The Secret Door
Thoughts on Thelema

The Hermit of Esopus Island

NOTE: In 2015 the racketeering pseudo-O.T.O. called the Caliphate, trying to suck every last penny out of its racket before the expiration of the Aleister Crowley copyright  on December 31, 2017, blocked the publication of an original edition of the Qingjing Jing by Go Xuan, paraphrased by Aleister Crowley, on Lulu. On the assumption that Thelemites and others interested in the work of Aleister Crowley do not want their access to Crowley material to be impeded by a criminal racket, whose tactics remind one of the Church of Scientology, I am reproducing this work below. This edition includes an original introduction. P.S. The book came into the pubic domain on January 1, 2018 in most jurisdictions (“life plus 70”), along with all works of Aleister Crowley, published and unpublished (posthumous publications edited or published by others may still be partially copyright if they added new and original elements to the original work).

The Qingjing Jing of Go Xuan

Paraphrased by Aleister Crowley

The Hermit of Esopus Island

By Max Demian

Chinese Text
Esopus Island

Not quite 100 miles north of New York, in the middle of a widening in the Hudson River, in the midst of the mysterious Hudson River Valley, Esopus Island, a few hundred meters long, looks like a skeletal finger pointing north. The nearest town is Staatsburg, New York. It was to this place steeped in lore and legends that Aleister Crowley repaired, unemployed and broke, on July 19, 1918, to embark on a “great magical retirement” — a Biblical forty days and forty nights of meditative discipline. With little more than a tent, a leaky sailing canoe, and some red paint, when he was not meditating cross-legged for hours at a time on the beach, he spent his time smearing DO WHAT THOU WILT and EVERY MAN AND EVERY WOMAN IS A STAR across the rocky cliffs facing the passing steamers. The local farmers kept him alive with gifts of eggs, milk, and sweet corn.

Crowley’s meditative practices, in addition to the natural seclusion and semi-fasting, included sitting (asana), breathing (pranayama), mental concentration (dharana), and withdrawing attention from the senses (pratyahara), supplemented by alcohol and other drugs, possibly peyote. Crowley was also able to experiment with sex magick with his mistress, Roddie Minor, who he nicknamed the camel, who brought him supplies once a week, and two other women, Marie Lavroff and Madeleine George. Crowley also experimented with sex magick as an elixir of immortality, with beneficial effects that (he claimed) he experienced for years afterwards.

Because of the foregoing heady mixture of exercises Crowley acquired the power (siddhi) of recollecting past lives, which he called the “magical memory.” However these memories might be interpreted, and Crowley himself was open-minded, subsequent research into the psychological effects of psychedelics, NDEs, physical and psychological traumas, kundalini awakening, etc. clearly shows that this experience is an innate human potentiality that manifests itself spontaneously without regard for cultural milieu or personal beliefs or expectations. Thus, it is no surprise to discover that the memory of past lives is known to the Buddhists and is considered a sign of spiritual attainment by them, the Buddha himself asserting this power despite discouraging siddhis in general.

Crowley’s past life memories included Ge Xuan, a third century Taoist master, which Crowley, following the transliteration of James Legge, spelled Ko Hsuan. Crowley stated that he remembered being Ge Xuan without actually remembering any details of his life experiences. Crowley also wrote a poetic paraphrase of James Legge’s translation of the Qingjing Jing (in Legge’s transliteration, Khing Khang King), the so-called Classic of Purity, attributed to Ge Xuan.

On September 5, about midday, Crowley’s two-month ordeal culminated in an illumination in which he experienced the Supreme Secret of a Magus:

