 'things' includes the soul and other than it of things. For the existence of the soul and the existence of other things are both equal in point of being 'things,' that is, are nothing; for, in reality, the thing is God and God is named a thing. Then when thou knowest the things thou knowest the soul, and when thou knowest the soul thou knowest the Lord. Because he whom thou thinkest to be beside God, he is not beside God; but thou dost not know Him, and thou seest Him and dost not understand that thou seest Him. And when this secret is revealed to thee thou understandest that thou art not what is beside God, and that thou art thine own end and thine own object in thy search after thy Lord, and that thou dost not require to cease to be, and that thou hast continued and wilt continue without when and without times, as we mentioned above. And thou seest all thine actions to be His actions, and all His attributes to be thine attributes. Thou seest thine outward to be His outward and thine inward to be His inward, and thy first to be His first and thy last to be His last, without doubting and without wavering. And thou seest thine attributes to be His attributes and thine essence to be His essence, without thy becoming Him or His becoming thee, either in the greatest or least degree. "Everything is perishing except His Face" [Koran, xxviii, 88.]; that is, there is no existent but He, nor existence to other than He, so that it should require to perish and His Face remain; that is, there is nothing except His Face: "then, whithersoever ye turn, there is the Face of God." [ii, 109.]

It is as if one did not know a thing and afterwards knows it. His existence does not cease, but his ignorance ceases, and his existence continues as it was, without his existence being exchanged for another existence, or the existence of the not-knowing person being compounded with the existence of the knowing, or intermixing, but [merely] a taking away of ignorance. Therefore, think not that thou requirest to cease to be. For if thou requiredst to cease to be, then thou wouldest in that case be His veil, and the veil other than God (whose name be exalted); which requires that another than He should have overcome Him in preventing His being seen; and this is an error and an oversight. And we have mentioned above that His veil is [only a part of] His oneness, and His singleness is not other than it. And, thus it is permitted to him who is united to Reality to say, "I am the Truth," and to say, "Praise be to Me." But none attains to union except he see his own attributes to be the attributes of God (whose name be exalted), and his own essence to be the essence of God (whose name be exalted), without his attributes or essence entering into God or proceeding forth from Him at all, or ceasing from God or remaining in Him. And he sees himself as never having been, not as having been and then having ceased to be. For there is no soul save His soul, and there is no existence save His existence.

And to this the Prophet (upon whom be peace) pointed when he said: "Revile not the world, for God—He is the world," pointing to the fact that the existence of the world is God's existence without partner or like or equal. And it is related from the Prophet (upon whom be peace) that he said that God (whose name be exalted) said [to Moses]: "O my servaut, I was sick and thou visitedst Me not, I begged of thee and thou gavest not to Me," with other like expressions; pointing to the fact that the existence of the beggar is His existence, and that the existence of the sick is His existence. And when it is allowed that the existence of the beggar and the existence of the sick are His existence, it is allowed that thy existence is His existence, and that the existence of all created things, both accidents and substances, is His existence. And when the secret of an atom of the atoms is clear, the secret of all created things, both external and internal, is clear, and thou dost not see in this world or the next aught beside God, but the existence of these two Abodes, and their name and their named, all of them, are He, without doubt and without wavering. And thou dost not see God as having ever created anything, but thou seest "every day He is in a business," [Koran, lv, 2] in the way of revealing His existence or concealing it, without any quality, because He is the First and the Last and the Outward and the Inward. He is outward in His oneness and inward in his singleness: He is the first in His essence and His immutability, and the last in His everlastingness. The very existence of the first is He, and the very existence of the last is He, and the very existence of the outward is He, and the very existence of the inward is He. He is His name and He is His named. And as His existence is 'necessary,' so the non-existence of all beside Him is necessary. For that which thou thinkest to be beside Him is not beside Him. For He will not have aught to be other than He. Nay, the other is He, and there is no otherness. The other is with His existence and in His existence, outwardly and inwardly.

The person to whom this description is applicable is endowed with many qualities without limit or end. But just as he who dies the death of the body loses all his qualities, both praiseworthy and blameworthy, so in the Sufi death all the qualities, both blameworthy and praise worthy, aro cut off, and God (whose name be exalted) comes into his place in all his states. Thus, instead of his essence comes the essence of God (whose name be exalted), and in place of his attributes come the attributes of God (whose name be exalted).

And so the Prophet (may God bless him and give him peace) said, "Die before ye die," that is, know yourselves before ye die. And he (upon whom be peace) said: "God (whose name bo exalted) has said: The worshipper does not cease to draw near to Me with good works until I love him. Then, when I love him, I am to him hearing and sight and tongue and hand unto the end," pointing to the fact that he who knows himself sees his whole existence to be His existence, and does not see any change take place in his own essence or attributes, seeing that he was not the existence of his essence, but was merely ignorant of the knowledge of himself. For when thou 'knowest thyself,' thine egoism is taken away, and thou knowest that thou art not other than God. For, if thou hadst had an independent existence, so that thou didst not require to cease to be or to 'know thyself,' then thou wouldest be a Lord beside Him ; and God forbid that He should have created a Lord beside Himself.

The profit of the knowledge of the soul is, that thou understandest and art sure that thy existence is neither existent nor non-existent, and that thou art not, wast not, and never wilt be.

From this the meaning of the saying, "There is no god but God," is clear, since there is no god other than He nor existence to other than Him, so that there is no other beside Him—and no god but He.

Then if one say: Thou makest void His sovereignty,— Then the Answer is: I do not make void His sovereignty. For He is still Ruler as well as ruled, and is still Creator as well as created. He is now as He was as to His creative power and as to His sovereignty, not requiring a creature nor a subject, because He is the Creator and the created, and the Ruler and the ruled. When He called into being the things that are He was [already] endowed with all attributes. And He is now as He was then. In His oneness there is no difference between what is recent and what is original. The recent is the result of His manifesting Himself, and the original is the result of His remaining within Himself. His outward is His inward, and His inward is His outward: His first is His last and His last is His first; and all is one, and the One is all. The definition of Him was, "Every day He is in a business," and there was nothing beside Him, and He is now as He was then, and there is in reality no existence to what is beside Him. As He was in past eternity and past time "every day engaged in a business," and there was no existent thing beside Him, so He is the same now as He was, "every day engaged in a business," and there is no business and there is no day, as there were in past eternity and past time no business and no day. And the existence of the created things and their non-existence are the same thing. And, if it were not so, there would of necessity be an origination of something fresh which was not [before] in His oneness, and that would be a defect, and His oneness is too sublime for that!

Therefore, when thou knowest thyself after this fashion, without adding a like or an equal or a partner to God (whose name be exalted), then thou knowest it as it really is. And it was thus he said (upon whom be peace), "Whoso knoweth himself knoweth his Lord." He did not say, "Whoso maketh himself to cease to be, knoweth his Lord," for he (upon him be peace) understood and saw that there is nothing beside Him. Thereupon he pointed out that the knowledge of the soul was the knowledge of God (whose name be exalted). That is, "Know that thy existence is not thy existence nor other than thy existence. For thou art not existent nor non-existent, nor other than existent nor other than non-existent. Thy existence and thy non existence are His existence, and yet without there being any existence or non-existence, because thy existence and thy non-existence are actually His existence." So if thou seest things (without seeing another thing along with God) to be Him, thou knowest thyself; and, verily, to know thyself after this fashion is to know God, without wavering and without doubt, and without compounding anything of what is of recent origin with what is original, in any way. Then if one ask: How lies the way to union, when thou affirmest that there is no other beside Him, and a thing cannot be united to itself?—

Then the Answer is: No doubt there is in reality no union nor division, nor far nor near. For union is not possible except between two, and if there be but one, there can be no union nor division. For union requires two either similar or dissimilar. Then if they are similar they are equals, and if they are dissimilar they are opposites, and He (whose name be exalted) spurns to have either an equal or an opposite; so that the union is something else than union, and the nearness something else than nearness, and the farness something else than farness. So there is union without union, and nearness without nearness, and farness without farness.

