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- Tian Yin Zi

Book of Heavenly Seclusion Master

Translated by Livia Kohn
Bibliographic Information
Tianyinzi : [Book of] Master Heavenly Seclusion: DZ 1026.
Attributed to Sima Chengzhen (647-735), the twelfth Shangqing (Highest Clarity)
patriarch, this is a practical manual on observation (guan ) and attaining the Dao (dedao ). It
outlines this path in terms of "five progressive gateways."
(Komjathy, 2004)
Author's Introduction
Tianyinzi (DZ 1026), edited by Sima Chengzhen. This work outlines five general stages to
the Tao, beginning with preparatory measures such as fasting and abstention as well as the
establishment of the meditation chamber. The Tianyinzi is the only text of the group that has been
published also in non-Taoist collections. Especially the Congshu jicheng edition supplies
valuable variants and editions.
(Kohn, 1987: 78)
Authorship of the Tianyinzi was not always clear, although the standard interpretation follows the
claim made in chapter one above that Sima Chengzhen received the teaching from a master of that
name and edited the text. This understanding was contested in 1162, when a certain Hu Lian
added a postface to the text in which he stated that it was written by Sima Chengzhen himself and
only ascribed to Tianyinzi. The first paragraph of the preface appears to have been added later: the
text is referred to as beginning with the second paragraph in bibliographic materials of the Song
dynasty. Another postface was included later. It appears first in late Ming editions of the text and
describes the practical procedures of Taoist meditation including various methods of gymnastics
and physical exercises. Since thedate of this postface remains unclear and it cannot be linked
historically or in contents with Sima Chengzhen and his was of Taoist meditation, I have not
included it in this volume.
(Kohn, 1987: 145)

Book of
Heavenly Seclusion Master


Whereas the path of spirit immortality has long life as its basis, the starting point for long life is the
nourishment of

This breath is first received from heaven and earth, then it is harmonized through yin and yang.

When yin and yang are spiritual and empty we speak of the mind.

The agents governing the mind during night and day, waking and sleeping are the hun , and the
po souls.

It is because of them that the human body is never far removed from the path of immortality.

I do not know where Tianyinzi came from.

He wrote this booklet in altogether eight sections.

It encompasses the secret and the marvellous and deals with things hardly attainable by people
through study alone.

Looking now at the various techniques of cultivating and refining body and breath, of nourishing
and harmonizing mind and emptiness,1 we find that the "return to the root" goes back to Boyang
,2 whereas the "emittance of radiance" is found with Zhuang Sou .3

Long life and eternal vision4 can verily be found in this book.

I have practised the techniques of the Tao myself.

Now I feel compassion for the people of the world who often die an untimely death rather than
fulfilling their natural life-spans.

Therefore, I thought of transmitting this teaching to fellow adepts of long life.

I have simplified it so that it can be practised and referred to easily.

Ever since the time of Laozi, there has only been this teaching of Tianyinzi.

1. Spirit immortality

When man is born, he is endowed with the breath of emptiness,5 his essence and intelligence are
of penetrating awareness.

When thus learning finds no obstructions, we speak of "spirit."

Make the spirit settle within and emit its radiance without!

This way you will naturally be different from normal people.

You will be called a spirit immortal.

Yet, a spirit immortal is still a man.

The accomplishment of spirit immortality lies in cultivating one's breath of emptiness and never
letting it be defiled by the common world.6

It is found in following one's own nature and never letting oneself be obstructed by false views.

Joy and anger, sadness and happiness, love, hate, and desires are the seven perversions of the

Wind and damp, cold and heat, hunger and satiation, labor and idleness are the eight perversions
of breath.

Ridding oneself of these is to establish immortality.7

2. Simplicity8

The Yijing says: "The way of heaven and earth is simple."9

What does this mean?

Tianyinzi says: Heaven and earth are above my head and beneath my feet.

When I open my eyes I can see them clearly and I can speak of them without relying on any
complex devices.

Thus I say that consummate simplicity is the virtue of immortality.10

(Note: The Scripture says: "The perfect Tao is not complex, the perfect man does not act."11)

What path should be used to seek this?

He says: Without seeking you cannot know; without a path you cannot attain the goal.

All students of spirit immortality must first of all realize simplicity.

If the teachings are marvellous, artful, and attractive, they will only lead people astray.

They will not lead them back to the root of things.12

Such could never be my teaching.

(Note: There are people in the world who study immortality but to the contrary are only deluded
by it.

