The Sword of Wisdom

The sword of wisdom is a symbol that is used in all esoteric traditions. It is a symbol for spiritual knowledge and effort, in particular the effort to be present in this moment.

Let the wise man fight illusion with the sword of wisdom. -- Buddha
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth. I came not to send peace, but a sword. -- The Bible, The Gospel of Matthew, 10:34
The Prophet said: ‘Wisdom is my sword’. -- Al-Ghazali

The highest wisdom is the wisdom that awakens the original spirit.

Wisdom is but self-awareness, beyond all words and talk. -- Milarepa

Thirteenth century Taoist Master Li Daochun explains the meaning of the sword of wisdom in detail:

Ever since sages handed on the secret of the sword,
the true imperative has been upheld,
completely, truly adamant.

When students of the Tao know this secret,
The yang spirit is intensely powerful,
And the yin demons vanish.

If someone asks me about
Looking for its origin,
I say it is not ordinary iron.
This lump of iron
Comes from receptive stillness (square Earth☷) ;
When you obtain it, it rises up.

Setting to work when one yang comes back,
first have the six yangs pump the furnace bellows;
Then the six yins work the tongs and hammer.
When the work of firing is complete,
it produces the sword;
When it is first done,
it flashes like lightening.

This precious sword fundamentally has no form;
The name is set up because it has spiritual effect.
Learning the Tao and practicing reality
Depend on this sword;
Without this sword,
the Tao cannot be achieved.

The essence of the poem is having the six yangs pump the furnace bellows and the six yins working the tongs and hammer. The furnace refers to the mind of Tao, which tries to awaken the original spirit.

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. -- Liu Yiming ,The Inner Teaching of Taoism

The furnace bellows refer to the inhalation an exhalation of the True Breath.

The fire is the human spirit; the breathing is the bellows of the fire.
-- The Cultivation of Realization, by an unknown author
The yang of Heaven ☰ and the Yin of Earth ☷ are like the opening and closing of a door….. breathing out and breathing in. Here breathing out and breathing in do not refer to exhalation and inhalation through the nose, but rather to the opening and closing of the true breath, the inner pulse of life, the movement of energy and stillness of the spirit.  -- Li Dao Chun, the Book of balance and harmony

The physical breath is food for the physical body; the true breath is food for the spiritual body — the original spirit, which comes into being through the true breath. The six yangs and six yins refer to the Twelve Sovereign Hexagrams of the I Ching. The following verse about the six yang hexagrams is an extract of a poem from Triplex Unity, Cantong Qi, a 2nd century Taoist text..

At the new moon`s light lies Return ䷗:
The yang breath begins to spread through.
At Overseeing ䷒, the furnace issues strips of light,
Opening the way for proper radiance.
Looking upward, it forms Tranquility ䷊:
The firm and the yielding both come to hold sway. 
Gradually comes the turn of Great Power ䷡,
At Parting  ䷪ the time has come for yin to move into retreat,
For yang has risen and has come to the force.
Heaven ䷀ is strong, flourishing,  and bright,
And lays itself over the four neighbourhoods.
-- Wei Boyang (Canton Qi - Triplex Unity)

The Yang breath begins to spread through, means that with each hexagram, yang energy is gaining strength; with each of the six breaths, self-awareness is getting stronger, until it is pure and bright with hexagram #1 Heaven.

One who mounts the truth of Heaven ☰ and Earth ☷ rides the changes of the six breaths, and then roams amongst the boundless. -- Zhuangzi (4th c. BCE Taoist philosopher)
This path (道-Dao) is not difficult to know, but it is difficult to practice; when you know it, it is most important to practice it. Promptly setting about cultivating it, it will surely return gradually, from a single yang, until six yangs are pure and complete. What can compare to the growth and fruition of that Return ䷗? -- Liu Yiming, The Taoist I Ching, hexagram #24 Return

The next six yin hexagrams represent the loss of the yang breath and the loss of the original spirit.

Meeting ䷫ begins the next sequence,
With  yin becoming the host.
At Withdrawal ䷫, it leaves its position in this world
And loses the seed.
At Obstruction ䷋ there is stagnation and blockade,
and no new buds are generated.
Observation ䷓ with its equity and its balance,
examines the temper of autumn`s middle month.         
Stripping Away ䷖, the body is broken,
Dismembered and its form destroyed,
The vital Breath is exhausted,
The original spirit is forgotten and lost.
The Way (道-Dao) comes to an end and turns around,
Returning to its origin in Earth ䷁.
-- Wei Boyang (Canton Qi - Triplex Unity)

In practice, although the awakening of the original spirit is usually a gradual process through keeping self-awarenes, losing self-awareness does not happen gradually, it happens in an instant. If one is lucky, one quickly becomes aware that one lost self-awareness and one can start again. If not, it may take an hour or a day before one can start again.

