ENCYCLOPEDIA OF TAOISM (SPONTANEOUS NOTES FOR MYSELF): Zìrán 自然 spontaneous, spontaneity, “so of its own”

the knife and spontaneity
“As an adjective, the term zìrán 自然 means “spontaneous,” “natural,” “so of its own,” “so of itself.” As a noun, it denotes spontaneity, naturalness, the things as they are. It is a synonym of zìzài 自在 (self-existent) and zìyŏu 自有 (self-produced), and is very close in meaning to zìdé 自得 (self-attaining) and zìwéi 自為 (working by itself, doing spontaneously).”—Isabelle Robinet

“On the cosmological level, zìrán 自然 defines the way the world goes on by itself without anyone “doing” it, and expresses the faith in a world well-ordered and self-regulated in a natural way. Epistemologically, it means that we do not know what is producing life or how life is achieved. Zìrán 自然 is then the ultimate word, not in the sense of an explication but as an expression of human ignorance and respect of the secret of life.”—Isabelle Robinet

“To respect zìrán 自然 one should not interfere (wúwéi 無為), and gently let life act and speak through oneself rather than acting and speaking individually…. To act spontaneously is to have no intention of one’s own, to let the natural force that is within everything work freely. This is not the same as giving free rein to one’s own fantasy (as the term has been misunderstood by some Xuanxue thinkers), because this fantasy is an only superficial desire to satisfy one’s immediate wishes, and not the profound naturalness without desires that is zìrán 自然.”—Isabelle Robinet

Yes, I feel satisfaction reading out the academical sources too, and yes, I feel a huge problem following them in everyday life. From another point of view it is always good to think on good things and quality sources another couple of hours while the day is running to its end. Let’s call it meditation, and let’s call it one of the way to reproach academical coolness for those who don’t bear a formal title in the taoist hierarchy or a membership in the scientific society.

No, I don’t want to achieve in this world anything my left leg is fancy, and no, I really don’t feel any respect to the idea to interfere in whatever else I see around myself. No matter what president of any country—small like Israel or big like Russia—wants for his subjects, a tribal life is the tribal life. The wisdom is the wisdom, and the wisdom is for masters only: those who feel sacral silence accepting in the heart ‘the profound naturalness without desires’ like the highest law. The highest law, period.

When I was younger, I mean much younger, I have been bearing some dreams having a sword, and a set of brushes to study Chinese calligraphy. I don’t say I am much smarter now, but I do like when my knife (not the sword) goes spontaneously and sticks in the target 9 or 10 times of ten, and my simple ink pen allows me to practice Chinese and Japanese calligraphy whenever I feel appropriate time to write another thousand of hieroglyphs—spontaneously—like it was yesterday and today, and it will be tomorrow.


Soon after the time I had been graduated from the philological department of my university the 700 pages novel Creation by the American writer Gore Vidal has impressed me totally; that was a history of the ancient India, Cathay (China), Bactria and Persia seeing by the narrator’s eyes in the evening of the 20th December, 445 B.C. But of course, ‘creation’ goes much further down in the time stairway.

The MDBG Traditional Chinese-English dictionary says only two things, Zàohuà 造化 is (1) ‘good luck’ and (2) ’Nature (as the mother of all thing)’. The second meaning sounds more appropriate for the Encyclopedia of Taoism article, Routledge edition, 2008. However, the opportunity to sit at my favorite desk, drink coffee and write down my favorite topics doesn’t harm anything or anybody, and is definitely ‘good luck’ in my life.

“The term zaohua, which means “to inform (zao) and transform (hua),” derives from the Zhuangzi and is generally used as a synonym for the cosmos.”—Isabelle Robinet. That is a good news (cosmos!) and the time of Zhuāngzĭ 莊子 was—once again—the fourth century B.C. (?-290).

