Pines, Apotheosis and Daoist Alchemy


Found all of the quoted text below as one long quote on a bonsai website (this quote is at the bottom of the page, but everything else is interesting too).

First, the process of apotheosis of plants and rocks:

United with its rock womb, the pine tree grows old and acquires medicinal and magical properties; it becomes an “essence” (jing – 精) […]

“Certain large trees, majestic in their branching and remarkable because of their great age[, have been held in awe].  As they grow old, they become ling [full of spiritual power – 灵] […] In China, any old object, animate or inanimate, can rise to the ranks of the spirits as it grows older, even if it is a statue, a stone, or a block of metal.” […]

All these objects share the nature of gu-jing [古 精], “old essences.” At the end of a thousand years, the essence of blood is changed into a precious stone and that of a pine tree into yellow amber […]

More on the nature of jing and the beneficial effects of being around trees and stones that are full of jing:

Jing means the quintessence of materials that have gone through a refining process. It is white rice, distilled alcohol, purified metal [and the non-ejaculated sperm in men]. Thus, old objects are remarkable for the concentration of their properties and for the transformation of their ordinary qualities into spiritually powerful, precious, or medicinal properties.

Old trees and ancient stones characterize the sites depicted in the pagoda enclosures of cults dedicated to healing, health, longevity, and posterity — the supreme desiderata of the Far East. A gu-shu (old tree – 古 树) is also the term for a twisted, strange, dwarf tree growing in a miniature garden […]

To cultivate such a miniature garden in one’s own home brings [one in contact with the old essences which leads to] longevity and the shining, firm skin of one in the full vigor of maturity […]

Especial importance is attached to turning upside down:

The spiritual powers, essences (jing) of trees […] are […] female spirits with disheveled hair, also a characteristic of [Daoist] female mediums in China. The theme of disheveled hair is, in fact, closely associated with vegetation. “Plants and trees live upside down; animals live horizontally; only people live upright. This is why humans have consciousness, plants have none, and animals have some, but only a bit.”

The head and hair of plants are thus at their bottom (their roots), and this fact is tied to their lack of understanding. In addition, plants are the fur of the earth or the hair of mountains. But the theme of being upside down is the predominant one. No description of places full of wonders omits a note of any plants, or especially stones, that grow upside down [i.e. stalagmites in caves].

This theme is clearly connected with the problem of the circulation of the sap, which has always preoccupied the Chinese. The [D]aoist who imitates animals and plants in his rituals achieves a state of unconsciousness and spontaneous life, which is that of nature itself. He hangs himself, like the trees, upside down, making his sperm go back into his brain. Trees that are old and dwarfed by twisting, which results from a technique used to slow down the sap and lengthen the vessels that it must pass through, are behaving like a [D]aoist who adopts the special gymnastic ritual.

–Stein, Rolf A.  The World in Miniature (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press; 1990) pp. 96-98.

I’m not sure what text(s) Stein was quoting from within the passage. Bracketed text is from the Phoenix Bonsai website (I edited some of it slightly). I added the simplified Chinese characters and the paragraph breaks.

Image Credit: “Pine Tree, Stone and Wisteria” by Li Shan, 18th century, Qing Dynasty. From Wikimedia Commons.

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