The meditation of this afternoon resulted in an initiation so stupendous that I dare not hint at its Word. It is the supreme secret of a Magus, and it is so awful that I tremble even now—two hours later and more … as I write concerning it. In a single instant I had the Key to the whole of the Chinese wisdom. In the light—momentary glimpse as it was—of this truth, all systems of religion and philosophy became absolutely puerile. Even the Law appears no more than a curious incident. I remain absolutely bewildered, blinded, knowing what blasting image lies in this shrine. It baffles me to understand how my brother Magi, knowing this, ever went on. I had only one foreshadowing of this Vision of Jupiter—for so I may call it!—and that was a Samadhi which momentarily interrupted my concentration of Sammasati. This can only be described vaguely by saying that I obtained a reconciliation of two contraries of which “There is a discrimination between good and evil” is one. This experience has shaken me utterly; it has been a terrible struggle to force myself to this record. The secret comes along the Path of Aleph to Chokmah. I could write it plainly in a few words of one syllable, and most people would not even notice it.[1] But it has might to hurl every Master of the Temple into the Abyss, and to fling every adept of the Rose Cross down to the Qliphoth. No wonder One said that the Book T was in ashes in the Urn of a Magus! I can’t see at all how it will affect me at present. Even the Way of the Tao looks idiotic—but then of course that’s what it is! So I suppose that’s it, all right. And its freedom, in an utterly fascinating and appalling sense, is beyond my fiercest conception.[2]

This diary entry is exceptionally interesting and significant in that Crowley identifies the “supreme secret of a Magus” with the Chinese wisdom, which he identifies with a metaphysical Point of View in which all Phenomena appear merely as ephemera, including Change (anitya) itself. This Point of View is, of course, the being-for-itself of Time, which necessarily transcends and therefore annihilates its in-itself. Implicitly, the Chinese wisdom in Crowley’s vision is the “axle of the wheel,” the “unified field theory” of spirituality, which Crowley found in the syncretism of the Lingbao tradition of Taoism, which incorporates many Buddhist elements, such as that exemplified by the Classic of Purity of Ge Xuan as well as Laozi’s Tao Te Ching. Crowley’s lifelong admiration for the Buddhist Abhidharma is well documented, even after his official conversion to the Law of Thelema.

Thus, Crowley states explicitly that the highest perspective on the Law of Thelema is not only trans-Thelemic, it is pan-Asian. In this illumination Crowley appears to assert the spiritual supremacy of the Yellow over the White School (see Magick Without Tears, Caps. VI, VII, and VIII) as the Supreme Secret of the Magus. Also in Magick Without Tears, he would write of this vision, “the veil was no more than a shimmering, scintillating gossamer, translucent to the ineffable glory that glows behind it.”

Ge Xuan

Crowley, of course, knew about Ge Xuan (164–244) from James Legge’s translation of the Khing Kang King, published in 1891.[3] In the introduction to his translation Legge describes Ge Xuan as a third century Taoist Immortal and wonder worker with a tendency to intemperance and eccentricity, very like a Tibetan mahasiddha, very like the famous Tibetan adept Padmasambhava, and very like Aleister Crowley. Crowley himself called Ge “[T]hat crazy drunken miracle-worker of the third century who upset all China with his weird practices and astounding feats, who said he was ‘Holy beyond Utterance’ and lived for seven years in a pig-sty, as a pig does in every way, to prove it.” The comparison with Padmasambhava and with Crowley himself is unavoidable.

The Qingjing Jing is a Lingbao scripture, meaning that it is the result of spirit communication through a medium. According to tradition, the transmission of the Qingjing Jing, originally practiced by the celestial spirits, is an initiatory empowerment that must be communicated by word of mouth from teacher to disciple to be efficacious. Similar dharma traditions used to flourish in Tibet prior to the Chinese occupation of the country. According to the commentator Li Hsi-yueh, Ge credited his realization of the Tao to the repetition of the Qingjing 10,000 times. Ge received the oral empowerment ultimately from the Western Royal Mother, the matriarch of Chinese civilization, Xi Wangmu, through two intermediaries, and put it into writing for the first time.  Thus, Ge broke his initiatory obligations exactly as Crowley did when he published The Equinox.

Crowley also remembered an international council of Secret Chiefs held in the sixth century CE, during which Crowley, the youngest member, defended the minority position and volunteered to help reveal the secret wisdom to mankind in an effort, disdained by the Asian masters, to emancipate humanity. Others in Crowley’s camp were Mohammed; Luther; Adam Weishaupt, the founder of the Illuminati; “Christian Rosenkreutz,” the founder of the Rosicrucians; and others.

