Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom
Excerpts about Red Sulfur
Essential Presence is the Elixir, the Red Sulfur, that both Awakens and Transforms
In all of this, essential presence is the elixir, the red sulfur, that both awakens and transforms. It clarifies and develops the individual consciousness, the mind, and the heart. It matures the capacity for action. It ripens our faculties and imbues them with all the qualities we need to live and express our realization. Awakening happens for different people in various degrees of completeness. And there are many kinds of awakening to different faces of reality or true nature. In each face, we can awaken to different degrees of completeness. And the more complete the awakening is, the more impact it has on our consciousness, which exposes and begins to transform what needs to be clarified and reveals what needs to be developed. Although the nonhierarchical approach is a powerful way to wake up to reality and to the eruption of true nature, the hierarchical view is more effective for transformation, for the part of the path that has to do with clarification and the evolutionary development of the individual consciousness.
The Alchemy of Freedom, pg. 115
The Dynamism of Red Sulfur is a Metaphor for the Power of the Philosophers’ Stone
We first discover the inherent dynamism of true nature when we see the unity of individual consciousness and true nature. Our individual consciousness is overflowing and dynamic and creative, and it can experience and realize all the qualities of true nature—brilliancy, purity, strength, compassion, peace, light, presence, joy, and so on. When we recognize that individual consciousness and true nature are inseparable, we behold the beginning manifestation of the truth of the philosophers’ stone—the dynamism of true nature. This dynamism is usually referred to in alchemical literature as “red sulfur.” Sulfur is yellow, so what is red sulfur? It doesn’t exist in nature, and the term was used by alchemists to designate the combination of two elements that represent two sides of reality. The union of these two elements, their merging, is what creates red sulfur. In chemical terms, these two elements are sulfur and mercury, and their combination causes a chemical reaction that creates red sulfur. According to the literature, sulfur is fiery, combustive, active, and masculine; and mercury is flowing, receptive, changeable, and feminine. Red sulfur is the marriage of masculine and feminine, active and receptive, which creates an unusual dynamism. The dynamism of red sulfur is a good metaphor for the power of the philosophers’ stone, the combustive, creative dynamism of true nature as it is ignited and activated. True nature is creatively dynamic in the sense that it is creating right in the moment the experience that is happening. The creative dynamism of the individual consciousness and the nondual dimension of creative dynamism are manifestations of this dynamism in the first two turnings of the teaching.
The Alchemy of Freedom, pg. 55
The Self-Creating Unfoldment of True Nature
The fiery combustion of red sulfur is a good image for this dynamic aliveness of self-creating true nature. Different traditions understand this combustion in different ways. Some take it to be the unification of masculine and feminine qualities within us. The alchemists talk about it in terms of anima and animus as well. Other thinkers stress the importance of polar beings, of man and woman coming together to spark true activation. Some even go so far as to say that it is not simply man and woman coming together, but one particular man and one particular woman who fit each other in a unique way. This means that there is an already existing polarity that needs to find itself, to find its counterpart, and that the meeting of the two will trigger the combustion. All of these are different ways of understanding how activation can happen. I am using the alchemical image of red sulfur to refer to the intrinsic dynamism of true nature, which creates itself in the act of its awakening. The self-creating dynamism, the self-creating unfoldment of true nature appears as the various forms of spiritual experience, awakening, and realization.