Then if anyone say: Explain to us this 'union without union'; and what is the meaning of this 'nearness without nearness' and this 'farness without farness' —

Then the Answer is: I mean that thou, in thy stages of drawing nigh and of being far off, wast not a thing beside God (whose name be exalted), but thou hadst not the 'knowledge of the soul,' and didst not understand that thou art He without thou. Then when thou art united to God (whose name be exalted)—that is, when thou knowest thyself (although the knowledge itself does not exist)— thou understandest that thou art He. And thou wast not aware before that thou wast He, or He other than He. Then, when the knowledge comes upon thee, thou understandest that thou knowest God by God, not by thyself.

To take an example: Suppose that thou dost not know that thy name is Maḥmūd, or thy named Maḥmūd. Then if the name and the named be in reality one, and thou thinkest that thy name is Muḥammad, and after some time comest to know that thou art Maḥmūd, then thy existence goes on, but the name Muḥammad is cut off from thee, by thy coming to know thyself, that thou art Maḥmūd, and wast Muḥammad only by ceasing to be thyself. And 'ceasing to be' presupposes an affirmation of existence, and whoever posits an existence beside Him makes a partner to Him (exalted and blessed be His name). So nothing positive is taken away from Maḥmūd, nor does Muḥammad cease to be in Maḥmūd, or enter into him or proceed forth from him, nor Maḥmūd into Muḥammad; but as soon as Maḥmūd knows himself, that he is Maḥmūd and not Muḥammad, he knows himself by himself, not by Muḥammad. For Muḥammad never existed at all, then how could anything that does exist be known through him?

So, then, the knower and that which he knows are both one, and he who unites and that with which he unites are one, and seer and seen arc one. For the knower is His attribute and the known is His essence; and he who unites is His attribute, and that with which he unites is His essence; and the attribute and that to which it is attributed are one. And this is the explanation of the saying "Whoso knoweth himself knoweth his Lord."

So whoever undcrstonds this example knows that there is no union nor division, and he knows that the knower is He and the known is He, and the seer is He and the seen is He, he who unites is He und that with which he unites is He. There docs not unite with Him other than He, and there is not separated from Him other than He. And whoever understands this is free from the polytheism of polytheism, and, if not, then he has not felt a breath of freedom from polytheism.

Most of 'those who know' (who think that they know themselves and know their Lord, and that they are free from the delusion of existence) say that the Path is not to be traversed except by ceasing to be, and the ceasing of that ceasing. And that is due to their not understanding the saying of the Prophet (may God bless him and give him peace). And because they must blot out polytheism, they point at one time to the negation, that is, the cessation, of existence, and at another to the cessation of that cessation, and at another to effacement, and at another to annihilation. And all these explanations are unadulterated polytheism. For whoever allows that there is anything beside Him, and that afterwards it ceases to be, or allows a cessation of its extinction, he affirms the existence of something that is beside Him, and whoever does this makes a partner to God. May God guide them and us to the middle of the Path!


Thou thoughtest, a-thinking, that thou wast thou,
And thou art not thou and never wast thou.
For if thou wert thou, then wert thou a Lord
And a Second of Two. Leave what thou art thinking.
There is no difference between the beings of Him and Thee:
He is not distinct from thee nor Thou from Him.
For if thou say, in ignorance, that thou art Another,
Thou art stubborn, and if thine ignorance cease, thou art docile.
Thy union is flight and thy flight is union,
And thy far is near. In this thou art blessed.
Leave intellect and understand through intuition,
Lest that pass thee by against which thou art guarding.
And make no partner to God of anything at all,
In order that it may be well with thee: in polytheism thou wast at ease.

Then if one say: Thou demonstratest that thy knowledge of thyself is the knowledge of God. And he who knows himself is other than God; then how can other than God know God, and how can it be united to Him?—

Then the Answer is: He who knows himself understands that his existence is not his own existence, but his existence is the existence of God, without his existence becoming the existence of God (whose name be exalted) and without his existence entering into God or proceeding forth from Him, or his existence being along with Him or in Him. But he sees his existence in the condition in which it was before it was at all. So there is no extinction nor effacement nor extinction of extinction. For the extinction of a thing presupposes its independent existence first, and its independent existence presupposes its subsisting by itself, not by the power of God (whose name be exalted)—which is clearly absurd.

