Yin Fu Jing - the Invaluable Sutra of Taoism

The Yellow Emperor's "Invaluable Sutra" also known as "The Invaluable cultivation sutra of Taoism". Original Chinese text comes from the Daozang edition 1996, as listed by Prof. Fabrizio Pregadio. English translation is performed by Oleg Amiton (2009) and left as close to the original as possible.

Some commentary is based upon the teachings of Northern Lineage Qigong, as taught by master Wang Zhang in Taiwan (check www.dandao.org.tw if you are interested in this school), others come from my personal Qigong practice at this stage. Parallels with Zen/Buddhist teachings and Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are given where appropiate.

Unfortunately, any modern language (English included), cannot possibly reflect the simplicity yet extroardinary depth of the Sutra. And the rhythmical sounds of its passages are left beyond the scope too. Ancient Chinese is extremely compact: each character has many meanings, and the grammar is not so specific. That is why some words are added in [brackets] for an English-speaking reader to make sense of the text.

Please send any corrections, suggestions and disagreements using the contact form

黃帝陰符經

The Yellow Emperor's Invaluable Sutra

Chapter I - The Way that Man and "Tien" become one

1. 觀天之道,執天之行,盡矣。
Translation: Contemplate the Way of Heaven, stick to the Heaven's order - [you will be] doing your best.
Commentary: The foremost important achievement of man is to be enlightened and become integral part of the "Tian Dao" (The Way of Heaven). Once enlightened one would understand that the body and mind are from the same origin. Unification of the two is as powerful as to unit the Heaven and Man.

2. 天有五賊,見之者昌。五賊在心,施行於天。
Translation: "There are Five Thieves, one who sees [them] - flourishes.
"[with] Five Thieves in the Heart, [be] cultivate[d] by Heaven."
Commentary: One who perceives the "Five Thieves" through the "Tian" will flourish. "Five Thieves" can be perceived as the Man's five senses (i.e. abilities to hear, smell, taste and touch with the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body respectively. Or in Chinese there are five symbolic elements (metal, wood, water, fire, earth) that interact and commonly used by the ancients to explain many past and current events as well as to predict the future outcomes.

3. 宇宙在乎手,萬化生乎身。
Translation: It is as powerful as to hold the Universe in one's hands and emerged with all creations while cultivating the "Five Thieves" in one's body/mind.
Commentary: The process of cultivation involves the development of direct perception of the Way of Heaven. Once the perception is achieved, the experiences provided by the five senses are not regarded as the ultimate truth anymore. The perception of the subtle truth becomes possible, and the senses "know their place".

4. 天性人也,人性機也
Translation: Everyone has the naturally inherited "Heaven's Consciousness". Everyone is also a machine.
Commentary: At the root of the man's nature is the divine consciousness. However, the mind (bound by the experiences provided through the five earthly senses) also possesses the motives of all illusions and destructions while interacting with the external world through the "five thieves". Buddhists sometimes talk about the "gem of Buddha-nature, covert by many impurities".

5. 立天之道,以定人也。
Translation: Keeping with the Way of the Universe (Tian Dao) can regulate those biased or corrupted motives.
Commentary: By practicing restraint striving to understand the Way of Heaven it is possible to minimise the destructive effect of the afflictions of mind.

6. 天發殺機,龍蛇起陸。地發殺機,星辰隕伏。人發殺機,天地反覆。
Translation: A chaotic "Heaven and Earth" caused by Man is like Heaven expressing its anger and forcing the stars to move out of their places; or the Earth demonstrating its fury, pushing the dragons and serpents to appear on the dry land.
Commentary: The experiences acquired through the five senses are based on materialistic assumptions - they lack structure. Upon accumulating them, the mind becomes chaotic, which causes a disaster in the human's microcosm, manifested as psychological, emotional and health problems. Just as it would have been in the Universe in the absense of the laws of God.

7. 天人合發,萬化定基。
Translation: Stability can be re-established when Man and Heaven become one.

8. 性有巧拙,可以伏藏。
Translation: Man's actions may be smart or clumsy. It is better to conceal the improper ones.
Commentary: Smartness or clumsiness perhaps may also be perceived as good or bad, polite or impolite, compassionate or cruel, etc. Once the outcome of either is experienced, one develops natural desire to keep to the smart way of actioning.

