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Sachiko Murata – Wang Dai-yü & The Stages Of The Journey Beyond ‘Know Thy Self’

‘The Shahada’, by Haj’Abdol al-Hakim, artist name of Liu Jingyi. Arabic calligraphy in black ink, painted on fan-cut paper glued to golden silk “Zar baft” with floral decoration translated into Chinese in red ink. Liu Jingyi (1943-2005), China, 20th century, was a student of the famous Chinese calligrapher “Guo Zhen Duo” and “Cao Jin Zao” for Arabic.


Today’s sharing from the Blue House of Via-HYGEIA, is an excerpt from Sachiko Murata’s ‘Chinese Gleams of Sufi Light’, SUNY Press, 2000. Pages 76 & 77 and 96 to 100. It is a perfect prolongation of our contemplation of the preceding post, Porphyry : ‘Sententiae 40’- The Journey Beyond ‘Know Thy Self’. Here, we follow links of an invisible but persistent web that leads us to Chinese Islam and the Hui Scholar, Wang Dai-yü, (1584-1670), living at the time of the Ming-Qing transition. J. Gui wrote in the ‘Journal of Hui Muslim Minority Studies’: ‘Wang Dai-yü held a critical position with regard to the Confucian concept of “Mind, Human Nature, and Tiandao” from an Islamic perspective.’ Professor Sachiko Murata offers an in-depth study of the contexts and provides translations of Wang Dai-yü’s work, ”The Great Learning of the Pure and Real’, among works by Liu Zhi and Jami (in a Chinese translation by Liu Zhi, and a new translation of Jami’s ‘Lawa’ih’ from the Persian into English by William C. Chittick). Quite a treat!


From Sachiko Murata’s

Introduction to Wang Dai-yü’s text

‘The Great Learning of the Pure and Real’

‘…The third main part of the book addresses the stages of achieving the perfections of human embodiment (t’i) in terms of three degrees, which Wang calls “recognition with knowledge” (chih-jen) or “knowing one” (chih-i), “recognition with seeing” (chien-jen) or “seeing one”(chien-i), and “recognition with continuity” (hsü-jen) or “unmixed one” (shun-i). He may have in mind the well-known Sufi triad ‘ilm al-yaqin (knowledge of certainty), ‘ayn al-yaqin (eye of certainty), and baqq al-yaqin (truth or real­ity of certainty).

In the third part Wang mentions Arabic words for only the second time in the text. All are well-known terms derived from the same root as the word wahid, “one.” He calls recognition with knowledge “tawhid,” which he translates as “practicing one” (hsi-i); it is achieved through knowing the universe. Recognition with seeing is ittihad (unification, or the internalization of unity), a term that he translates as” self-one” (tzu­ i), which is achieved through knowing self. He identifies recognition with continuity with wahda (unity or oneness), which he translates as “unmixed one;” it is achieving unity through the One itself.

The stress of this part on achieving ultimate unity in the body is per­fectly in harmony both with Islamic and Confucian teachings. On the Islamic side, the importance of bodily activity as the ground for all spiri­tual awakening becomes manifest graphically in the most basic praxis of Islam, the ritual prayer (şalat) with its diversity of bodily movements, preceded by rites of bodily purification. The supreme significance of this specific bodily act is best summarized in the prophetic maxim, “The şalat is the believer’s spiritual ascent [mi’raj].” On the Confucian side, Tu Wei-ming remarks as follows: “When Mencius defines the sage (who has attained the highest moral excellence in the human community) as the person who has brought the bodily form to fruition, he assumes that the body is where the deepest human spirituality dwells.”

In Neo-Confucian terms, Wang’s outline of three ascending stages of human embodiment can be read as a description of the process whereby, in the well-known expression of Ch’eng Hao, the man of true humanity (jen) “forms one body with heaven, earth, and the ten thousand things.” But, as Wang Yang-ming (the neo-Confucian philosopher) reminds us, the realization of this oneness in its fullness takes place in the human heart, the highest spiritual organ. “At bottom heaven, earth, the ten thousand things, and man form one body. The point at which this unity manifests in its most refined and excellent form is the clear intelligence of the human heart.” Wang Yang­-ming, in fact, defines the whole Confucian ethic as outlined in the Great Learning in terms of clarifying the clear virtue (which, as we saw, Wang Dai-yü associates with “faith,” iman) and achieving this one body:

The various steps from the investigation of things and the exten­sion of knowledge to bringing peace to everything under heaven are nothing but clarifying the clear virtue. Even loving the people is also a matter of clarifying the clear virtue. The clear virtue is the virtue of the heart; it is humanity (jen). The man of jen regards heaven, earth, and the ten thousand things as one body. If a single thing is deprived of its place, it means that my jen is not yet demon­strated to the fullest extent.”

