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The Wuzhen pian (Chinese: 悟真篇; pinyin: Wùzhēn piān; Wade-Giles: Wu-chen p'ien; literally "Folios on Awakening to Reality/Perfection") is a 1075 C.E. Taoist classic on Neidan-style internal alchemy. Its author Zhang Boduan (張伯端, c. 987-1082 C.E.) was a Song Dynasty scholar of the Three Teachings (Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism). The Wuzhen pian is comprised of 81 poems and an appendix containing 12 alchemical ci (詞, "lyrics") that correspond numerologically to the 12 months, and 5 verses related with the Wu Xing (五行, "Five Phases.") The verses appear to be written as lyrics to be sung or chanted, and are full of paradoxes, metaphors, and aphorisms that lend themselves to multiple interpretations. Over the centuries, commentaries on it have been written by many Taoist and non-Taoist scholars. Contemporary translations into English further illustrate the difficulty of interpreting the esoteric symbolism.
The Wuzhen pian is one of the major scriptures of Daoist Neidan ("Inner Alchemy"). The verses are widely accepted as an elaboration of the Zhouyi cantong qi, (Token for Joining the Three According to the Book of Changes), a first century apocryphal text associated with the I Ching (Book of Changes), but their philosophical basis is in the Tao Te Ching and the Huangdi Yinfujing. In Wuzhen pian, Zhang Boduan compares human life to a bubble floating on water or a spark from a flint, and concludes that the search for wealth and fame only results in bodily degeneration; human beings should search for the Golden Elixir (金丹, jindan) to become celestial immortals (天仙, tianxian). The human body already contains the essential components opf the golden elixir: Jing (精, "essence; refined, perfected; extract; sperm, seed"), qi (氣, "vitality, energy, force; vapor; breath"), and shen (神, "spirit; soul, mind; god, deity"). Through alchemical refinement of bodily jing and qi, one can supposedly achieve integration with one's spiritual shen nature.
Zhang Boduan, or Zhang Ziyang (張紫陽), was a native of Tiantai (天臺), in present-day Zhejiang. Biographical sources disagree over whether he was born in 983, 984, or 987. After passing the Imperial examination, he began a career as a civil servant, but was banished to the frontier in Lingnan, where he served as a military commissioner. Zhang was later transferred to Guilin and Chengdu, where in 1069, he allegedly experienced sudden realization from a Daoist Master who instructed him in Neidan internal alchemy. Zhang wrote the Wuzhen pian, its appendices, and a few other texts, including the Jindan sibai zi (金丹四百字, "Four hundred words on the Golden Elixer," translated into English by Davis and Chao in 1940). He was additionally an authority on Chan Buddhism.
Zhang Boduan died in 1082 C.E. during the reign of Emperor Shenzong of Song. Zhang was honorifically called Ziyang Zhenren (紫陽真人), ranking him as a Daoist zhenren (真人) "real/true/authentic person; perfected/authentic person" (the zhen in the Wuzhen pian), one rank higher than a xian (仙 "transcendent; immortal") in the celestial hierarchy.
The Quanzhen School of Daoism originated in the 12th century with the Five Northern Patriarchs (Wang Chongyang and his successors). In the thirteenth century, Zhang Boduan posthumously became the second of the Five Southern Patriarchs in the so-called Nanzong (南宗, "Southern Lineage").
The received Wuzhen pian text contains a preface dated 1075 and a postface dated 1078, both under the name Zhang Boduan. The Daozang "Daoist Canon" includes several textual editions of varying lengths.
The core of the Wuzhen pian comprises 81 poems: 16 heptasyllabic lüshi (律詩, "regulated poems"), 64 heptasyllabic jueju (絕句, "stopped-short line") quatrains, and one pentasyllabic verse on the Taiyi (太一, "Great Unity"). Both 16 (= 2 x 8) and 64 (= 8 x 8) have numerological significance; the former denotes two equal "8 ounce" measures of Yin and Yang (alchemical allusions for mercury and lead) totaling "16 ounces" (one jin (斤, "catty")), and the latter correlates with the 64 Yijing hexagrams.
Zhang later appended the Wuzhen pian text with 12 alchemical ci (詞, "lyrics") that correspond numerologically to the 12 months, and 5 verses related with the Wu Xing (五行, "Five Phases.")
The verses of the Wuzhen pian appear to have been written as lyrics to be sung or chanted, and are full of paradoxes, metaphors, and aphorisms that lend themselves to multiple interpretations. The verses are widely accepted as an elaboration of the Zhouyi cantong qi, (Token for Joining the Three According to the Book of Changes), a first-century apocryphal text associated with the I Ching (Book of Changes), but their philosophical basis is in the Tao Te Ching and the Huangdi Yinfujing. In Wuzhen pian, Zhang Boduan compares human life to a bubble floating on water or a spark from a flint, and concludes that the search for wealth and fame only results in bodily degeneration; human beings should search for the Golden Elixir (金丹, jindan) to become celestial immortals (天仙, tianxian).
