西昇經 Xisheng Jing

Xīshēngjīng.
Engelse titel: Scripture of Western Ascension

Ook 老君西昇經, Laojun xishengjing

The Xisheng jing can be dated to the late fifth century. (..) The Xisheng jing is first mentioned in connection with the theory of the “conversion of the barbarians” (huahu 化胡), because it begins with Laozi’s emigration to India and is connected with the transmission of the Daode jing to Yin Xi. It seems, however, that the text was never primarily a conversion scripture but rather employed the motif of the emigration as a framework nar rative for an essentially mystical doctrine, which was closely based on the Daode jing and couched in the form of oral instructions given by Laozi to Yin Xi.

The text has thirty-nine sections, which can be divided into five parts. First, it establishes the general setting, narrates the background story, outlines Yin Xi’s practice, and discusses some fundamental problems of talking about the ineffable and transmitting the mysterious. Next, the inherence of the Dao in the world is described together with an outline of the way in which the adept can make this inherence practically useful to himself or herself. A more concrete explanation of the theory and practice, including meditation instruction, is given in the third part. The fourth part deals with the results of the practice and with the way of living a sagely life in the world. The fifth and last part is about “returning” (fan); it describes the ultimate return of everything to its origin, and explains the death of the physical body as a recovery of a more subtle form of participation in the Dao. (Livia Kohn in Pregadio 2008 The encyclopedia of Taoism p114-115)

The Xisheng jing is a classical example of a philosophical text written from a religious background and advocating ways to salvation. It is unique in that it arises at a time when religious Taoism reaches its first full development as one of the leading religions of China. It differs from earlier materials in that it is primarily a religious text which yet integrates the ancient philosophy of Laozi and Zhuangzi into its fundamental belief in immortality and ascension into heaven. More than that, it shows a pervading Buddhist influence, a dominant feature of religious Taoism in later times. (Livia Kohn 1991 Taoist Mystical Philosophy, p 4)

Chen Jingyuan compiled a collective edition containing five commentaries. This today survives in the Taoist Canon. He saw the text as a successor of the Zhuangzi and valued it especially for its effort to convey the ineffable. (idem p 30)


Indeling tekst

Livia Kohn onderscheidt in de tekst 5 cycli:
The Xisheng jing thus consists of five cycles of approximately seven sections each plus an epilogue describing Laozi's ascent into heaven in section 39. The cycles do not repeat one and the same message. Rather, there is a movement from cycle to cycle, ending in the final gesture of return by ascension. The text begins by describing Laozi's climb to the pass in the Zhongnan mountains; it continues spiraling upward in five cycles of teaching and ends, like a wisp of smoke, in the ultimate ascent to heaven.

TAO KNOWLEDGE
1. Western Ascension
2. The Depth of the Tao
3. Skills
4. Careful Practice
5. The Image of the Tao
6. Life in the Tao
7. False and Proper

TAO PRACTICE
8. Heaven and Earth
9. Practicing the Tao
10. Repeated Instructions
11. Sagely Words
12. Observation
13. Scriptures and Precepts
14. Deep and Wonderful

COSMIZATION
15. Emptiness and Non­being
16. Vague and Obscure
17. Birth and Growth
18. Acting with the Tao
19. Sight and Touch
20. Tao and Emptiness
21. Sympathy with Others
22. Spirit Gives Life
23. Permanent Peace
24. Self and Mind

THE SAGE
25. Free from Yearnings
26. My Life
27. Weapons

THE RETURN
32. In the Tao
33. Possessing the Country
34. All Have It

THE END
39. Admonition

Korte samenvatting van de 39 secties door Livia Kohn (tussen haakjes aantal regels / karakters):
1. Western Ascension (19 lines/149 characters)
Laozi on his way to the West passes the frontier in the Zhongnan mountains. Yin Xi recognizes him as a sage and asks for instruction. The Daode jing is transmitted, and then Laozi explains his teaching.

2. The Depth of the Tao (7/64)
Laozi says: The Tao is deep like an abyss, it is emptiness and nonbeing. It cannot be grasped through study of the written or spoken word alone. Only by realizing it deep within can one attain the Tao. Yin Xi bows and asks to be taught.

3. Skills (11/93)
Laozi says: Just as one who is skilled in writing must know literature and one who is skilled in discoursing must understand language, so one who wants to be skilled in the Tao must practice it diligently. This is done through the cultivation of non­action. On the other hand, one who blunders during the sacrifice will be avoided by the spirits. Similarly, one who exhausts the spirit will not attain long life. By doing things right, all will naturally right itself more and more. Yin Xi is impressed and bows again.

