Zhang Boduan, or Zhang Ziyang 張紫陽, was a native of Tiantai 天臺 in present-day Zhejiang. After passing the Imperial examination, he began a career as a civil servant, but was banished to the frontier in Lingnan, where he served as a military commissioner. Zhang was later transferred to Guilin and Chengdu, where in 1069 he allegedly experienced sudden realization from a Daoist Master who instructed him in ''Neidan'' internal alchemy. Zhang wrote the ''Wuzhen pian'', its appendices, and a few other texts, including the ''Jindan sibai zi'' 金丹四百字 "Four hundred words on the Golden Elixer" . He was additionally an authority on Chan Buddhism.
Biographical sources agree that Zhang Boduan died in 1082 CE during the reign of Emperor Shenzong of Song, but disagree whether he was born in 983, 984, or 987. Zhang was honorifically called Ziyang Zhenren 紫陽真人, ranking him as a Daoist ''zhenren'' 真人 "real/true/authentic person; perfected/authentic person" , one rank higher than a '''' 仙 "transcendent; immortal" in the celestial hierarchy.
The Quanzhen School of Daoism originated in the 12th century with the Five Northern Patriarchs . In the 13th century, Zhang Boduan posthumously became the second of the Five Southern Patriarchs in the so-called ''Nanzong'' 南宗 "Southern Lineage", which Boltz refers to as "ex post facto".
In Shaanxi, Hong Kong, and Singapore, there are Zhenren Gong 真人宮 "Real/Perfected Person Temples" dedicated to Zhang Boduan.
The received ''Wuzhen pian'' text contains a preface dated 1075 and a postface dated 1078, both under the name Zhang Boduan. The Daozang "Daoist Canon" includes several textual editions of varying lengths.
The core of the ''Wuzhen pian'' comprises 81 poems: 16 heptasyllabic ''lüshi'' 律詩 "regulated poems", 64 heptasyllabic ''jueju'' 絕句 "stopped-short line" quatrains, and one pentasyllabic verse on the ''Taiyi'' 太一 "Great Unity". Both 16 and 64 have numerological significance, the former denotes two equal "8 ounce" measures of Yin and Yang totaling "16 ounces" , and the latter correlates with the 64 .
Zhang later appended the ''Wuzhen pian'' text with 12 alchemical '''' 詞 "lyrics" that numerologically correspond to the 12 months, and 5 verses related with the ''Wu Xing'' 五行 "Five Phases".
Baldrian-Hussein describes the text.
The verses of the ''Wuzhen pian'' are a work of literary craftsmanship and were probably intended to be sung or chanted. They teem with paradoxes, metaphors, and aphorisms, and their recondite style allows multiple interpretations. The verses are widely accepted as an elaboration of the ''Zhouyi cantong qi'', but their philosophical basis is in the ''Daode jing'' and the ''Yinfu jing''. Life, says Zhang Boduan, is like a bubble on floating water or a spark from a flint, and the search for wealth and fame only results in bodily degeneration; thus human beings should search for the Golden Elixir to become celestial immortals .
The ''Wuzhen pian'' is one of the major scriptures of Daoist ''Neidan'' "Inner Alchemy " and metaphorically uses the vocabulary of ''Waidan'' "External Alchemy", which involved compounding elixirs from minerals and medicinal herbs. The text proposes that External Alchemy is unnecessary because the human body contains the essential components. These are '''' "essence; refined, perfected; extract; sperm, seed", ''qi'' "vitality, energy, force; vapor; breath", and '''' "spirit; soul, mind; god, deity". Through alchemical refinement of bodily ''jing'' and ''qi'', one can supposedly achieve integration with one's spiritual ''shen'' nature.
The intentionally abstruse and highly symbolic language of the ''Wuzhen pian'' is open to diverse interpretations. Many commentators, both Daoist and otherwise, have explicated the text.
The Daoist Canon includes a dozen commentaries and sub-commentaries to the ''Wuzhen pian'' . Major commentaries are by Ye Shibiao 葉士表 , Yuan Gongfu 遠公輔 , and several by Weng Baoquang 翁葆光 and Dai Qizong 戴起宗.
In addition, there are numerous later commentaries to the text. Two notable examples are by Qiu Zhao'ao 仇兆鰲 , who quotes from 25 commentaries, and by Liu Yiming 劉一明 , who was 11th patriarch of the Quanzhen Longmen 龍門 "Dragon Gate" Lineage.
''Wuzhen pian'' combines three Chinese words.
*''wu'' "realize; awaken; understand; perceive ", viz. Japanese ''satori''
*''zhen'' "true, real, genuine; really, truly, clearly; true/authentic character of human beings"
*''pian'' "piece of writing; strip of bamboo, sheet of paper; article, essay, chapter"
The Chinese character ''wu'' 悟 "awaken; realize", which is written with the "heart/mind " 忄and a phonetic of ''wu'' "I; my; we; our", has a literary variant Chinese character ''wu'' "awake; wake up" with the "roof radical" 宀, ''qiang'' 爿 "bed", and this ''wu'' 吾 phonetic. Compare the given name of Sun Wukong 孙悟空, the central character in Journey to the West, which literally means "Awaken to Emptiness".
