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HUAINAN ZI-Glimpses from Chapter II

MA YUAN, ‘ON A MOUNTAIN PATH IN SPRING’, Southern Song period, early 13th century. National Palace Museum, Taibei.


Today’s sharing from the Blue House of HYGEIA are a few selections from the ‘Huainanzi’, chapter II, paragraphs 15b second half to 17b first half. Our exploratory working English translation is based on the French ‘Pleiade’ edition-2003, pages 74-76 with constant verification with the Chinese original.

The title of this chapter is Chu Zhen (俶真訓), ‘Of the beginning of the Real’. Charles Le Blanc, the translator of this chapter comments the title: ‘Dao is considered under the aspect of time and becoming as it is embodied, in the middle of unceasing changes and world challenges, by the Perfect Man.’ We chose to not use the word ‘Saint’ as used in the French translation, instead using ‘Perfect Man’.


HYGEIA’s exploratory working English translation.

From 15b second half to 17b first half.


By studying, the Perfect Man tends to lead his nature to its original state and to let his heart wander into the void. Through his studies, the clairvoyant man aims to penetrate his own nature by the void and reach awakening through silence and seclusion.

As for the studies of the worldly people, they have nothing in common with the former. They unroot virtue and pluck up nature. They disrupt the five ‘viscera’ (the inner organs, a.k.a. the heart, the liver, the lungs, the spleen and the kidneys) on the inside and tire the eyes and the ears on the outside. They start to fool around and to play with the insignificant details of things. They bustle about and busy themselves in the  practice of humanity and justice, of the rites and music. They showcase their actions and spread their knowledge publicly (‘under the sky‘) to gain titles of honor and a name famous throughout the world. These are the things shame forbids me!

This is why it is worth to possess joy than an empire. Better even to rise until the point where everything begins and ends and penetrate the frontier of being and non-being than to possess joy. Thus, who understands this-even if the whole world praises him-he wouldn’t feel flattered; even if the whole world would blame him, he wouldn’t feel disenchanted.  Unshaken in front of life and death, impassive facing honors or blame, his spirit-even in the midst of fires or floods ravaging the entire world, stays intact within his chest. Also, he considers the beings existing between heaven and earth like as many flying feathers and twigs floating in the wind. How would he interfere on behalf of people?

Water is clear by nature, but earth disturbs it. Man is serene by nature, but envy and desire disturb him. Among the things that Man receives from heaven, ears and eyes are connected to sound and colors; nose and mouth to smells and flavors; flesh and skin to cold and heat. In all of them the settings are the same; so why is it that some reach the spiritual light when others can’t run away from stupidity? It is that what rules them is different. Because spirit is the source of wisdom; when the source is clear, wisdom is shining. Wisdom is the sanctuary of the heart; when wisdom is impartial, the heart is at rest.

No man can admire himself upon troubled water, but upon calm water due to his serenity. None can examine his shape with a piece of casted iron, but with a shining mirror due to his unified character. Only what is unified and serene faithfully reflects the nature of embodied beings. Upon this, the useful relies upon the useless. This is why light fills the empty house and good fortune pays a visit. When the mirror is shining, dust wouldn’t tarnish it. When the spirit is pure, envy and desire cannot disturb it.

Wanting to bring within the essential spirits scattered outside, is like neglecting the root to take care of the twigs. Wanting to bind oneself to the world’s beings while body and mind are discrepant, is tarnishing the inner light and seeking knowledge solely through the eyes and ears. It is to abandon light and be guided by darkness. This is called, ‘losing the dao’.

When the heart wants an object, spirit obliges with haste. It is only by redirecting it towards the void that the desires of the heart are removed. This is how the Perfect Men walk through life.



French ‘Pleiade Edition’

From 15b second half to 17b first half.



Original Chinese 



















Bronze mirror with portrayals of people, Western Han (206 BCE – 8 CE), Diameter 18.6 cm (7 3/8 in), T (at edge) 0.9 cm (3/8 in), excavated in 1994 from the Marquis of Wanqu’s tomb at Bojishan. Collection of the Xuzhou Museum. 人物画像铜镜,西汉,直径18.6、缘厚0.9厘米,1994年簸箕山宛朐侯墓出土,徐州博物馆藏.



More about the Huainan Zi here: / Original Chinese source:淮南子/本經訓
HUAINAN ZI-Glimpses from Chapter II

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