Stanzas on Pacing the Void in the Grotto of Emptiness

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The Stanzas on Pacing the Void in the Grotto of Emptiness ( 空洞步虛章 Kongdong Buxu Zhang ) is a representative work of Daoist poetry on Pacing the Void ( 步虛詞 Buxu Ci ). It first appears in the Numinous Treasure of the Pervasive Mystery's Book on Pacing the Void on Jade Capital Mountain ( 洞玄靈寶玉京山步虛經 Dongxuan Lingbao Yuejing Shan Buxu Jing ) and is a record transmitted orally by Daoists of the Numinous Treasure sect ( 靈寶 Lingbao ). We can consider that it came into being before the Southern and Northern Dynasties, because the Essential Formulas from Various Scriptures of the Numinous Treasure on Fasting skills and Rituals ( 靈寶齋法齋戒威儀諸經要訣 Lingbao Zhaifa Zhaijie Weiyi Zhujing Yaojue ) of the Northern Jin dynasty describes the process of chanting the Stanza on Crossing Nonbeing and Revealing Emptiness ( 涉無披空洞章 Shewu Pi Kongdong Zhang ) while circumambulating the Self-Generated Platform of the Seven Treasures ( 七寶自然之台 Qibao Ziran Zhi Tai ). Similar records are found in the Numinous Treasure of the Pervasive Mystery's Book on Pacing the Void on Jade Capital Mountain, where the stanza of pacing the void to be chanted is The Empty Grotto Stanza, which is probably the Stanza on Crossing Nonbeing and Revealing Emptiness. Anyway, the Initiation Ritual of the Supreme Numinous Treasure of Pervasive Mystery ( 太上洞玄靈寶授度儀 Taishang Dongxuan Lingbao Shoudu Yi ) written by Lu Xiujing, a Daoist adept of the Southern dynasty, uses this work on pacing the void, so obviously it is of long standing.


The Stanzas on Pacing the Void in the Grotto of Emptiness is introduced by tones for pacing the void, and together with the procedure of the "Long Fasting ( 長齋 Changzhai )", explains the function of purifying oneself and corresponding with the subtle Dao. The tenth piece of the work writes, "Changzhai Hui Xuandu, Mingyu Kou Qiongzhong" (The Daoist visualizes an assembly in the Mystery Metropolis ( 玄都 Xuandu ); he beats the jade article and strikes the good bell)". What is called "zhai" (Fasting) is a way of purifying oneself and communicating with deities, and "changzhai" (Long Fasting) means that it is a practice to be sustained . The "Xuandu" (Mystery Metropolis ) is an immortal realm in Daoist legends. After self-purification and communication with deities, practitioners assemble in the Mystery Metropolis and hence reach a special psychological realm in practice. "Mingyu" refers to the beating of jade objects during the chanting of pacing the void, which makes the practitioners attain the goal of concentrating and purifying their mind. "Kou Qiongzhong" (Striking the Good Bell) refers to the effect of the body and mind achieved after the practitioners come into an atmosphere of fasting. When chanting the Stanzas on Pacing the Void in the Grotto of Emptiness, the practitioners have to kowtow, burn incense, circumambulate by riding on the void, meditate, and accumulate merits. It is actually a way to concentrate the complicated, changing and speeding mind by means of certain movements, and thereby the practitioners banish distracting thoughts from their mind, relax, and achieve mental calm. It is thus evident that the Stanzas on Pacing the Void in the Grotto of Emptiness has not only the characteristics of common chanting, but also teaches the value of the study of nourishing life.