The Canon of Purity and Tranquility

太上老君说常清静经全文
Lao Zi speaks of the Canon of Purity and Tranquility (Qingjing Jing)

1

老君曰:
大道无形,生育天地;大道无情,运行日月;
大道无名,长养万物;吾不知其名,强名曰道。

Lao Zi said:
The great Tao is formless, it gives birth to heaven and earth.
The great Tao does has no sentiment, yet it moves the sun and moon.
The great Tao is nameless, yet it always nurtures everything;
I do not know how to name this: I name it Tao.

2

夫道者:有清有浊,有动有静;天清地浊,天动地静。男清女浊,男动女静。
降本流末,而生万物。

This Tao: 
We can have clarity or turbidity. We can have movement or stillness. Heaven can be clear and the earth can be turbid. Heaven can move and the earth can be still. The male can be clear and the female can be turbid. The male can move and the female can be still. What flows from the root births the ten thousand things.

[Notes: 1) The word for “clear” is the same as the word for “pure.” 2) None of the descriptions—clear, turbid, movement, or stillness—should be read with any value judgments. 3) The associations with male and female do not carry any value judgments or imply any superiority. The canon is establishing a yin-yang duality; both sides are integral to the whole. 4) All of the associations are reversible. For example, the reverse is equally true for “The male can move and the female can be turbid.”]

3

清者浊之源,动者静之基。人能常清静,天地悉皆归。

Purity is the source of turbidity, movement is the foundation of stillness.
 If people can be pure and tranquil, all in heaven and earth will know returning.

[Note: 1) The word for “purity” is the same as the word for “clarity” in the previous passage. 2) Note the duality of purity and turbidity, movement and stillness. That one leads to the other means that yin and yang create one another. 3) Again, all attributes are reversible, so that turbidity can just as easily lead to purity and stillness, or that stillness is just as easily the foundation of movement. 4) “Return” means that all will revert to the natural source, which is pure.]

4

夫人神好清,而心扰之;人心好静,而欲牵之。常能遣其欲,而心自静,澄其心而神自清。

The human spirit is quite pure, yet the mind disturbs it. The human heart can be quite tranquil, yet desire leads it. If one can vanquish desire, one’s mind will be tranquil on its own,
and when one’s mind settles, the spirit will be pure on its own.

[Notes: 1) The word for “heart” also means mind, intelligence, and soul. It’s important to read the phrase using all meanings. 2) The word for “settle,” means allowing sediment to settle to purify water.]

5

自然六欲不生,三毒消灭。
所以不能者,为心未澄,欲未遣也。

Then on its own, the six desires will not arise, and the three poisons will vanish.
If you are unable to do this, it is because the mind is not yet settled, and desire has not yet been vanquished.

[Notes: 1) The six desires are what the five senses lead us to crave plus what the ego wishes to possess and control. 2) The three poisons are lust, anger, and greed. 2) Chinese pronouns are not specific. “You” is used here as a matter of choice. 4) The use of the word “settle,” implies that stillness and calm allow the mind to return to its inherent purity without any special effort. Just as sediment in water will settle, so too will the mind settle simply by taking the time to be still.]

6

能遣之者,内观其心,心无其心;外观其形,形无其形;远观其物,物无其物。

If you can vanquish in this way, and you look inside at your heart, it may outwardly have a form, but that form will be formless. If you look widely at all things, things will have no substance.

[Notes: 1) “Vanquish” is the overcoming of desire, as mentioned in the previous passage. 2) Remember the multiple meanings for “heart,” which also means mind, intelligence, and soul. 3) Things having no substance signifies that nothing has inherent or independent meaning; we project our values upon them.]

7

三者既悟,唯见於空。
观空亦空, 空无所空 。

Once you realize these three situations, you indeed see emptiness, and observe that emptiness is also empty, and that nothing more can be emptied from emptiness.

