Master Chang San-Feng is one of the great figures of later
Taoist history and legend, believed to be master of all the
arts and arcana of the Way. He is particularly famous as the
alleged originator of the popular exercise system known as
Tai Chi Chuan (taijiquan). Like Ancestor Lu, Master
Chang San-Feng is also believed to have attained immortality
in more than a purely spiritual sense, and to have reappeared
in the world after his supposed physical death. The works
attributed to him, again like those of Ancestor Lu, are also
evidently mixed with later additions and in some cases may
be viewed as generic products of a school rather than works
of an individual author.
It is very difficult to assign exact dates to Master Chang
San-Fengs life. One account says he lived from about
1391 to 1459, but he is also said to have lived during the
Yuan dynasty (1278-1368); some even claim he was born in the
Sung dynasty (960-1278) and others have claimed that he lived
to be over 140 years old. A Taoist master said to be Chang
San-feng is known to have been summoned to court by an emperor
of the Ming dynasty in the fifteenth century, and some Western
scholars regard the record of this event in the dynastic history
to be the only hard data on him. No one really knows, however,
who Chang San-Feng was, or even how many Chang San-Fengs there
were. All that is certain is that there is a considerable
body of writings attributed to him, containing a wealth of
interesting and practical material.
Several of Master Changs works are presented below.
The first selection is a commentary on Ancestor Lus
seminal work, The Hundred-Character Tablet. This piece shows
a strong trace of the psychophysical yoga practice associated
with the Southern school of Complete Reality. The next selection
is a set of essays on the teachings of Wang Che, founder of
the Northern school, presenting an excellent summary of the
principles and practices of that tradition of meditation.
This is followed by Words on the Way, a collection of extracts
from Changs own talks on meditation, which combine approaches
characteristic of both Southern and Northern schools. The
last three selections from Changs works are his fascinating
essays on moral and psychological understanding: Loving
People, On Medicine, and On Human
|Commentary on Ancestor
Hundred-Character Inscription on Meditation
The Hundred-Character Inscription
- Nurturing energy, forget words and guard it.
Conquer the mind, do non-doing.
In activity and quietude, know the source progenitor.
There is no thing; whom else do you seek?
Real constancy should respond to people;
In responding to people, it is essential not to get confused.
When you dont get confused, your nature is naturally
When your nature is stable, energy naturally returns.
When energy returns, Elixir spontaneously crystallizes.
In the pot pairing water and fire.
Yin and yang arise, alternating over and over again,
Everywhere producing the sound of thunder.
White clouds assemble on the summit,
Sweet dew bathes the polar mountain.
Having drunk the wine of longevity,
You wander free; who can know you?
You sit and listen to the stringless tune,
You clearly understand the mechanism of creation.
The whole of these twenty verses
is a ladder straight to heaven.
Nurturing energy, forget words
and guard it
Practitioners should first nurture energy. The method of nurturing
energy is in forgetting words and keeping unified. Forget
words, and energy is not dispersed; keep unified, and the
spirit does not go away. The secret is to quietly hold the
Conquer the mind, do non-doing
Ordinarily people's minds move and shift ceaselessly. If practitioners
want to quiet down their minds, it is important to control
their eyes. The eyes are the door of the mind, and should
be nearly closed. Use the mind on all things like a sword.
Think of worldly things as of no benefit to you; then both
craving and irritation will disappear, without any attempt
to get rid of clinging.
The secret is to look through the eyes at the nose, look through
the nose at the navel, align above and below, keep mind and
breath on each other; now keep your attention on the Mysterious
Pass, and you can overcome thought.
In activity and quietude, know
the source progenitor
Activity and quietude are yin and yang; the Source Progenitor
is the place where the body is born. Practitioners should
know that prior to Birth is the Mysterious Female.
This is the place where the upper and lower parts of the body,
the celestial and earthly parts of the being, and all the
psychological elements of human nature are all gathered together.
This is made of the point of spiritual light that is prior
to the separation of Heaven and Earth, and is what is called
the Absolute, or the Great Ultimate.
This is the vague area below the heart and above the genitals
where thoughts ceaselessly arise. This is the Source Progenitor,
or Progenitor of the Clan.
In this context, activity and quietude mean tuning and harmonizing
of the true breath, or true energy, and securely aligning
the truly fundamental in its proper position in your life.
It is said that when you breathe out you contact the Root
of Heaven and experience a sense of openness, and when you
breathe in you contact the Root of Earth and experience a
sense of solidity. Breathing out is associated with the fluidity
of the dragon, breathing in is associated with the strength
of the tiger.
As you go on breathing in this frame of mind, with these associations,
alternating between movement and stillness, it is important
that the focus of your mind does not shift.
Let the true breath come and go, a subtle continuum on the
brink of existence. Tune the breathing until you get breath
without breathing; become one with it, and then the spirit
can be solidified and the elixir can be made.
There is no thing; whom else do
If you can nurture energy, forget words, and conquer body
and mind, spirit returns to the lair of energy; the attention
focuses on the Center of the Compass, merged with unified
energy, like a hen sitting on her eggs, like a dragon nurturing
Keep your mind on this all the time, without a moment's distraction,
and after a long time, when the work becomes deep, there naturally
appears a tiny pearl that shines like the sun, silently turning
into the light of awareness of the original spirit, beyond
Real constancy should respond to
people; in responding to people, it is essential not to get
This Tao is the Way of real constancy and true eternity. It
is easy to get confused by things when dealing with situations,
so when you come in contact with people, it will not do to
get confused by what happens.
