I bought this book because Isabelle Robinet is one of the best scholars in the field on this topic. It was great to see that some more of her work had been translated into English. This book comprises of four essays on alchemy. While it contains an introduction to the topic I really wouldn't recommend this as an introductory text for anyone but for people who are already familiar with the concepts of internal alchemy it is a great way to gain further understanding of this complex topic.
The first essay looked at how practitioners of internal alchemy viewed the world and it's correspondences differently to traditional yin/yang and 5 phases cosmology. Based on these ideas they would reverse them. But of course it was also more complicated than that. But it was interesting to see that in their interpretations yang and yin were never solely the one thing but contained each other within them. (Like the famous symbol, which actually was a much later invention).
The alchemical language looked at the way words and metaphors from external alchemy was used in internal alchemy. This essay helped me realise that the things that had been confusing me in the French were because they were using a different basis for some of the alchemy than I thought. It wasn't about the qi and jing as much as about yin/yang and more "physical" ideas.
The role and the meaning of numbers explained the importance and significance of different numbers within the practice. A great reference and explanation.
The last essay was the one I found most interesting. It was the one that had the most historical context and looked at how our definitions of weidan (external alchemy) and neidan (internal alchemy) were not at all consistently used that way in texts during the late Tang and early Song and that some practitioners would use them the other way round, that there wasn't a total consistency in their use. It was fascinating and insightful.
This was a really short book that I read in a couple days. But I'm glad I bought a copy, as it's also one that I think I will need to re-read several times to begin to understand everything that it contains. I think it's great that Golden Elixir Press is printing these scholarly works on alchemy at such an affordable price. I shall definitely be buying the others they've produced.
The World Upside Down: Essays on Taoist Internal Alchemy (英語) ペーパーバック – 2011/7/29
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Isabelle Robinet (1932-2000) was one of the most important Western scholars of Taoism. Her work dealt with several major topics: the Laozi and the Zhuangzi with their commentaies; the Shangqing (Highest Clarity) school of Taoism; Neidan (Internal Alchemy); and Taoist thought and cosmology. Her publications in English include Taoist Meditation: The Mao-shan Tradition of Great Purity (1993) and Taoism: Growth of a Religion (1997).
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