Ge Xuan’s personality and life present many similarities with Aleister Crowley. Like Crowley, Ge was born to a wealthy family and was blessed with marked intelligence from birth. Like Crowley, Ge read voraciously and came to take a special interest in spiritual philosophy. The elder Crowley died when the son was still a boy. Both of Ge’s parents died while he was an adolescent. Both Crowley and Ge were strongly attracted to nature, especially wilderness. Both travelled extensively. Both men studied under various gurus, experimented with drugs and sex, and pursued self-refinement with great assiduity. Both transmitted spirit communications of profound spiritual wisdom. Both practiced both Magick and Mysticism, as Crowley denominated the two primary polarities of the underlying secret wisdom tradition. Ge is revered as one of the three founders of Taoism. Similarly, Crowley is a member of an elect spiritual group and the founder of Thelema. Both Ge and Crowley were practitioners of special “embryonic” breathing or pranayama. Both had many tales told about their accomplishments. Both men died with a mighty wind.

The Qingjing Jing

The text that follows is Crowley’s illuminated paraphrase of the translation of James Legge. Legge’s was the only English translation of the Classic of Purity available during Crowley’s lifetime. Crowley’s original poem consisted of 27 four-line stanzas in regular six-syllable lines in two parts consisting of 12 and 15 stanzas each, in which the second and fourth lines are indented.

27 is the highest level of Buddhist knowledge and the number of grains in the Buddhist rosary (being 108 divided by 4). As the cube of 3, it is a symbol of the cosmos. It is the total number of written letters of the Hebrew alphabet. 27 is also the number of ChIDH, Riddle, Mystery. Crowley assigned the liber corresponding to this book the number 21, the number of AHIH, Being, and the mystic number of Tiphereth, as well as ZChU, Purify. It was published by the A∴A∴ in Class B, the number of a serious scholarly work.


[1] I find that I wrote it down plainly seventeen years ago! But I had no conception of its terror—one must be a Magus to get that! [Written in 1918, Crowley must be alluding to the year 1901. M.D.]

[2] “The Hermit of Oesopus [sic] Island,” quoted in The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, p. 239. It appears that the original diary was destroyed upon Crowley’s death by his renegade disciple, Charles Stansfeld Jones, to conceal a homosexual relationship between the two men.

[3] “Khing Kang King, or ‘The Classic of Purity,’” in The Texts of Taoism, The Sacred Books of China, Vol. XL of The Sacred Books of the East, ed., F. Max Muller, App. I, pp. 247–254. It was not translated again till 1993.

Lao kun the master said:
tao is devoid of form –
yet heaven and earth are brought to birth,
and nurtured by its norm.

Tao hath no will to work;
yet by its way of heaven
the moon and sun rejoice to run
among the starry seven.

Tao hath no name; its word
Is growth, and sustenance
to all; i aim to give it name:
tao (heaven prosper chance!)

Tao hath twin phase with teh:
the silent and the stressed.
Of motion, those; of these, repose
sublimely manifest

Heaven moves, pure silence he;
Earth rests beneath the strain;
shuttle and loom, as word and womb,
their mystery sustain

Pure motion maketh rest
As silence maketh stress.
If man were still, then heaven should thrill
with earth to nothingness.

Self loveth silence. Yea,
But mind distracteth it.
Mind loveth rest; but passion’s pest
allures the trembling wit.

If man restrain desire,
his mind will cease to roll,
and mind’s release allow pure peace
of silence to the soul.

The senses will not soil;
The thought will not upstress;
nor poisons (greed, wrath, dulness) breed
their triform deadliness.

Men earn not ease of tao
For their desire’s disease;
because their mind is not refined
of thought by killing these.

If one should slay desires,
his mind and body seem
no longer his, but phantasies
danced in a wanton’s dream.

Slay mind, slay body, slay
The external: matter goes.
Then space remains; renew thy pains!
up! Front the final foes!


Lao kun the master said:
the adept in skill of soul
hath never an aim: the bunglers shame
is that he gropes a goal.

Who most possess the teh
Conceal their magick power;
who least possess exert their strength
seven times in every hour.

These, who cling fast to powers,
Who guard them, and display
their magick art – they are not part
of tao nor yet of teh.

Men win not truth of tao
Because their minds are wried.
The mind uncurbed, the self’s perturbed,
and loses tune of tide.

Lost, the external lures;
They turn to seek it: then
all things perplex, confuse, and vex
those miserable men.