Understand, therefore, that the knower's knowledge of himself is God's knowledge of Himself because his soul is nothing but He. And the Prophet (upon whom be peace) meant by the 'soul' the existence. And whoever attains to this state, his existence is no more, outwardly or inwardly, aught but the existence of Him (whose name be exalted). Nay, his existence is the existence of God (whose name be exalted), and his word the word of God (whose name be exalted), and his act the act of God, and his claim to the knowledge of God is a claim to the knowledge of himself. But thou hearest the claim as from him, and seest the act as from him, and thou seest his existence to be other than God, as thou seest thyself to be other than God, by reason of thine ignorance of the knowledge of thyself. Then if "the believer be the mirror of the Believed," [a saying attributed to the Prophet] he is He, in His own eye, that is, in His own sight, for his eye is the eye of God and his sight is the sight of God. And he is not He in thine eye, or thy knowledge, or thy understanding, or thy imagination, or thy thought, or thy vision. But he is He in His eye and His knowledge and His vision. So if one say "I am God," then hearken to him, for it is God (whoso name be exalted) saying "I am God," not he. But thou hast not attained to that to which he has attained; for if thou hadst attained to that to which he has attained, thou wouldest understand what he says, and say what he says, and see what he sees.

And, generally, the existence of things is His existence, without their existing at all. But do not fall into an ambiguity by imagining from these demonstrations that God is created. For one of 'those who know' has said, "The Ṣūfī is uncreated"; and that is after the perfect unveiling and the cessation of doubts and imaginings. But this saying (hiqmah) is only for him who has a nature wider than the two worlds, and as for him whose nature is like that of the two worlds [material and immaterial], it does not concern him, for it is nobler than the two worlds.

And, universally, thou mayest understand that seer and seen, and Creator and created, and knower and known, and perceiver and perceived are one. He sees his existence in His existence, and knows his existence by His existence, and perceives his existence by His existence, without any quality of the perception and seeing and knowing and without the form itself of the perception and seeing and knowing existing. It is as if his existence were without quality, and his seeing himself without quality, and his perceiving himself without quality, and his knowing himself without quality.

Then if one ask and say: In what light regardest thou all the hateful and lovable things? For if thou seest, for instance, refuse or carrion, thou sayest it is God (whose name be exalted),—

Then the Answer is: God forbid that He should be any such thing! But our discourse is with him who does not see the carrion to be carrion, nor the refuse as refuse. Nay, our discourse is with him who has sight and is not born blind. For he who does not know himself is blind and cannot see. And until the blindness depart he will not attain to these spiritual matters. But this discourse is with God, not with other than God and not with the blind. For he who attains to this station knows that he is not other than God. And our discourse is with him who has resolution and energy in seeking to know himself in order to know God, and who keeps fresh in his heart the image of his seeking and his longing for union with God; and not with him who has neither aim nor end.

Then if one ask and say: God (whose name be exalted) has said, "The eyes do not perceive Him, but He perceives the eyes." [Koran, vi, 103.] But thou sayest the contrary of that. Therefore, what thou sayest is not true,—

Then the Answer is: All that we are saying is the sense of the expression "The eyes do not perceive Him," that is, there is no one, and no one has sight, able to perceive Him. Then if we suppose that there is another than He in existence, we must allow that that other perceives Him. But God (whose name be exalted) has warned us in His saying "The eyes do not perceive Him" that there is no other beside Him; meaning, no other perceives Him, but He who perceives Him is God (whose name be exalted). So there is no other except Him. He it is who perceives His own essence, not another. So "the eyes do not perceive Him," simply because the eyes are nothing but His own existence. And if anyone say, "The eyes do not perceive Him, only because they are of recent origin, and what is recent does not perceive what is old and permanent," he does not yet know himself, since there is nothing and there are no eyes except Him. He, then, perceives His own existence, without the existence of the perception and without quality.


I know the Lord by the Lord, without doubt or wavering.
My essence is His essence in truth, without defect or flaw.
There is no becoming between these two, and my soul it is which manifests that secret.
And since I knew myself without blending or mixture,
I attained to union with my Beloved, without far or near.
I obtained gifts of the Lord of Affluence without upbraiding and without recrimination.
I did not lose to Him my soul, nor does it remain to the lord of dissolution.