所空既无,无无亦无。
无无既无,湛然常寂。

Such emptiness is already nothingness, nothing is not-nothing. [When there’s] nothing [but] nothing from nothing, [all is] placid and constant stillness.

[Notes: 1) Following from the previous passage, the three situations are to vanquish desire, look inside to see the formless heart, and seeing that all things are without substance. 2) This passage uses both the word for “emptiness” (空) and “nothingness” 无。3) In saying that “emptiness is also empty,” the canon is careful not to set up a duality between emptiness and our normal world. Emptiness is not “superior,” it’s just a state in which there is nothing truly to contend over. 4) In the second sentence, I’ve inserted more words to try to make the passage clear. I understand this to mean, “when all is seen as complete nothingness.” 5) The word here translated as “placid” also means deep, profound, clear, and tranquil. Thus, it’s a synonym for the tranquility in the title of the canon. 6) Stillness can also mean silence.]

8

寂无所寂,欲岂能生?欲既不生,即是真静。

When quiet has no more to be quieted, how can desire arise? If desire does not arise, that is immediate and real quietness.

9

真常应物,真常得性;常应常静,常清静矣。

True constancy in all things, achieves true constancy of character. Such constancy means constant stillness, achieving constant purity and tranquility.

[Note: The use of the word “constant, or “chang” (常) in so many different ways is interesting because of its echo of the opening of the Daodejing: “The Tao that can be spoken is not the constant Tao, the name that can be named is not the constant name.”]

10

如此清静,渐入真道。既入真道,名为得道,虽名得道,实无所得。

If you have purity and tranquility, you will gradually enter the true Tao. Once you enter the true Tao, it may be called “gaining Tao,” but while it may be called gaining Tao, in actuality, there was nothing to gain.

为化众生,名为得道;能悟之者,可传圣道。

To helping all living things to change, we call it gaining Tao. If you can realize this, then you can transmit this holy path.

[Note: The canon grapples with how to talk about a non-dualistic subject in a dualistic way. One has to grasp the idea of working toward purity and tranquility, but accept that there was nothing to work toward in the first place. Why? Because we are already pure and tranquil. We may be disturbed by worldly involvements, but there was nothing wrong with us to begin with. One realizes that there was nothing that had to be done—thereby avoiding dualistic entanglements. Only when you are clear on this can you transmit the holy path—because it flows through you.]

11

老君曰:
上士无争,下士好争;上德不德,下德执德。执著之者,不明道德。

Superior persons do not contend. Inferior persons contend. Superior virtue is beyond morality. Inferior virtue keeps to morality. Those who cling solely to morality do not comprehend the virtue of Tao.

[Notes: 1) The word translated here as “person,” has many meanings: feudal lord, senior official, scholar, bachelor, military rank (and part of the word for warrior). The advice is intended for someone who is wanting to be cultivated. So one might read this as “cultivated person.” 2) Many people have trouble with Taoism’s attitude toward morality, sometimes accusing it of being immoral. But the canon is attacking dogmatic and petty morality exercised without critical thinking.]

12

众生所以不得真道者,为有妄心。
既有妄心,即惊其神。既惊其神,即著万物;
既著万物,即生贪求。既生贪求,即是烦恼。
烦恼妄想,忧苦身心。
但遭浊辱,流浪生死,常沉苦海,永失真道。

Therefore the reason that people don’t realize the true Tao is because they have confused hearts. If they have confused hearts, it quickly unbalances their spirits. Since their spirits are already unbalanced, they immediately attach themselves to everything, promptly giving rise to desire. Once desire arises, there is anger. Once there is anger, your thinking becomes reckless, and grief and bitterness fill your body and heart. Yet you still stay in the muddy and abusive, drift wastefully through life and death, always sunk in the sea of suffering, forever missing the true Tao.

真常之道,悟者自得。得悟道者,常清静矣。

Realizing the truly constant Tao must be gained yourself. Realize the Tao, and you will have everlasting purity and tranquility.

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