The ambiguity of the ''Wuzhen pian'' title, and by extension the text itself, is illustrated by these English renderings:
*Essay on the Understanding of the Truth
*Folios on the Apprehension of Perfection
*Awakening to Perfection
*Chapters on Awakening to the Real
*Chapters on Awakening to Perfection
The ''Wuzhen pian'' has full and partial translations into English. Tenney L. Davis and Chao Yün-ts’ung, who collaborated on several groundbreaking studies of Daoist alchemy, published the first English version . Thomas Cleary fully translated the text and Liu Yiming's commentary. Partial translations are given by Livia Kohn and Eva Wong . Paul Crowe wrote a detailed study of the ''Wuzhen pian'' text and translated the first 16 poems.
Louis Komjathy uses Cleary's version to illustrate the importance of "linguistic competency" in translating Daoist texts. Komjathy describes the ''Wuzhen pian'''s content as "so highly symbolic that it is all but impenetrable without commentaries or oral instructions." For instance, the Chinese original of the third stanza is written in four paired heptasyllabic verses:
The first translation is by Davis and Chao.
If you are learning to be a ''hsien'' , you should learn to be a heavenly ''hsien''. The most accurate means is ''chin tan'' . The two things, when put into contact with each other, will indicate harmonious properties. The Tiger and the Dragon locate at the places where the ''wu hsing'' 五行 are perfected. I desire to send ''wu ssu'' 戊巳 as a matchmaker to make them husband and wife and to bring them into a union from which real happiness will arise. Wait for the success of the compounding, and you will return to see the north gate of the Imperial palace. You will be able to ride on a phoenix's back, to fly high into the cloud and the light of the sky.
Cleary idiosyncratically translates in capital letters to distinguish the text from his translation of Liu's commentary:
IF YOU ARE GOING TO STUDY IMMORTALITY, YOU SHOULD STUDY CELESTIAL IMMORTALITY; ONLY THE GOLD ELIXIR IS WORTHWHILE. WHEN THE TWO THINGS JOIN, SENSE AND ESSENCE MERGE; WHEN THE FIVE ELEMENTS ARE COMPLETE, THE TIGER AND DRAGON INTERTWINE. STARTING WITH HEAVEN-EARTH AND EARTH-EARTH AS GO-BETWEENS, FINALLY HUSBAND AND WIFE CONJOIN HAPPILY. JUST WAIT FOR THE ACHIEVEMENT TO BE COMPLETED TO PAY COURT TO THE NORTH PALACE GATE; IN THE LIGHT OF NINEFOLD MIST YOU RIDE A FLYING PHOENIX.
Komjathy criticizes both the style and language of Cleary’s translation, noting, "Except for punctuation, Cleary’s format gives the reader little indication that he or she is reading poetry." He also says, "Cleary’s translation choices for various technical terms deviate from more standard renderings, and thus without knowledge of Chinese and the Chinese text one cannot easily identify the relevant correlates." One example concerns two Celestial stems.
Cleary translates the most technical section of this stanza, line five, as “Starting with Heaven-Earth and Earth-Earth as go-betweens.” With no annotation, the reader wonders what Chinese phrases Cleary is translating. An educated reader’s initial guess might be ''Yijing'' hexagrams. As it turns out, the Chinese text has the characters ''wu'' 戊 and ''ji'' 己, the fifth and sixth of the ten Celestial Stems , respectively. Cleary does not provide an explanation for or introduction to such choices, although ''Understanding Reality'', unlike his later publications, contains a glossary of terms.
He suggests a "more accurate and technical translation":
study immortality, you should study celestial immortality ;
This alone is the most superior doctrine of the Golden Elixir .
When the two things meet , the emotions and innate nature are joined;
The Five Phases completely settle, Tiger and Dragon entwine.
From the beginning, ''wu'' and ''ji'' are taken as the matchmaker,
Thus causing husband and wife to be protected in commingled bliss.
Simply wait until the practice is completed, face towards the Northern Tower ;
Amidst the illumination of nine vapors, you mount an auspicious phoenix.
Komjathy concludes, "Although Cleary’s translation has certain deficiencies, he seems intent on staying close to the text and rendering it in a way that generally respects the work’s complexity."
Compare how Paul Crowe translates this same stanza:
study immortality then it must be celestial immortality,
alone is the most superior doctrine of the golden elixir.
When the two things come together emotions and inner nature coalesce,
the dragon and tiger entwine where the five phases become complete.
From the beginning rely upon ''jueji'' to be the matchmaker;
then cause the husband and wife to be calm and joyous.
Simply wait until the work is completed pay court to the Northern Palace;
amidst the brightness in nine rose-coloured clouds ride the auspicious ''luan'' bird.
For translating the thorny ''wuji'' expression, Crowe notes, "''Wu'' 戊 and ''ji'' 己 refer to the fifth and sixth of the ten celestial stems which, in combination, correspond to the earth phase which occupies the central position."