Transporting through the Three Vehicles
“Transporting through the Three Vehicles” ( 三車搬運 Sanche Banyun ) is a term of Inner Alchemy ( 內丹 Neidan ). Drawn by an ox, a sheep or a deer respectively, the “three vehicles” signify the different Fire Phases ( 火候 Huohou ) in the practice of Inner Alchemy. According to the Transmission of Dao by Zhongli Quan and Lü Dongbin ( 鍾呂傳道集 Zhonglu Chuandaoji ), they actually refer to the three forms of “River Chariot” ( 河車 Heche ), vehicles used for carrying things across river. “Crossing river” is indeed another metaphor in Inner Alchemy. The ancients derived inspiration from the phenomenon that the leaves falling onto river can carry things, and so invented “boats”, the “river chariots”. A “River Chariot” is needed for “crossing river”. Daoist Inner Alchemy associated it with the process of refining the vital breath. In the opinion of Daoist believers, there is more Yin than Yang in human body, which indicates that water is the major channel in human body. In other words, there exists a particular river course in human body, and the main points of refining the vital breath consist in walking in the river course, leading the vital breath with the mind and recycling it through the whole body, so as to produce the great elixir. Then what does the “River Chariot” exactly refer to in the Cultivation and Refinement ( 修煉 Xiulian ) of Inner Alchemy? There have always been different arguments. The chapter “On the River Chariot” in the Transmission of Dao by Zhongli Quan and Lü Dongbin points out that the River Chariot is formed “in the water in the due north”. Among the Five Agents ( 五行 Wuxing ), “water” is situated in the due north. It represents the kidney in human body, where the “true breath” is stored. The “orthodox breath” generated by the “true breath” is just the River Chariot. How can one run this true breath to produce the inner elixirs? Many passes have to be traversed, especially weilü, jiaji and yuzhen, namely the “Three Passes”. During the practice of Inner Alchemy, only when being abundant can the Original Vital Breath ( 元氣 Yuanqi ) pass the “Three Passes”. If it runs too slowly or even halts, one may conduct it appropriately. However, this can be done only after the vital breath moves. Otherwise, it is as good as trying to help the shoots grow by pulling them upward, and all the previous efforts will be wasted. When guiding the vital breath, one should increase Yang for nine times and decrease Yin for six times. This is the carrying skill of the “ox chariot”. It is so-called because the “carrying” speed is so low that it seems the chariot is pulled by an “ox”. After practicing for some time, one has abundant Original Vital Breath and becomes skillful. Then he can speed up conveniently, increasing Yang for thirty-six times and decreasing Yin for twenty-four times. This is the carrying skill of the “sheep chariot”. It is self-evident that the speed of a sheep is higher than that of an ox, so the carrying skill of a “sheep chariot” is a natural improvement upon that of an “ox chariot”. When the Reversion Elixir ( 還丹 Huandan ) functions satisfactorily and easily of itself, and the inhaled vital breath can ascend to the point of niwan, one should increase Yang for 216 times and decrease Yin for 144 times, which corresponds to the great numerology of the theory of changes. This is the carrying skill of the “deer chariot”. At this moment, the vital breath in human body circulates in the twelve main and collateral channels and the eight particular passages, which means the “big Cosmic Orbit ” ( 周天 Zhoutian ) is unblocked. It deserves attention that the three vehicles of “ox, sheep and deer” are just description of the Fire Phases of Inner Alchemy. The practitioners are not requested to strive for “acceleration” sedulously. As far as the mind is concerned, the primary principle in controlling the “Fire Phases” is spontaneity. One should not act with undue haste, or else all that has been achieved will be spoiled. We must keep it firmly in mind.