Thoughts and Reflections on the Daoist Classics

Partly as an experiment in WordPress and also as a way to consolidate my ongoing work with the classics of Daoism (also spelled Taoism), I decided to utilize this domain I have held in reserve for a number of years for what I hope will be a useful purpose.

Why read the Classics ?

  • Inspiration
  • Clarifying and settling the mind
  • Understanding experiences from meditation

What makes a classic text, a Classic ?

  • Depends on the lineage and school or sect.
  • also depends on the reader and what they want to achieve.
  • Generally from antiquity or from the patriarch of the sect or lineage, ie revered

The texts I’m considering Classics
I’m interested in the Northern Branch of the Complete Reality school so I’m considering primarily classics from this lineage.  The most popular of these are widely translated and generally well know in the West, although their usefulness in self-cultivation may be less well understood

  • Chung-Lu ch’uan tao chi  –  ‘The Teachings of the Immortals Chung and Lu
  • Chin Tan Ssu Pai Tzu Chieh  –  ‘Four Hundred Words on the Gold Elixir’
  • Wu chen p’ien  –  ‘Understanding Reality’
  • T’ai i chin hua tsung chih  –  ‘The Secret of the Golden Flower’
  • Hui-Ming Ching  –  ‘Cultivating the Energy of Life’
  • The Hundred Character Tablet  
  • The Classic on the Yin Convergence
  • Hsin Ming Fa Chueh Ming Chih  –  The Secrets of Cultivating essential nature and Eternal Life –  This is a ‘modern’ classic from 1860 and should be considered in a somewhat different category, but a classic none the less.

There are numerous translations of these text in English and most Western languages. I have editions by Thomas Cleary, Eva Wong, Wang Mu, Wang Liping, David Verdesi, Lu K’uan Yu, Richard Wilhelm and others. Reading a wide variety of interpretations is useful and important in my view. With the exception of Wilhelm, who takes a clearly psychological view, I have found all the above translators or interpreters work useful and informed.

Cleary is a Buddhist and his skilled and readable translations make that obvious. He doees however need to be read in that context.

Eva Wong is a classically trained religious Daoist with the ability to interpret that comes only from long experience in the tradition.

Both Wang Mu and Wang Liping are initiates in the Longmen pai (Dragon Gate Sect). WLP is the current lineage holder. His biography is published as ‘The Making of a Modern Taoist Wizard’. His version of the Chung Lu Tao Chuan Chi is available in his ‘Ling Bao Tong Zhi Neng Nei Gong Shu’ translated into English by Richard Liao. This text contains the only teaching I know of that follow up as promised in Chung and Lu’s classic with the ‘Ling Bao Bi Fa’.

Wang Mu’s commentaries are translated by Fabrizio Pregadio.

Lu K’uan Yu’s work is a translation of Chao Pi Ch’en’s classic.

I’m going to post my reflections on my ongoing work with these texts as the moment arises. I’m starting again with the Classic of Chung and  Lu. Ancestor Lu (the ‘student’ in the course of the text) is one of the Eight Immortals and perhaps best known for his closeness to humanity and renowned ‘availability’. I’m working actively with that in mind.


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