The Wuzhen pian is one of the major scriptures of Taoist Neidan ("Inner Alchemy ") and metaphorically uses the vocabulary of Waidan ("External Alchemy"), which involved compounding elixirs from minerals and medicinal herbs. The text proposes that External Alchemy is unnecessary because the human body already contains the essential components. These Three Treasures are jing (精, "essence; refined, perfected; extract; sperm, seed"), qi (氣, "vitality, energy, force; vapor; breath"), and shen (神, "spirit; soul, mind; god, deity"). Through alchemical refinement of bodily jing and qi, one can supposedly achieve integration with one's spiritual shen nature.
The intentionally abstruse and highly symbolic language of the Wuzhen pian is open to diverse interpretations and has given rise to many commentaries by both Taoist and non-Taoist scholars.
The Daoist Canon includes a dozen commentaries (主, zhu) and sub-commentaries (疏, shu) to the Wuzhen pian. Major commentaries are by Ye Shibiao (葉士表) (dated 1161), Yuan Gongfu (遠公輔) (dated 1202), and several (dated 1335 and 1337) by Weng Baoquang (翁葆光) and Dai Qizong (戴起宗).
In addition, there are numerous later commentaries to the text. Two notable examples are by Qiu Zhao'ao (仇兆鰲) (dated 1713), who quotes from 25 commentaries, and by Liu Yiming (劉一明) (dated 1794), the 11th patriarch of the Quanzhen Longmen (龍門, "Dragon Gate" Lineage).
Wuzhen pian combines three Chinese words.
- Wu (悟) "realize; awaken; understand; perceive (esp. truth)," Japanese satori
- Zhen (真) "true, real, genuine; really, truly, clearly; (Daoist) true/authentic character of human beings"
- Pian (篇) "piece of writing; strip of bamboo, sheet of paper; article, essay, chapter"
The Chinese character wu (悟, "awaken; realize"), which is written with the "heart/mind radical" 忄and a phonetic of wu (吾, "I; my; we; our"), has a literary variant Chinese character wu (寤, "awake; wake up") with the "roof radical" 宀, qiang 爿 "bed," and this wu (吾) phonetic. Compare the given name of Sun Wukong (孙悟空), the central character in Journey to the West, which literally means "Awaken to Emptiness."
The ambiguity of the Wuzhen pian title, and by extension the text itself, is illustrated by these English renderings:
- Essay on the Understanding of the Truth (Davis and Chao 1939)
- Folios on the Apprehension of Perfection (Boltz 1987)
- Awakening to Perfection (Kohn 1993)
- Understanding Reality (Cleary 1997, Wong 1997)
- Chapters on Awakening to the Real (Crowe 2000)
- Chapters on Awakening to Perfection (Komjathy 2004)
The Wuzhen pian has both full and partial English translations. Tenney L. Davis and Chao Yün-ts’ung, who collaborated on several groundbreaking studies of Daoist alchemy, published the first English version in 1939. Thomas Cleary fully translated the text and Liu Yiming's commentary. Partial translations are given by Livia Kohn and Eva Wong. Paul Crowe (2000) wrote a detailed study of the Wuzhen pian text and translated the first 16 poems.
A comparison of several translations of the same verse illustrates the difficulties of interpreting the highly symbolic language, and of understanding the meaning without a commentary or previous knowledge of Taoist symbolism.
The Chinese original of the third stanza is written in four paired heptasyllabic verses:
Translation by Davis and Chao:
If you are learning to be a hsien (immortal), you should learn to be a heavenly hsien. The most accurate means (for this purpose) is chin tan (gold medicine). The two things, when put into contact with each other, will indicate harmonious properties. The Tiger and the Dragon locate at the places where the wu hsing 五行 (five elements) are perfected. I desire to send wu ssu (戊巳) as a matchmaker to make them husband and wife and to bring them into a union from which real happiness will arise. Wait for the success of the compounding, and you will return to see the north gate of the Imperial palace. You will be able to ride on a phoenix's back, to fly high into the cloud and the light of the sky (1939:103-104).
