Zhēnrén 真人 Real Man or Woman, Authentic Man or Woman, True Man or Woman, Perfected

“The term zhēnrén 真人 denotes one of the highest states in the Taoist spiritual hierarchy. While the world zhēn 真 does not appear in the five Confucian classics, it is found in both the Daode jing and the Zhuangzi.”—Miura Kunio

The Zhuangzi describes the zhēnrén 真人 as follows:

“What is the meaning of zhenren? The zhenren of ancient times did not struggle against adversity, was not proud of success, did not plan his actions….One who was like this could climb high places and not be afraid, go into water and not get wet, enter fire and not be burned. This is because his knowledge was able to rise to the Dao. The zhenren of ancient times slept without dreaming, and woke without any worry. He ate without carrying about taste, and his breath was very deep. A zhenren breathes through his heels whereas the ordinary man breathes through his throat…. The zhenren of ancient times knew nothing about delighting in life, not did he hate the world of death. He was not glad of coming forth, not reluctant to go in. He merely went with composure and came with composure. (Chapter 6, see also trans. Watson 1968, 77-78)”—Miura Kunio

Now I can suggest to read another translation of Chapter 6, this time it is done by another sinologist, Livia Kohn (of course she is a member of Encyclopedia’s staff too). My opinion is that reading of some translations is always better, and different translators bring us readers closer to the source text. Or not. The last chance to understand what you really love is to study the original language and after reading some translations come back and muse again on the original text. Or translate it by self and sleep well.

“What, then, are the perfected? The perfected of old did not resent being humble, did not take pride in success, and never plotted their affairs. From this basis, they could be without regret if things went wrong, remain free from self-congratulation when they went right.”

“For this reason, they could climb high places without getting scared, dive into water without getting soaked, and pass through fire without getting hot. Their understanding was such that they could rise up and join Tao at all times.
The perfected of old slept without dreaming and woke without concerns. Their food was plain and their breath deep. In fact, the perfected breathes all the way to the heels while the multitude breath just to the throat—bent over and submissive, they croak out words as if they were retching; full of intense passions and desires, they have only the thinnest connection to heaven.”

“The perfected of old had no clue about loving life and hating death. They came to life without celebration; they left again without messiness. Calmly they came, calmly they went—and that is all. They never forgot where they came from; they never inquired about where they would end. They received whatever came and enjoyed it; they lost whatever went and just let it go. This way of being in the world is called not using the mind to oppose Tao, not using human faculties to assist heaven. This, indeed, is what the perfected are like.”—Livia Kohn, Chuang-tsu: The Tao of Perfect Happiness—Selections annotated & explained, 2011 SkyLight Paths Publishing


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