Magical Transformation Skills ( 變化之術 Bianhua Zhi Shu ) are one of the elementary types of Daoist skills. They refer to various kinds of skills such as becoming invisible or making things invisible, and changing the forms of things. These skills have a very long history, with quite a number of famous Magicians who were good at it in the Han dynasty. In the Eastern Han dynasty, it had become an important component of Daoist skills. In the Jin dynasty, Ge Hong recorded such skills in the Inner Book of the Master Who Embraces Simplicity:
" The most important Magical Transformation Skills of change are kept in the five volumes of the Mohist Records of the Five Agents ( 《墨子五行記 》 Mozi Wuxing Ji ). In the past, Liu An copied the essential points into one volume of his book before he passed away. With the aid of a certain medicine and talisman, the man with such a skill was able to fly up and down, hiding himself with different transformed shapes. With a smile on his face, he became a woman, and with her face wrinkled, she became an old man. As he bent his knees, he became a little kid. If he held a stick, it could be turned into wood. If he grew plants, they became melons or fruits, ripe and eatable at once. If he drew a line on the ground, it became a river. If he piled up the soil, it could become a mountain. As he sat there, delicious food of various kinds would appear in front of him. He could do whatever he wanted, such as arousing the clouds or fire. In addition, there was a volume of the Hidden Subtlety of the Jade Maiden ( 《玉女隱微》 Yunü Yinwei ) which recorded that the man with such a skill could give himself the appearance of birds or animals, and the appearance of gold, wood, or jade. He could arouse the clouds, the thunder, and the rain over hundreds of miles as well. Furthermore, he could cross rivers without using a boat or a bridge, and could separate himself into different parts and turn up at thousands of places simultaneously. Apart from that, he could soar high with the wind, move through surfaces without openings, and exhale the air of the seven colors. He could see beyond the Eight Extremes or under the ground while sitting there, and could give off such great light that it seemed that the sun was shining. Of course, if he hopes to be successful, such a master must practise many kinds of Big Dipper Steps, which are so zigzagged and twisted lines that very few people can do it. The Great Treasure of Huainan ( 《淮南鴻寶》 Huainan Hongbao ) and the Alchemical Skills of Huainan ( 《淮南萬畢術》 Huainan Wanbi Shu ) did not go any further in revealing the secret.
The White Tiger Skills of the Seven Changes ( 白虎七變法 Baihu Qibian Fa ) recorded that on the 3rd of March one must compose a mixture of all the elements listed below. They are the head skin of a white tiger killed on that day, the blood of a camel and of a tiger, as well as a purple ribbon, the flowers on a pair of shoes, and some duckweed. The duckweed sprouts must look like sesame that will produce seeds after growing ripe. Having gotten those seeds, he must grow it again and again seven times. There will be something different in the seeds each time. Finally mix the seeds with another drug, the mixture of which can transform one's shape and change the features of one's face. Then you can fly anywhere or dive into the waters as you like. The effect is quite similar to what the Mohist Records of the Five Agents and the Hidden Subtlety of the Jade Maiden recorded. There is no skill beyond these two books."
What has been mentioned here includes most of the Daoist Magical Skills of Transformation. It suggests that as late as the Jin dynasty, the Skills of Transformation had become a major type of Daoist skill and formed a large system.
The rich Skills of Transformation are one of the features of Daoism
Some theorists regard it as the essence of all Daoist skills, for they think that Daoist Skills are a mysterious method of transformations of various kinds. So Daoist theorists not only saw the Skills of Transformation as a treasure but also paid great attention to the study of the philosophy contained in them. Some of the theorists tried to divide the Skills of Transformation into three types: the transformation of Heaven, the transformation of material things, and the transformation of the mind. A man possessing the Dao can master any one of them as he likes and know their secret. The Yellow Emperor's Book of Secret Correspondence ( 《黃帝陰符經》 Huangdi Yinfujing ) put forward the proposition that "the universe is in man's hands and the transformation of things is under the control of man himself". It implies that if only the principles of nature and the secrets of transformations could be observed and understood by man, all changes could be caused by man himself. In the Five Dynasties, Tan Xiao summarized the Daoist Skills of change in his famous philosophical Book of Transformations ( 《化書》 Huashu ). He thought that the key to all changes lie in Essential Matter, Spirit, and Vital Breath. If they are adequate in one's body, Yin and Yang can be mastered, the wind and the clouds can be brought forth, the mountains and hills can be pulled out of the earth, and the rivers can be filled with water. Therefore he emphasized that the ritual master keep the Original Essential Matter, the Original Vital Breath, and the Original Spirit within himself. And if he can apply them in the Skills of Transformation that can transform the things outside him, then there is nothing he cannot do. For Tan Xiao, the Essential Matter, Vital Breath, and Spirit within man himself were regarded as the essence of the Skills of Transformation, He also combined Internal Vital Breath and Inner Alchemy with Magical Skills. In fact, he paved the way for the Inner Alchemy and Outer Skills of Daoism in the Song dynasty. After the Song dynasty, the Daoists usually regarded success in cultivating the Dao and refining one's body as the key to the Skills of Transformation, aiming to fill the body with Original Vital Breath and Original Spirit. They understood and advocated that obtaining the Dao means success in cultivating Inner Alchemy. When the people of the Song dynasty talked about the "internal Dao and external skills" ( 內道外法 Neidao Waifa ), they actually meant " Inner Alchemy and Outer Skills" ( 內丹外法 Neidan Waifa ).