“The zàohuà zhĕ (造化者 “what informs and transforms [the world]”) is neither a person nor an entity, and does everything naturally and spontaneously without working. In this sense, zàohuà is a synonym of zīrán 孜然(natural or spontaneous). Zào is the coming of something out of nothing (wu), and huà is the return to emptiness. Zào is movement, and huà is quiescence (see dong and jing)…. The “great zaohua” (dà zàohuà 大造化), however, neither forms and transforms, nor does it not form and not transform: it is the permanent Dào 道.”–Isabelle Robinet

The idea of pulse, or rhythm—Zào is the coming of something out of nothing, and huà is the return to emptiness—is so great and IS in the total agreement that our universe is pulsing existence too. There is no need to be a scientist, an astronomer, an Asian Study specialist; just the feeling of rhythms of cosmos in the everybody’s own breath and stomach, awakening and sleeping, life and death looks absolutely amazing after one second of concentration. Somehow I can come to this sensation everyday and somehow it brings of fulfilment in my life at all.


xingooglescreen copy
The author of this article in the Encyclopedia of Taoism is a classic sinologist Isabelle Robinet, and all five quotations are great illustrations of what the Chinese people think on heart-mind, and the Westerners on heart. I like to read and reread my synopsis more and more due to tones in Pinyin which I will be never tired to put but which are not exist in the official edition.

“The term xīn traditionally designates the ruler of the entire person or, more specifically, the heart as the organ of mental and affective life (hence the translation as “heart-mind”). It is the “master” or “ruler” (zhŭ 主) of ideas, thought, will, and desire: many words expressing mental or affective activities (e.g., yì 意 “intention, idea,” sī 思 “thinking,” ài 愛 “love,” and wù 惡 “hate”) have xīn as their semantic indicator.”

“As a physiological organ the heart is depicted as a lotus flower with three petals. It is said that the heart of a worldly person has five openings, the heart of an average person has seven, and the heart of a sage has nine. The heart is abode of the spirit, and its “gates” are the mouth and tongue.”

“Being the center, xīn represents the center of the world and is located in the three Cinnabar Fields (dāntián 丹田). Hence there are three xīn: a celestial one above that generates the essence (jīng 精), a terrestrial one below that generates pneuma (qì 氣), and a human one in the middle that generates blood. In this view, the center of the body is not the spleen but the heart. Moreover, as it is also located in the head, xīn also denotes what is on high. Whether it is above or in the center, these two locations are equivalent, as they are those of the master and the central “palace” of the body.”

“In neidan texts, xīn takes on a new meaning. The “spirit of the Dao” is the Ultimate Truth, absolute and subtle and present in every human being. The “human spirit,” on the other hand, is both the heart-mind and the spirit; it is weak and frail. Rénxīn and dàoxīn, nevertheless, are one and the same, as they are only two aspects of the Ultimate Truth: rénxīn is the function (yong) and the mechanism (ji) of dàoxīn.”

“In reality xīn cannot be located either in space or in time. It is the Real Emptiness (zhēnwú 真無) to be found in everyday existence and in the phenomenal world. Finding it means rejoining daoxin and renxin. In so far as it is situated at the junction between movement and quiescence (dong and jing), Non-being and Being, xīn is the Ultimateless or Infinite (wújí) that is before the Great Ultimate (tàijí), before the beginning of the differentiation between movement and quiescence .”

ENCYCLOPEDIA OF TAOISM (PRIVATE NOTES): Tĭ and yòng 體•用 substance and function


In plain Chinese “tĭ (體)” and “yòng (用)” are translated like “body, form, style, system” and “to use, to employ, to apply” and in the terms of Encyclopedia of Taoism Isabelle Robinet sais: “The terms ti and yong are variously rendered as “substance” or “essence”, and “function” or “application” or “activity,” respectively. Together they constitute a paradigm that has played an important role in Chinese thought.” And this is the first reason of three I had chosen the article Tĭ and yòng (體•用) for my blog.