4. Careful Practice (9/88)
Laozi admonishes Yin Xi to be very careful in his practice, since he will eventually leave him to continue on his own. Yin Xi receives the Tao, excuses himself from his work, practices in tranquility and serenity. He meditates by guarding the One. He studies and recites the scriptures, especially the Daode jing, to realize their inner meaning. He becomes fully sincere and engrossed in the Tao. In the end he himself can attain spirit immortality.

5. The Image of the Tao (19/205)
Laozi says: The Tao is shapeless and vague, it is there and yet not there. It is like the seed of a tree, latent and yet powerful. It contains heaven and earth, the four elements, the four seasons, the five tastes, the many and the few, the strong and the weak. All beings spring forth from the Tao and its energy through a process of coagulation. Yet they are all different in physical makeup and inner nature.
All originates in emptiness and non­being, from which first of all essence and spirit arise. They arise but do not have any physical form, just as sound arises from wind passing through a hollow. Then the three karmic conditions arise: self, words, and mind. Pure energy then is scattered and the six senses develop. Life and death begin. Simplicity is abandoned and purity is lost. The Tao, from which all has arisen, manifests in the changes because it wishes beings to return to truth.

6. Life in the Tao (27/223)
Laozi says: Beings come to life through an accumulation of cosmic energy. They are shaped through the five agents and through yin and yang. These forces continue to interact throughout all existence. Everything forms part of this process, but normal people do not know this. True reality can only be seen with the eyes of the Tao. When one has these, one understands that underneath all is really one while differences are merely outside phenomena.
Yet even though right and wrong are primarily categories of the outside world, they still have a strong bearing on the truth within. One should always stay with the right, with the proper teaching, to attain deeper levels of understanding. Normal people tend to pursue personal happiness and get entangled in suffering. They nourish their egoistic self and injure their bodies. They begin to cry when death draws near, but to no avail. To be able to face both life and death, one must get rid of the bad and stick to the good.

7. False and Proper (23/235)
Laozi says: Proper is straight, in accordance with the Tao. False is crooked, against the current of the Tao. The Tao is always whatever is and just as it is. Proper accordance with the Tao lies in nourishing the spirit. This is because the spirit has the power to go along with the Tao even beyond the death of the body. A disharmony with the Tao is created by merely nourishing the physical body. This is because the bounded body of this earth will die in going along with the Tao. The body will ultimately return to dust and ashes.
Nourishing the spirit means becoming more and more disentangled from the world. Entanglement develops first through sensual desires and egoistic tendencies. Liberation from such entanglements means the attainment of freedom from desires. I, Laozi, myself gave up the world and became a spirit immortal so that I could teach the path. Human beings must give up all desires, practice non­action, and work diligently on the Tao.

8. Heaven and Earth (11/153)
Laozi says: Heaven, earth, people, and all beings are rooted in the Tao. Their origin is dark and mysterious; it cannot be grasped or seen. Looking at it from a distance, it seems all turbid and confused. Looking more closely, one recognizes little grains of life developing. Yet beyond that, all is in darkness.
Look around yourself: past, present, and future. If you cannot understand even what is right in front of you, how will you understand life and death? People are condemned to live like mutes, they cannot perceive the truth.

9. Practicing the Tao (14/174)
Laozi says: All wisdom and knowledge are part of the karma and fate on which one's present life depends. Life may bring good fortune and material wealth. But this is just a trap, because one then loses compassion and the sense of the transience of worldly things. Anger and passion arise. The next life will be the worse for it.
One should not take wealth and official position as measures. Rather, give your life to the Tao. By studying the Tao you realize the deepest origin of things.

10. Repeated Instructions (13/181)
Laozi repeats his instructions: To realize the Tao, aspire to nonbeing. To realize virtue, practice benevolence. To realize ceremony, practice social responsibility. To perfect action, aim at kindness. To perfect benevolence, think of advantage. To perfect faith, think about efficacy.
All these virtues exist in the world, but as ideals of humanity they are only artificially constructed and cannot be held on to. The world is like the reflection of an image, like the echo of a sound: second­hand. People are being led astray by a variety of teachings. Even true doctrines have become spoiled. They continue their bad influence because they are kept up by greed and desire for profit. What in truth is empty and vain is considered true and permanent. This is dangerous because false teachings turn back on people and lead to their destruction.

