Alchemy – Our Quest for Immortality

Alchemy Transformation

Origin of Alchemy

The name alchemy itself reflects the art’s mysterious origins. We have inherited the word from the Arabic al-kimia, as it was the Islamic world that did most to keep its practice alive during the early Middle Ages. However, the Arabs took the word from the Greek word chemeia, when they occupied Alexandria in the seventh century. And, chemeia, which is also the origin of the word chemistry, meant “those who have knowledge of the Egyptian arts.” As is often the case with the quest for immortality, all roads lead back to the Nile.

Two Goals of Alchemy

The oldest mention of alchemy in history is in the records of the first-century BC Chinese historian Sima Qian. He describes how the royal court alchemist sought to transform cinnabar, a bright red mercury ore, into gold – and that if this was used for eating and drinking it would ensure “you will never die.” Thus, from its earliest days, alchemy has been associated with the pursuit of two goals united by the idea of transformation: the transformation of base metals into gold and of mortal humans into immortals.

Achieving Immortality

Although now more associated with the transformation of base metals into gold, most alchemists would have considered at the very least that they were inextricably linked, and very often, as in Sima Qian’s description, that the production of gold was merely the means to the end of achieving immortality.

When aspiring to live forever, the elixir was whatever helped to stave off aging and death a little bit longer, and its pursuit encompassed what we would now consider to be very disparate traditions, from medicine to magic and science to religion. Yet, despite these many strands, the quest for the elixir has come to be known by one name: alchemy.

Taoism and Life Extension 

In China, at the time of the First Emperor (220-210 BC), alchemy was a vital part of Taoism – the prevalent religious-philosophical system. Taoist practitioners developed life-extension techniques that are now, over 2000 years later, continuing to prosper: meditation, breathing exercises, the gymnastics of tai chi and qigong, and the consumption of tea, ginseng and many other herbs and minerals. One of Taoism’s core texts, known as The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon, remains the central source for Chinese traditional medicine.

Immortality book
Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How It Drives Civilization
Stephen Cave



Stephen Cave
Stephen Cave

Stephen Cave is Executive Director of the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence and Senior Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge. He has a PhD in Philosophy from Cambridge.  Before turning to full-time writing, he worked as a diplomat. He writes regularly for the Financial Times and also contributes to the New York Times.

 The 4 Stories We Tell Ourselves About Death – TED Talk by Stephen Cave

How Can We Find Happiness?


Rejoicing in Life!

Like an innocent child who doesn’t have to do anything to be happy, we can rejoice in life itself, in being alive. 

Begin the practice of gratitude by feeling how year after year you have cared for your own life.

The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace
The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace
Jack Kornfield

Background on Jack Kornfield


Is Optimism a Way of Creating the Future?


We Are Responsible for the Future

The possibilities that lie in the future are infinite. When I say ‘It is our duty to remain optimists,’ this includes not only the openness of the future, but also that which all of us contribute to it by everything we do.

We are responsible for what the future holds in store. It is our duty, not to prophesy evil, but, rather, to fight for a better world..

Karl Popper, The Myth of the Framework: In Defense of Science and Rationality

The Principle of Optimism

All evils are caused by insufficient knowledge.

Optimism is a way of explaining failure, not prophesying success. It says that there is no fundamental barrier, no law of nature or supernatural decree, preventing progress.

Whenever we try to improve things and fail, it is not because the spiteful (or benevolent) gods are thwarting us or punishing us for trying, or because we have reached a limit on the capacity of reason to make improvements, or because it is best that we fail, but always because we did not know enough, in time.

In addition, optimism is a stance towards the future, because nearly all failures, and nearly all successes, are yet to come.

The Beginning of Infinity
The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World

David Deutsch

Background on David Deutsch

The Joy of Spiritual Awakening

Spiritual Awareness

The most amazing and strange thing about awakening to the truth of oneness is that there’s no such thing as oneness as an isolated phenomenon. It is just the absence of an illusory separation between oneself and the rest of the world.

When we wake up spiritually, nothing really changes. We are still breathing; the trees and mountains are still there. The only thing that changed was the disappearance of all the delusions of duality and the suffering generated by them. After awakening, we are able to find joy even in the smallest things.

The Magic of Awareness
The Magic of Awareness

Anam Thubten

Background on Anam Thubten


What is “Emptiness” in Buddhism?


Emptiness – Freedom from Illusions

From the vantage point of the ego, emptiness seems to be the darkness of the unknown, something that threatens the very foundation of our being.

However, in Buddhist philosophy, emptiness is the notion that all things are free from any fixed, independent, permanent existence. Emptiness is synonymous with truth since it describes a state that goes beyond all intellectual comprehension, and thus is empty of all illusions

Characteristics of Emptiness

Emptiness is the divine fire that burns all concepts and the holy water that washes away all misery:

  • The source, or ground, of all things.
  • Synonymous with truth.
  • Beyond intellectual comprehension.
  • Not nihilistic nothingness.
  • The realm of love and compassion.
  • Free from any fixed, independent, permanent existence.

No Self, No Problem
No Self, No Problem: Awakening to Our True Nature
Anam Thubten



Anam Thubten
Anam Thubten

. Dharmata Foundation

Anam Thubten grew up in Tibet and at an early age began to practice in the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Among his many teachers, his most formative guides were Lama Tsurlo, Khenpo Chopel, and Lama Garwang.

He is the founder and spiritual advisor of Dharmata Foundation, with headquarters in Point Richmond, California.

Anam Thubten has been teaching in the West since the early 1990s, and he teaches widely in the U.S. and abroad. He has written various articles and books in both Tibetan and English.

Books written by Anam Thubten include: