Cleary Introduction


Naturalness is called the Way.
The Way has no name or form;
it is just the essence
just the primal spirit.

The Secret of the Golden Flower is a lay manual of Buddhist and Taoist methods for clarifying the mind. A distillation of the inner psychoactive elements in ancient spiritual classics, it describes a natural way to mental freedom practiced in China for many centuries.

The golden flower symbolizes the quintessence of the paths of Buddhism and Taoism. Gold stands for light, the light of the mind itself; the flower represents the blossoming, or opening up, of the light of the mind. Thus the expression is emblematic of the basic awakening of the real self and its hidden potential.

In Taoist terms, the first goal of the Way is to restore the original God-given spirit and become a self-realized human being. In Buddhist terms, a realized human being is someone conscious of the original mind, or the real self, as it is in its spontaneous natural state, independent of environmental conditioning.

This original spirit is also called the celestial mind, or the natural mind. A mode of awareness subtler and more direct than thought or imagination, it is central to the blossoming of the mind. The Secret of the Golden Flower is devoted to the recovery and refinement of the original spirit.

This manual contains a number of helpful meditation techniques, but its central method is deeper than a form of meditation. Using neither idea nor image, it is a process of getting right to the root source of awareness itself. The aim of this exercise is to free the mind from arbitrary and unnecessary limitations imposed upon it by habitual fixation on its own contents. With this liberation, Taoists say, the conscious individual becomes a “partner of creation” rather than a prisoner of creation.

The experience of the blossoming of the golden flower is likened to light in the sky, a sky of awareness vaster than images, thoughts, and feelings, and unimpeded space containing everything without being filled. This it opens up an avenue to an endless source of intuition, creativity, and inspiration. Once this power of mental awakening has been developed, it can be renewed and deepened without limit.

The essential practice of the golden flower requires no apparatus, no philosophical or religious dogma, no special paraphernalia or ritual. It is practiced in the course of daily life. It is near at hand, being in the mind itself, yet it involves no imagery or thought. It is remote only in the sense that it is a use of of attention generally unfamiliar to the mind habituated to imagination and thinking.

The Secret of the Golden Flower is remarkable for the sharpness of its focus on a very direct method for self-realization accessible to ordinary lay people. When it was written down in a crisis more than two hundred years ago, it was a concentrated revival of an ancient teaching; and it has been periodically revived in crises since, due to the rapidity with which the method can awaken awareness of hidden resources in the mind.

The Secret of the Golden Flower is the first book of its kind to have been translated into a Western language. A German version by Richard Wilhelm was first published in 1929, and an English translation of this German rendition was published shortly thereafter. Both German and English editions included an extensive commentary by the distinguished psychologist C. G. Jung, whose work became a major influence in Western psychology, studies of mythology and religion, and New Age culture in general.

Although Jung credited The Secret of the Golden Flower with having clarified his own work on the unconscious, he maintained serious reservations about the practice taught in the book. What Jung did not know was that the text he was reading was in fact a garbled translation of a truncated version of a corrupted recension of the original work.

Unawares, a critical communication gap occurred in the process of transmission; and yet the book made a powerful impression. It became one of the main sources of Western knowledge of Eastern spirituality and also one of the seminal influences in Jungian thought on the psychology of religion. Cary F. Baynes, who rendered Wilhelm’s German into English, even went so far as to hail it as “the secret of the power of growth latent in the psyche.”

Psychological and experiential approaches to religion have enriched modern psychological thought and research which have in turn enriched the understanding and experience of religion. In terms of religion as culture, one of the advantages of a psychological approach is the facility with which emotional boundaries of church and sect can thereby be transcended.

In Wilhelm’s own introduction to his translation of The Secret of the Golden Flower, he notes that Taoist organizations following this teaching in his time included not only Confucians and Buddhists but also Jews, Christians, and Muslims, all without requiring them to break way from their own religious congregations. So fundamental is the golden flower awakening that it brings out inner dimensions in all religions.

From the point of view of that central experience, it makes no more difference whether one calls the golden flower awakening a relationship to God or to the Way, or whether one calls it the holy spirit or the Buddha nature or the real self. The Tao Te Ching says, “Names can be designated, but they are not fixed terms.”

The image of the opening up of the golden flower of the light in the mind is used as but one of many ways of alluding to an effect that is really ineffable. The pragmatic purpose of Taoist and Buddhist teachings is to elicit experience, not to inculcate doctrines; that is why people of other religions, or with no religion at all, have been able to aail themselves of the psychoactive technologies of Taoism and Buddhism without destroying their own cultural identities.

Considered in terms of its essential aim rather the forms it can take, the golden flower method can be used to transcend the barriers of personal and cultural differences without losing the richness of diversity and distinction.

The Secret of the Golden Flower is indeed a powerful treatise on awakening the hidden potential of a universal human being, and it is in reality an even better and more useful book than Wilhelm, Jung, or Baynes thought it to be. However immature his rendition may have been, I am deeply indebted to Richard Wilhelm for introducing this extraordinary text to the West, for it could otherwise have gone unnoticed for decades, even centuries, amidst the hundreds upon hundreds of Taoist and Buddhist treatises awaiting translation.

It can therefore be said that it is because of Wilhelm’s efforts that this new English version of The Secret of the Golden Flower has come into being. it is to further inquiries into ways of approaching universal psychology and mental wholeness in general, and to further inquiries into development of the researches initiated by Wilhelm and Jung in their presentation of this book in particular, that I have undertaken to follow up on their work with a new and complete rendition of The Secret of the Golden Flower.

Because the still-current Wilhelm/Jung/Baynes edition of this manual contains dangerous and misleading contaminations, a primary consideration of the new translation was to make the contents of The SEcret of the Golden Flower explicitly accessible to both lay and specialist audiences. This is partly a matter of translation and partly a matter of presentation.

The text itself is somewhat like a series of explanations of practical meanings in esoteric terminology for the use of lay people. To this have been added selections translated from a canonical Chinese Taoist commentary that further refines the principles into pragmatic observations divested of the outward forms of religious and alchemical symbolism. The translation notes explain the expressions, ideas, and practices to which the text refers. The afterward joins the beginning and the end, from the background of the translations to the psychological implications of the praxis.