If you do not respond to people, then you are empty and silent,
an open absence; when they come to you, you ought to respond,
then let the thing pass when its past. Be clear, upright,
and magnanimous, and you wont be confused. Your true
nature will then be clear and serene, while your original
spirit will solidify and crystallize.
The secret is to pay attention everywhere you mistake nondoing
and fall into vacuity.
When you don't get confused, your
nature is naturally stable; when your nature is stable, energy
Ordinary people's natures are fiery, emotional, exaggerated
one way or another, inconstant. Any sort of stimulus will
activate random mental images in them, so it is hard to quiet
It is necessary to be truly careful of anger and be truly
sparing with desire. Physical calm is called refining vitality;
refine your vitality, and the tiger hisses, the
original spirit solidifies. Mental calm is called refining
energy; refine your energy, and the dragon sings,
the original energy remains safeguarded. Steadiness of attention
is called refining spirit; refine your spirit, and the two
energies combine, the three originals merge, and the original
energy spontaneously returns.
The three originals are original vitality, energy, and spirit.
The two energies are yin and yang. When you deal with people
without confusion, then the original spirit naturally returns,
and the fundamental nature is there of itself.
When our fundamental nature as conscious beings is present,
then the primal energy in the body naturally returns. Then
it is not hard to return to life, go back to the root.
The secret is to turn the attention around to illumine the
source of consciousness, the whole unified mind remaining
within, inward thoughts not coming out, outward thoughts not
When energy returns, elixir spontaneously
crystallizes in the pot pairing water and fire
When practitioners are not confused by objects and events,
then energy naturally returns. Thereby they see the two energies
rising and descending in the center of their bodies, yin and
yang pairing in the Alchemical Crucible. Suddenly they feel
a thread of hot energy in their genitals, rising up into the
heart. Sense comes back to the essence of consciousness, like
husband and wife joining in blissful rapture.
The two energies interact to form the substance of the elixir;
water and fire mix in the lair of energy. The cycle goes on
and on, so that the spirit drives the energy and the energy
maintains the body. Then one does not need a variety of exercises
or arts to live long naturally.
The secret is that the three treasures ears, eyes,
and mouth be closed off and not allowed to exercise
their powers. Real People dive deep into the abyss,
and travel floating, keeping within the Compass. Do
this until the energy in the elixir field is full, and this
forms the Medicinal Spoon, the linkage between the macrocosm
Yin and yang arise, alternating
over and over again, everywhere producing the sound of thunder
When the work gets to this point, the spirit does not run
outside, the energy does not leak out. The spirit returns
to the lair of energy, water and fire have already mixed;
increase the intensity of your effort, to reach the
ultimate of emptiness, and keep careful tranquillity.
Then the body is peaceful in the Middle of Unfathomable Darkness,
the mind is clear in the Homeland of Nothing Whatsoever.
Then the true breath spontaneously stills, all the body's
nerve channels spontaneously stop. Sun and moon halt, the
stars do not revolve in the sky.
At the Extreme Limit, stillness gives rise to movement. Suddenly
there is a point of spiritual light the size of a grain of
rice. This is the indication of the production of the medicine.
A blazing light passes through the kidneys like boiling water;
the bladder is like fire burning; in the belly there are sounds
like a roaring gale and pealing thunder. This is represented
by the I Ching sign Return, and is when the Root
of Heaven appears.
When the Root of Heaven appears, it stabilizes mastery of
mind; help this with the spirit, and the energy is like fire
applied to metal, passing up through the coccyx. Lightly convey
the energy, silently raise it, a ball of gentle energy, like
the reverberation of thunder, bringing it up to the center
of the brain, whence it spurts out all over the body. This
is represented by the I Ching sign Meeting.
From the Moon Cave, which is the cessation of intense effort
when the energy has filled the brain to the forehead and center
of the brows, there leaks light from the origin of being.
Then at the Extreme Limit, movement gives rise to yin, which
has transformed into a psychic water, like a sweet dew. Inside
one there is the pearl of spiritual awareness, which has settled
in the Yellow Courtyard in the center of the self, transmuting
mercurial consciousness so that it becomes stable, characteristic
of the sage.
Go through the developmental process of the whole cycle once,
purifying and refining consciousness, and the elixir will
White clouds assemble on the summit,
sweet dew bathes the Polar Mountain
When you get to this stage, the medicine has been obtained.
The two energies interlock to form the medicinal spoon, which
is the unification of higher and lower wills, and the nerve
centers and synapses of the body and brain open up. Fire descends,
water rises, and unified energy circulates all over: from
within the Extreme Limit (tai-chi) it stirs the Root of Heaven,
passes the Dark Valley Pass, rises up through the vertebrae
until it reaches the Pass of the Valley of Heaven. In the
Moon Cave, yin is born, fragrant, sweet, delicious; it goes
down the Multistoried Tower without stopping. This is called
sweet dew bathing the Polar Mountain.