In describing the three stages of achieving proper embodiment, Wang tells us that at the first stage, the seekers recognize the benefit of enlight­enment and sage-hood. At the second stage, they are able to transcend causal connections and personal experiences and depend upon their own true self. At the third stage, constant recognition of the Real allows them to overcome all selfish ideas and personal opinions, to return to the source of the clear virtue, and to depend upon no-self (wu-chi). “No­ self” seems to be the stage that is achieved by” conquering self,” discussed earlier (p. 56). As such it correlates with Sufi expressions like “annihila­tion” (fana’),”the Station of No Station” (maqam la maqam), and “selfless­ness” (bi-khwudi).

Liu Jingyi (1943-2005), China, 20th century. Arabic and Chinese manuscript on rice paper, the text consisting of ‘Sura al-Ikhlas’ in a circular shape, its translation in Chinese,


Wang Dai-yü, excerpt from the ‘The Great Learning of the Pure and Real’


The Topic

‘What we call “the oneness of recognition with body” is the human level, and it also is called by many names: the Heart of the Ten Thousand Spirituals, the Fruit of the Ten Thousand Images, the Furnace of Alchemy, the Gate of Life and Death, the Precious Mirror, the Great Perfection. This level is the Real Lord’s original pivot in His ancient archive.

The Embodied One is provided with both form and spirit, the highest and the lowest. There is nothing that it does not cover or carry. It indeed is the most complete of the ten thousand kinds of things.

Before heaven, the chief mandate is called “the Real Nature,” and it embodies the subtlety of the Real One. After heaven, the bodily man­ date is called “the Root Nature,” and it embodies the principle of the Non-Ultimate. Yin and yang united as one are called “the Disposition of Form”; this embodies the function of the Great Ultimate. Hearing, see­ing, speaking, walking, stopping, taking, giving, and the hundred bones of the body all listen to this one nature. Therefore, through the oneness of the appropriate body, the oneness of the root of numbers can be wit­nessed. After that, along with the Numerical One, and only then, can the oneness of the Unique and the Independent be witnessed. Advanc­ing step by step to arrive there, no one will go astray. A poet said, “One ink-slab, two pools, the great pen stretches out­ one, yet two, then all return to one. The Creative, the Receptive, man, woman, all are like this- track down the trace, ascend the hall, then enter the room!”

The Classic says, “He who recognizes himself will be able to witness the Utmost Sage, then recognize the Real Lord.”

There are three levels of bearing witness: recognition with knowledge, recognition with seeing, and recognition with continuity. Recognition with knowledge is called “clear penetration,” recognition with seeing is called “intimate connection,” and recognition with continuity is called “unity in union.”

Recognition with Knowledge

What we call “recognition with knowledge” is to inquire about and to imitate what the sages and worthies reflected upon and witnessed. It is to infer in detail from the Real Classic of the True Teaching while one looks at things, thoughts, and feelings. So, it is to embody the Real Lord while depending on all the conditions. Thus, heaven is high and earth abundant, water is cold and fire hot, wind moves and the earth is in repose, sun and moon come and go, stars and constellations turn and revolve, the four seasons change and alternate, day and night are rolled up and unfolded, metal and stone alter and transform, grasses and trees show fragrant faces; water creatures, flyers, and land-walkers are all of different kinds, not equal in hardness and softness. If there are too many, they give no benefit; if there are too few, this is not complete. Every­ thing has been most suitable and without change from ancient times to the present. If some small thing is not exactly as it should be, naturally it is not safe and sound. Other than the Real Lord, who can keep on creat­ing things in this arrangement of utmost subtlety?

This is “attaining one from ten thousand.” It is like the time of the blossoms and the leaves. What a pity that there is so little time! This stage is called t’ao-hei-te [tawhid] (which means “practicing one”). When you reach this station, only then can you trace the activity of the Real Lord, though it is not possible to grasp everything.

This truly depends on learning. After learning, you can know; after knowing, you can be faithful; after being faithful, you can be sincere; and after being sincere, you can be loyal. If you are loyal, you will surely not waver. It is not that you have what is seen; it is rather that you have not the slightest doubt. Only when you stand firm without moving can you witness the Real Lord. If you enact real knowledge, you will not be perplexed.

Recognition with Seeing

What we call “recognition with seeing” is transcending all the condi­tions so that you experience yourself intimately and, while depending on the body, you recognize the Real Lord with the body. He is the root cause for the transformation of the human ancestor into man and woman, who are the embodied images of the Great Ultimate and of yin and yang. He comprehensively embraces the pivot of heaven and earth and thoroughly penetrates the subtlety of being and nonbeing. He contains nature and mandate, knowledge and power, each of them bright and lively; sight, hearing, listening, and speech, each in its utmost re­finement. In relation to the universe, He is like the most great and the original pivot. Other than the Real Lord, who can abide through him­ self? Even the worldly affairs in front of the eyes, such as endeavor and reputation, wealth and nobility, gain and loss, safety and danger-no one is capable of keeping these. How much less the greatest things, like life and death!

If you have an astonished awaking, such that you turn your intention and return your heart, this is the beginning discrimination between the newborn and the Original Being and the dear division between the Lord and the servant, none of this depending on your own self. This is “at­ taining one from two.” Even though the subtle clarity is manifest, unity in union has not yet been reached.