Then if one ask and say: Thou positest God and deniest the existence of aught else. What, then, are these things which we see?—

Then the Answer is: These discourses are with him who does not see aught beside God. And he who sees aught beside God (whose name be exalted), we have no question and answer with him, for he does not see other than what he sees. And he who knows himself does not see other than God, and he who does not know himself has not seen God; and every vessel exudes that which is in it. And we have explained much above, and if we should explain more than that, he who does not see would not see, nor understand, nor perceive; and he who sees, sees and understands and perceives already; and "a sign is sufficient to him who attains." And as for him who has not attained, he would not attain by teaching (ta'līm), nor instruction, nor by reiteration, nor by learning, nor by intellect; but only by the attraction of a shaikh who has attained and an intelligent instructor, travelling on the Path, being guided by his light, and walking in his strength, and so attaining to the end, if it be the will of God (whose name be exalted).

May God (whose name be exalted) grant success to us and you in all that He desires and loves, of word and deed, and theory and practice, and light and guidance. Verily, He is over all things powerful and fit to Answer.



The Book of Comarius

portrait of Cleopatra from Hermetico-Spagyrisches Lustgärtlein

The Greek text of the Book of Comarius [also known as "Cleopatra and the Philosophers"] reads like a translation from another language, or perhaps it was written by someone whose Greek was inadequate. It is certainly far removed from classical Greek. There are, in addition, textual corruptions introduced by the scribes. Texts that were put to practical use were often tampered with. The successive owners of such handbooks were no doubt practicing alchemists themselves, and they probably annotated their copies. Or if they copied a text, they were likely to leave out material that was of little interest to them. Hence, these treatises have survived in diverent versions or "recensions," and it is therefore impossible to reconstruct an archetype.

The language is that of a mystic in trance and can, perhaps, only be fully understood by other mystics. Or else it uses words with hidden meanings and is a language that must be learned by those who have been initiated.

An additional problem is created by the apparently deliberate gaps left in such texts by authors who were unwilling to reveal all the secrets of their art and who therefore forced their readers to study with a teacher. Certain things are to be explained later, but the explanations never come, either because the text is incomplete or because the author forgets his promise. (We encounter the same diffculty in astrological literature: none of the treatises we have is a complete textbook enabling the beginner to become a master in a series of steps, following practical examples. This was apparently not the way these subjects were taught.)

The Book of Comarius is dedicated to "Cleopatra the Divine," also called "the wise woman," but not necessarily the famous queen. The prayer at the beginning, with its unmistakably Christian character, must be considered a later addition, perhaps by a Byzantine monk who copied (or edited) a pagan treatise. For a long time alchemy was not banned by the Church as a form of magic: on the contrary, as centers of learning, the monasteries were probably among the few places where alchemy could be studied and where texts were available. The prayer at the beginning of this text was perhaps designed to give an edifying character to the work and to place it above suspicion.

Comarius begins with a brief cosmogony and then turns to practical matters such as metals, colors, and apparatuses. A group of philosophers (i.e., scientists) is then introduced, and Cleopatra delivers to them the knowledge she has received from Comarius.

From the more practical precepts, the reader is led to general discourses on the wonders of nature. The symbolism is rich, the language mystic, and the frequent exhortations to the reader to listen to what clearly cannot really be understood increase one's frustration. In the concluding section, alchemy is described as providing a key to the mystery of resurrection, another reason for a Christian to study the subject.

Book of Comarius, Philosopher and High Priest Who Was Teaching Cleopatra the Divine the Sacred Art of the Philosopher's Stone, excerpts (3:289-99 Berthelot)

Lord, God of all powers, Creator of all of nature, creator and maker of all the celestial and supercelestial beings, blessed and eternal ruler! We celebrate you, we bless you, we praise you, we worship the sublimity of your kingdom. For you are the beginning and the end, and every creature visible and invisible obeys you, because you have created them. Since your eternal kingdom has been created as something that is subject to you [?], we implore you, most merciful ruler, in the name of your unspeakable love for mankind, to illuminate our minds and our hearts so that we, too, may glorify you as our only true God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, with your all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now and forever and ever. Amen.

