Editor's note: This remarkable scripture stands central in the literary and spiritual history of one of the world's greatest ancient civilizations, and demonstrates the antiquity and stature of the central theme of this website. It is written in the form of a dialogue between an emperor and the goddess Su Nu, which means "Immaculate" or "Uncontaminated Woman." Her name is linked with the god of grain (fertility) and was even represented as a river goddess. These symbols clearly demonstrate her relationship with comparable figures in Greek, Egyptian, and other pantheons.
The Yellow Emperor addressed a question to Su Nu saying, "My ch'i [energy] is weak and out of harmony. There is no joy in my heart and I live in constant fear. What is to be done?" Su Nu answered:
All debility in man is due to violation of the tao of intercourse between yin and yang [the two polarities in all dualistic phenomena]. Women are superior to men in the same way that water is superior to fire. This knowledge is like the ability to blend the "five flavors" in a pot to make delicious soup. Those who know the tao of yin and yang can fully realize the "five pleasures" [of the senses]; those who do not will die before their time without ever knowing this joy. Can you afford not to view this with the utmost seriousness?
Su Nu continued: "There is one called Ts'ai Nu [another goddess] who has a wondrous knowledge of the arts of the tao. The King sent Ts'ai Nu to inquire of P'eng Tsu into the methods of attaining longevity and P'eng Tsu replied:
By treasuring his ching [physical and energetic sexual matter], cultivating his spirit, and consuming herbs a man may indeed attain long life. However, if he is ignorant of the tao of intercourse, the taking of herbs will be of no benefit. The mutual fulfillment of man and woman is like the mutual dependence of heaven and earth. Because heaven and earth have attained the tao of union, they are eternal; because mankind has lost the tao of intercourse, he suffers the onset of early death. If we could but avoid those things that gradually injure our bodies and learn the art of yin and yang, this would truly be the tao of immortality.
Ts'ai Nu bowed twice and said: "Will you instruct me in the essential teachings?" P'eng Tsu answered:
This tao is easily understood; it is just that men fail to practice it faithfully. Today the Emperor controls the complex machinery of rulership and cannot be a master of all the arts. However, his responsibilities in the seraglio are many and it is important that he know the proper method of intercourse. Its essence lies in frequently mounting young girls but never ejaculating.* This makes a man's body light and eliminates the hundred ailments. [Note: The * indicates a note in the translation wherein Mr. Wile points out that the Chinese character is somewhat ambiguous, and thus we clarify that the purest form of Taoist alchemy posits absolute retention of the ching.]
Su Nu said:
In engaging the enemy a man should regard her as so much tiles or stone and himself as gold or jade. When his ching is aroused, he should immediately withdraw from her territory. One should mount a woman as if riding a galloping horse with rotten reins or as if fearful of falling into a deep pit lined with knife blades. If you treasure your ching, your life will have no limit.
The Yellow Emperor addressed a question to Su Nu saying: "If I were to refrain for a long time from intercourse, what would be the result?" Su Nu answered:
That would be a grave mistake. Heaven and earth have their opening and closing, and yin and yang their activities and transformations. Man must conform to yin and yang and follow the four seasons. If you were to abstain from intercourse, your spirit would have no opportunity for expansiveness, and yin and yang would be blocked and cut off from one another. How could you thus strengthen yourself? You must cultivate your ch'i through frequent practice and "eliminate the old while absorbing the new" to improve yourself. If the "jade stalk" does not stir, it dies in its lair. So you must engage frequently in intercourse as a way of exercising the body. To be aroused but not ejaculate is what is called "returning the ching." When the ching is returned to benefit the body, then the tao of life has been realized.
The Yellow Emperor said: "How then should man and woman regulate their sexual relations?" Su Nu answered:
The tao of intercourse has definite characteristics that enable man to preserve his health and woman to be free of all illness. They will be happy in their hearts and the power of their ch'i will be strong. Those who are ignorant of its practice will gradually grow weaker. If you wish to know this tao, it consists in settling the ch'i, calming the mind, and harmonizing the emotions. When the "three ch'i" are awakened and the spirit is focused, then when you are neither cold nor hot, neither hungry nor full, completely settle the whole body. Now relax, penetrate shallowly, and move slowly with infrequent thrusts and withdrawls. In this way the woman will be satisfied and the man retain his vigor. These are the principles by which to regulate one's sexual relations.
Ts'ai Nu asked: "The pleasure of intercourse lies in ejaculation. Now if a man locks himself and refrains from emission [orgasm], where is the pleasure?" P'eng Tsu answered:
When ching is emitted the whole body feels weary. One suffers buzzing in the ears and drowsiness in the eyes; the throat is parched and the joints heavy. Although there is brief pleasure, in the end there is discomfort. If, however, one engages in sex without emission, then the strength of our ch'i will be more than sufficient and our bodies at ease. One's hearing will be acute and vision clear. Although exercising self-control and calming the passion, love actually increases, and one remains unsatiated. How can this be considered unpleasurable?
The Yellow Emperor said: "I wish to hear of the advantages of sex without emission." Su Nu replied:
One act without emission makes the ch'i strong. Two acts without emission makes the hearing acute and the vision clear. Three acts without emission makes all ailments disappear. Four acts without emission and the "five spirits" are all at peace. Five acts without emission makes the pulse full and relaxed. Six acts without emission strengthens the waist and back. Seven acts without emission gives power to the buttocks and thigh. Eight acts without emission causes the whole body to be radiant. Nine acts without emission and one will enjoy unlimited longevity. Ten acts without emission and one attains the realm of the immortals.
Excerpted from The Classic of Su Nu (ca. 200-500 AD) as tranlasted by Douglas Wile and included in The Art of the Bedchamber (SUNY, 1992)