The Five Southern Patraiarchs

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Lineage of the Five Southern Patriarchs

The Southern Lineage of the Golden Elixir sect( 南宗 Nanzong ) (or Ziyang sect) worshiped Zhang Boduan, Shi Tai, Xue Si, Cheng Nan and Bai Yuchan as their five patriarchs. Because they used to preach Dao in the South, they were popularly known as the Five Southern Patriarchs ( 南五祖 Nanwu Zu ). It is said that in the second Xining year of the Northern Song dynasty (AD 1069), Zhang Boduan met a magician in Chengdu named Liu Haichan (Imperial Sovereign Haichan), who taught him the Liquefied Gold Reversion Elixir Formula ( 金液還丹訣 Jinye Huandan Jue ). After that, he attained Dao through refinement and cultivation. Then he passed this formula on to Shi Tai, who imparted it to Xue Shi, who transmitted it to Cheng Nan, who taught it to Bai Yuchan.

Main Ideas

Having inherited Zhong Liquan and Lü Dongbing's ideas of Inner Alchemy, the Five Southern Patriarchs considered that Refinement of the Golden Elixir, i.e. Inner Alchemy, should be based on cultivation of Spiritual Nature and Bodily Life, and that the Three Doctrines, i.e. Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism, enjoyed the same origin. On that basis, they suggested a combination of Daoism and Buddhism, and the precedence of Spiritual Nature over Bodily Life, which ultimately became characteristic of their school. They stated that Cultivation should start with that of one's Bodily Life, which was also known as Basic Cultivation by Self-Refinement ( 煉己築基 Lianji Zhuji ). Only after one's Essential Matter, Vital Breath and Spirit were in very good condition, could he start to refine Inner Alchemy. In terms of the environment for refining Inner Alchemy, the Five Southern Patriarchs suggested to live and practice in society and among ordinary people, instead of practicing in seclusion.


The Five Southern Patriarchs' theory of Inner Alchemy had a great influence on the Complete Perfection Tradition, and improved its ideas of Inner Alchemy. In the meantime, they introduced reforms to the Talisman and Registers sect, by introducing the Refinement of Inner Alchemy into Fasts and Offerings. Scriptures on Inner Alchemy written and left by them contributed a great deal to Breathing Arts, medical science and the science of human body, constituting a part of China's traditional culture.