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Taoism - The body as a castle and city



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Immortality and Reincarnation – Alexandra David-Neel

The most authoritative of the ancient Taoist authors depict the body under the aspect of a city, very similar to Chinese cities, that is to say a city surrounded by ramparts, pierced by gates, flanked by guard towers.  This city, that is the body, is not only occupied by [past life] souls ….. but by different gods and the people of their courts.  Their dwellings are located along streets and avenues of varying sizes with public squares and crossroads.

These dwellings consist of halls, chambers, and pavilions that are always in keeping with their Chinese models. A large retinue of officials and servants keep guard on the city entrances, assure its administrative services, and attend to the various tasks that make up the life of the city. Under the veil of this topography, initiated Taoist adepts discerned a description of the body’s anatomy and the various activities that manifested there and governed its functioning.

The gods - efficient authorities – that the body shelters are both friends and foes to it. The former work to conserve it; the latter work on destroying it.  The candidate for immortality must acquire a perfect knowledge of the gods' respective tendencies, their means of action, and their degree of power. He should also clearly discern the location of each one of their dwellings within his body.

The gods residing in the different parts of the body are the same as those inhabiting diverse terrestrial sites - mountains, springs, rivers, and so on. Historians have recounted the astonishment this has provoked among the Taoist faithful in other times. How, people wondered, could a god, who has his palace on that mountain, be found at the same time in the heart or the brain of a human being?

To explain this mystery to the naive questioners, theories were built up concerning the faculty of ubiquity that the gods enjoyed.

During these times, within the closed circles of their disciplines, Taoist spiritual masters taught that the inhabitants of our bodies were not at all divine individuals but rather forces, the same as those that are at work in the rock on the mountain peak and the water in the river that flows toward the sea.

One law governs the world.

All life, which presents itself differently to each of us, is essentially one.

This very same doctrine is taught today by those rare Taoist teachers that it is still possible to encounter.

The gods that inhabit the body are not fixed to their respective domiciles. They circulate along certain paths that are formed of nerves and veins. It can also happen that certain ones escape or are ejected from the body following struggles with gods of an opposing temperament.

Visitors arriving from the outside and presenting themselves at the gates to the city are either welcomed or find their paths barred at entry by the guards there. One must be vigilant to prevent the entrance of malevolent or dangerous guests. Certain signs such as a buzzing in the ears or sneezing reveal alien presences that are penetrating or trying to penetrate within these ramparts. In these cases, various kinds of practices -the recitation of magic formulas, the ingestion of special pills, or simply a glass of water – are recommended

These undesirable fellow lodgers are destroyed by following an appropriate diet, consisting primarily of abstaining from grains.  These [bad spirits] are assumed to nourish themselves on grain especially. Some even go so far as to say that they are engendered by grains. Meat, wine, all strong drink, garlic, and onions are also prohibited. This diet must be followed for a great number of years. It is rarely, if ever, used in the present day.

The source of the experience


Concepts, symbols and science items

Science Items

Activities and commonsteps