The alchemical tradition of Burma, known as eggiyat, or the “work with fire”, draws it’s inspiration and techniques from both Indian and Chinese alchemy. While Burmese alchemy contains methods for the transmutiation of base metals into gold, of much greater importance are the goals of achieving immortality, magical and occult powers, and spiritual development. The achievement of these goals is sought through the use of the datloung, or alchemical stone, known as the philosopher’s stone or Stone of the Wise in Western alchemical tradition.
The Burmese believe that all matter is made up of four elements: earth, air, fire and water. In direct contrast to the usual Buddhist philosophical position that everything is ultimately impermanent, in Burma it is believed that the essence of these elements is eternal and unchanging. The alchemy of Burma in both theory and practice is based on the premise that by extracting the essence of the elements and solidifying it, this ‘stone’ can pass on some of it’s unchanging (and therefore undying) nature to the owner. Through the use of gold, mercury and iron and other materials, the alchemist ‘forges’ his or her own datloung (alchemical stone), a process which can take many months or years.
By combining states of meditative absorption with the further forging of this alchemical stone, the alchemist produces a range of alchemical medicines, metallic ‘ashes’ (similar to Ayurvedic bashmas), and other products.