This stage is called i-t’i-ha-te [ittihad] (which means “self-one”). When you arrive at this station, you will begin to reach the movement and quietude of activity. You should know that the propriety and righteousness of the constants of the Bonds-such as loyalty toward the ruler and filial piety toward parents-give rewards simply for the unplanned meetings of the float­ing life, even though you ignore your own self-being. If you act the same toward the Creator and Transformer of nature and mandate and of life and death, who also gives the eternal abode at the bodies’ Return, how can you not receive recompense for sincere intention and loyal uprightness?

Nonetheless, if you do reach the utmost ultimate of longing [for the Real Lord], union will occur only sometimes. This is like someone drunk and without self, but now and again he is sober. A poet said, “If he becomes drunk and unawake in his saying and doing, this is because wine attacks the form and spirit. The shining light of stars and moon never fades away but quickly it is gathered up by the greatest light.”

When you reach this degree and site, this is like the time between the blossom’s opening and the fruit’s ripening. Between self and no-self, you have to be very cautious about severe rain and strong wind. It is important to preserve and protect the heart. Only then can you sud­denly set aside the obstacles of self. Then you will see without witness­ing, but this is not two. If you encounter an opportunity like this, at that moment you can witness the Real Lord untinged by the ten thousand conditions. This is intimate connection without break.

Recognition with Continuity

What we call “recognition with continuity” is conquering entirely both crooked selfishness and opinions of self, returning completely to the fountainhead of clear virtue, and recognizing the Real Lord with body while depending on no-self. Our selves’ origin has a beginning and an end, and it comes and goes. The Real Lord at root does not arise or be­ come exhausted, and He has no place. If by means of the human level, which has a beginning and end, you wish to delve into the Real Lord, who is without arising and exhaustion, this is impossible to achieve. It is like attempting to unite by force water and fire or a square and a circle. No matter how much you can delve into the principle and investigate the things through seeing, hearing, knowledge, and power, you cannot penetrate the Original Being. To do that, self-being must be completely molded. Only then will you gain the subtle clarity of the immediate mani­festation of the Root Nature’s movement and quietude. From this mo­ment, everything will become clear, and you will know through the knowledge of the Lord, see through the sight of the Lord, and speak with the tongue of the Lord. This is “one from one,” and it is called wa­ ha-te-te [wahdat] (which means unmixed one).

When you reach this ultimate level, you will be neither the same nor separable. At this level, nothing at all is independent and everything is with the Lord, and this is “unity in union.” This is because the inward and outward of after-heaven combine in essence, and the origin of before-heaven discloses uniquely. The wind will be calm and the water placid, the sun high and the clouds scattered. Although you have form and spirit, yet their movement and quietude is one. You can witness the Real Lord only with a pure and clean no-self, and this is with mutual continuity and undifferentiated togetherness. A worthy said, “All the created newborn things mutually continue in the Original Being, and no trace of the self’s selfishness and the newly born remains.” This is the meaning of this station.

The Utmost Sage said, “I am with the Real Lord and recognize the Real Lord with the body. If it were not through the Real Lord, it would be impossible to recognize the Real Lord.

When you reach this station, only then does the fruit become perfect and the human being perfect. In this station all things will be settled in one and not change, and this is “no-bearing-witness.”

At this moment you will know that the Non-Ultimate belongs to the before-heaven and it is the time of the first planting of the seed. Since this is from the above to the below, it is called “descending.” This is the original seed, and it is the beginning of no-bearing-witness. The Human Ultimate belongs to the after-heaven, and it is the time of cultivation. Since this is from the below to the above, it is called “ascending.” This is the root cause for producing fruit.

A tree is hidden in a seed, and the fruits become manifest according to the tree. In the final analysis, the fruit is the seed and they are not two, but in fact, there has been an increase in profit. If the seeds do not [sprout and blossom with] fine color and good scent, this will betray the occasion for growth.

The reason why heaven and earth, the ten thousand affairs, and the ten thousand things are produced is specifically for the sake of bringing together this one great cause and condition. The human level is the only being who received this heavy responsibility. In fact, you should over­ come the hardships of the ten thousand beings and experience the one hundred thousand dangers. Only then can you gain the perfect, com­plete, true fruit. This is the highest, above which there is no thing and no place, and there is no more witnessing.

Know that there are three levels of perfect fruit. The human ancestor is the fruit of the ten thousand things, the sages are the fruit of human beings, and the Utmost Sage, Mu-han-me-te (Muhammad), is the fruit of all the sages. Only when you reach this ultimate level will the root nature of the Real Lord become manifest.

It is sad that the people of the world are drowning in this ocean of pain and betraying this heavy Trust. Compared to the other kinds [of creatures], surely they show no difference.’


Sachiko Murata (村田幸子, born 1943) is a professor of religion and Asian studies at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. She is a 2011 Guggenheim Fellow.


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More about Sachiko Murata: 🌿 About the book: Chinese Gleams of Sufi Light: 🌿 About Wang Daiyü:
Sachiko Murata – Wang Dai-yü & The Stages Of The Journey Beyond ‘Know Thy Self’

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