There are also people who study breathing but to the contrary are only made sick by it.13)

3. Gradual Progress Toward the Gate of the Tao

In the Yijing, there is the hexagram "Progressive Advance."14

Laozi speaks of the "Marvellous Gate."15

When human beings cultivate inner perfection and realize their natures they cannot expect any
sudden enlightenment.

Rather, they must progress gradually and practise the techniques in peace.

Thus the following five progressive gates to the Tao have been established:16

The first is fasting and abstention.

The second is seclusion.

The third is visualization and imagination.

The fourth is sitting in oblivion.

The fifth is spirit liberation.

What does fasting and abstention mean?

It means cleansing the body and emptying the mind.17

What does seclusion mean?

It means withdrawing deep into the meditation chamber.18

What does visualization and imagination mean?

It means taming the mind and recovering inner nature.19

What does sitting in oblivion mean?

It means letting go of the personal body and completely forgetting oneself.20

What does spirit liberation mean?

It means spirit pervasion of all existence.21

Thus, when someone practises according to these five steps, he will perfect step one, then only
gradually proceed to cultivate step two.

When he has perfected step two, then only will he go on to step three.

After perfecting step three, he will gradually move on to step four.

When he has perfected step four, he will finally pass on to step five.

Thereby spirit immortality will be attained.

4. Fasting and Abstention

Fasting and abstention do not merely mean that one lives on vegetables and mushrooms.

Cleansing the body is not just bathing to remove the dirt.

Rather, the method implies a regulation of one's food intake so that it is perfectly balanced and a
practice of massage which will make the body radiate with a glow.

Man is endowed with the breath of the five phases.22

He lives on things equally consisting of the five phases.

From the time when he takes shape in the womb man breathes in and out and circulates blood and

How could it be possible for him to stop eating and attain long life?

People of the world don't usually realize that abstention from food and living on breath are only
temporary measures of the Taoists.

It does not mean that we completely abstain from all cereals.

When we speak of fasting and abstention from food we refer to the purification of nourishment and
to moderation of intake.23

If one is hungry one eats but never to satiation.24

This is what we mean by establishing a balanced diet.

Don't eat anything not well cooked!

Don't eat strongly flavored dishes!

Don't eat anything rotten or conserved!25

These are our basic abstentions.

Massage your skin with your hands so that it becomes moist and hot.

This will drive out all cold breath.

The body will radiate with a glow!

Refrain from long sitting, long standing, long exhaustive labor!

All these are basic abstentions.26

They serve to balance and regulate the body.

If the body is strong, the breath is whole.

Thus fasting and abstention constitute the first of the gates to the Tao.

5. Seclusion

What is meant by seclusion?27

It has nothing to do with living in ornate halls, in cavernous buildings, on double matting and thick

It means sitting with one's face to the south, sleeping with one's head to the east, complying in
everything with the harmonious rhythm of yin and yang.28

Light and darkness should be in balance.

The room should not be too high.

If it is too high, yang is predominant and there will be too much light.

The room should not be too low.

If it is too low, yin is predominant and there will be too much darkness.

The reason for this precaution is that when there is too much light, the po soul will be harmed.

When there is too much darkness, the hun soul will suffer.

In human beings the hun soul is yang and the po soul is yin.

Any harm done to them due to light or darkness will cause sickness and disease.

When things are arranged in the proper balanced way we may speak of a chamber of seclusion.

Also, one should not forget that among the breaths of heaven and earth there may be violent
yang29 that attacks the flesh or lascivious yin that overpowers the body.

How can one not be wary to guard against these?

During the progressive advance of cultivation and nourishment there is no proper seclusion unless
these instructions are carried out.

Thus Tianyinzi says: The room I live in has windows on all four sides.

When wind arises I close them; as soon as the wind has died down I open them.30

In front of my meditation seat a curtain is suspended, behind it a screen has been placed.

When it is too light, I draw the curtain to adjust the brightness inside.

When it gets too dark, I roll the curtain up again to let light in from outside.

On the inside I calm my mind, on the outside I calm my eyes.

Mind and eyes must be both completely at peace.

If either light or darkness prevails there will be too many thoughts and too many desires.

How then could I ever calm myself inside and out?

Thus in studying the Tao, seclusion marks the second step.

6. Visualization and Imagination

Visualization is producing a vision of one's spirit(s).

Imagination means creating an image of one's body.31

How is this accomplished?32 By closing one's eyes one can see one's own eyes.

By gathering in one's mind one can realize one's own mind.