The Skills of Transformation can be divided into the transformation of man himself and that of external things
The former refers to the skills of changing one's shape or appearance, turning a mortal into an Immortal, and becoming invisible at one's will. The latter refers to skills such as arousing the rains and clouds, causing things to appear or disappear, and interchanging different things. Most of the Skills of Transformation depend on the means of Pacing the Dipper, making Finger Gestures, and writing talismans as well as reciting incantations and refining the Vital Breath, together with visualizations. Sometimes a special medicine is applied to cause physical or chemical changes.
The Magical Skills for transforming external objects
The Magical Skills for transforming external objects include Instant Teletransportation ( 搬運 Banyun ), the Bean Men and Paper Horses ( 豆人紙馬 Douren Zhima ), the Contraction of the Land ( 縮地脈 Suo Dimai ), the construction of a river with a line on the ground ( 劃地成河 Huadi Chenghe ), and the wrapping up of Heaven ( 裝天 Zhuangtian ) Some can only be found in the legends of Immortals, others are recorded in Daoist scriptures. Instant Teletransportation means delivering things by invoking and controlling the divine generals. The Bean Man and Paper Horse means that beans scattered in the soil can become warriors and paper horses can become real ones by the means of Daoist skills. There are records about the Skill of Straw and Beans ( 草豆法 Caodou Fa ) which are similar to that mentioned above. The key factor in practising it is the application of the skill of incantation. Here is how to do it: set up an altar with an incense burner, some clean water, 12 litres of beans, and one bunch of clean straw in the center. The Daoist recites incantations with his hair under his shoulders, with the aid of such magical instruments as the Talisman for invoking souls ( 起靈符 Qilingfu ). It is said that by doing so, the Daoist can make the bean men and paper horses come to life. The cultivators of Immortality said that with the skill of the "Contraction of the Land" , the land could be extended or contracted at will. If one learned the skill, he could move faster than a bird soaring over a long distance. It is said that Fei Changfang of the Eastern Han dynasty got the skill passed down from Master Hu ( 壺公 Hugong ), who could contract a distance of thousands of miles into a couple of inches. According to some Daoist books, if one learned the Yu Steps of the Earth Pivot ( 地軸禹步 Dizhou Yubu ) and visualized the Twenty-Four Earth Pivot Spirits ( 地軸神 Dizhoushen ), he could expand a plot of one square inch into a large territory of ten thousand square miles, or vice-versa. The method recorded in the Book of the Flowing Drops of the Golden Lock ( 《金鎖流珠引》 Jinsuo Liuzhu Yin ) includes the appropriate Register and Talisman, as well as the required Pacing of the Dipper and Finger Gesture.
The skills of the Transformation of Man
The skills of the Transformation of Man include flying over vanity, visualizing spirits in trance, controlling the Vital Breath, making one's flesh invisible ( 隱論 Yinlun ) or visible at several places simultaneously ( 分形，分身術 Fenxing, Fenshen Shu ), and changing one's shape and appearance. There are many types of such Magical Skills, the key to which lies in man's interaction with spirits and man's freedom from time and space. If man could possess one such skill, he could have an unusual ability which common people are unable to obtain or resist. Of course his unusual ability can be used for different purposes. It can benefit the people as well as hurt them. That is why the transmission of the skill is strictly restricted by very severe regulations, in order that it not be transmitted to evil persons. Furthermore, even if one has learned the right skill, it is certain that he will fail in practising it if he applies it to something evil. There is a legend in the Strange Stories from the Liao Studio about a Daoist on Mt. Lao. It says that Wang learned the skill of passing through walls, but when he attempted to steal from another person's bedroom, he crashed into the wall and injured his head with much loss of blood.
