On Sitting in Oblivion

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The Discourse on Sitting in Oblivion ( 坐忘論 Zuowang Lun ) was written in one volume by Sima Chengzhen of the Tang dynasty.

The whole book consists of seven parts, namely

  1. "First Part, Veneration and Belief",
  2. "Second Part, Breaking Free the Bonds of this World ",
  3. "Third Part, Concentrating One's Mind",
  4. "Fourth Part, Simplifying Things",
  5. "Fifth Part, Perfect Contemplation",
  6. "Sixth Part, Deep Meditation", and
  7. "Seventh Part, Attaining Dao".

They describe the seven steps and levels of the cultivation of Dao. The book is focused on Sitting in Oblivion and concentrating one's mind, and attaching importance to tranquility and getting rid of desires. It holds that at the beginning of studying Dao, one should sit steadily, concentrate one's mind and forget about things outside oneself, think about nothing, enter the state of emptiness, and so the mind will conform to Dao. Since things are produced by the mind, one's mind can return to "tranquility" and "emptiness" only if it is concentrated and cleaned to transcend worldliness. The theory of attaching importance to tranquility put forward in this book had significant influence on the later school of Neo-Confucianism of the Song dynasty. The theory of "Sitting in Oblivion" originally appeared in the chapter Great Master for Worship ( 大宗師 Dazongshi ) in the Zhuangzi, and later it was elaborated on by the Science of Mysteries ( 玄學 Xuanxue ) and Daoism.

For example, the Daoist Book of Concentration and Contemplation of the Pervasive Mysterious Numinous Treasure ( 洞玄靈寶定觀經 Dongxuan Lingbao Dingguan Jing ) illustrates the concentration of the mind, saying "get rid of the mobile mind without getting rid of the illuminated mind". The Casual Records of the Nenggai Studio ( 能改齋漫錄 Nenggai Zhai Manlu ) written by Wu Zeng of the Southern Song dynasty claims that the Discourse on Sitting in Oblivion written by Sima Chengzhen originates from this. In the atmosphere of practising Outer Alchemy ( 外丹 Waidan ) in the Tang dynasty, combining the ideas of Laozi and Zhuangzi and absorbing the Buddhist skills of Motionlessness and Contemplation ( 止觀 Zhiguan ) and Deep Meditation ( 禪定 Chanding ), Sima Chengzhen vigorously advocated "Sitting in Oblivion", which played an important theoretical function in the Daoist evolution from Outer Alchemy into Inner Alchemy ( 內丹 Neidan ), and exerted some influence on the Daoist science of Inner Alchemy in later ages. The book is collected in the Supreme Mystery Section ( 太玄部 Taixuan Bu ) of the Daoist Canon of the Zhengtong Era ( 正統道藏 Zhengtong Daozang ).