(Note: this is not a how-to guide. It is complimentary material for Course One of the DGI Internal Alchemy Program.)
an lu she ding 安爐設鼎 – stabilize furnace set up cauldron
Stabilizing the furnace and setting up the cauldron is a vital step in neidan practice.
The furnace and cauldron are metaphors. What these metaphors represent shifts according to the various stages of practice. During the first alchemical stage, “refining essence into qi” they represent the following:
furnace = body
cauldron = either the inner cavity, the abdominal cavity, or the lower dantian.
Therefore, to stabilize the furnace means to stabilize the body. To set up the cauldron means to set up a space inside the body to receive energy for transformation.
Internal alchemy is like baking a cake. We first prepare the oven, set up a pan, put ingredients in the pan, and then turn on the fire and bake the cake. Except with neidan we have an elixir instead of a cake. Now, if we don’t have ingredients it doesn’t work. If we don’t have a pan it doesn’t work. If we don’t have heat or are not able to contain the heat we also don’t have an elixir (or cake for that matter, and who doesn’t want cake).
Therefore, to get anything done we first need to stabilize the furnace and set up the cauldron. For now the ingredients can wait.
One way to stabilize the furnace is with body pore breathing. Following the instructions we concentrate our shen (spirit) on our body pores and then use nose or inner breathing to activate and move them. This establishes the boundary of the human universe. Once our physical body is sealed, we can go inside the body and setup the cauldron.
The cauldron is a container for holding and cooking the alchemical ingredients.
Before we can put anything in the cauldron we need to set it up. Setting up the cauldron can be done in a number of ways. Many of the methods involve using intention and subtle breathing to activate the area in question. It’s important to focus our shen and awareness in the area. Also pay attention to any sensations in the area such as movement, heat, or light. The first cauldron we generally set up is the lower abdominal cavity, or lower space (下空). The lower space contains the energies connected with our personal existence (本體能量). This space likes to move. Once the furnace is ready we follow the guided instructions to set up the cauldron in the lower abdominal space.
Another way to set up the cauldron is with pain (Don’t try this at home unless you know what you’re doing). Leg pain during long neidan sessions can be turned into hot jing qi 精氣. This qi can move up through the marrow of the leg bones to heat up the two sit bones and coccyx. These three points are the three legs of the cauldron (in Chinese the cauldron has three legs and is called a ding 鼎). This method can be used to setup a number of cauldrons inside the torso as the jing qi rises up the spine.
The furnace and cauldron is a metaphor. They are helpful images to guide our practice. For the uninitiated practicing neidan can be bit confusing at times. It is a complex and multidimensional internal art. Using metaphors to frame the process is a helpful way to keep it all sorted.