In the course of his effort to hold himself present, the seeker finds that he is in a different state but loses it at once. He should not on this account be depressed…By continued effort, the seeker can reach the same state as that of an angel. -- Attar (12th c. Sufi poet)

The six yin hexagrams, when they are seen as part of the Twelve Sovereign Hexagrams, only represent the gradual loss of yang symbolically; they also have a special meaning that is usually only passed on through word of mouth.

But the method of casting the sword is not easy to know; the combination of strength and flexibility is most difficult to understand. If you do not meet a genuine teacher and get personal instruction, you will just be indulging in vain guesswork. -- Liu Yiming, Commentary on Understanding

The six yins and six yangs are separated and need to be united.

There is a dark (hidden) secret, remote and slight, that separate they are yet joined together. -- Wei Boyang (Canton Qi - Triplex Unity)

Master Shangyang explains the meaning of the above two lines:

In just these two lines is the most perfect and complete summary of what is meant here. Separate they are yet joined together meaning that the two objects yin and yang are 10,000 miles apart in their activity - but if they gain the old Yellow Woman to act as match-maker, although far from each other, they come very close together. And then the two materials respond in due measure, bearing as a seed ‘the primacy of yin and yang. -- Master Shangyang, The Secret of Everlasting life, Commentary on the CanTong Qi (Triplex Unity)

If the six yins and the six yangs gain the Yellow Wife, they will unite and bear a seed.

QUESTION: What is the "true seed"?
ANSWER: The true seed is the point of spiritual light which is prior to the separation of Heaven and Earth. -- Li Dao Chun, The Book of Balance and Harmony

A point of spiritual light (a flash of lightening represented by the Vajra) refers to a spark of inner awareness. As was said above, the bellows refer to the six yangs and six yins, which are a symbol for the inhalation and exhalation of six breaths in which the firing process is operating. It requires the yellow woman to unite the six yins and yangs. The Yellow Woman is a symbol that is used by all esoteric traditions. When the six yins and yangs are united they become the inhalation and exhalation of the six breaths of the firing process.

Originally the lines of the I Ching hexagrams were just used in opposite pairs to correspond to the rise and descent of the alchemical process. Seen upside down, as if starting from the top line of hexagram #3 Difficulty, it becomes hexagram Darkness #4. The other hexagrams are also like this. The pairs are just one hexagram, seen upright and upside down. This is like the alchemical firing process; it is basically only one "fire" or energy, but there is rise and descent. If you comprehend this, then the mechanism of the firing process is in yourself, and you can do without the hexagram lines. -- Taoist master, Practical Taoism

The Sword of Wisdom is a spiritual tool to awaken the original spirit by keeping self-awareness through six breaths.

"The breath of heaven is out of harmony, the breath of earth tangles and snarls," said Cloud Chief. "The six breaths do not blend properly, the four seasons do not stay in order. Now I would like to harmonize the essences of the six breaths. How should I go about it?"
-- Zhuangzi
Attaining the Tao means entering the true way and obtaining instructions from an enlightened teacher. Learn the meaning of the Singular Cavity of the Mysterious Gate, the gathering of the Six Spirits, building the foundations, gathering the ingredients to cultivate the pill. -- Shui-Ching Tzu, Commentary on Cultivating Stillness

If one is successful in keeping self-awareness through six breaths, one can gradually release the habitual attitudes and filters through which ones sees the world; the original spirit awakens and becomes an objective witness of the moment one is in, pure, naked and empty.

True mercury is not ordinary material mercury, but the formless immaterial spiritual essence of conscious awareness in the human body. Because it is yang outside and yin inside, it is also called the beautiful girl. -- Liu Yiming, The Inner Teachings of Taoism

Fudo Myo-o — the immovable King of Light, symbolizing the firm action of the firing process. He is holding the sword of wisdom. (Unkei, 1195 AD. Jyōraku-ji Temple, Kanagawa, Japan)

Bodhisattva Manjusri with a sword and bow, Tibet, 15th Century

A six-pointed and two-pointed Vajra. When the middle point of the six-pointed vajra is elongated, it turns into a vajra-sword.

A Vajra sword
(Click to enlarge)

The Twelve Sovereign Hexagrams
(Click to enlarge)

A pillar with four lions near the Jingan temple in Shanghai. The four lions heads are looking out over the four neighbourhoods. The lion represents the strenght and firmness of pure yang. The four characters mean 正-correct, 法-law, 久-long, 住-life. If one has the right method, the original spirit can
be present for a long time.
(Click to enlarge)

Tarot card XII — the Hanged man, represents the mind of Tao not functioning. The twelve branches, representing the twelve hexagrams, are not giving any buds or fruit; there is no yang energy.

Six Jizo Bodhisattvas representing internal companions (Meaka-Fudoson
Nankokuji Temple, Tokyo)
(Click to enlarge)

The Twelve Sovereign hexagrams arranged as pairs, symbolizing the inhalation and exhalation of the true breath.

Six large Jizo Bodhisattvas with 4 small
Jizo Bodhisattvas. (Meaka-Fudoson
Nankokuji Temple, Tokyo)
(click to enlarge)

Tarot card XXI — the World, representing
'The beautiful Girl'.