9. 九竅之邪,在乎三要,可以動靜。
Translation: Man has Nine Orificies to interact with external world. Out of them, three groups are most likely to be confused and abused. They must be carefully cultivated to avoid any improper actions and reactions while in motion or rest.
Commentary: Nine Openings are 2 eyes, 2 ears, 2 nostrils, 1 mouth, 1 reproductive organ, 1 anus. Three most important groups are: eyes, ears and mouth.

10. 火生於木,禍發必剋。姦生於國,時動必潰。知之修鍊,謂之聖人。
Translation: The evils of Man are like fire [that may be] born from wood or the adultery [=treachery] in a nation; the destructive outcome is guaranteed once ignited. One who knows [=understands the importance] and cultivates [the unity with the Dao] is called a Sage.

Chapter II - Rules that Keep both Nation and its People Prosper

1. 天生天殺,道之理也。
Translation: Heaven gives birth, heaven kills. This is the princinple of Tao.
Commentary: The Dao of Tian is to destroy what it has created. Parallels with Shiva (The Destroyer) in Vedic mythology - an immediate force of heaven.

2. 天地萬物之盜,萬物人之盜,人萬物之盜。三盜既宜,三才既安。
Translation: All creations steal from heaven and earth. Man steals from all creations. All creations also steal from Man. These three stealing actions are completely balanced only when Heaven, Earth and Man are in great harmony.

3. 故曰,食其時,百骸理,動其機,萬化安。
Translation: Therefore [it is] said - eat in the proper time, bodily principles observe, give necessary movement to the machine - all creation will be at peace.
Commentary: The order of heaven is not only "up there". It includes your physical body and other living beings in its integral whole. Therefore, following the way Heaven does not only mean "spiritual" or mental cultivation. It is also important that a person looks after the body, observing the principles of its organization - e.g. must eat timely and consistently and excercise to enjoy healthy and balanced life.

4. 人知其神之神,不知不神之所以神。
Translation: The man who knows the very essence of the Spirit - does not "know" [anything intellectually], [and is] not "spiritual", however the Spirit itself.
Commentary: Lack of desire for the "spiritual knowledge" is an important characteristic of a highly evolved being. As per "Yoga-Sutras Samadhipada #37": "In this state a Yogi becomes passive/indifferent even to the delight that his consciousness has grown immensely. This is a state of mind in which it is free from all passions." or "Vibdutipada #114" : "Samadhi ... is a state that occurs by being passive even to the delight of knowing everything."

5. 日月有數,大小有定。聖功生焉,神明出焉。
Translation: Sun and Moon have their orbits. Big and small [entities] are in order too. Spiritual achievements will come [in the right time]. The Spirit will flourish.
Commentary: Just as one recognizes the definite order of Sun and Moon as well as the settled relationships between large and small entities, one should have a certainity about the fruits of the spiritual cultivation. The compassion and true wisdom of Man will become apparent.

6. 其盜機也。天下莫能見,莫能知。君子得之固躬,小人得之輕命。
Translation: Stealing is profound mechanism. Hard to observe on Earth. Impossible to know. Noble man consolidates [his efforts]. Ordinary man spends life lightly.
Commentary: It is rather difficult to truly observe and understand the purpose of the three stealing actions in the mundane world, where we are are bound to experience everything through our limited five senses. Once the existance of the subtle and profound truth is understood, a gentle man would give up everything but cultivate his righteousness to become a Sage in order to merge with it; on the contrary, a rootless person would do anything to profit from any opportunities come across to satiate senses and thus further degrade himself.

Chapter 3. Techniques to overcome all difficulties.

1. 瞽者善聽,聾者善視。絕利一源,用師十倍。三反晝夜,用師萬倍
Translation: A blind hears better. A deaf sees better. Most beneficial is to unite with the Origin. Having [such a] teacher - one will achive 10 times more. Turn [yourself] upside down thrice, [practice] day and night. Will achieve 10000 times more.
Commentary: A blind person can hear better and a deaf man can see the details better than the normal people. If the mind reached its oneness with Dao (thus abandoning the senses and acquiring the teaching directly from the Source), one would easily achieve 10 times of greater effectiveness than the capabilities of a typical person. Once focused completely, practicing day and night in 3 stages one could even achieve 10 thousand times of greater effectiveness.

