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Zuowanglun 坐忘論

Mar 11, 2024 © Ulrich Theobald

Zuowanglun 坐忘論 "On [the art of] sitting and forgetting" is a Daoist treatise written during the Tang period 唐 (618-907) by the Sima Chengzhen 司馬承禎 (647-735), courtesy name Ziwei 子微, religious name Daoyin 道隱, style Baiyunzi 白雲子. He was the twelfth patriarch of the Maoshan Lineage 茅山宗 of the Shangqing Tradition 上清派. Sima is also the author of the treatises Xiuzhen bizhi 修真祕旨, Tianyinzi 天隱子 and Fuqi jingyi lun 服氣精義論.

The expression zuowang 坐忘 is derived from the book Zhuangzi 莊子 (ch. Dazongshi 大宗師), where it denotes forgetting the mental and physical form of consciousness and purely surrendering to the unconscious realm of nature.

The book of one fascicle is a systematic overview of techniques and theories of Daoist cultivation. The "Way" (dao 道), as describes in the books Laozi 老子 and Zhuangzi, is interpreted as a "miraculous object" (shenyi zhi wu 神異之物). Humans, being able to attain the Dao, will achieve longevity and become an "immortal" (shenxian 神仙).

The book describes seven stages of cultivation, namely reverence and trust (jing xin 敬信), severing worldly ties (duan yuan 斷緣), focusing the mind (shou xin 收心), simplifying matters (jian shi 簡事), contemplating truth (zhen guan 真觀), achieving tranquility (taiding 泰定), and attaining the Dao (de dao 得道), with the central idea being to maintain inner peace (shou jing 守靜) and eliminate desires (qu yu 去欲). It emphasizes that the mind is the master of the body; when it is calm, wisdom arises, but when it is agitated, confusion arises. Only by maintaining inner tranquillity, being unattached and inactive (xu xin wu wei 虛心無為), can one attain the Dao and wisdom.

The author also believes that the "nature of the mind" (xin ti 心體) originates from the Dao but has been contaminated by external influences, causing it to drift away from the Dao over time. Therefore, practitioners of the Dao must concentrate the mind and detach themselves from worldly distractions, eliminating all mental afflictions such as affection, views, thoughts, and worries, not being misled by external things, so that the mind is "unattached" (wu suo zhuo 無所著) and no longer drifts away from the Dao, but merges with it in obscurity (yu dao ming he 與道冥合), and thus regains peace and tranquillity. This is called "returning to the root" (gui gen 歸根). When the adept is able to keep to this root and does not leave it any more, this is called "tranquillity is stabilized" (jing ding 靜定). Having achieved such a state for a long time, diseases will disappear and long life will be restored (bing xiao ming fu 病消命復).

This status will also allow insight into constant principles (zhi chang 知常) and eventually the perception and understanding of all matters on earth (wu suo bi ming 無所不明), including the fact that nothing will ever change or disappear (yong wu bian mie 永無變滅). In this way, the practitioner will leave the problem of birth and death.

The teachings of Sima Chengzhen paved the way for a new interpretation of Confucian ethics by Zhou Dunyi 周敦頤 (1017-1073) and Cheng Hao 程顥 (1032-1085), two important personalities of early Neo-Confucianism.

The text is included in the Daoist Canon Daozang 道藏 and the complete writings of the Tang period, Quantangwen 全唐文.

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