Chapter 19: On Circles

“That’s right, Uncle Yu! Thanks to your reminder, stripping away the flowery language, this is the simplest and clearest cultivation theory!”

The young man spoke proudly, full of confidence, “I’ve mentioned before, what’s the most crucial aspect of reaching the Three Steps to Ascension realm?”

Yu Ci played along, answering, “Master Ye has said that the Three Steps to Ascension realm is when a cultivator clarifies the structure of their spirit, refines the nature of their spirit, and elevates its level until the Yin Spirit is formed and able to travel outside the body. As for what’s crucial within this, we still need Master Ye’s guidance.”

Ye Tu’s face flushed slightly but he remained composed, clapping his hands, “In the Three Steps to Ascension realm, the most crucial aspect is undoubtedly the structure of the spirit. Without this, all the refinement and formation of the Yin Spirit would be muddled. Today, I will definitely make the structure of the spirit clear!”

With confidence, Ye Tu sat cross-legged on the ground, signaling Yu Ci to sit beside him. He then said, “I’ve mentioned before that the structure of the spirit is ‘one essence, two realities, three illusions.’ It sounds strange but is actually easy to understand.”

He took a deep breath, tracing a circle in the air with his finger, “This is the Cognitive Spirit.”

Then, he pointed to the central stone fragment, “This is the Primordial Spirit.”

“The Primordial Spirit is the innate spark of enlightenment and the inherent nature. All cultivation is about tracing back to the origin, seeking innate abilities. The Cognitive Spirit is our thoughts and perceptions, controlling our daily activities. The Daoist texts say, ‘The Cognitive Spirit hides while the Primordial Spirit emerges,’ explaining their relationship. Simply put, it’s like this.”

His finger tapped twice on the diagram, and Yu Ci nodded repeatedly. The relationship between the Cognitive Spirit and the Primordial Spirit was complex and tedious, often expressed in thousands of words without clear meaning. But presenting it in this diagram made it instantly clear. It was evident that Ye Tu had put in considerable effort.

“The Primordial Spirit and the Cognitive Spirit are the two ultimate concepts within the spirit structure, referred to as ‘two realities.’ But why is there a ‘one essence’ before them? Here, we need to understand that the Cognitive Spirit, as thoughts and perceptions, has a specific meaning.”

Ye Tu raised his head, staring into Yu Ci’s eyes, “You see, I start by drawing a circle, representing an ideal state, a perfect mental state. This ‘perfection’ comes from the undisturbed, innate perfect state of the Primordial Spirit. In the initial state of the spirit, there is no distinction between Cognitive Spirit and Primordial Spirit; they are one and flawless. The Primordial Spirit’s innate spark illuminates the entire spirit, serving as the foundation, the essence, the core point.”

“But in reality, this perfect mental state is unattainable. From the moment we inherit our parents’ essence and blood, nurtured in the womb, we are influenced by the external environment. These influences are perceptible, imperceptible, memorable, and unmemorable, including every bump, every act of kindness or malice from childhood to now…”

After a lengthy explanation, Ye Tu stretched his arms to the fullest, as if encircling an unbearable weight, then pressed down with a sound effect:

“Clang!

“Thus, the perfect circle becomes imperfect! But with every force that makes the ‘circle’ imperfect, our instincts give a corresponding counterforce, trying to restore it to perfection. Over time, we develop a set of responses to external changes. This set of responses is the basis of our actions, formed postnatally, which is the Cognitive Spirit.”

At this point, a thunderous roar echoed in Tianlie Valley, causing some disturbance among the surrounding creatures, but Yu Ci paid no mind, as this had happened many times the previous night. Ye Tu was completely immersed in his explanation, unaware of anything else, gesturing animatedly:

“Understand this: every external force leaves a mark on our consciousness. Some we can feel, some we cannot. Those imperceptible influences, seemingly insignificant, actually outnumber the perceptible ones by tens or hundreds of times. Over decades, they accumulate significantly, far beyond our awareness.”

He drew another circle almost touching the outer arc of the initial diagram, forming a set of concentric circles: “This thin outer circle is our everyday thoughts and perceptions, which I call ‘manifest cognition.’ The inner part is ‘hidden cognition.’ Together, they form the true Cognitive Spirit.

“The information within hidden cognition is vast and contains immense power, including suppressed emotions and desires, ancestral instincts, and even more mysterious bloodline inheritances, which are often referred to in cultivation as ‘talent’ or ‘aptitude,’ our accumulated potential.”