The secret is when the mouth is filled with saliva after a
period of stillness followed by rising and circulating of
energy. Visualize the saliva as sweet dew, or ambrosia, what
the Buddhists call the elixir of immortality, and as you swallow
it, mentally send it down into the Alchemical Cauldron, where
it solidifies the original energy and thus nurtures it.
Having drank the wine of longevity,
you wander free; who can know you?
When development of energy reaches this degree, the bone joints
are already open, and the spiritual water ceaselessly
circulates up and down, flowing all around, coming and going
without stopping; taking it in time and again, it is called
the wine of longevity.
The secret is that the flowing pearl, the essence of consciousness,
bathes and nurtures the spiritual nature; people who practice
this know unknowing.
You sit and listen to the stringless
tune, you clearly understand the mechanism of creation
When your work reaches here, you hear the sound of the music
of the immortals, and there are also the tones of bells and
drums. The five energies assemble at the source, the three
flowers gather on the peak; that means the true sense of real
knowledge of the true essence of consciousness is present
in the will, and the vitality, energy, and spirit have been
refined and united. It is a state like when a raven comes
to roost in the evening. The mind field is open and clear,
knowledge and wisdom spontaneously grow, and one clearly under-stands
the writings of the three teachings, tacitly realizes one's
roots in former lives, foreknows what bodes good and ill for
the future; the whole world is as though in one's palm. You
see for myriad miles and have the subtle psychic faculties
available to complete human beings. This is real being.
|Discourses on the
Teachings of Wang Che
Wang Che, the real human like multiplied sunlight, said that
since your body becomes fatigued when you sit for a long time,
it is unreasonable to do this, and it can even cause illness.
As long as the mind does not stick to things you can be imperturbable.
This is the correct foundation of true stability.
Using this for stabilization, the mind and energy are harmonized,
becoming lighter and clearer the longer this is practiced.
Using this as a test, you can tell right from wrong.
If you can extinguish each arousal of mind, you will annihilate
conscious cognition and enter into the steadiness of forgetting.
If you let the mind get aroused and do not collect or control
it, then you are no different from an ordinary person. If
you only cut off the sense of good and bad, and your mind
is aimless, floating and roaming around arbitrarily, depending
on self-stabilization, you are just fooling yourself in vain.
If you engage in all sorts of activities and claim your mind
is not influenced by them, this is very good talk but quite
wrong in practice. True learners are especially wary of this.
Now if you put a stop to delusions but do not extinguish awareness,
keep calm but do not stick to voidness, practicing this with
consistency, you will spontaneously attain true vision. In
case you have doubts about something, go ahead and think it
over, so that the matter can be settled and what is in doubt
can be understood. This too is a correct basis for producing
wisdom. Once you have understood, then stop thinking
if you go on thinking, you will harm essence by intellect,
damaging the basis because of the offshoot. Though intellect
may bring you distinction for a time, ultimately it will cause
defect in the work of eternity.
All toilsome, rambling, and random thoughts are to be dismissed
as soon as you become aware of them. If you hear slander or
praise, or anything good or bad, brush it all off right away;
dont take it into your mind. If you take it in, your
mind will be full, and there will be no room for the Tao.
Whatever you see and hear, see and hear it as if you did not
see or hear. Then right and wrong, good and bad will not enter
your mind. When the mind does not take in externals, this
is called emptying the mind. When the mind does not pursue
externals, this is called pacifying the mind. When the mind
is peaceful and empty, the Tao comes of itself to dwell therein.
Emptying The Mind
A classic says if people can empty the mind and remain empty,
without desiring the Tao, the Tao comes of itself. Once the
inner mind does not dwell fixedly on anything, outward action
too is uncontrived. This is neither pure nor defiled, so there
is nowhere for praise and censure to arise. It is neither
knowledge nor ignorance, so gain and loss have no way to cause
In truth, one accords with the mean as the constant; provisionally,
one adapts to the time. At least one avoids entanglements;
this is its wisdom. If you exercise thought and act insistently
at an inappropriate time, on an inappropriate matter, and
claim you are unattached, this is not real study. Why? The
mind is like an eye if even a tiny hair gets in an eye, the
eye is uncomfortable. Similarly, if even a small matter concerns
the mind, the mind will be disturbed. Once afflicted by disturbance,
it is hard to concentrate.
What is essential to practice the Tao is to get rid of afflictions.
If afflictions are not removed, it is impossible to attain
stability. This is like the case of a fertile field, which
cannot produce good crops as long as the weeds are not cleared
away. Cravings and ruminations are the weeds of the mind;
if you do not clear them away, concentration and wisdom do
The mind is used to resting on objects and not used to independence.
If it is not placed on anything for a while, it finds it difficult
to be at ease. Even if it is peaceful for a while, it again
reverts to distraction, now aroused, now quiet. If you purposely
cause it to be undisturbed, taming it perfectly over a long
period of time, it will naturally become peaceful and at ease.
Day and night, no matter what you are doing, you should attentively
settle the mind. If you are not yet able to attain peace,
then you should calmly nurture it, not letting anything vex
you; then you will gain a little peace and relaxation, and
so can be naturally comfortable. Gradually taming the mind,
it will become increasingly clear and deep.
