Three Corpses

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The Japanese folk tradition of Kōshin (namely, the Sino-Japanese pronunciation of gengshen 庚申 "57th of the 60-day cycle") combines the Daoist Three Corpses with Shintō and Buddhist beliefs, including the Three Wise Monkeys. People attend Kōshin-Machi 庚申待 "57th Day Waiting" events to stay awake all night and prevent the Sanshi 三尸 "Three Corpses" from leaving the body and reporting misdeeds to heaven.

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Chinese alchemy

Chinese alchemy is an ancient Chinese scientific and technological approach to alchemy, a part of the larger tradition of Taoist / Daoist body-spirit cultivation developed from the traditional Chinese understanding of medicine and the body. According to original texts such as the Cantong qi, the body is understood as the focus of cosmological processes summarized in the five agents of change, or Wuxing, the observation and cultivation of which leads the practitioner into alignment and harmony with the Tao. Therefore, the traditional view in China is that alchemy focuses mainly on longevity and the purification of one's spirit, mind and body, providing, health, longevity and wisdom, through the practice of Qigong, wuxingheqidao. The consumption and use of various concoctions known as alchemical medicines or elixirs, each of which having different purposes but largely were concerned with immortality.

Neidan Esoteric doctrines and physical, mental, and spiritual practices in Taoism

Neidan, or internal alchemy, is an array of esoteric doctrines and physical, mental, and spiritual practices that Taoist initiates use to prolong life and create an immortal spiritual body that would survive after death. Also known as Jindan, inner alchemy combines theories derived from external alchemy, correlative cosmology, the emblems of the Yijing, and medical theory, with techniques of Daoist meditation, daoyin gymnastics, and sexual hygiene.

<i>Xian</i> (Taoism)

Xian refers to a person or similar entity having a long life or being immortal. The concept of xian has different implications dependent upon the specific context: philosophical, religious, mythological, or other symbolic or cultural occurrence. The Chinese word xian is translatable into English as:

Ge Xuan Chinese Taoist (164–244)

Ge Xuan (164–244), courtesy name Xiaoxian, was a Chinese Taoist who lived in the Eastern Han dynasty (25–220) and Three Kingdoms period (220–280) of China. He was the ancestor of Ge Hong and a resident of Danyang Commandery in the state of Eastern Wu during the Three Kingdoms period. Ge Xuan's paternal grandnephew, Ge Hong, gave him the title "Ge Xuan Gong", which translates into "Immortal Lord" or "Transcendent Duke". Ge Hong wrote at length about his great uncle, and claimed that some alchemical texts from the Baopuzi originally came from him. Ge Xuan is also portrayed by his descendant Ge Chaofu as having been the first recipient of the Lingbao scriptures. He is remembered as a mythological member of the Chinese Ge family and a prominent figure in the development of early Chinese Daoism.

The Xiuzhen tu is a Daoist diagram of the human body illustrating principles of Neidan 內丹 "Internal alchemy", Chinese astrology, and cosmology.


The Baopuzi, written by the Jin dynasty scholar Ge Hong 葛洪 in 283–343, is divided into esoteric Neipian 內篇 "Inner Chapters" and equally exoteric Waipian 外篇 "Outer Chapters". The Taoist Inner Chapters discuss topics such as techniques to achieve "hsien" 仙, Chinese alchemy, elixirs, and demonology. The Confucian Outer Chapters discuss Chinese literature, Legalism, politics, and society.

The Shenxian Zhuan, sometimes given in translation as the Biographies of the Deities and Immortals, is a hagiography of immortals and description of Chinese gods, partially attributed to the Daoist scholar Ge Hong (283-343). In the history of Chinese literature, the Shenxian Zhuan followed the Liexian Zhuan.

Bigu (grain avoidance)

Bigu is a Daoist fasting technique associated with achieving xian "transcendence; immortality". Grain avoidance is related to multifaceted Chinese cultural beliefs. For instance, bigu fasting was the common medical cure for expelling the sanshi 三尸 "Three Corpses", the malevolent, grain-eating spirits that live in the human body, report their host's sins to heaven every 60 days, and carry out punishments of sickness and early death. Avoiding "grains" has been diversely interpreted to mean not eating particular foodstuffs, or not eating any food. In the historical context of traditional Chinese culture within which the concept of bigu developed, there was great symbolic importance connected with the five grains and their importance in sustaining human life, exemplified in various myths and legends from ancient China and throughout subsequent history. The concept of bigu developed in reaction to this tradition, and within the context of Daoist philosophy.