The young man slapped the concentric circles with his palm, “This is a complete ‘diagram.’ See, the Primordial Spirit is at the center, the Cognitive Spirit on the outside; hidden cognition is deep within, manifest cognition on the surface, forming a three-layered structure. All cultivation in the Three Steps to Ascension realm can be illustrated with this. Look!”

Ye Tu drew two lines from the center, extending beyond the two circular layers.

Yu Ci was initially stunned, then he slapped his thigh, recognizing it from his own cultivation experience, “Dividing cognition into thoughts!”

Ye Tu beamed with satisfaction, “That’s right. Through the cultivation of the ‘Three Mortal Obstacles,’ the spirit gradually strengthens. Actually, it’s the Primordial Spirit at the deepest level of the spirit that truly grows. When it becomes powerful enough, it can penetrate the Cognitive Spirit, projecting spiritual power and actively sensing external information. We call the former ‘spiritual thought’ and the latter ‘spiritual perception.’ Together, they are termed ‘spiritual intent,’ the first step in the Three Steps to Ascension!”

Hearing this, Yu Ci suddenly understood.

The spirit system was thus: the Primordial Spirit and the Cognitive Spirit were its basic components; the Cognitive Spirit could be divided into manifest and hidden cognition. The Primordial Spirit, hidden cognition, and manifest cognition, from the inside out, formed the basic structure of the spirit.

As for spiritual thought, spiritual perception, and their collective term ‘spiritual intent,’ these were concepts derived from the Primordial Spirit, just branches of the main structure.

This clarified the primary and secondary elements.

Yu Ci’s reaction was the best reward for Ye Tu. The young man, encouraged by Yu Ci’s praise, continued with even more enthusiasm, using the diagram to illustrate, not aiming for meticulous detail but revealing a comprehensive cultivation framework step by step, far surpassing the tedious bookish approach he had previously adhered to.

At this moment, Yu Ci felt as if he had learned more in this session than in ten years of reading. He listened even more attentively, while Ye Tu explained eagerly. They became so engrossed that they lost track of time. Gradually, Yu Ci began asking questions to better understand the information. His interest leaned more towards swordsmanship, so after a few exchanges, he asked about the ‘Primordial Spirit wielding the sword.’

“The Primordial Spirit wielding the sword… well, that’s an extension,” Ye Tu said, scratching his head as he improvised, “It’s an application of ‘merging spirit with Qi.’ This ‘merging spirit with Qi’ is a different system from what I previously mentioned. It involves refining Qi and strengthening the body. Essentially, it’s the fusion of spirit and Qi throughout the body, blending essence, Qi, and spirit into one, forming higher-level powers like ‘Gang’ and ‘Sha.’ When infused into a sword, it allows the Primordial Spirit to wield the sword, enhancing its activity—a practical technique.”

“Hmm, sounds good…”

“Of course! For sword cultivators, the Primordial Spirit wielding the sword is fundamental for nurturing the sword and refining Sha. It’s a lifelong foundation. Uncle Yu, your self-taught mastery indicates a solid foundation in self-cultivation, abundant Qi, and exceptional talent with the sword!”

“Such high requirements? What about Daoist Yan…”

“Who is Daoist Yan?” Ye Tu looked puzzled.

Yu Ci recounted his encounter with Daoist Yan, emphasizing the powerful final sword strike.

Ye Tu was stunned, mumbling, “No way, when did wielding the sword with the Primordial Spirit become so common?”

Shaking his head, he steadied himself and explained, “There’s a crucial aspect of merging spirit with Qi, transforming and generating Qi. This Qi is not ordinary but is innate Qi, higher than the True Qi cultivated in the body, a result of the Golden Core stage. Three Steps to Ascension cultivators rarely refine innate Qi, and even if they do, it’s momentary. Daoist Yan, as you described, seems to use spiritual thought to wield Qi, likely wielding the sword with the Primordial Spirit, but the deliberate posturing is inferior. The immense power is partly due to other methods, not solely Daoist Yan’s skill.”

Examining the Nine Yang Talisman Sword, Ye Tu noticed, “The talisman sword stores innate Qi through its talisman inscriptions, activated by some technique involving the Primordial Spirit wielding the sword, enhancing its power. It’s not entirely Daoist Yan’s own strength.”

Yu Ci observed the talisman patterns, confirming Ye Tu’s analysis. He recalled the jade slip from Daoist Yan mentioning this aspect, which he hadn’t studied yet.

Nodding, he was about to ask more when the disturbances from fierce beasts seemed to intensify, accompanied by a violent tremor underfoot. Facing the edge of the slope, Ye Tu’s gaze swept across, rendering him speechless.


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