Oxen and horses are domestic animals, but if you let them
go free and do not restrain them, they will naturally become
wild and will not submit to the harness. Hawks and falcons
are wild birds, but if they are tied up by people and are
always perched on the wrist, they naturally become tame. So
it is with the mind; if you let it run wild and do not restrain
it, it will grow increasingly coarse how then will you be
able to perceive that which is subtle?
Some say, Those who practice the Tao are in the midst
of things, but their minds are unaffected. Though involved
in action, their spirits are undisturbed. There is nothing
that they do not do, yet never are they perturbed. Now if
one only avoids activity and takes to calm, seeking stability
apart from action, struggling to suppress and control, then
whether there is movement or stillness, one single-mindedly
sticks to keeping stationary. This produces the twin illnesses
of grasping and rejection, totally unawares. Is it not a mistake
to consider an external fixation to be an essential step on
The answer to this is that what we consider great is the totality
of things, and what we call the Way is penetration of things.
To be in the midst of things without being affected, to deal
with affairs without being disturbed, is truly great, truly
wonderful. But there is something as yet unclear in the view
expressed in this question. What is that? It is only seeing
the result without understanding the process. Just as an enormous
tree grows from a tiny sprout, the stabilization of the spirit
and attainment of enlightenment comes about through accumulated
practice. It is useless to speak only of the qualities of
sages without knowing why they have such qualities.
For people practicing the Way, nothing compares to simplifying
affairs. Know what is essential, discern relative importance,
understand what to leave and what to take. Whatever is not
essential and not important, one should omit. For example,
luxurious food and clothing, social distinction, and material
riches are all extraneous likes of psychological desire, not
good medicines that enhance life. When people pursue them,
they bring about their own destruction. What could be more
Genuine observation is the prescience of the wise, the perceptivity
of the able. Every meal, every nap, is a potential source
of gain or loss; every act, every word, can be a basis of
calamity or fortune. Skillfully holding the branch is not
as good as clumsily preserving the root. Observing the root
and knowing the branches is not a feeling of competitive haste.
Collecting the mind and simplifying affairs, day by day one
reduces contrivance. When the body is calm and the mind uncluttered,
only then can one observe the subtle.
Nonetheless, the body that practices the Way must be sustained
by food and clothing. There are some matters that cannot be
neglected, some things that cannot be abandoned. These you
should accept with an open mind and manage with clear eyes.
Dont consider them obstacles, lest your mind become
anxious. If you become vexed and anxious over things, mental
illness has already acted up how could that be called
peace of mind?
Social relations and the necessities of life are a boat for
us if we want to cross the sea, we need the aid of
a boat. How could we neglect food and clothing before we have
yet crossed over? That which is unsubstantial is really not
worth striving for, but in the process of freeing ourselves
from that which is insubstantial we cannot get rid of it all
Yet even though we work and strive, we should not think of
gain and loss. Let the mind be always calm and steady, whether
or not there is anything of concern. Seek the same as other
people, but do not be greedy like other people; get what others
get, but do not hoard like others do. Without greed, there
is no anxiety; not hoarding, there is no loss. One is then
like others in outward appearance, but the inner mind is always
different from that of worldlings. These are basic essentials
of speech and action, which should be rigorously practiced.
The Ills Of Materialism
If there is an illness that is hard to get rid of even when
one has cut off entanglements and simplified affairs, one
should observe it objectively. If one is seriously affected
by materialism, one should realize that infection by materialism
is entirely due to thoughts. If thoughts do not arise, there
is no concern with material things.
One should know that when thoughts of material things are
not projected outwardly, the materialistic mind is forgotten
inwardly. Forgetting thoughts, the mind is empty who
plays host to material things? A scripture says that forms
are only imaginations, and imaginations are all empty. Why
be concerned with forms?
If you see other people doing evil and conceive aversion to
them, that is like seeing people destroy themselves, stretching
out their necks to the sword to kill themselves. They are
doing evil on their own, and it is no business of yours. So
why detest them? This is ones own mental illness. Not
only should you not detest those who do evil, you should dislike
those who do good. Why? Because they are obstructing the Way.
One's deeds are done by oneself, but destiny is bestowed by
heaven. The relation of deeds to destiny is like shadows and
echoes following form and sound. What is unavoidable should
not be resented. Only the wise accurately perceive and accurately
know this; they are pleased with heaven and aware of destiny.
Therefore they do not grieve over the miseries of poverty
and sickness. A classic says, Heaven and earth cannot
change their operation, yin and yang cannot avert their misfortunes.
In these terms, this is true destiny how can we resent
When a valiant warrior encounters brigands, he charges ahead
brandishing his sword, routing the enemy. Once his achievement
is accomplished, his rewards last all his life. Now when poverty
and illness afflict our bodies, they are brigands; to immediately
straighten the mind is to be a valiant warrior. When the burden
of mental affliction is dispelled, this is victory in battle;
tranquillity and eternal happiness are the rewards.
Whenever painful things oppress our minds, if we do not oppose
them, we will become burdened with anxiety. This is like someone
who does not do battle with brigands, but turns tail and runs,
only to be punished for flight. To give up happiness and take
to misery how can this be pitied?
If you are afflicted by poverty and illness, consider this
pain to proceed from having a body. Where can affliction abide?