Mind and eyes should never be separate from one's body and should never harm one's spirit(s):
this is done by visualization and imagination.

Normal people direct their eyes only toward other men to the end of their days.

Therefore their minds tend to keep wandering outside.

When the mind is concerned with outer affairs all the time it in turn causes the eyes to continue
looking to things outside.33

Brightly sparkling their light floats around and never reflects back on themselves.

How can people not become sick from this and end up dying prematurely?

Therefore "return to the root means tranquillity, and tranquillity means to recover life."34

To recover life and perfect one's inner nature is called "the gate of all subtleties."35

Thus, with the step of visualization and imagination the task of learning the Tao is half completed.

7. Sitting in Oblivion

Sitting in oblivion is the perfection of visualization and imagination, the utter oblivion of visualization
and imagination.

To put the Tao to action but not oneself act: isn't that the meaning of sitting?

To see something and not act in relation to it: isn't that the meaning of oblivion?

Why do we speak of not acting?

Because the mind remains free from agitation.

Why do we speak of not seeing?36

Because the body is obliterated completely.

Someone asks: "If the mind is unmoving, does it have the Tao then?"

Tianyinzi remains silent and does not answer.

Another asks: "If the body is obliterated, does it have the Tao then?"

Tianyinzi closes his eyes and does not look.

Then someone awakens to the Tao and, in withdrawing, says: "The Tao is really in me.

What person is this 'me'?

What person actually is this Tianyinzi?"37

Thus, self and other are both forgotten.

Nothing is left to radiate.

8. Spirit Liberation

Step one, fasting and abstention, is called liberation through faith.38

(Without faith, the mind cannot be liberated.)

Step two, seclusion, is called liberation through tranquillity.

(Without tranquillity, the mind cannot be liberated.)

Step three, visualization and imagination, is called liberation through insight.

(Without insight, the mind cannot be liberated.)

Step four, sitting in oblivion, is called liberation through absorption.

(Without absorption, the mind cannot be liberated.39)

When the four gates of faith, tranquillity, insight, and absorption have been pervaded by the spirit,
then we speak of
spirit liberation.

By "spirit" we mean that which arrives without moving, is swift without hurrying.40

It pervades the rhythm of yin and yang.

It is as old as heaven and earth.41

When the three agents, heaven, earth, and man, are combined there are changes.42

(Note: The Xici [II.2] says: "When the changes come to an end, there is transformation.

Where there is transformation, there is pervasion.

Where there is pervasion, there is continuity.")

When the myriad beings are equalized, then we speak of the Tao and the virtue.43

(Note: This refers to Laozi's Daojing and Dejing.)

When the one original nature of all is realized, then we speak of suchness.44

(Note: The Lotus Stra, the Lankvatra Stra, and the Nirvna Stra of Shakyamuni all deal with
the "one original nature.")

By entering into suchness one returns to non-action.45

(Note: The Yuanjue jing says: "Whether there is the threefold embodiment of the Buddha in action
or in non-action or the metamorphosis body of the Buddha which cannot fall back into mundane
destiny, all is the one original nature."46)

Tianyinzi says:47 "I am born with the changes; I will die with the changes.

In accordance with the myriad beings I move; going along with the myriad beings I rest.48

Perversion comes from the original nature; perfection comes from the one original nature.49

Through spirit I am liberated from all: life and death, movement and rest, perversion and

Among human beings the liberated ones are called spirit immortals.

Those in heaven are called heavenly immortals; those on earth are called earthly immortals; those
in water are called water immortals.50

Those who pervade all are called spirit immortals.

Thus the path to spirit immortality consists of the five progressive gates of study.