“In Western terms, the relation between ti and yong parallels that between being and becoming, potentiality and actuality, subject and predicate, or language and discourse (although the terms do not have the same meaning, the relation itself is comparable).”—I. Robinet, and this is the second reason to put ‘substance and function’ in my blog: I am a trained philologist, for God’s sake 🙂

“Ti is said to be the “ancestor” (zŭ 祖) or the “ruler” (zhŭ 主), but an ancestor does not exist without descendants and a ruler does not exist without subjects. The distinction between ti and yong pertains to the domain “subsequent to form” (or: “below the form,” xíng ér xià 形而下), i.e., the phenomenal world of thought and language; only within the phenomenal world can there be a distinction between noumenon and phenomenon, which are one and the same.”— I.R., (by the way, I don’t see any reason why it should be in my blog except the fact that ‘noumenon and phenomenon’ sounds so chilly great)!

“The dialectic relation between ti and yong is the same as that between Non-being and Being (wú and yŏu, 無•有). For instance, if one takes the Dao as fundamental Non-being and ti, then its name and workings are Being and yong, respectively, and everything is subsumed by Non-being. But one can take Being as ti and Non-being as yong to make Non-being operate.”—I.R., and this is a perfectly great reason to join this quote to my blog and end the note.



As far as I can see I don’t choose easy topics for comments but the difficult ones. For example, just read how Isabelle Robinet opens her article on Taiji tu diagram in the Encyclopedia of Taoism (Routledge, Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2008): “Neo-Confuacians adopted the Taiji tu after Zhou Dunyi’s (1017-73) Tàijí tú shuō 太極圖說 (Explanation of the Diagram of the Great Ultimate) was placed at the head of the Neo-Confucian system by Zhu Xi (1130-1200). There is evidence, however, that this diagram originated in a Taoist milieu together with the Xiāntiān tú 先天圖 (Diagram of the Noumenal World) and the term wújí 無極 (Ultimateness, Infinite). Several sources in particular report that the Tàijí tú derives from the Wújí tú 無極圖 (Diagram of the Ultimateness), which according to the Fozu tongji (Comprehensive Chronicle of the Buddhas and Patriarchs) was transmitted by Chen Tuan (ca. 920-89) in 971. Taoist sources mention a line of transmission that begins with Chen Tuan and his master Mayi daozhe (The Hemp-Clad Man of the Dao) and then divides in two branches, the first leading to Neo-Confucians, and the second either to numerologists or to neidan authors.”

Speaking about “the well-known spiral form of the taiji, called “fishlike form,” it is not found in the Daozhang; it seems to have first appeared in early Ming times (1368-1644) and is common in taiji quan milieux.”—I. Robinet. Well, some scientists believe that a philosopher He Yan (III century) described in one of his texts this symbol well enough, and some scientists put the time of this symbol back into the second half of the Tan dynasty (618-907). If we have reason to agree with academical source of Encyclopedia of Taoism (why not?) the time will be 1368-1644 (Ming dynasty) at least.

Let’s make our point of view stronger adding graphical symbols which you cannot find in the text of encyclopedia but everywhere online. In general, I have drawn six pictures too, and every one has right to exist. What follows now could be called a mini-lecture How to Choose the Right Taiji Symbol for You, Your T-shirt, or your next big tattoo 🙂

taiji tu AB

VARIANTS A & B Traditionally for China, the South Pole is up, East is right or left considering what kind of rotation you will choose: clockwise (rotation of the Earth surface) or counterclockwise (Heaven’s Sphere). Actually, they are the same form of rotation just seen from different points of view. Energy is born on the Northern Pole in this case (small dots of yin-yang are vertical), and if you are peaceful (yin quality) person, probably you would choose clockwise direction following Earth’s biorhythms. Counterclockwise direction suits better for martial art practitioners, or just people (with yang quality) who like contradict and fight everywhere and every time about everything, so called ‘creative type’ 🙂

taiji tu CD

VARIANTS C & D Energy is born on the East side because of the rising Sun; the yin-yang small dots are located horizontally, and recommendations for the rotation choice are the same, I guess.

taiji tu EF

VARIANTS E & F The explanation for these variants is the most interesting and concerns traditional Chinese location of star constellations. Fourteen star constellations from Fáng 房 to Bì 畢 are yang and fourteen others (from Áng 昂 to Xīn 心) are yin. Fish’ eyes (small dots inside) will be located diagonally in this case, conjoining stars’ locations on the heaven’s map. I think, it is more appropriate for the T-shirt or tattoo design not only for astronomy lovers but for all Fēng shuĭ 風水 prediction practitioners too.

