Zhang Ziyang

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Zhang Ziyang's Life

Zhang's personal name was Boduan and his literary name was Pingshu. He styled himself Ziyang, or Immortal Ziyang. In later years, he changed his perosnal name to Yongchen. More often, he was popularly know as "Gentleman Who Realizes Perfection" ( 悟真先生 Wuzhen Xiansheng ), "Perfect Man Zixuan" and "Perfect Man Ziyang". He lived in the Northen Song dynasty and came from Tiantai, which is located in Jianhai, Zhejiang province. In his boyhood, he started to read books of the Three Doctrines and to study Daoist Skills. After that, he became a successful candidate in the national civil service examination, but then was exiled to the southern border. In the second Xining year of the Northern Song dynasty(AD 1069), his perseverance and devotion moved a certain Perfect man so much that he taught Zhang a formula of Inner Alchemical Refinement, to which he devoted himself for a long time. After that, he improperly passed on the formula three times, which resulted in three disasters in his life. In the eighth Xining year (AD 1075), in order to strengthen Daoists' religious devotion, he wrote the On Realizing Perfection ( 悟真篇 Wuzhen Pian ).In this book, he explained his personal ideas of Inner Alchemy. After that, many people came to follow him. Zhang became the founder of the Ziyang sect of the Southern Lineage. When he was old, he returned from Chendu to his birthplace in the South, and died at the age of 96, in the fifthYuanfeng year.

Main ideas

Zhang considered that the gateway to immortality lay in the Refinement of Inner Alchemy, which was characterized by the Integrated Cultivation of Spiritual Nature and Bodily Life. He tried to explain his ideas of Inner Alchemy by comparing them with Outer Alchemy, considering a man's body as a cauldron, his Spirit and Vital Breath as drugs, and his Essential Matter as Fire Phases. The aim of refinement was to solidify his Vital breath and Spirit into the Golden Elixir. In the meantime, Zhang inherited Chen Tuan's system of Inner Alchemical Refinement and divided the whole process into four phases, i.e. Basic Cultivation ( 築基 Zhuji ), Refinement of Essential Matter into Vital Breath ( 煉精化氣 Lianjing Huaqi ), Refinement of Vital Breath into Spirit ( 煉氣化神 Lianqi Huashen ), and Refinement of Spirit back to Emptiness ( 煉神化虛 Lianshen Huaxu ). Zhang also thought that although Confucianism,Buddhism and Daoism are three different doctrines, the doorway to them are same. He stressed the Cultivation of Spiritual Nature over that of Bodily Life, and thought particularly highly of the Enlightenment of Spiritual Nature ( 明性 Mingxing ) of the Buddhist Chan sect. In the General Record of the Buddhist Patriarchs ( 佛祖統記 Fozu Tongji ), he said. "I used to pay much attention to Buddhism, and understood much through it". He even claimed that he had understood the most remarkable ideas. In this case, even one word could have led him to all doctrines. Zhang Ziyang also said: Laozi's doctrine focused on Refinement and Cultivation. If a man understood its essence, he could attain immortality immediately. Otherwise, he would by no means go beyond his bodily life. As a result, he considered the Daoist Refinement of Vital breath to be a form of Cultivation of Bodily Life, and Refinement of Spirit back to Emptiness as identical to Enlightenment of the Mind and Realization of Spiritual Nature ( 明心見性 Mingxin Jianxing ), and Sudden Enlightenment ( 頓悟圓通 Dunwu Yuantong ) in Chan Buddhism as equivalent to the Daoist Cultivation of Spiritual Life. He considered that a man should start his cultivation with the pursuit of immortality. Then, he should enlarge his ability by attaining Buddhist sublimity. Ultimately, he should get rid of the false and unreal by realizing his Spiritual Nature. He would then return to Tranquility and Emptiness, his origin.


In addition to On Realizing Perfection, he also wrote the Four-Hundred-Word Golden Elixir Formula ( 金丹四百字 Jindan Sibai Zi ) to summarize basic knowledge of Refinement of Inner Alchemy and explain its technical terms. He was also engaged in studying Buddhist books, and wrote the Chan Humns ( 禪宗詩偈 Chanzong Shiji ), which included 32 poems. In his old age, Wang Shibang, his disciple, summed up his main ideas and edited the Jade Clarity Secret Blue Flower Writ of the Golden Box and Golden Treasure Elixir Formula for Inner Refinement ( 玉清金笥青華秘文金寶內煉丹訣 Yuqin Jinsi Qinghua Miwen Jinbao Neilian Danjue ).