As a classic says, When I have no body, how can I have
Great stability is the consummation of leaving mundanity,
the elementary foundation of arrival at the Tao, the accomplishment
of cultivation of tranquillity, the completion of maintaining
calm. The body is like a dead tree, the mind is like dead
ashes. Neither grasping nor rejecting, it is the arrival of
utter quiescence. There is no consciousness of stabilization,
yet there is total stability; therefore it is called great
Chuang Tzu said, Those whose abode is great stability
emanate the light of heaven. The abode is the mind,
the light of heaven is wisdom. When emptiness and tranquillity
reach the extreme, then the Tao is present and wisdom arises.
Wisdom comes from fundamental essence and is not a personal
possession; therefore it is called the light of heaven.
It is due to pollution and confusion by greed and craving
that people become dull and muddled. When people are confused,
wisdom does not arise.
Once wisdom has arisen, one should treasure it and not let
intellectualism damage stability. It is not that it is hard
to produce wisdom; what is hard is to have wisdom but not
use it. Since ancient times there have been many people who
have forgotten their bodies, but few who have forgotten their
names; to have wisdom but not use it is to forget ones
name. Few people in the world reach this, so it is considered
If the highly placed can avoid arrogance and the wealthy can
avoid extravagance, this is considered freedom from vulgar
faults, and is a way to preserve nobility and wealth. If one
is stable and does not stir, is wise but does not use it,
one thereby attains profound experience of true eternity.
Chuang Tzu said, To know the Tao is easy; not to speak
of it is hard. To know but not say is that whereby one becomes
divine; to know and speak of it is that whereby one becomes
human. People of old were divine, not human. He also
said, Those who cultivated the Tao in ancient times
used calmness to nurture knowledge. Knowledge arose in them,
but they didnt make anything of it. This is called using
knowledge to nurture calm. Knowledge and calm nurture
each other and emerge from the fundamental essence in harmony
with universal principle.
Calmness and knowledge are stability and wisdom; harmony and
universal principle are the Tao and its power. Having knowledge
but not using it, one is peaceful and calm; when this builds
up for a long time, it spontaneously develops one's Tao power.
One will naturally reach a point where one is not startled
even by thunder and lightning so powerful as to split a mountain,
not frightened even by swords clashing right in front of one's
face. One sees fame and fortune are fleeting, and knows the
cycle of birth and death is like a running sore. If the will
is exercised undividedly, then it solidifies the spirit; the
intangible subtlety of the mind will be inconceivable.
Attaining The Tao
The Tao is something miraculous. Spiritual, it has an essence;
empty, it has no form. It is unfathomable whether we follow
after it or go forth to meet it. It cannot be found in shadow
or echo. No one knows why it is as it is. Supreme sages attained
it in antiquity; it has been transmitted to the present by
The Tao has a profound power that gradually transforms the
body and the spirit. The body is mastered along the way, becoming
united with the spirit. One who has attained this is called
a spiritual person. The essence of spirit is open and fluid;
its substance never changes or disappears. Because the body
is mastered through the Tao, it has no birth or death. In
concealment, the body is the same as spirit; revealed, the
spirit is the same as energy. This is how it is possible to
walk on water and fire without harm, to cast no shadow in
the sunlight or moonlight. Whether to remain alive or disappear
is up to you at this point; there is no gap between leaving
the world and entering the world.
If even the body, which is material, can reach intangible
sublimation, how much the more so can spiritual knowledge,
which becomes more far-reaching as it grows deeper. The Classic
on the Living Spirit says, When the body and spirit
are united, that becomes the true body. The Scripture
on Rising in the West also says, Body and mind join,
thus making it possible to last forever.
There are, however, differences in depth of power along the
way of open nonreification. If the power is profound, it affects
the body as well, but if it is shallow it affects only the
mind. One whose body is affected is a spiritual person; one
whose mind is affected only gains intelligent awareness and
cannot escape physical death. Why? Intelligence is a function
of the mind; when used too much, the mind is fatigued. When
one first gains a little wisdom, one is joyful and becomes
loquacious; spirit and energy leak out, so no spiritual light
bathes the body, ultimately resulting in early death. Therefore
the Tao is hard to complete. This is what the classics call
liberation from the corpse.
Therefore great people hide their light and conceal their
brilliance; this is how they gain complete fulfillment. Stabilizing
the spirit, taking good care of energy, they study the Tao
unminding. When the spirit merges with the Tao, this is called
attainment of the Tao. A classic says, Those who assimilate
themselves to the Tao are also absorbed by the Tao.
In the mountains there is a kind of jade that keeps planes
and trees from withering. Similarly, if people embrace the
Tao it will keep their physical bodies strong. By steeping
oneself in the Tao for a long time, one can transform substance
so that it is the same as spirit, refine the body into something
subtle, and merge with the Tao. Then the illumination of knowledge
is boundless, and the body is infinitely transcendent. One
makes the totality of matter and emptiness ones function,
one sets aside creation in achieving realization, one adapts
from reality without convention this is the power of
Sitting Forgetting: Essentials
If you wane to practice the way to attain reality, first get
rid of warped behavior. After disconnecting your mind from
external things, inwardly observe correct awareness. When
you notice a thought arise, you should immediately extinguish
it. Extinguishing thoughts as they arise, strive to effect
Next, even enough you may not have obvious fixations, still
floating random thoughts are also to be completely eradicated.
