The Sly man`s Pill - the Pill of Immortality

The pill of immortality is an idea from the Taoist tradition, although one can find the idea of an elixir of immortality in all esoteric traditions as the water of life, amrita, ambrosia, soma or panacea.

Gurdjieff: Instead of spending a whole day in exercises like the yogi, a week in prayer like the monk, or a month in self-torture like the fakir, the sly man simply prepares and swallows a little pill which contains all the substances he wants and, in this way, without loss of time, he obtains the required results.
The Secret of the Golden Flower, chapter 8: What is the spiritual pill? The greatest secret in Taoism is 'bathing.' The whole practice described in this book does not go beyond the work of making the heart empty. It is enough to understand this.
Liu Yiming (18th c. Taoist master): Ancient immortals used the term Golden Pill (Elixir) as a metaphor of the essence of true consciousness, which is fundamentally complete and illumined. Growing from one yang to gradually reach the pure wholeness of six yangs, going from vague to clear, the Gold Elixir develops naturally.

In the image on the left, the hexagram Heaven on the right, has six yangs. Liu Yiming says that the golden pill is created through the process of growing from one to six yangs. The pill or elixir of immortality symbolizes self-consciousness or self-remembering, a state of self-awareness in which one`s Higher Self is awake. This state is also referred to as Heaven.

Liu Yiming (from The Inner Teachings of Taoism) : The formation of the Golden Pill entirely depends on the practice of the Fire Times. Fire means the force of the practice; times means the sequence of the practice.
Yu Yan (13th c. Taoist master): The inner development of the elixir and the ‘timing of it`s firing’ are no different at all from the ebbing and the flowing of the phases of the moon. The six lines of the Heaven hexagram act as an image of the waxing and waning of the moon`s body. But it`s all metaphor. Those who try to learn without proper understanding the meaning behind this rhyme will have great trouble reading it.

This rhyme refers to The Cycle of the Moon by Wei Boyang below. The six yangs represent the firing times - a prolonged effort to bring back true consciousness. Ancient Taoist used the waxing of the moon to represent this process.

Liu Yiming, (The Inner Teachings of Taoism): The crescent moon symbolizes the sudden manifestation of the celestial root in people when they have attained utter stillness. This celestial root is called the mind of Tao. A furnace is a vessel in which fire is used; because the mind of Tao has a yang light which can be used to burn away a person`s mundanity (yin energy), the mind of Tao is also represented as a furnace. Actually, the mind of Tao is the heart of Heaven and Earth.
Journey to the West, Chapter 39: Supreme Lord Lao Zi was sitting in his elixir laboratory where immortal boys were using a plantain-leaf fan to fan the eight trigrams furnace where the pills of immortality were refined.

The Eight Trigrams Furnace is another metaphor for the firing process through which the Golden Pill is created or refined. Six of the eight trigrams symbolize the firing times while the two trigrams Fire and Water symbolize the medicine.

Liu Yiming (The Inner Teachings of Taoism): The medicines are the medicines of real awareness and conscious awareness. Water and Fire are symbols of real awareness and conscious awareness.
Taoist saying (from The Foundation of Inner Alchemy by Wang Mu, 20th c. Taoist master): The Saints transmit the medicine, but do not transmit the fire; those who have known the Fire Times have always being few.

The Cycle of the Moon (Canton Qi - Triplex Unity 2nd C. Taoist text by Wei Boyang)

On the third day Thunder comes forth as an inkling,
and the Yang Breath makes it start.
“Initial nine, submerged dragon.”

On the eighth, Lake is in action.
“Nine in the second place, appearing dragon”.

On the fifteenth the body of Heaven is achieved.
“Nine in the third place, at nightfall he is watchful,”
fearing that he might lose the magic charm.

Wind takes control,
“nine in fourth place, wavering flight”.

On the twenty-third day, Mountain
rules over arrest and advance.
“Nine in the fifth place, flying dragon”.

On the thirtieth day, Earth takes hold,
“Nine at the top, thriving dragon”.

The use of the dragon-nines flying to and fro,
are the compass and square of the Dao.
The Yang numbers are now completed.

The sequence of the six trigrams (also represented by a dragon or the number nine) represents the firing process. As was said above by Yu Yan, it is all metaphor. One needs to understand what the firing times are in oneself, and then put it into practice. Through the firing process yin energy, which is the activity of the human mind, is 'burned away' so that "celestial" yang energy of the Original Spirit or Higher Self can come into being. This is the meaning of "bathing', spoken of in the quote from The Secret of the Golden Flower above.

The secret of the Golden Flower: The Golden Flower is the same as the golden pill. All changes of spiritual consciousness depend upon the heart. There is a secret charm, which although it works very accurately, is yet so fluid that it needs extreme intelligence and clarity, and the most complete absorption and tranquility.
Commentary on hexagram #1, the Creative (The I Ching p 371, Wilhelm/Baynes edition): The holy man, who understands the mysteries of creation inherent in end and beginning, becomes superior to the limitations of the transitory. For him, the meaning of time is that in it, the stages of growth can unfold in a clear sequence. He is mindful at every moment and uses the six stages of growth as if they were six dragons (the image attributed to the individual lines) on which he mounts to heaven.
Liu Yiming: The moon waxing to fullness is a secret passed on by word of mouth. The medicinal substances are hard to know, and the firing process is not easy to understand. Students should hasten to find a genuine teacher.

Li te Guai, one of the eight immortals
with the pill of immortality

Sun Wukong, the Monkey King from
Journey to the West, with the full moon
(Japanese Ukiyoe by Yoshitoshi)

The crescent moon

The Eight Trigrams coupled with the phases of the moon (Click to enlarge)

Two dragons chasing a flaming pearl.
(Click to enlarge)

Liu Yiming: Reality is so subtle that the ancient immortals called this reality a tiny pearl. Yet though they called it a tiny pearl, in reality it has no such shape; they call it thus because there is a point of conscious energy hidden in the center, and because that point of awareness contains the whole cosmos, space, and the universe.

Six dragons, Tang dynasty, Shaanxi museum, Xian, China (Click to enlarge)

A gourd charm. The gourd is said to symbolize Heaven and Earth. The big circle representing earth, symbolizes the effort of self-remembering, the small circle, representing Heaven symbolizes the state
of self-remembering.