So, now you can analyze and muse on the whole picture of the Tàijí tú 太極圖 (Diagram of the Great Ultimate) symbols (online and/or offline) because they are everywhere and they are so different in size, texture, color, and meaning. And frankly, “taiji quan milieux’ joined to feng shui fans should be totally happy now :)))


shengren copy 1shengren copy 4shengren copy 2shengren copy 3


“The saint is evanescent, unpredictable, dynamic, flexible, and ubiquitous. He is forever unchanged and centered in the Dao, but is as elusive as the Dao and emptiness itself. He can die and be reborn. He flies through the air and goes beyond the world. He is master of the elements and space and time, and commands demons and spirits. He hides himself at a distance from the world or lives in the very midst of it, for example in the marketplace.” (Isabelle Robinet). I don’t feel I could say it better I just enjoy typing what I. Robinet wrote.

THE SAINT CAN BE YOUR NEIGHBOR BUT (by the way, it’s totally my idea about ‘neighbor’)

“The saint accommodates himself so well to his environment as to pass unnoticed: ordinary people cannot see him. Alone and unique, “he remains in Unity and knows no dualism” (Huainan zi 7),  yet can be both here and there and multiply himself. His sight and hearing are sharp and penetrating; knowing the secrets of time, he can predict the future. He is “dark and obscure, and as brilliant as the sun and the moon” (Huainan zi 2), and is “a mirror of Heaven and Earth” (Zhuangzi 13). He can make himself invisible because he knows how to recover the subtle, ethereal state. Returning to the Original Pneuma (yuanqi) and the original darkness, he can become no longer perceptible.” (I. Robinet again)

This part ‘multiply himself’ is absolutely amazing, people with bipolar disorder can stay aloof from ‘us’ and rest alone.


“For those who reject the devotional and religious aspect of Taoism, the saint plays the same mediating role that a god does in religion. He is the model of perfect and complete humanity and its inspired guide, a cosmic figure who embodies emptiness or the Dao in an abstract, anonymous, yet vivid way. He transcends the opposition of life and death and embraces all immortals and gods.” (I.R.)

Frankly, I don’t see how it can be said about all aspects of Shengren better than it was done by a professional researcher Isabelle Robinet. But somehow I feel that several notes should be added to calm my mind.


Some lines from old makimono (containing the hidden code of behavior of a warrior).

04   I haven’t a means of subsistence — following  nature is my means of subsistence.

06   I have  neither  life nor death — life and death are fused with eternity.

08   I haven’t the eyes — flashes of lightning are my eyes.

09   I haven’t the ears — five feelings will compile my hearing.

15   I haven’t any principle — rinkiohen (adaptability to all) is my  principle.

19   I haven’t the castle — fudoshin (calmness of spirit) will become my castle.

20   I  haven’t a sword yet — mushin (spirit in emptiness) is my sword.

I took only 7 lines out of 20 which sound more or less appropriate here, and I am not going to prove by this anything: psychologists call it ‘associative thinking’, I call it ‘associative thinking’ too, and I like it.


3.34 …by intuition, one has access to all knowledge.

3.40 By mastering the upward-moving life-force, one may pass over water, mud, thorns, and the like and remained untouched by them, as well as gain the power of levitation.

3.41 By mastering the balancing life-force, one masters fire, and the body emanates a blazing brilliance.

3.42 By samyama on the relationship between hearing and ether yields the ability to hear all sounds, struck and unstruck.

3.43 By samyama on the relationship between the body and ether, and by fully fusing with the essence of lightness, like that of cotton, one may travel through space.

