This study considers the roots of Internal Alchemy (Neidan) and its practice of generating an inner embryo. It notably highlights the pivotal role of early medieval Three Sovereigns (Sanhuang) meditations in establishing a conceptual bridge between early meditations patterned on procreation and those of Internal Alchemy. A number of features that were crucial in the transition to Internal Alchemy are thus identified: the anthropomorphisation of cosmic principles within the body, the combination of multiple cosmological models, and the use of cosmogonic reversal as a template for practice. A particular Three Sovereigns visualization that takes Taiyi, the Great Unity, as its cosmogonic and procreative starting point illustrates those key features as vividly as it articulates the equivalence between Taiyi, the embryo, or Infant, and the Elixir of Internal Alchemy.
This introduction to the volume focuses on embryological discourse and reproductive imagery in classical medical contexts in East Asia. These are tied to religious traditions, but they are distinct from the soteriologically driven embryologies or procreative models in the chapters in that they are literal descriptions of generative biological processes. Despite this difference, medical knowledge of the book-body and its reproductive dimensions was intimately tied to, and in some cases indistinct from, the programs of self-cultivation. The introduction looks at embryological notions in early China, as well as in early Indian and Buddhist medical sources, before turning to Buddhist clinical knowledge of embryological development in China. An synopsis of embryologies in early and medieval Japan is also provided, followed by a detailed overview of the chapters.
Transforming the Void: Embryological Discourse and Reproductive Imagery in East Asian Religions considers paths to self-cultivation and salvation that are patterned on human embryological development or procreative imagery in the religions of China and Japan.
Focusing on Taoism, Esoteric Buddhism, Shinto, Shugendō, and local religious traditions, the contributors to the volume provide new insight into how the body’s generative processes are harnessed as powerful metaphors for spiritual attainment. This volume offers an in-depth examination of the religious dimensions of embryology and reproductive imagery, topics that have been hitherto solely approached through the lens of the history of medicine.
Contributors include: Brigitte Baptandier, Catherine Despeux, Grégoire Espesset, Christine Mollier, Fabrizio Pregadio, Dominic Steavu, Lucia Dolce, Bernard Faure, Iyanaga Nobumi, Anna Andreeva, Kigensan Licha, Gaynor Sekimori.