Working diligently day and night, never wavering for a second,
just extinguish the stirring mind, do not extinguish the shining
mind; just stabilize the open mind, do not stabilize the dwelling
mind. Do not rest on anything, yet have the mind always present.
This method is inconceivably subtle, and its benefits are
very profound. It is possible only for those who already have
affinity with the Tao and whose faith is undivided. If you
have set your heart on the supreme Tao, and your faith is
firm and in earnest, first accept three precepts, then act
in accord with these three precepts with consistent heedfulness,
and you will attain the true Tao.
These three precepts are as follows: one, simplify involvements;
two, remove desire; three, quiet the mind. If you diligently
practice these three precepts without slacking or backsliding,
then the Tao will come of itself, without any intention of
seeking the Tao on your part. A classic says, If people
can always be clear and pure, the whole universe will come
to them. Speaking from this point of view, should we
not have faith in this quintessential method?
But the contentiousness of the ordinary mind is firmly ingrained
through long habit, and it is very difficult to stop the mind
by these precepts. One may be unable to stop it, or one may
still it temporarily and then lose that stillness. Battling
with it, now failing, now succeeding, one pours with sweat.
With continued practice over a long, long time, eventually
it is possible to tame the mind. Do not give up this work,
which has far-reaching consequences, just because you are
temporarily unable to collect the mind.
Once you have gained a bit of tranquillity, then you must
consciously stabilize it at all times, whatever you are doing,
even in the midst of activity and turmoil. Whether you have
anything to do or not, always be as if unminding. Whether
in the midst of quietude or in the midst of clamor, let your
will be undivided.
If you try to control the mind too intensely, this will produce
illness, a symptom of which is fits of madness. If the mind
does not move, then you should let it be, so that relaxation
and intensity find their balance Constantly tuning yourself,
controlled yet without fixation, free yet without indulgence,
you can be in the midst of clamor without aversion, you can
handle affairs without vexation. This is true stability.
This does not mean you seek many affairs because you can handle
them without vexation, or that you take to clamor because
you can be in its midst undisturbed. Unconcern is the real
home; having concerns is responsive manifestation. This may
be likened to a mirror, which reflects things that come before
it. Skillfully exercising expedient means, still one can enter
Whether insight emerges slowly or rapidly is not up to the
person. Do not be in a hurry to seek insight in concentration.
If you seek insight, you will injure your essence. If you
injure your essence, you will have no insight. When insight
arises spontaneously without seeking, this is true wisdom.
Being wise but not exercising it, true knowledge appears ignorant,
thus increasingly fostering stability and wisdom, so that
both are endlessly perfected.
If you think and imagine in the midst of concentration, you
will experience much distraction and bedevilment, which appear
according to your state of mind. Just cause there to be unlimited
openness above the concentrated mind and vast buoyancy below
the concentrated mind. Then past problems will vanish day
by day, and new habits will not be formed, so there will be
no binding obstruction, and you will shed the net of sense
objects. Practice this for a long time, and you will naturally
attain the Tao.
In people who attain the Tao, there are five times and seven
signs of mind and body. The five mental times are: (1) when
movement predominates over stillness, (2) when movement and
stillness are equal, (3) when stillness predominates over
movement, (4) when there is stillness in leisure and movement
in work, and (5) when the mind merges with the Tao and is
not stirred by impacts. When the mind reaches this last state,
one finally attains peace and comfort; defilements are obliterated,
and there are no more anxi-eties.
The seven physical signs are: (1) action is timely, and the
countenance is peaceful and joyful; (2) chronic ailments disappear,
so body and mind are light and fresh; (3) untimely wastage
is compensated, so that one returns to the original and is
restored to life; (4) the life span is extended thousands
of yearsthis is called being an immortal; (5) the body
is refined into energythis is called being a real human;
(6) the energy is refined into spirit this is called
being a spiritual person, and (7) the spirit is refined to
merge with the Taothis is called being a complete human.
If people practice concentration for a long time, but their
minds and bodies show no evidence of the five times and seven
signs, and their lives are short and their bodies are polluted,
when they pass away physically they return to the void. They
may consider themselves wise, and even claim to have attained
the Tao, but it is not really so.
Verses On Sitting Forgetting
Always be silent, and basic energy won't be hurt;
minimize thought, and the lamp of wisdom shines within.
Avoid anger, then the spirit is peaceful and realized;
subdue vexations, and the mind is clear and cool.
Without seeking, there is no flattery or cajolery;
without fixation, one can change adaptively.
If you are not greedy, then you are rich;
if you are not presumptuous, why fear rulers?
When tasting is ended, the spiritual spring descends of itself;
when the energy is settled, true breath grows daily.
In terms of feeling, the body dies and the spirit travels;
in terms of imagination, one leaves the corpse in dreams.
When energy leaks, the body returns to the earth of the grave;
when thought leaks, the spirit heads for the realm of death.
When the mind dies, only then can the spirit live;
when the earthly soul passes away, the celestial soul is strong.
It's hard to investigate the subtle principles of all things;
responsive adaptation is not apart from true constancy.
Supreme vitality submerges into ecstasy;
great form merges with immensity.
Adaptations of the Way are like the evolution of beings;
even ghosts and spirits cannot fathom this activity.
