In the Crucible of the Stone
Ink and water-colour on cloud-dragon paper mounted down on xuan paper
219 x 124 cm
Hong Kong, January 2015
With six seals of the artist: 水松石山房Shuisongshi shanfang (‘TheWater, Pine and Stone Retreat’), 如如居士Ruru Jushi (‘The retired scholar who believes that all doctrines are equal’), 山外山樵 Shanwai shanqiao (‘The mountain woodcutter who is not in the mountains’), 人磨墨墨磨人 Renmomo momoren (‘Man grinds the ink; ink grinds the man’), 石石狂 Shishikuang (‘A Fool for Stones’) and 養石閒人Yangshi xianren (‘An idler who cherishes stones’)
Some strange stones consist of cinnabar, a basic element in the practice of alchemy, the secret art of the land of Khem. Alchemy is as ancient a practice as astrology. But strange stones in cinnabar do not exist in the real world. They are a metaphor, as the transmutation of base metal into gold is a metaphor for spiritual transformation. It is the way of the human mind to invent stories to explain what is presently inexplicable to it, so many strange tales of the origins of alchemy exist. None is any more than a metaphor. One ancient Jewish legend stands for all and contains a kernel of truth: The angel at the gates of Eden was believed to have given Adam instruction in the mysteries of Qabbalah and alchemy. He was promised that the curse of the forbidden fruit would be lifted once the secret wisdom, the mysteries open to these two arts, was mastered, allowing humans again into the Garden. Metaphor: the Garden of Eden stands for primordial harmony prior to the advent of intellect, the rational, reasoning faculties of mind. The fall from grace stands for the advent of intellect with all its potential for good and harm Along with intellect was born ego and the ability to separate self from environment and consider each separately. The Qabbalah and alchemy stand for means to harness the fruits of intellect to regain harmony but bearing the capacity, absent from primordial harmony, to understand and delight in it - the ability to dwell beyond the gods, to step off the Stage of Time, unite with the source, the undifferentiated spirit. The endless and inventive interpretations of alchemy at many levels of understanding from the fairground fool to the magister are also metaphorical. Alchemy, in that sense, is like religion: a reduction of ultimate, undifferentiated spirit in order that it can be understood by those who have never experienced it but aspire to its grace and deliverance. It is part of a phase we must go through in order to transcend the intellect which can be either prison or salvation. There are no gods, no base metal into gold, no philosopher’s stone other than in the mind, as there are no cinnabar strange stones, other than in the mind and, now, translated onto paper with powdered colour from the alchemist’s real stone. Grasp that, and you may be excused the labour of inefficient paths to meaning and attain undifferentiated consciousness while you still have time to delight in it.
Inscribed by the Master of the Water, Pine and Stone Retreat, at the Garden at the Edge of the Universe, Hong Kong, January 2015.
In the Crucible of the Stone