They all lead only to the one goal.51

1. This section of the introduction is quoted also in the Baizhuan shuzi .
2. Boyang is one of the names of Laozi. The quotation is taken from Daodejing 16.
3. Zhuang Sou is the respectful name used for Zhuangzi by Tang and Song poets.
4. Daode jing 59.
5. The Daoshu (2,4a) and the Congshu jicheng have for "breath of numinosity."
6. The Daoshu (2.4a) here reads: " never attaining it by worldly discussions and analyses." Like
the DZ edition it gives for which is found in the Congshu jicheng.
7. This paragraph occurs as a note in the DZ edition, but has been integrated into the text
frequently. The seven emotions are already found in the "Liyun" chapter of the Liji. Here we have
"fear," instead of "happiness."
8. Yijian is written as Jianyi in the Daoshu.
9. A similar quotation is found in Yijing, Xici I.1. Here yi is correlated with heaven , while jian
corresponds to earth .
10. The Congshu jicheng has instead of . It also reads for : "Thus I speak
of simplicity. Simplicity is an expression for spirit immortality."
11. The latter part of this quotation is found in Zhuangzi 58/22/18.
12. Daode jing 16.
13. The Daoshu (2,4b) includes this note in the text and reverses the order of the two statements.
In the Congshu jicheng edition, is written . For a distinction between the two variants see Zhu,
14. Wilhelm, 1979: 196 (no. 56).
15. Daode jing 1.
16. The Daoshu (2,4b) summarizes this paragraph in one sentence. The subsequent explanations
it includes in the later sections. The Congshu jicheng version adds: "As I enter them through
insight, the Tao becomes visible."
17. Daodejing 3. In the Zhuangzi "emptying the mind" corresponds to the "fasting of the mind"
18. The meditation chamber was already instituted by the Celestial Masters in the second
century (Stein, 1963:38).
19. This refers back to the third section of the Zuowanglun.
20. Zhuangzi 19/6/92; Zuowanglun 1b.
21. In the Zhuangzi (29/12/14), one finds the notion that "knowledge is pervaded by the spirit." In
addition, the Zhuangzi (19/6/92) describes mystical union in terms of "making oneself identical with
the Great Thoroughfare." In Buddhism we find the expression "spirit pervasion" in descriptions of

the deep and transcendent samdhi of the Buddha. He then emits a bright light and has
possession of supernatural powers (Yuanjue jing T. 17, 913a; Vimalakrti Nirdesa T. 14, 539a).
22. Zuowanglun 11ab; YJQQ 14,13b cites the Huangdi neijing suwen to the same
23. The Daoshu (2,4b) shortens this and defines fasting as "purification" and abstention as
"regulation." For a study of Taoist dietetic abstentions see Lvi, 1983.
24. Cf. Sun Simiao, Cunshen lianqi ming 1b.
25. Maspero, 1971: 368.
26. This follows the Daoshu (2,5a). The DZ edition leaves out before every item. The same
abstentions are described in Sima Chengzhen's Fuqi jingyi lun, section 6 (YJQQ 57,19b) with
reference to the Huangdi neijing suwen (23,10b). Already the Zhuangzi contains warnings against
exertion of the body (Robinet, 1983: 79).
27. This expression for "seclusion" goes back as far as the Shijing. It also occurs in the "Xinshu"
chapter of the Guanzi and in Buddhist literature. The Yuanjue jing mentions it in the context
of a progressive system as the step to be taken after "meticulous observation of the precepts" (T.
17, 914b).
28. The Daoshu (2,5a) has: "The place where one lives must completely accord with the
harmonious rhythm of yin and yang."
29. The Congshu jicheng here has for . The expression "violent yang" is reminiscent of
, "violent dragon," found in Xici I.8.
30. Opening and closing the doors in order to keep up accordance with yin and yang, qian and kun,
is already mentioned in Xici I.11.
31. I use the term "imagination" to refer to the deliberate creation of images on the basis of actual
experience. As such it stands in opposition to "fantasy" which refers to images largely devoid of
relation to reality. A similar usage of these terms is found in the psychology of C.G. Jung.
32. This sentence is added by the Daoshu (2,5b).
33. In Taoist theory, the mind is closely related to the eyes. See especially Wu Yun's Xinmu lun
(DZ 1038).
34. Daodejing 16.
35. Daodejing 1.
36. Cf. Zuowanglun 4b. The Chan history Chuandeng lu has a similar statement: "Not seeing and
hearing is to see and to hear truly."
37. The first three sentences of this paragraph are added by the Daoshu (2,6a). A different version
is given in the Congshu jicheng: "Someone asks: 'How do you attain the unmoving state of the
mind?' TianYinzi remains silent and does not answer. Another asks: 'How do you attain the
obliteration of the body?' Tianyinzi closes his eyes and does not look." This section is a rare
instance where one ran glimpse the concrete setting in which the methods were taught. The scene
is reminiscent of Chan Buddhism.
38. The expression translates the Sanskrit adhimukti (Robinet, 1983: 94).