I shall begin this book with the account concerning silver and gold that was given by Comarius, the philosopher, and Cleopatra, the wise woman. The book at hand does not include the demonstrations concerning lights and substances. In this book we have the teaching of Comarius, the philosopher, addressed to Cleopatra, the wise woman.

Comarius, the philosopher, teaches the mystical philosophy to Cleopatra. He is sitting on a throne. He has devoted himself to philosophy, which he ignored before [?]. Even now [?] he has spoken to those who understand mystical insight, and with his hand he has shown that everything is One and consists of four elements.

As an [intellectual] exercise he said: "The earth has been established above the waters, the waters on the tops of mountains. Now, take the earth that is above the waters, Cleopatra, and make a spiritual body from it, the spirit of alum. These things are like the earth and the fire, in respect of their warmth to the fire, in respect of their dryness to the earth. The waters that are on the mountaintops are like the air in respect of their coldness, like the water in respect of their wetness with the air and the fire [?]. Look, from one pearl, Cleopatra, and from another one you have the whole [technique of ] dyeing."

Cleopatra took what Comarius had written and began to put into practice the applications of other philosophers, to divide into four parts the beautiful philosophy [?], the one [that teaches that] the matter derived from the natures, as it has been taught and discovered, and an idea of the operations of its difference [?]. Thus [they say?], searching for the beautiful philosophy we have found that it is divided into four parts, and thus we have discovered [?] the general idea of the nature of each of them, the first having blackness, the second whiteness, the third yellowness, the fourth [?] purpleness or refinement. On the other hand, each of these things does not exist from its own general nature [?], but they depend [?] generally on the elements, [and so?] we have a center from which we can proceed systematically. Thus, in between the blackness and the whiteness, the yellowness and the purpleness [?] or refinement, there is the maceration and the washing [out?] of the species. Between the whiteness and the yellowness there is the technique of casting gold, and between the yellowness and the whiteness there is the duality of the composition.

The work is accomplished by the application of the breast-shaped apparatus, the first experiment consisting in separating the liquids from the oxides [?], and this takes a long time.

Next comes the maceration, which consists [?] of the mixture of water and wet oxide [?].

Third, the dissolution of the species, which are burned seven times in an "Askelon vessel." This is how one operates the whitening process and the blackening process of the species by the action of the fire.

Number four is the yellowing process by which one mixes [the substance?] with other yellow liquids and produces wax [?] for the yellowing, in order to achieve the desired goal.

Number five is the fusion, which leads from the yellowing to the gilding.

For the yellowing one must, as mentioned above, divide the composition into two halves. Once it has been halved, one of the parts is mixed with yellow and white liquids, and then you can blend it for any purpose you have in mind.

Again, if the fermentation is a refinement [of the species?], that is to say that refinement and fermentation [constitute the?] perfect transmutation of the composition of the gilding. This is the way that you, too, must proceed, my friends, when you want to approach this beautiful technique. Look at the nature of plants and their origin. Some descend from the mountains and grow from the earth; some ascend from the valleys; others come from the plains. Look how they develop, for you will [must?] harvest them at special times, on special days; you will pick them from the islands of the sea and from the highest place. Look at the air that is at their service and the nourishment that surrounds them, to make sure that they are not harmed and do not die. Look at the divine water that moistens them and the air that governs them, once they have been incorporated into one essence.

Ostanes and his followers answered Cleopatra: "In you is hidden the whole terrible and strange mystery. Enlighten us in general, but especially about the elements. Tell us how the highest descends toward the lowest, and how the lowest ascends toward the highest and how the one in the middle approaches the highest to unite itself with it and what is the element (that acts) on them. And (tell us) how the blessed waters descend from above in order to see the dead that are lying around, in chains, oppressed in darkness and obscurity inside Hades, and how the remedy of life reaches them and wakes them up from sleep and awakens them to an awakening [reading eis gregorsin for tois ktetorsin vel sim.], and how the new waters flow toward them, at the beginning of the descent and borne on the couch, descend approaching with the fire, and a cloud carries them, and out of the sea ascends the cloud that carries the waters."

Considering what had been revealed to them, the philosophers rejoiced.

Cleopatra said to them: "When the waters come, they awaken the bodies and the spirits that are enclosed in them and are weak. For again they suffer oppression, and again they will be shut up in Hades, and in a short while they grow and ascend and put on different glorious colors like flowers in spring, and spring itself rejoices and is glad at the beauty they wear.

"For to you who are wise I say this: When you take plants and elements and stones from their places they appear to be mature and [yet they are] not mature; for the fire tests everything. When they are clothed in glory and in shining colors from the fire, then they will appear to you as greater ones through their hidden glory, and [you will see] their exquisite beauty, and fusion [will be] transformed into divinity, for they get nourished in the fire, just as an embryo, nourished in its mother's womb, grows slowly. When the appointed month is near, nothing prevents it from coming out. Such also is the power of this admirable art.

"They suffer in Hades and in the tomb in which they lie from waves and ripples that follow each other, but when the tomb is opened, they will ascend from Hades like the babe from the womb. When the philosophers have contemplated the beauty [of this], just like a loving mother [contemplates] the baby to which she has given birth, they seek to nourish, like a baby, this art, [but] with water instead of milk. For the art imitates [or: is like] the baby and, like the baby, it takes shape, and [there comes a time] when it is perfect in every respect. Here you have the sealed mystery.

"From now on I shall tell you clearly where the elements and plants lie. But first I shall speak in riddles. Climb to the top of the ladder, up the mountain covered with trees, and see: there is a stone on top. Take the arsenic from the stone and use it for whitening divinely. And see: in the middle of the mountain, underneath the arsenic, there is its bride [mercury?, or yellow arsenic, as opposed to the white one?], with whom it unites itself and in whom it finds its pleasure. Nature rejoices in nature, and outside of it there is no union. Descend to the Egyptian Sea and bring back from the sand, from the source, the so-called natron. Unite it with these substances, and they bring out the all-coloring beauty; outside of it there is no union, for the bride is its measure. See, nature corresponds to nature, and when you have assembled everything in an equal proportion, then natures conquer natures and rejoice in one another.

"Look, scientists, and understand! Here you have the fulfillment of the technique of bridegroom and bride having been joined and becoming one. Here you have the plants and their varieties. Look, I have told you the whole truth, and I shall tell it to you again. You must look and understand that from the sea ascend the clouds carrying the blessed waters, and they refresh the earth and make the seeds and the flowers grow. Similarly, our cloud, coming out of our element and carrying the divine waters, refreshes the plants and the elements and does not need anything that is produced by any other soil.

"Here you have the strange mystery, brothers, the completely unknown [mystery]; here you have the truth that has been revealed to you. Look how you sprinkle your soil, how you sprinkle your soil and make your seeds grow in order to harvest when it is ripe.

"Now listen and understand and judge correctly what I say. Take from the four elements the highest arsenic and the lowest arsenic and the white and the red, equal in weight, male and female, so that they are joined to each other. Just as the bird hatches and brings to perfection its eggs in warmth, so you, too, must hatch and polish [or, bring to perfection?] your work by taking it out and watering it in the divine waters and [warming it] in the sun and in burned places, and you must roast it in a gentle flame with the virgin milk and hold it [away] from the smoke. And enclose it in Hades and move it in safety until its structure becomes more solid and does not run away from the fire. Then you take it out of it, and when the soul and spirit have joined each other and become one, then you must throw it on solid silver, and you will have gold [of a quality] that the storehouses of the kings do not have.

"Here you have the mystery of the philosophers. Our fathers made us swear never to reveal it and never to divulge it, since it has divine shape and divine power. For divine is that which is united with the Godhead and accomplishes divine substances, in which the spirit is embodied and the mortal elements are animated; receiving the spirit that comes out of them, they dominate each other and in turn are dominated by each other, just like the dark spirit, which is full of vanity and despondency, the one that has power over the bodies and prevents them from growing white and receiving the beauty and the color in which they were clothed by the Creator (for body, spirit, and soul are weak because of the darkness that stretches over them).