Among the Magical Skills for the transformation of man, the means of Talismans, Incantations, Finger Gestures, and Big Dipper Pacing are applied in most cases, together with exercising the Inner Vital Breath and Visualization, and sometimes ingesting drugs. For example, in order to change one's shape and appearance, a special drug is needed. But the medical formula is considered a secret that cannot be told to anyone. Of course, this sort of skill is seen as a less important one. The more vital skills are making one's body invisible or visible at different places simultaneously, visualizing spirits, and controlling the Vital Breath. The ritual master is required to have Registers and Talismans, to be good at Pacing the Dipper and at visualization, and to be filled with Inner Vital Breath. Let's take the skill of invisibility as an example.
The skill of invisibility means making one's body invisible. It is said that if one succeeds in mastering this skill, he can vanish in front of other people, and even the spirits cannot know where he is, so that no disaster can befall upon him. This skill was developed systematically in the Jin dynasty. There are some records about it in the Inner Book of the Master Who Embraces Simplicity. Asked about Magical Skills, the author replied that there were five types of strange Magical Skills, including invisibility (e.g., a man was seen when sitting there, but vanished as he stood up). But if he shows off his ability to do so in this mortal world, it might cause some unfavorable consequences. Since the skills cannot benefit his health, he should not conduct them casually except in order to avoid disaster in critical situations or during the chaos of war. Mr. Zheng says that "taking the Talisman for Becoming Invisible ( 《大隱符》 Dayinfu ) for ten days, you may turn left if you want to vanish, and turn right if you want to appear. Or cover your body with Jade Balls ( 玉丸 Yuwan ) or Snake Foot Power ( 蛇足散 Shezusan ). Or put Limu Grass in your bosom and pick some Green Dragon Grass, lying prostrate below the direction of the Six Ding ( 六丁 Lauding ). Or go into a bamboo garden, with the Land of the Heavenly Pivot in your hands. Or build a River Dragon Stone House ( 河龍石室 Helong Shishi ) and hide in the shade of the clouds. ¡K ¡K Or turn yourself into a little kid or an old man, a bird, an animal, a blade of grass, a tree, or a head of livestock. Transform yourself into a tree if you are near a tree, into the fire if you are close to fire, into water if you are by the water. This is the skill of transforming one's shapes or changing one's appearance, by which you cannot be completely invisible".
Based on the records, there are two major types of skills of invisibility: application of talismans and use of drugs. One can be entirely invisible with the aid of a talisman, or one can turn oneself into something that is similar to things around him. The Master Who Embraces Simplicity ( 抱朴子 Baopu Zi ) did not discuss the concrete methods of applying these skills in his book. As a matter of fact, these special methods do exist. For example, lying prostrate below the direction of the Six Ding. But where are the Six Ding? This needs calculating. Generally speaking, pacing the Dipper in this direction requires some special patterns of steps. The skills of invisibility developed in later times have followed the rules of applying talismans, medicine, special steps, and the calculation of directions. Or there could be a combination of different methods, with more emphasis on the ritual master's exercise of Vital Breath and visualization.
The Skills of Transformation are the foundation of other Daoist skills
For instance, the Skill of Visualizing Spirits and Controlling the Vital Breath ( 飛神馭氣 Feishen Yuqi ) is applied when Daoists offer petitions. In the Story of Permanent Hatred ( 《長恨歌傳》 Changhenge Zhuan ), the author described the skill in this way. The emperor Xuan Zong of the Tang dynasty missed his dead wife Yang Yuhuan very much in his old age. So he sent Daoists to look for her soul in the Heavens as well as in the netherworld. Finally, by applying such skills, they found her on the Immortal Island of Peng Lai. Here the skill applied was to control their Original Vital Breath by visualizing their Original Spirits. What is depicted in the book is only one of the Skills of Transformation, called Trance or Yang Trance. The ritual master stays in one place, but his Original Spirit is able to move about, to reach the paradise or the Fairyland for Immortals, which cannot be attained by the flesh. Daoists are often lost in trance when offering petitions. It seems that they ascend above the Three Heavens, taking the clouds against the gales to the Gate of Heaven. There he offers the petitions with the Three Pristine Ones and the Jade Emperor present, reports to the spirits his reason for doing so, listens to the edict from the spirits, and brings back the information concerned. Petitions are often used at various rituals such as that for praying for destroying the Darkness. The skill of visualizing spirits and controlling Vital Breath has become an integral part of Daoist rituals.