11. Sagely Words (10/133)
Laozi says: The sages say that one should observe the origin of things by looking at the basic pattern inherent in all existence. Things are first observed with the eyes, then processed in the mind, and fi­nally formulated in words. Life depends on breathing, the nose is the gate of life. Human beings are like plants in that they depend on the changing energies of the seasons. But beyond this rhythm of life and death there is the realm of non­action. This can be attained by being utterly free from greed on behalf of one's self and body. As long as beings are part of the material universe, based as it is on the interaction of the five agents, they cannot be complete or permanent. Only heaven and earth and their equivalents are forever.

12. Observation (15/173)
Laozi says: Observe everything as a manifestation of the Tao. Visualize the spirit(s) and imagine the energy of the Tao, together with the sun, the moon, and the stars, within yourself. They are like images in a dream; they come and go like floating visions. Just let them go naturally and remain motionless and in a state of non­action. In due course energy will become increasingly subtle.
The grosser one's energy, the more things tend to crowd in the mind. There is inner agitation of the body and outward planning of the mind. This is dangerous, because it weakens the Tao. But it should not last long. By and by, remaining in concentration, desires will become less. Then turn your observation to sounds and sights. They will have no more power over you.
On the other hand, once you accept specific labels for sounds and sights, they will seduce and fetter your whole being. So keep sitting still, observe greed and desires. They gradually decrease. Greed is a great disease; it cannot be cured by medicines or acupuncture. Turn away from greed and desires, and clarity and peace will come to stay naturally. This is the practice of the sages.

13. Scriptures and Precepts (14/125)
Laozi says: The scriptures, the precepts, the various laws and statutes are not the subtlest part of the teaching. The full does not attain to the empty, the numerous is not as good as the rare. All that arises must decay. Thus the sage cuts off all wisdom and remains in non­action. He speaks by saying nothing, and he does things by never acting. The even to him is not as good as the odd, the many not as good as the few. The pivot of the Tao is to know without knowledge. The Tao itself is vague and formless, yet all is structured and surrounded by it. Studying mere words and following outward regulations, how far can wisdom develop?

14. Deep and Wonderful (14/147)
Laozi says: Words concerning the Tao are deep and wonderful. Thus scriptures and regulations are of great value. They embody the deepest mystery. Conscious thinking, the intention, should never rest with other beings. This causes harm to one's inner state of non­action. Once action has begun, complications are endless. The descriptions of the Tao contained in the scriptures and the percepts are very subtle. One must strive to penetrate their subtlety.
However, as long as one does not understand them completely, one should stick to their letter. Obey the precepts and follow the general outline of the practice as described in the scriptures. Lessen desires and maintain control over the mind. Withdraw to a meditation chamber and concentrate your thoughts. Possible confusion about words and ideas will vanish, when one sticks strictly to the practice of concentration. Eventually one will be able to determine the exact meaning of the scriptures.

15. Emptiness and Non­being (3/55)
Laozi says: The world developed from emptiness to nature, to the Tao, the One, the existence of the universe. Eventually all beings were brought forth. Beings are complete only through the One, they develop only through the subtle. All people have this, but once there are cravings and desires, they never stop running after outside things. Thus they turn their backs on the Tao.
16. Vague and Obscure (2/24)
Laozi says: The root of the Tao, emptiness and non­being, is vague and obscure. All beings ultimately come from it. It is part of every living being, but it cannot be explained in words.

17. Birth and Growth (9/138)
Laozi says: I was brought forth from emptiness, I developed in non­being. Spirit gives me life, and the conscious mind brings me death. Mind and thinking are my afflictions. In a state of no­mind, what would I know? Before I was born, I had no self. I came about as an accumulation of cosmic energy, as a coagulation of blood. The conscious self is the carriage of the spirit, its habitation and its host. When I am at peace and tranquil, spirit will remain. When I am agitated and restless, spirit will leave. Thus the sage wishes to return to the state before he was born. That is the state of no­self, which is free from suffering. Therefore get rid of any sense of self; concentrate on pure spirit and be one with the Tao.

18. Acting with the Tao (9/132)
Laozi says: In the old days all practitioners of the Tao based their actions on nature. Thus their Tao was permanent. Now things have changed. People act upon their wishes for the future and their memories of past experiences. Thereby they oppose the Tao. All opposites develop in alternation and correlate with each other. There is no conflict. In accordance with this, a person of the Tao does not come in conflict with the myriad beings. He or she is empty and void and free from desires. Desires are the source of misfortune and harm.

19. Sight and Touch (1/33; Huizong's edition)
Sense impressions are the origins of misfortune. They destroy human purity. Thus the sage never has any sensual desires.