3.45 By samyama on the elements, in their gross forms, their essences, their subtle forms, their interconnectedness, and their significance grants mastery over them.

3.46 Then, occult powers manifest, like the ability to become as small as an atom, and others; the body attains perfection and transcends all laws of nature.

So, I was deeply wrong when I said nobody can write better than authors of Encyclopedia of Taoism; Yoga Sutra by Patanjali is pretty stylish too.


One should study the technique of ‘shutting the jade stalk’ to control one’s desire and gain the opportunity to become immortal.  Used once [this technique] sharpens the eyes and the ears.  Used twice: the voice improves.  Used thrice: the skin becomes smooth.  Used a fourth time: the spine obtains power.  Used a fifth time: the buttocks gain strength.  Used a sixth time: the urinary ducts flow well.  Used a seventh time: the willpower becomes resolute and strong.  Used an eighth time: satisfaction spreads all over [the body].  Used a ninth time: it leads to heaven’s blossom.  Used a tenth time: you receive spiritual evidence [inside self]. — Extraction from Tian Xia Zhi Tao Tan (天下至道談), ancient erotical text (by the way, translation was mine but invention of the technique of course not, sadly).


“My next visit to Chang, was different. I told him that he was not doing Taiji but rather living Taiji. He answered again in the negative. “No, you are still wrong, I am not living anything, I am Taiji”. He went on, “You are trying to do Taiji, so you will never realize the fighting of Taiji nor the healing of Taiji. You are much stronger than me, and faster, but I seem faster and stronger than you. I am not. I am Taiji.” From then onward, I tried to be Taiji with every waking and sleeping moment being as if I were still doing the form. That was his greatest gift to me. To show me to not do Taiji.” — Extract from Chang Yiu-chun, The Last Interview by Erle Montaigue.

 Two next extracts are from: Wudang: The Original T’ai Chi by Dong Kit-yung, translated by David Chow, London University Hong Kong. (A word From Erle Montaigue: “Liang Shih-kan at the time of this interview was the second in command for the original Wudang system of “T’ai chi”.)

“One short set of movements is learned every two years until the whole twelve sets of movements are learned. This takes the child into early adulthood, and it is here that we begin the inner training. The inner training begins with simple breathing ways and then we teach them to lower the breath. No, not just the external physical breath, I mean the inner breath. But here again I am finding it quite impossible to explain something that is just learned through experience. I can tell you something now and you will feel something immediately and you will say to yourself, “Ah yes, this is what he means”. But this is wrong as you will only have the first physical experience of Ch’i Kung and this is not what you are looking for. You see, it will take you another twenty years or more before you will know what I am talking about so you will write in your newspaper that you have experienced Ch’i Kung but this will not be true and after that twenty years you might want to explain it to someone and you will also have the same problem. So it is not good to try and explain Ch’i kung to anyone who has not yet been learning it for many years.”

Well, sometimes old masters are too long or too cryptic, but they are always so right in the main things they wanted to say and reading them and watching them is kind of a great relief after long days.

“There are sometimes very special people, who with only a small amount of the correct teaching will be able to know how to teach themselves. Some people are able to learn through the inner mind even though it has not yet been opened. These people are known to us as ‘large people’ (rough translation, there is no real translation to this word), they are able to take in information from the without in order to teach the within. Most of these people will never know that they have this ability, only that they are able to understand their own inner martial arts better than anyone else and sometimes there comes to them in dreams or just ideas, methods that have taken hundreds of years to perfect. This leads us to believe that these people are able to communicate with the outer world and the spirits of this world.”— Close to our topic today: Shèngrén 聖人 saint, sage. Almost.

Well, you can say now it looks like a compendium of outtakes from a private archive. Yes, it is exactly the compendium of outtakes from my private archive.

AND ONE LAST THING. Sometimes people ask me why I do not draw Sri Yantra pictures on a regular basis,  every month, every week; I could sell them $5 a piece like another Christmas card yet! — Twenty years are passed already. Maybe, I am not Sri Yantra Master alive anymore. I am Sri Yantra 😉