39. The order of the various kinds of liberation is different in the Daoshu edition: Step one, faith;
step two, absorption; step three, tranqullity; step four, insight.
40. Zhuangzi 26/11/17.
41. Daode jing 7.
42. For the three agents see Yijing, Shuogua 2.
43. The idea of "equalization of all beings" is taken from the Zhuangzi (ch. 2).
44. This translates bhtatathat, the eternal, unchanging power behind all phenomena.
45. Non-action is an early translation for nirvna.
46. These two sections are added in the Congshu jicheng edition. The quotation resembles the
Yuanjue jing (T. 17, 921b).
47. This follows the Daoshu (2,6b). In the DZ edition, the is omitted.
48. Zhuangzi 34/13/14 and 40/15/10.
49. The Tao as the original one nature of the cosmos which underlies all being is an important
concept in Tang Taoist philosophy. The expression then used was , a direct replica of the
Buddhist . For details of this concept see Kamata, 1966.
50. This third category is added in the Congshu jicheng edition. Heaven, earth, and water are the
three major departments of the universe according to the world view of the Celestial Masters
(fuchi, 1985).
51. Following the Congshu jicheng version.

One thing I find troublesome, is that he says the way to spiritual immortal is through following one's nature.
Then he talks about simplicity and the way and all the conduct.
What if one's nature is a traveler, or something less defined and able to create a concrete lifestyle.
Following one's nature can sometimes be a little chaotic?

The inner nature is mentioned as 'realized' and 'recovered'... till then, it is false views... one could
say it is purely a man-centric or manifest view of duality:
It is found in following one's own nature and never letting oneself be obstructed by false views.
Joy and anger, sadness and happiness, love, hate, and desires are the seven perversions of the
Wind and damp, cold and heat, hunger and satiation, labor and idleness are the eight perversions
of breath.
Ridding oneself of these is to establish immortality.
Thus, it is said:

When the one original nature of all is realized, then we speak of suchness.
So in order to talk about such things... the one original nature is what one will follow.
And although it talks of the body radiating.... that is still just a step... as eventually:
Thus, self and other are both forgotten.
Nothing is left to radiate.

Yes, absolutely. One of my teachers said that when someone embarks on the path of self discovery,
they must follow their desires and will most likely go downwards. I've certainly found that to be the case.
I've needed to find all my weaknesses and - with much help - work my way through the most debilitating
of them. The Dao is like water in this respect and flows first to the lowest places. And once filled the
lowest places never need to be revisited.

To my mind, teachings such as the Heavenly Seclusion Master are only valid if they arise spontaneously
from within rather than from imitation by willpower. Otherwise such teaching do nothing more than
confine us within the sort of moral straight-jacket that classical Daoism warns against.

So would you say travelling to asia is a desire? it would seem to break simplicity, but what if someone feels it?
Alexandra David Neel explored Tibet and wrote a lot of books, was she following her nature? or losing herself?

I just think the idea of "simplicity" has a type of structure to it that can break any effort to follow ones nature.
Atleast when I look at today's society..
What does it mean to be Obstructed by false views?
And how does one know they are following their nature?

Yes, I've read both of her books which cover her life in Tibetan... really amazing reading.

I think the text is talking about the realized, inner, true nature which is unperturbed by local layers
and mental questions about simplicity or following... Yet, our nature is always one and the same...
there is just more clarity about such things.

When something prompts us to do something, our natures should respond instinctively like a 'voice
from god' if you will... but when we analyze, ponder, hold back, question then our local layers of
perception (of things and life) become an obstacle to that inner voice and path to go.

Less obstruct is more simplicity. Look at two people doing the exact same thing and for one it is
effortless and another fraught with conflicts. The more refrain from judging it, the easier to do it.

To me, a false view is the obstructed view... one which lacks clarity and simplicity.

Knowing when you're following your nature: Good question

Because you know it (this is more like subconscious knowing to me). To me, it is more like a
fate/destiny thing where the doing is effortless (wu wei) because it is simply a clear inner
prompting/doing/knowing tied up as a whole.

IMO, one can look back at the path and see some signs (or dreams for some).

Hello all,

thank you for this good text.It show proto-Nei Dan practice and looks to be focused on Xing.I dont know if we can
say it worked with Tian Xian energys because this is more Hou Tian.Laater Nei Dan totaly removed visualisation
and imagination which was promeninet in Shang Qing Pai.

I hope to see some comment on this text from the basis of modern Nei Dan practitioner.
All the best,

Yes, I tend to prefer the proto-Nei Dan as you put it and find a place for visualization and
imagination as the early texts trained

flowing hands - Thanks for sharing this. I see that it has picked up some things from other Daoist
writings, still it is nearing some of the true teachings, but it is missing some vital ones. Don't ask
what they are!!