20. Tao and Emptiness (17/219; title and first line from Huizong)
Laozi says: The Tao is emptiness. All beings develop from the One. The sages guard the One, and their minds are one with heaven. They are free from knowledge; their selves are one with the Tao. They have control over their minds and their wills, and they are free from longing.
Wherever the Tao goes it cannot be followed; wherever the Tao stays it cannot be found. It may be far off, beyond the non­ultimate; it may be close by, within human beings. Thus the sages never see, never hear, never speak. They only look inside and hold on to the mystery that cannot be seen. Their views reach beyond the realm of the senses; they return to non­being. Remain in such a state permanently and you will return to the state of selflessness, which is just like before you were born. Thereby you will be complete, heaven and earth will guard your life.

21. Sympathy with Others (5/35)
Laozi says: Sympathy with others is not as good as sympathy with one's self. Better yet, love the spirit. Even better, provide a good house for the spirit. Best of all, preserve one's true self. This is eternal life.

22. Spirit Gives Life (5/52)
Laozi says: Spirit brings forth the body, the body completes the spirit. Both are joined; they bring forth and complete one another. Spirit always loves human beings, but they often do not love the spirit. Thus the sage returns to the state of unknowing.

23. Permanent Peace (5/75)
Laozi says: The sage is always at peace, and in a state of perfect alignment with heaven and earth. Thus he can join demons and spirits. Normal people are never at peace. They should stop craving for things and instead be like small children. They should give up false wisdom and attain the simplicity of the sages. The universe will support them like a caring mother.

24. Self and Mind (11/180)
Laozi says: The self should be pure emptiness, the mind should be plain non­being. Then one can hide as self in one's self, as a person among persons. The ruler governs his country best by first dying to it. Dying to it but not perishing in it, this is the way to make the country blossom, to ensure permanence and stability. Ordinary people tend to enjoy life, but by using life and getting agitated about things they exhaust it.
The world is huge and permanent, though changing. The more one tries to know it, the more it recedes. The more one desires it, the more it vanishes. The more one approaches it, the more it is gone. Thus the sage does not rely on the world, on spirits and demons, or on the myriad beings. Rather, he makes emptiness his self and non­being his mind. The self of no­self, the mind of no­mind: this means union with the Tao.

25. Free from Yearnings (10/120)
Laozi says: The sage has no yearnings, he is free from worries. He rests in emptiness and non­being, in serenity and tranquility. He cultivates himself, and at the same time he nurtures the myriad beings.
On the other hand, people frequently take an active part in things and develop desires for the treasures of the world. Their passions are roused. Rebellions break out; an army is raised. There is great disaster, the country is shaken, and the people suffer. Once the people, the true foundation of the state, begin to suffer, the country will fall. This development can not be stopped. The highest treasure, the country itself, is lost.
The sage, by resting in non­action and remaining free from affairs, keeps his countrymen free from desires and the people at peace. Know the One and the myriad affairs are done! Be in a state of no­mind, and spirits and demons will come to serve.

26. My Life (6/85)
Laozi says: My life is my own; it does not depend on heaven and earth. As long as there is no seeing, no hearing, no knowing, the spirit will not leave, and I am one with the Tao. By holding on to the root of heaven and earth, I can act without relying on the moral values of ordinary folk. These are benevolence and righteousness, loyalty and faith, reverence and respect. Such values cause people to hanker after personal profit. By always remaining serene and in a state of non­action, the great Tao will return. Thus the spirit­man has no radiance, the sage has no fame.

27. Weapons (6/95)
Laozi says: Weapons are a great misfortune to the country; soldiers are not a treasure. The sagely ruler may value them and keep them, but should never use them. Any action of war leads to unrest. It destroys the country and kills more people.
Therefore the sage keeps his disposition simple and remains in a state of mental concentration. He does not engage in strife. Because he has accumulated virtue, he is never harmed by birds or beasts, snakes or swords.

28. Soft and Weak (4/81)
Laozi says: The softest and weakest thing in the world is cosmic energy. The weakest of all energies is the Tao. It is soft, therefore it can embrace heaven and earth. It is weak; therefore it can pervade the myriad beings. The weak and the soft give birth to the strong and the solid. Nature is the mother of the Tao. The Tao is the mother of emptiness and non­being. Non­being is the mother of being.

29. People (5/78)
Laozi says: If people die prematurely, it's their own fault. They die because they develop conscious knowledge of things and thereby agi­tate their bodies. To attain long life, stop desires and give up emotions. Mind and conscious thinking are bondage of life. Get away from them and forget all. Only when body and spirit are joined in harmony can there be eternal life.

