The Huainan zi (Book of the Master of Huainan) was compiled in 139 BCE under the editorship of Liu An, the prince of the southern kingdom of Huainan. A vast work containing twenty-one chapters (or twenty-eight, in some editions), it stands out as a work of synthesis of different traditions, including teachings based on the Daode jing and the Zhuangzi, as an exposition of the arts of government and self-cultivation, and as a description of several cosmological sciences.
The Realized Man
In dwelling he has no shape, and in abiding he has no place. In movement he has no form, and in quiescence he has no body. He is there but looks as if he were gone, he is alive but looks as if he were dead. He comes in and out of the spaceless and has gods and demons at his orders; he sinks into the unfathomable and enters into the spaceless. He exchanges his form with what is different from him. End and beginning for him are like a ring, and nobody knows his patterns. This is how his essence and spirit can lead him to ascend to the Dao. This is where the Realized Man roams.
As for inspiring and expiring while emitting the sounds chui and xu, exhaling the old and inhaling the new [breath], hanging like a bear and stretching like a bird, bathing like a duck and leaping like a gibbon, glaring like an owl and staring like a tiger these are for the people who "nourish their form," and he does not confuse his mind with them.
Huainan zi, chapter 7. Translation published in Fabrizio Pregadio, "The Notion of 'Form' and the Ways of Liberation in Daoism," Cahiers d'Extrême-Asie 14 (2004): 119-20.
The Saintly Man
[The sainly man] has forgotten his five viscera and has abandoned his bodily form. He knows without apprehending, sees without looking, accomplishes without doing, and discerns without applying himself. He spontaneously responds to the outer stimuli and acts only if he cannot do without it. He moves without wanting it, like beams of light and particles of brilliance. As his rule he follows the Dao and attains to it. He embraces his foundation in the Great Clarity and nothing can enthrall him or trouble him. Vast and deep, he maintains himself empty; pure and serene, he is without thoughts and worries.
A great marsh can burn, and he is not scorched; the Yellow and the Han rivers can frost, and he is not cold; a great thunder can shake a mountain, and he is not frightened; a great wind can obscure the sun, and he is not distressed. (1) Therefore he looks upon precious stones, pearls, and jade as stones and gravel; he looks upon the most venerable and esteemed ones as passing guests; and he looks upon Mao Qiang and Xi Shi as deformed and uncomely (2).
He takes life and death as a single transformation, and the ten thousand things as a single extension. He communicates through his essence with his foundation in the Great Clarity and roams in the indistinct space. He does not stir his essence and does not budge his spirit. Keeping up his tally with the simplicity of the Great Inchoate, he establishes himself at the center of Culminant Clarity.
(1) Compare the passage of Zhuangzi, chapter 6, translated in Burton Watson, The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu, 46 (New York: Columbia University Press).
(2) Mao Qiang and Xi Shi were ancient paragons of female beauty.
Huainan zi, chapter 7. Translation published in Fabrizio Pregadio, Great Clarity: Daoism and Alchemy in Medieval China, 37 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006).
In Ancient Times
In ancient times, when there were not yet Heaven and Earth, there were only images without forms. Deep! Obscure! Broad and wide, boundless and measureless! Vaporous and opaque, vast and cavernous! No one knows where this came from. There were two spirits (shen) generated from the inchoate, which aligned Heaven and oriented Earth. Empty! No one knows where it ends. Overflowing! No one knows where it stops. Thereupon it differentiated itself and became ☞ Yin and Yang, it separated itself and became the eight poles. The firm and the yielding (1) completed each other, and the ten thousand things took form.
(1) I.e., Yin and Yang.
Huainan zi, chapter 7. Translation published in Fabrizio Pregadio, "The Notion of 'Form' and the Ways of Liberation in Daoism," Cahiers d'Extrême-Asie 14 (2004): 104.
At the commencement of Great Clarity, in harmony and conformity people were silent and boundless, and in the perfection of their constitution they were pure and simple. Being at leisure and quiet they had no haste, drifting along with things they had no purpose. Within themselves they joined with the Dao, and outside they adjusted to righteousness. Their movements were achieved with elegance, and in acting fast they were of advantage to all creatures. Their words were few and complied with their principles, their actions were pleased and followed their feelings. Their hearts were content and without artifice, their doings were pure and unadorned. Therefore they had not to choose [proper] days and times [to act], and did not need to divine through trigrams and omens. They made no schemes at the beginning and no discussions at the end. In tranquility they halted, and under stimulation they moved. Their body communicated with Heaven and Earth, and their essence was equal to Yin and Yang. Joined in oneness with the four seasons, their own light was reflected by the sun and the moon. They were one with the creation and transformation of things.
Huainan zi, chapter 8. Translation published in Fabrizio Pregadio, Great Clarity: Daoism and Alchemy in Medieval China, 37-38 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006).
The Formless and the Soundless
Now, the Formless is the great forefather of creatures, and the Soundless is the great ancestor of sounds. . . . Therefore you look at it and cannot see its form, you listen to it and cannot hear its sound, you follow it and cannot get to its person. (1) It is formless, but what has form is generated from it; it is soundless, but the five sounds resonate from it; it is tasteless, but the five tastes take form from it; it is colorless, but the five colors are developed from it. Therefore Being is generated from Non-Being, and the actual is generated from the empty. What is below heaven is its fold, and thus names and actualities (mingshi) dwell together in it.
(1) Compare Laozi, sec. 14 ("If you look at it, you do not see it: it is called invisible. If you listen to it, you do not hear it: it is called inaudible. If you grasp it, you do not get it: it is called imperceptible") and sec. 35 ("If you look at it, this is not sufficient to see it; if you listen to it, this is not sufficient to hear it").
Huainan zi, chapter 1. Translation published in Fabrizio Pregadio, "The Notion of 'Form' and the Ways of Liberation in Daoism," Cahiers d'Extrême-Asie 14 (2004): 100-1.
What Gives Life to Life
. . . Therefore forms come to depletion but spirit never undergoes transformation; this is because when what undergoes no transformation responds to what is transformed, it will never reach an end even throughout one thousand alterations and ten thousand reversals. Undergoing transformations means returning to formlessness; not undergoing transformations means living as long as Heaven and Earth.
Now, the death of a tree is due to the fact that what makes it green leaves it. So how could the tree itself be what causes the tree to live? The same is true of the formlessness of what fills the form. Therefore, what gives life to life never undergoes death it is what it gives life to that dies. What transforms the things never undergoes transformation it is what it transforms that undergoes transformation.
Huainan zi, chapter 7. Translation published in Fabrizio Pregadio, "The Notion of 'Form' and the Ways of Liberation in Daoism," Cahiers d'Extrême-Asie 14 (2004): 101.