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Huai Nan Tzu: There was a beginning

Huai Nan Tzu: There was a beginning
Photo: Daoist abbott, 1930.



There was a beginning. There was a time before that beginning. There was a time before the time which was before the beginning. There was being. There was non-being. There was a time before that non-being. There was a time before the time which was before that non-being.

What is meant by "There was a beginning" is that there was accumulation which has not sprung unto activity. There were signs of
 sprouts and shoots but no physical form. Like insects moving they are about to spring into life but their species have not yet been formed.

At the time before that beginning, the material force (ch'i) of Heaven began to descend and that of Earth began to ascend. Yin and yang interacted and united, competing leisurely to expand in the universe. Embracing genuine character and containing harmony, they were interfused and stayed together... They wanted to come in contact with other things but they had not yet had physical form.

At the stage when there was a time before the time which was before the beginning, Heaven contained harmony but had not yet descended, and Earth embraced the material force but had not yet ascended. It was empty, quiet, desolate, and dark, there was nothing which was even indistinct. At last the material force greatly penetrated the realm of darkness.

"There was being" means that the myriad things appeared in great numbers. The roots, stems, branches, and leaves of plants were young, luxuriant, flourishing, and colourful. Insects flew, moved, crawled, and breathed. They could be touched and grasped and they could be counted in quantities.

"There was non-being" means that the eye looked at it but could not see any form. The ear listened to it but could not hear any sound. The hand touched it but could not feel anything tangible. And as one look at it, its limit could not be reached. Great and extensive, it could not be measured and was identical with light.

At the time before that non-being, Heaven and Earth were enclosed and the myriad things were molded and produced. The great universal (Tao) was undifferentiated and noumenal. Nothing, however deep, extensive, vast, or great, existed beyond it. Even the minutest hair and the sharpest point could not exist within it. It was space without surrounding walls. It produced the root of being and non-being.

At the time before the time which was before that non-being, heaven and earth had not come into existence and yin and yang had not been distinguished. The four seasons had not yet separated and the myriad things had not yet been born. It was extremely peaceful and very tranquil. Forms were not yet visible. It was like light in the midst of nonbeing which retreats and is lost sight of. 

(Huai-Nan Tzu)



Recommended Reading:

'The Seal of the Unity of the Three: A Study and Translation of the Cantong qi, the Source of the Taoist Way of the Golden Elixir'
By Fabrizio Pregadio (Author)

Purchase Book:



Under an allusive poetical language and thick layers of images and symbols, The Seal of the Unity of the Three (Cantong qi) hides the exposition of the teachings that gave birth to Taoist Internal Alchemy, or Neidan. Traditionally attributed to Wei Boyang and dated to about 150 CE, The Seal of the Unity of the Three is concerned with three major subjects — Taoism (the way of "non-doing"), Cosmology (the system of the Book of Changes), and Alchemy — and joins them to one another into a unique doctrine. The charm of its verses, the depth of its discourse, and its enigmatic language inspired a large number of commentaries and other works, and attracted the attention not only of Taoist masters and adepts, but also of philosophers, cosmologists, and poets. In addition to a complete translation, this book contains a detailed introduction to the history and the teachings of The Seal of the Unity of the Three, explanations of each of its sections, and notes on its verses. Also included are several tables and pictures, an index of main subjects, and the complete Chinese text.
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