30. The World (1/54)
Laozi says: Although people live in the world, in a country, in a community, and in a family, their conscious thinking or intentions should not rest with it. Although spirit is within oneself, it should not be limited to it. Practice of this attitude leads to the Tao.

31. Conscious Thinking and Subtlety (15/77)
Laozi says: Vexations arise without conscious thinking. Misfortunes come about with great subtlety. Good arises from evil, profit from harm, big from small, difficult from easy, high from low, far from near, without from within, noble from humble, movement from rest, prosperity from decline, and yin from yang. All these, once arisen, are bound to return.

32. In the Tao (7/70)
Laozi says: People are in the Tao like fish are in water. Without it they die. Sages know that they will return to the state before they were born. Thus they give up all pride and worry. Then, even when the body vanishes, their spirit remains. The whole world is bound to return. In non­action and free from affairs is the sage: the country is stable, and the people are rich. This is life in harmony with the Tao.

33. Possessing the Country (4/91)
Laozi says: When one governs the country and one's roots are deep, heaven and earth come to furnish support and cover. All beings live in harmony. By putting heaven and earth outside, one will gain heaven and earth. By putting the self outside, one will attain long life. The gentleman is skilled at what others cannot do. He enjoys what people do not like. He acts like no one would. He has faith where others despair.

34. All Have It (9/112)
Laozi says: The Tao is within every being, but commonly beings do not realize that. All people are born because they receive spirit, but they do not know that. The ruler gives his virtue to the people, but they do not realize that.
The sage harbors spirit within so that his material soul does not leave. By holding on to the mother, the child will be nurtured. Thus the sage holds on to the people and the country will prosper. It is great ignorance not to realize where one comes from and to study heaven and earth only from without.

35. Self­Cultivation (9/57)
Laozi says: To practice self­cultivation, one must first of all withdraw from the world. One should tranquilly dwell on the beginning of all. Sages use pervasion of the mystery and a decrease in conscious activity to preserve themselves. Ordinary people, on the other hand, only take recourse to greed and emotions to preserve themselves. Sages and ordinary people are all alive in the world. But they differ in Tao and in virtue.

36. The Tao and the Virtue (11/59)
Laozi says: All beings have their place of return, whether they desire it or not. Emptiness returns to the Tao, spirit returns to the virtue. Clarity returns to heaven, turbidity to earth. Water returns to moisture, fire to heat. Without desiring to become visible as bodies, people yet become incarnate and can be seen. Without being required to do so, birds and beasts return to mountains and marshes, fish and dragons to the seas and the rivers. When you can be empty and rest in non­action, even if you never desire the Tao, it will return to you naturally.

37. Good and Evil (7/90)
Laozi says: I don't know of anyone who acts with good intention, nor do I know of anyone who acts with evil intention. I don't know of anyone who acts with loyalty and faith. Yet the results of one's actions will be just like them. Only sages embrace the beginning of the world. Following their example, I see to it that my mind is always unknowing. How, then, would I make any distinctions between good and evil?
The Tao is with the good. Good deeds accumulate and the Tao is perfected.

38. Serene Intention (11/67)
Laozi says: My Tao is found in serenity, in a state where all mental activities are given up. Here tranquility is born and life is recovered.

The more serenity one has, the more energy accumulates. One will then be completely enveloped by primordial energy. Its roots reach deeper and deeper. At the time of return, the four limbs are stiff, and there is no­mind. Then one truly reaches out to the essence of all beings. This is possible because of emptiness and freedom from desires.

39. Admonition (14/154)
Laozi says: Master Gu is my self. I will now return to the nameless. I will give up my self and end my existence. I will live forever. Now I return to the one source.
Laozi vanishes. Everything is suddenly bathed in a heavenly brilliance. Yin Xi rushes outside, bows deeply and begs Laozi to appear once more. Would he please reveal some final words of admonition? Laozi appears again, in a golden figure hovering in mid­air. He admonishes him: Get rid of all impurity and stop all conscious thought. Know how to guard the One and the myriad affairs are done!
Yin Xi cries bitterly and pays obeisance to Laozi's memory. Then he cuts off all remaining ties with the world and gives himself over completely to the Tao.


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Kohn, Livia (1991). Taoist Mystical Philosophy: The Scripture of Western Ascension. SUNY Press.*
ISBN13: 978-0-7914-0543-7ISBN: 9780791405437

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