The Magpie Bridge
Mirror for Compounding the Medicine (Ruyao jing), Poem 3
This translation is reproduced from:
Wang Jie (14th century), translated by Fabrizio Pregadio
Golden Elixir Press, 2013
Originally written in the 10th century, the Ruyao jing (Mirror for Compounding the Medicine) describes the foundations of Internal Alchemy in 20 short poems of four verses. This book contains the first complete translation of the text and of the commentary by Wang Jie (14th century).
This page is part of a series on the Mirror for Compounding the Medicine and its commentary. See the complete index.
|Ascend to the Magpie Bridge,|
|descend from the Magpie Bridge.|
|In Heaven it responds to the stars,|
|on Earth it responds to the tides.(1)|
Commentary by Wang Jie
In the human body, the spinal column corresponds to the Milky Way in Heaven. The Milky Way separates [Heaven into two parts], but a divine magpie builds a bridge; this is why we speak of the Magpie Bridge. In the human being, the tongue is called Magpie Bridge.(2)
Translations from the Mirror for Compounding the Medicine
When you compound the Elixir, you always use the Yellow Dame to lead the Infant to ascend to the Muddy Pellet and conjoin with the Lovely Maid.(3) This is called "ascending to the Magpie Bridge." [Then] the Yellow Dame again goes back and forth; smiling, she leads the Infant and the Lovely Maid to return together to the Cavern Chamber.(4) [To do so], they must come down from the Muddy Pellet; therefore it says, "descend from the Magpie Bridge."
It is not that there are truly a Yellow Dame, an Infant, and a Lovely Maid: this is a discourse made through metaphors, and concerns nothing outside the body, the mind, and the Intention (yi). Through the efficacy of silent operation, internally you rely on the movement of the Celestial Net, and externally you use the motion of the Dipper's Handle.(5) When you kindle the Fire, you become aware of the Breath ascending without interruption. Similar to the initial rise of a tide, it goes upwards by inverting its flow; therefore it says, "in Heaven it responds to the stars, on Earth it responds to the tides."
It is not that there are truly a Yellow Dame, an Infant, and a Lovely Maid: this is a discourse made through metaphors, and concerns nothing outside the body, the mind, and the Intention (yi).
Wang Jie, Commentary on the Mirror for Compounding the Medicine, sec. 3
This is what a scripture on the Elixir means when it says:
The practice is easy, the Medicine is not far away.(6)
And this is what we mean when we say: "The wheel of Heaven revolves, and the Earth responds with the tides."
1. For the translation of the first two verses, see the next note.
2. According to a Chinese legend, the Magpie Bridge connects the Altair and Vega stars across the Milky Way, so that the Herdboy and the Weaving Girl, who live in those stars and love one another, can meet once a year. In Neidan, the Magpie Bridge connects the Function and Control vessels (renmai and dumai), which respectively run along the front and the back of the body and make the conjunction of Yin and Yang possible. According to different views, this Bridge is either the tongue or the nose. In another view, there are an upper Bridge, which is the tongue, and a lower Bridge, which is found at the bottom of the spine. In accordance with the second view, the first two verses of this stanza should be translated as "The upper Magpie Bridge, / the lower Magpie Bridge." In his commentary, Wang Jie mentions only the tongue, and understands shang and xia ("upper" and "lower") as verbs meaning "to ascend" and "to descend," respectively to and from the Magpie Bridge. To avoid inconsistencies between text and commentary, I have translated this stanza in accordance with Wang Jie's reading.
3. Muddy Pellet (niwan) is the most common name of the upper Cinnabar Field, located in the region of the head.
4. Cavern Chamber (dongfang) is usually a name of one of the "chambers" of the Muddy Pellet (the upper Cinnabar Field), but here it clearly connotes the lower Cinnabar Field. In both Classical and present-day Chinese, this term is also used to mean "nuptial chamber."
5. Celestial Net (tiangang) is the name of the first four stars of the Northern Dipper, and Dipper's Handle (doubing) is the name of its last three stars. Through its apparent rotation in the sky, the Northern Dipper distributes Breath (qi) to the whole cosmos. For this reason, it is also taken as a model for the circulation of Breath within the human body.
6. Wuzhen pian, "Xijiang yue," poem 2 (see Cleary, Understanding Reality, p. 132).
© Fabrizio Pregadio and Golden Elixir Press 2023