Not drinking, not eating, not sleeping; this is called the
sitting forgetting of real people
Wang Che, ancestor of the Complete Reality school, said, When
the mind forgets thoughts, it transcends the realm of desire.
When the mind forgets objects, it transcends the realm of
form. When the mind does not cling to emptiness, it transcends
the formless realm. Detached from these three realms, the
spirit abides in the homeland of immortals and sages, the
essence exists in the domain of pure openness.
Freezing the spirit, tune the breath; tuning the breath,
freeze the spirit. This is the starting work. This should
be done single-mindedly, continuing from step to step.
Freezing the spirit means gathering in the clarified mind.
As long as the mind is not yet clear, the eyes should not
be closed in meditation. It is first necessary to exert oneself
to restore clarity, coolness, and serenity; then one may concentrate
on the pocket of energy in the body. This is called freezing
Once you have begun to freeze the spirit, after that it is
like you are sitting on a high mountain gazing down at the
foothills and rivers, like a lamp illuminating the sky, lighting
up every recondite obscurity. This is what is called freezing
the spirit in space.
Tuning the breath is not difficult. Once the spirit of mind
is quiet, breathe naturally; I just keep this naturalness,
and also focus attention downward. This is tuning the breath.
Tuning the breath is tuning the breath centered on the base
of the torso, joining with the energy in the mind, breath
and energy meeting in the pocket of energy in the abdomen.
The mind staying below the navel is called freezing the spirit;
the energy returning below the navel is called tuning the
When spirit and breathing stay together, keeping their clarity
and naturalness is called not forgetting, going
along with their clarity and naturalness is called not
forcing. Not forgetting, not forcing, quietly, gently,
the breath is vigorous and the mind is free.
Then apply the principle of using space as the place to store
the mind, using dark silence as the abode to rest the spirit;
clarify them again and again, until suddenly the spirit and
breath are both forgotten, spirit and energy merge. Then unexpectedly
the celestial energy will arise ecstatically, and you will
be as though intoxicated.
The real experience is when the Mysterious Pass appears. Generally
one finds in the alchemical teachings the words primordial,
real, and original. All of these emerge from the crucible
of yin and yang, all of them are produced after profound mystic
silence. In attaining this, like the first opening up of primal
unity, all the sages and real people are alike; after this
one can figure out the alchemical classics.
There are many people who study the Way for months without
making any progress at all, because their minds arent
really on the Way. If your mind is on the Way, there will
naturally be no things on your mind; if you are serious about
the Way, you will naturally be lighthearted about things;
and if you are engrossed in the Way, you will naturally be
aloof from things.
Preserving the essence of consciousness, you dont become
fragmented and distracted; nurturing the spirit, you dont
become torpid or inattentive. How can you then be disturbed
by idle thoughts? When reason prevails over desire, you live;
when desire prevails over reason, you perish.
Plunge the mind into the profound abyss, and the spirit does
not wander outside. When the mind is dragged by things, fire
stirs within; and when fire stirs within, it destabilizes
The Way is entered from the center. There is a center in the
body, and a center that is not in the body. The work should
be done in two stages, the first of which is to seek the center
in the body.
Master Chu (Zhu) said, Keep to the center, prevent wandering
off. Keeping to the center calls for turning the attention
inward to concentrate on a sphere I.3 inches below the navel,
neither clinging fast to it nor departing from it, with neither
obsession nor indifference. This is seeking the center within
Second is to seek the center that is not in the body. The
Classic on Central Equilibrium speaks of before emotions
arise as the center. In this time before arising, be
careful in your innermost mind of the unperceived, and naturally
the essence of consciousness will be stabilized and the spirit
will be clear.
When the spirit is clear, the energy is keen; when you attain
this you see your original being. This is seeking the center
that is not in the body.
Using the center within the body to seek the center not in
the body, after that human desires are easy to clear up, and
the celestial design again becomes clear. The sages and saints,
immortals and buddhas of all times, have taken this to be
the first stage of the work.
Traveling around and sitting still are certainly not in themselves
the Tao. But if you don't travel around in cities and mountains,
you should have your energy travel around the passes and openings
throughout your body; that will do. If you do not sit under
withered trees or in cold halls, you should have your spirit
sit in the subtle opening within the body; that will do.
Study of the Way is based on the alchemical foundation. Once
the alchemical foundation is stabilized, then you can return
home and work to support your family. After having fulfilled
your familial and social duties, then you go into the mountains
and look for a teacher, to complete the Great Way. Those who
abandon their homes and leave their wives are simply wasting
their days and are not worth talking about.
Humans are the most intelligent of living beings. Because
they are intelligent, we should love their life.
Don't connive to encompass people's downfall, don't injure
people with weapons, don't poison people with chemicals.
Don't oppress people with authority and power.
Actions that are harmful to people are eventually punished
in some way or another, outwardly or inwardly. Ultimately
it is impossible to escape the consequences of deeds.
People like talking birds, they like beautiful and fragrant
plants, they like tame animals, they like pet fish
are not other people as important as these creatures?
Just look at the way people despise each other and treat each
other cruelly, even as they multiply and congregate.
Whatever you do, you should think of caring for peoples
reputations and fostering their reputations, caring for peoples
merits and fostering their merits, caring for people's work
and fostering their work, caring for peoples benefit
and fostering their benefit.