"But once the dark, evil-smelling spirit itself has been disposed of, so that neither the smell nor the color of the darkness appears [any more], then the body is illuminated, and the soul and the spirit rejoice, because [reading hoti for hote] the darkness has gone away from the body. The soul calls out to the illuminated body: Wake up from Hades! Resurrect from the tomb! Come out alive from the darkness! Enter the process of becoming spiritual, of becoming divine, for the voice of resurrection has sounded, and the remedy of life has come to you. For the spirit rejoices again in the body in which he is, and so does the soul, and it runs fast and full of joy to embrace it, and it does embrace it, and the darkness does not gain power over it because it depends on light, and it cannot be separated from it forever, and it enjoys being in her house, because, hiding it in darkness, she found it filled with light. It was joined with it, since it had become divine according to her [?], and it lives in her. For it put on the light of godliness, and the darkness ran away from them, and all joined in love — the body, the soul, and the spirit — and they have become one in the one that hides the mystery. In the act of their coming together, the mystery was accomplished, the house was sealed, and a statue full of light and godliness was placed there, for the fire brought them together and transformed them, and from the lap of its womb it came forth.

"Similarly, from the womb of the waters and from the air, which ministers to them, it also brought them out from darkness into light, from grief to joy, from sickness to health, from death to life. And it clad them in divine spiritual glory, which they had never worn before, because in them the whole mystery is hidden, and the divine is there unchanged. For it is because of their courage that the bodies enter along with each other and, coming out of the earth, put on light and divine glory, because they grew according to their nature and were changed in their appearance and arose from sleep and came out of Hades. For the womb of the fire gave birth to them, and from it [the womb] they put on the glory. And it brought them to a single unity, and the image was perfected in body and soul and spirit, and they became one. For the fire was subordinated to water, [as was] the earth to the air. Similarly, the air is with the fire, and the earth is with the water, and the fire and the water are with the earth, and the water is with the air, and they are one. For from plants and ashes the One came into being, and it was created divine from nature and by the divine, capturing and controlling all of nature. Look, the natures controlled and conquered the natures, and through this they changed the natures and the bodies and everything from their nature, for he who fled entered into the one who did not flee, and he who controlled entered into the one who did not control, and they were united with each other.

"This mystery that we have learned, brothers, comes from God and from our father, Comarius, the Ancient. Look, brothers, I have told you, the whole hidden truth [handed down] from many wise men and prophets."

The philosophers said to her: "Cleopatra, you have given us ecstasies by telling us what you have. Blessed is the womb that bore you!"

Again, Cleopatra spoke to them: "What I have told you concerns heavenly bodies and divine mysteries. For through their changes and transformations they change the natures and clothe them [?] in an unknown glory, a supreme glory that they did not have before."

The sages said: "Tell us this, too, Cleopatra, Why is it written: 'The mystery of the hurricane... the art is a body, and like a wheel above it; just like the mystery, and the course, and the pole above, and houses and the towers and the most glorious encampments'? "

Cleopatra said: "The philosophers were right to put it [the art] there, where it had been put by the Demiurge and the Lord of all things. And, look, I tell you that the pole will move as a result of the four elements, and that it will never stop. These things have been arranged in our own country, in Ethiopia, and from here the plants, the stones, and the sacred bodies are taken; the one that put them there was a god, not a man. Into everyone the Demiurge placed the seed of power. One greens, the other does not green; one is dry, the other wet; one tends to combine, the other to separate; one dominates, the other is subordinate; and as they meet, some dominate the others, and one rejoices in another body, and one imparts splendor to another. One single nature results that pursues and dominates all natures, and the One itself conquers the nature of fire and earth and transforms its whole nature. And look, I tell you what is beyond it: when it is perfected, it becomes a deadly drug that runs through the body. For just as it enters its own body, it circulates in the [other] bodies. For by decomposition and warmth a drug is obtained that runs unhindered through every kind of body. At this point has the art of philosophy been accomplished."

(Excerpted from: Arcana Mundi: Magic and the Occult in the Greek and Roman Worlds: A Collection of Ancient Texts by Georg Luck)