Waidan, translated as external alchemy or external elixir, is the early branch of Chinese alchemy that focuses upon compounding elixirs of immortality by heating minerals, metals, and other natural substances in a luted crucible. The later branch of esoteric neidan "inner alchemy", which borrowed doctrines and vocabulary from exoteric waidan, is based on allegorically producing elixirs within the practitioner's body, through Daoist meditation, diet, and physiological practices. The practice of waidan external alchemy originated in the early Han dynasty, grew in popularity until the Tang (618–907) when neidan began and several emperors died from alchemical elixir poisoning, and gradually declined until the Ming dynasty (1368–1644).

Taoist meditation Meditative practice

Taoist meditation, known in Chinese as "Xiu Dao", refers to the traditional meditative practices associated with the Chinese philosophy and religion of Taoism, including concentration, mindfulness, contemplation, and visualization. The earliest Chinese references to meditation date from the Warring States period.

Traditional Chinese medicines derived from the human body Remedies in TCM

Li Shizhen's (1597) Bencao gangmu, the classic materia medica of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), included 35 human drugs, including organs, bodily fluids, and excreta. Crude drugs derived from the human body were commonplace in the early history of medicine. Some of these TCM human drug usages are familiar from alternative medicine, such as medicinal breast milk and urine therapy. Others are uncommon, such as the "mellified man", which was a foreign nostrum allegedly prepared from the mummy of a holy man who only ate honey during his last days and whose corpse had been immersed in honey for 100 years.

Siming (deity)

Siming refers to a Chinese deity or deified functionary of that title who makes fine adjustments to human fate, with various English translations. Siming is both an abstract deity and a celestial asterism.

Chinese alchemical elixir poisoning

In Chinese alchemy, elixir poisoning refers to the toxic effects from elixirs of immortality that contained metals and minerals such as mercury and arsenic. The official Twenty-Four Histories record numerous Chinese emperors, nobles, and officials who died from taking elixirs in order to prolong their lifespans. The first emperor to die from elixir poisoning was likely Qin Shi Huang and the last was Yongzheng. Despite common knowledge that immortality potions could be deadly, fangshi and Daoist alchemists continued the elixir-making practice for two millennia.

Shijie (Taoism)

Shijie, which has numerous translations such as liberation from the corpse and release by means of a corpse, is an esoteric Daoist technique for an adept to transform into a xian, typically using some bureaucratic ruse to evade the netherworld administrative system of life and death registration. The many varieties of shijie range from deceitful cases, such as a person feigning death by substituting the corpse of their recently deceased grandfather as their own, to supernatural cases, such as using a waidan alchemical sword to temporarily create a corpse-simulacrum, which enables one to escape and assume a new identity.

Li Shaojun was a fangshi, reputed xian, retainer of Emperor Wu of Han, and the earliest known Chinese alchemist. In the early history of Chinese waidan, Li is the only fangshi whose role is documented by both historical and alchemical (Baopuzi) sources.


Fenshen分身 or fenxing分形 was a legendary Daoist and fangshi Master of Esoterica technique for multilocation, that is, transforming or multiplying one's body into two or more identical versions. A famous story about fenshen concerns general Cao Cao ordering the execution of the alchemist Zuo Ci, who when taken into prison playfully divided himself into multiple Master Zuos, thus bamboozling the guards and escaping death.

Chu (Taoism) Taoist name for various religious practices

Chu is a Daoist name used for various religious practices including communal chu (Kitchen) banquet rituals in Way of the Celestial Masters liturgy, the legendary xingchu associated with Daoist xian, and wuchu representing the wuzang in neidan meditation techniques.

<i>Zhi</i> (excrescences)

The Chinese term zhī (芝) commonly means "fungi; mushroom", best exemplified by the medicinal Lingzhi mushroom, but in Daoism it referred to a class of supernatural plant, animal, and mineral substances that were said to confer instantaneous xian immortality when ingested. In the absence of a semantically better English word, scholars have translated the wide-ranging meaning of zhi as "excrescences", "exudations", and "cryptogams".

Yin Changsheng was a famous Daoist xian from Xinye who lived during the Eastern Han dynasty. After serving more than ten years as a disciple of the transcendent Maming Sheng he received the secret Taiqing scriptures on Waidan. Several extant texts are ascribed to Yin Changsheng, such as the Jinbi wu xianglei can tong qi.

Bao Jing was a Daoist xian best known for having been a disciple of the transcendent master Yin Changsheng from whom he received the Taixuan Yin Shengfu, and for having transmitted a version of the Sanhuang wen to his disciple and son-in-law Ge Hong.



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Further reading