Among Taoist scriptures, one of my personal favorites is The Secret of the Golden Flower. As Thomas Cleary writes in the introduction to his wonderful English translation of this text:
“The golden flower symbolizes the quintessence of the paths of Buddhism and Taoism. Gold stands for light, the light of the mind itself; the flower represents the blossoming, or opening up, of the light of the mind. Thus the expression is emblematic of the basic awakening of the real self and its hidden potential.”
The central practice offered in this scripture is the practice of “turning the light around” – of reversing our habitual tendency to project our awareness “out” into a “world” that we perceive as being inherently separate from us – and instead learning to focus inwardly. The language – though poetic – is simple and direct, making this text much more accessible than many other Inner Alchemy scriptures, which oftentimes are bogged down in archaic alchemical symbolism.
The first translation of this text into a Western language happened in 1929, when Richard Wilhelm published a German translation. Shortly thereafter, Cary F. Baynes - working from Wilhelm’s German version - created an English edition of the text. Both of these editions included a commentary on the text by the Swiss psychologist C.G. Jung. Though Jung’s commentary is in many ways interesting, as an introduction to The Secret of the Golden Flower it has many shortcomings. Instead of grounding his vision of the text in the Buddhist/Taoist traditions of which it is an expression, Jung sees it through his own Western psychological lens.
Fortunately for us English-speaking practitioners, in 1991 Thomas Cleary published a new – and infinitely better – translation of this precious scripture. The Wilhelm/Baynes/Jung translation is still widely available, but my strong recommendation is that you enjoy the Thomas Cleary translation, which I have found to be wonderful. The Cleary translation includes not only a translation of the text itself, but also an extensive “translation notes” section, which in and of itself is a fascinating treasure-trove of Taoist and Buddhist insight.