The Esoteric Nature of Death Preparations in Taoism and Their Possible Sources

Keywords: esoteric practices, internal alchemy, death preparation techniques, intermediate state, Taoism, Yungdrung Bön, Six Yogas of Nāropa


Stephen Eskildsen has analysed a corpus of texts belonging to the Taoist tradition of internal alchemy, paying special attention to near-death meditations. Taking Eskildsen’s conclusions as the starting point, the main purpose of this paper is to show the similarities between death preparation techniques in Taoism (“entering the womb”, “changing the dwelling place” and “repelling killer demons”) and the esoteric practices of Tibetan Buddhism (The Six Yogas of Nāropa). The subject was chosen, firstly, because some of them were omitted by Eskildsen, and secondly because those similarities seem to be interesting in the context of establishing the possible sources of Taoist meditations. An attempt at analysing the origins of both sets of practices, and the relationships between them, led to the conclusion that the influence of Indian esoteric ideas on Chinese Taoism is highly probable. The author also noted that the breathing exercises that constitute the basis of all of the techniques in question are prior Buddhist influences, and thus the independent development of these practices is also possible. Such independent development may be considered interesting, as both Chinese and Tibetan techniques are based on a similar notion of mystical physiology, which subsequently could suggest some kind of universality.


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