Disordered thoughts arise;
Body and mind grow sick.
Disgrace and fear grow year by year
to their climacteric.

Wild, they are tossed about
through life and death; they quiver,
sunk in sea-stress of bitterness,
and lose the tao for ever.

The true, the abiding tao!
Who understandeth hath;
who hath the tao is here and now
in silence of the path

Slay space; then naught abides.
hold not thy holy hand!
When naught gives back before the attack,
serene thy silence stand!

All’s rest, devoid of mark;
how should desires fix tooth?
When they are past, thou surely hast
the silence of the truth.

Flawless that truth and fixed,
Yet apt to each appeal
nature and sense to influence –
the magnet to the steel!

Oh! This true touch with all
elastic and exact
that yet above their tides –
the silence free from act!

He that hath this shall come
Little by little, a breath,
so floweth he now, to truth of tao,
wherein he vanisheth.

Men style him lord of tao,
Yet he hath none to lord.
Hid motive he of all that be:
enough for his reward!

He that can comprehend
This doctrine may transmit
this sacred tao to men that vow
themselves to fathom it.

  1. 老君曰 ﹕
    夫道者 ﹕
  2. 夫人神好清,而情撓之。
  3. 觀空以空,空無所空。
  4. 如此清靜,漸入真道。
  5. 老君曰﹕
  6. 便遭濁辱,流浪生死。
Modern Translation

Lord Lao said: “The great Dao has no form, yet it gives birth to Heaven and Earth. The great Dao has no desires, yet it moves the sun and moon along their orbits. The great Dao has no name, yet it constantly nurtures the myriad phenomena. I do not know its name, and yet I attempt to speak of it as the Dao.”

The dao of human beings is pure and impure; it has action and it has stillness. Heaven is pure and Earth is impure; Heaven acts and the Earth is still. Masculine is pure and feminine is impure; masculine acts and the feminine is still. Descending from the origin and flowing to the tips, the myriad phenomena are born. Purity is the source of impurity, and stillness is the basis of movement. If people can be constantly pure and still, then Heaven and Earth will certainly revert to them!

The human spirit is fond of purity, but the mind disturbs it; the human mind is fond of stillness, but desires lead it along. If the mind can be constant without desires, then the mind will become still; when the mind has settled, then the spirit will be pure. Naturally the Six Desires will not be born and the Three Poisons will perish. Those who cannot accomplish this have minds not yet settled, and are not yet rid of desires.

For one who has dispatched with desires, when he observes his mind, there is no mind. When he observes his outer form, there is no such form. When he observes external phenomena, there are no such things. He realizes that these three are fundamentally empty, and he only sees emptiness. He observes that this emptiness is also empty, yet the emptiness has nothing which is empty. Since the emptiness is empty, that which is not empty is also empty. Since what is not empty is empty, there is clarity and constant tranquility. Since this tranquility has nothing which is tranquil, what can give birth to desires? Since desires are not born, this is itself true stillness, true constant response to phenomena, true constant attainment and abiding. With constant response and constant stillness, this is indeed constant purity and stillness.

With such purity and stillness, one gradually enters the true Dao. Because one has entered the true Dao, it is deemed “attaining the Dao.” Although it is called “attaining the Dao,” in fact there is nothing acquired. For the purpose of transforming living beings, it is called “attaining the Dao.” Those who can awaken to it are then able to transmit the sagely Dao.

Lord Lao said: “High warriors do not fight, while low warriors are fond of fighting. High virtue is without ‘virtue,’ while low virtue grasps after virtue. Those who grasp at such things do not understand the virtue of the Dao.”

Therefore it is impossible for living beings to attain the true Dao with deluded minds. Since they have deluded minds, their spirits are frightened; because their spirits are frightened, they are attached to the myriad phenomena. Because they are attached to the myriad phenomena, they give birth to greedy seeking; due to the birth of this greedy seeking, they they encounter confusion and anger. With these afflictions and delusions, they concern themselves with the pains of the body and mind. Since they easily encounter impurity and disgrace, they wander aimlessly in birth and death, constantly submerged in the sea of suffering, and perpetually missing the true Dao.

If one awakens to the constant true Dao, he will attain it. One who attains and awakens to the Dao has constant purity and stillness indeed.

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