Fostering the good name of others is the way to foster your
own good name. Fostering the merits of others is the way to
foster your own merit. Fostering the work of others is the
way to foster your own work. Fostering the benefit of others
is the way to foster your own benefit. It is all love.
In fostering peoples reputation and merit, work and
benefit, dont conceal the loyalty of loyal people, dont
usurp the achievements of meritorious people. Dont slander
the virtuous, dont cast aspersions on the chastity of
Dont envy the able, dont borrow the ability of
others either. Dont resent the talented, dont
be blind to peoples talents either.
Dont conceal goodness, and dont appropriate the
goodness of others. Dont elevate evil, dont imitate
the evil of others.
Dont secretly inhibit the advancement of others, dont
ruin the flourishing activities of others, dont foil
the good deeds of others, dont destroy the good plans
Dont lessen the life or wealth of others, dont
fool with others goods.
Dont help evil people usurp the position of good people,
dont collaborate with petty people in seducing the offspring
of good families.
Dont defame the worthy. Dont defraud the destitute.
Dont separate parents and children, dont come
between relatives. Dont destroy others marriages.
Dont slight the handicapped.
Save people from difficulty, help them in times of need. Take
pity on those who are alone. Forgive peoples faults.
Help people when they are sick or suffering, feed and clothe
them when they are hungry and cold.
Support your relatives and help out your neighbors. Have compassion
for the orphaned and widowed, respect the aged and care for
the poor. All this is love for people.
Heaven gives birth to the millions as a ground for kind people
to exercise kindness, as a place for good people to accumulate
goodness; as a result they can broaden their minds to protect
and take care of large numbers of people.
Those with wealth and status who love people will surely enrich
their descendants; the poor and lowly who love people will
surely be able to attain success.
For Heaven helps the good, God enriches people. Therefore
to those who want to know the way to deal with the world,
I suggest, Love People.
Medical science can make a nation lively, and it can also
make a nation ill. Medicine can give people life, and it can
also kill people. It is necessary to be careful about its
Therein are principles whose study is endless, whose practice
is inexhaustible. There are principal and auxiliary medicines,
there are diseases of lack and excess, old and new; all doctors
can talk about these things, but few really know them.
The finer the learning of sages becomes, the humbler they
are; the loftier their virtue becomes, the more modest they
are. This is the way physicians should be too. They should
not slight themselves, mislead themselves, or deceive themselves.
Those who deceive themselves deceive others, those who mislead
themselves mislead others, those who slight themselves slight
others. The fault devolves on oneself.
Therefore, in this field it is easy to establish good works,
yet it is also easy to err; it is hard to accumulate blessings,
but it is not hard to invite disaster. Those who wish for
accomplishment without error, fortune without calamity, must
diligently discipline themselves.
The principles of pulse taking are subtle; those of shallow
learning hardly know them. I urge physicians to first ask
the patients about the development of their maladies, and
not test medicines on them. I urge the sick seeing a doctor
to first understand basic reason, and not risk your life to
test the doctor. To use ones life to test the doctor
is the fault of the patient; to test medicines on people is
the fault of the doctor.
Also, physicians should take care of emergencies without concern
for elevating their reputations, and should help the wretched
without calculating how much they will get paid. If they can
clearly perceive the symptoms, then they can proceed with
treatment; if not, they should wait for the more expert. Then
they will build up the virtues of calmness and truthfulness.
I also urge those who study the social sciences to include
extensive and thorough study of medical arts and sciences
in their curricula. Dont keep them secret, and dont
get them wrong. Use this knowledge for your own benefit and
for the benefit of others. People should not take medical
|On Human Characters
You should understand the distinctions between human characters
that appear to be similar.
There are upright, mentally healthy people who keep to themselves,
are independent and aloof from the crowd, whom others consider
conceited, but I consider strong.
There are people who are modest, avoid ostentation, are in
control of themselves, and appear no different from ordinary
folk, whom others consider conformists, but I consider to
be in harmony.
There are people who are serene and free, following natural
reality, whom others consider lazy, but I consider at peace.
There are people who are ebullient and spontaneous, going
along with the natural order, whom others consider eccentric,
but I consider masterful.
There are people who are careful in their behavior and strict
in their manner, whom others consider haughty, but I consider
There are people who conduct themselves simply and have very
stable personalities, whom others consider uncultured, but
I consider unspoiled.
There are people who clearly distinguish between duty and
gain, and have no selfishness, whom others consider too conservative,
but I consider uncompromising.
There are people whose hearts are transcendent and detached
from objects, whom others consider one-sided, but I consider
There are people who are mild, complacent, and unlettered,
whom others consider vulgar, but I consider genteel.
There are people who concentrate on purity and do not know
scriptures or ceremonies, whom others consider ignorant, but
I consider awakened.
There are people who are not changed by food and drink, are
not bothered by heat and cold, whom others consider strange,
but I consider immortal.
Whether people are sages or not may be difficult to distinguish,
as there may be resemblance without real sameness. It is necessary
to observe carefully.
The above texts were adapted from Vitality Energy Spirit
A Taoist Sourcebook, translated and edited by Thomas Cleary
1991, Shambhala Editions, Boston. www.shambhala.com