Cleary idiosyncratically translates in capital letters to distinguish the text from his translation of Liu's commentary:
IF YOU ARE GOING TO STUDY IMMORTALITY, YOU SHOULD STUDY CELESTIAL IMMORTALITY; ONLY THE GOLD ELIXIR IS WORTHWHILE. WHEN THE TWO THINGS JOIN, SENSE AND ESSENCE MERGE; WHEN THE FIVE ELEMENTS ARE COMPLETE, THE TIGER AND DRAGON INTERTWINE. STARTING WITH HEAVEN-EARTH AND EARTH-EARTH AS GO-BETWEENS, FINALLY HUSBAND AND WIFE CONJOIN HAPPILY. JUST WAIT FOR THE ACHIEVEMENT TO BE COMPLETED TO PAY COURT TO THE NORTH PALACE GATE; IN THE LIGHT OF NINEFOLD MIST YOU RIDE A FLYING PHOENIX. 
Louis Komjathy suggests a "more accurate and technical translation:"
[If you wish to] study immortality, you should study celestial immortality (tianxian);
This alone is the most superior doctrine of the Golden Elixir (jindan).
When the two things meet [?], the emotions (qing) and innate nature (xing) are joined;
The Five Phases (wuxing) completely settle, Tiger and Dragon entwine.
From the beginning, wu and ji are taken as the matchmaker,
Thus causing husband and wife to be protected in commingled bliss.
Simply wait until the practice (gong) is completed, [then] face towards the Northern Tower (beique);
Amidst the illumination of nine vapors, you mount an auspicious phoenix. 
Paul Crowe translates this same stanza:
[If you are going to] study immortality then it must be celestial immortality,
[which] alone is the most superior doctrine of the golden elixir.
When the two things come together [then the] emotions and inner nature coalesce,
the dragon and tiger entwine where the five phases become complete.
From the beginning rely upon jueji [sic, wuji] to be the matchmaker;
then cause the husband and wife to be calm and joyous.
Simply wait until the work is completed [then] pay court to the Northern Palace;
amidst the brightness in nine rose-coloured clouds [you will] ride the auspicious luan bird.
For translating the thorny wuji expression, Crowe notes, "Wu (戊) and ji (己) refer to the fifth and sixth of the ten celestial stems (天干, tiangan) which, in combination, correspond to the earth phase which occupies the central position."
- Judith M. Boltz, A Survey of Taoist Literature, Tenth to Seventeenth Centuries (University of California, 1987).
- Farzeen Baldrian-Hussein, Wuzhen pian, in The Encyclopedia of Taoism, ed. Fabrizio Pregadio (Routledge, 2007), 1082.
- Baldrian-Hussein (2007), 1082-3.
- Tenney L. Davis and Chao Yün-ts’ung, "Chang Po-tuan of T’ien-t’ai, his Wu Chen P’ien, Essay on the Understanding of the Truth," Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 73: 97-117.
- Thomas Cleary, Understanding Reality: A Taoist Alchemical Classic (University of Hawaii Press, 1987).
- Livia Kohn, The Taoist Experience: An Anthology (State University of New York Press, 1993), 314-319.
- Eva Wong, Teachings of the Tao (Shambhala, 1997), 87-94.
- Paul Crowe, Chapters on Awakening to the Real : A Song Dynasty Classic of Inner Alchemy Attributed to Zhang Boduan, B.C. Asian Review 12 (2000): 1-40 Retrieved January 13, 2009.
- Louis Komjathy, Daoist Texts in Translation (2004)
- Cleary (1987), 29-32.
- Ibid., p. 28
- Komjathy (2004), 8.
- Crowe (1997), 40-41.
- Baldrian-Hussein, Farzeen. "Wuzhen pian." In The Encyclopedia of Taoism. Ed. Fabrizio Pregadio. Routledge, 2008. ISBN 9780700712007.
- Boltz, Judith M. A Survey of Taoist Literature, Tenth to Seventeenth Centuries. University of California, 1987. ISBN 9780912966885.
- Cleary, Thomas. Understanding Reality: A Taoist Alchemical Classic. University of Hawaii Press, 1987. ISBN 9780824811037.
- Crowe, Paul. Chapters on Awakening to the Real: A Song Dynasty Classic of Inner Alchemy Attributed to Zhang Boduan. B.C. Asian Review 12 (2000): 1-40. Retrieved January 13, 2009.
- Davis, Tenney L., and Chao Yün-ts’ung. 1939. "Chang Po-tuan of T’ien-t’ai, his Wu Chen P’ien, Essay on the Understanding of the Truth." Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 73: 97-117.
- Davis, Tenney L. and Chao Yün-ts’ung. "Four Hundred Word Chin Tan of Chang Po-tuan." Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 73: 371-376.
- Kohn, Livia. The Taoist Experience: An Anthology. State University of New York Press. 1993. ISBN 9780791415795.
- Komjathy, Louis. Daoist Texts in Translation. 2004.
- Wong, Eva. Teachings of the Tao: Readings from the Taoist Spiritual Tradition. Boston: Shambhala, 1997. ISBN 9781570622458.
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