When Lead and Mercury Combine...
Written by Sifu Donald Reynolds
on Wednesday, August 10, 2011 12:57:02 AM
In Taoist meditation there is a saying that when lead and mercury combine, only then can the golden embryo emerge. There are many colorful metaphors for the various aspects of self and enlightenment. Here mercury and lead refer to soul and spirit. The golden pill or embryo is enlightenment.
This saying struck me as more than a colorful metaphor. I always like to find the scientific connections that to me are evidence of universal truths.
Sure enough, in nature gold occurs mostly as a native metal usually alloyed with silver (as electrum) or mercury (as an amalgam). To extract the gold typically a process called gold cyanidation is used, where cyanide is used to dissolve and separate the gold from the alloy. If lead nitrate is used, it speeds up and improves the gold leaching process.
So the full metaphor "soul and spirit combine to produce the golden embryo of enlightenment" in chemistry would probably refer to using lead nitrate in the leaching process with a naturally occurring mercury amalgam ore to extract gold.
The interesting part is that cyanide is required, which is highly toxic. Oxygen is also required and consumed in the process. Plus a byproduct is mercury, which is highly toxic and will follow the gold through most of the process. Special steps have to be taken to make sure it is fully removed so that in the gold smelting process, mercury gas is not released.
To me this reveals another truth that the taoist masters probably didn't know about chemically, but realized intuitively. The higher state cannot be achieved without experiencing and dealing with bad things in life, and sometimes in that process of self-enlightenment bad things will result. We should take steps to make sure we don't leave behind these negative things that could harm others before we reach enlightenment. Also the oxygen consumption seems to me to represent the fact that this higher state will take all of our life to accomplish... while we still draw breath.
Never stop practicing.