2. 心生於物,死於物。機在目。
Translation: Heart/Mind is born stuck in material. Death and matter are inseparable. [This] mechanism [is] in the eyes.
Commentary: Without carefully cultivating the "Mind" (or the Eyes), one lives and dies with the thought(s) that the mind is attached or bound to the corporeal body. One perceives himself as a physical body which is going to die. The eyes provide proof that all matter is destroyed sooner or later, everything is transitory - people die, nature degrades their bodies into nothing. There is no way to see beyond this unless Mind/Heart is cultivated through practice. This verse is a parallel with the Yogic affliction of mind called "Destruction", which is when a person believes that the death of the physical body is a complete death.

3. 天之無思,而大思生。迅雷烈風莫,不蠢然。
Translation: Heaven does not think. Yet immense ideas could be conceived. Sudden thunder or gale of wind are not planned, yet not created stupidly.
Commentary: The idea of intellectual "thinking" is not found in Heaven (or a person who reached the state of unity with it). Most awesome phenomena could be conceived and created with its omnipotent will. Yet, this power is not used in a stupid way or out of the law of the Universe. In heaven, there is no "smartness" or "stupidity".

4. 至樂性餘,至靜則廉。
Translation: Extreme happiness burdens one's soul. Ultimate stillness brings purity.
Commentary: The mind involved into satisfaction of the five senses (what is known as "seeking happiness") cannot be satisfied. The "happiness" once achieved leads to attachment, subsequently calling for more and more "achivements". However the mind is able to reach its ultimate enoyment through complete silence and also to maintain its peace through the "Ultimate Calmness" coming from understanding of one's divine nature which is free from any desires. "Yoga is the ability to calm the impressions of mind" and "Contentment brings highest happiness" - two relevant passages from Patanjali Yoga Sutras.

5. 天之至私,用之至公。
Translation: Heaven presents itself intimately/personally. Still benefits all creation.
Commentary: The representations of Heaven are personal and cannot be fully understood just by everyone. They often come as omens and signs, and only those who receive them can make sense of them and interpret them at the moment of reception. Yoga Sutras say "experiences of this world are for him [practitioner, observer] only". Practitioner receives messages in a very intimate way, and acts upon them respectively in a very individual manner. However, the Heaven maintains perfect fairness to all beings, so the outcomes of the actions undertaken under its guidance will always be beneficial for all creation.

6. 禽之制在氣。
Translation: Birds' control is in the Qi.
Commentary: Here we have a word play - two characters "Qi" and "air" sound the same but the author uses Qi in the text. Birds' most awesome ability is the ability to fly. They rely on the air to do that. Just like birds master their flight by studying the medium that supports them (air), we could study the medium that supports us (Qi) to control our representations in the world. This verse directly points to the fact that one's practice could and should be directed at the study of the ways of Qi.

7. 生者死之根,死者生之根。恩生於害,害生於恩。
Translation: Life is the root of death; one the other hand, death is also the root of life. Appreciation comes from kindness; but kindness can also cause hatred (from a rootless person).

8. 萬人以天地丈理聖,我以時物丈理智。
Translation:Ten thousand people worship the Universal principles. But I gain my wisdom from the principles of nature.
Exposition: There is no need to go very high in your thoughts if you are seeking wisdom. The principle of intrinsic unity of the Above and Below is perfectly valid. Observing any simple natural phenomena with your whole Heart rather than only with your eyes you can understand how the whole Universe works at large.

10. 沉水入火,自取滅亡。
Translation: It is suicidal if one sinks himself under water or enters into fire.

11. 自然之道靜,故天地萬物生。天地之道浸,故陰陽勝。陰陽相推,而變化順矣。
Translation: All creations come from the Nature of Universe, Dao, spontaneously through its complete calmness and the gradual transformative interactions between Yin and Yang. Smooth transformations continue when Yin and Yang pushes each other in a natural and orderly fashion.

12. 聖人知自然之道不可違,因而制之。至靜之道,律歷所不能契。爰有奇器,是生萬象,八卦甲子,神機鬼藏。陰陽相勝之術,昭昭乎進於象矣。
Translation: Therefore, Sage naturally cultivates all actions once understood that the laws of the "Tian Dao" (The Way of Heaven) cannot be possibly resisted. The highest state of Ultimate Calmness can not possibly be measured or matched with any calendar methods or musical instruments. It is like a mysterious container with infinite events of Universe. In addition to applying the combinations of Ba-Gua (Eight Trigramms) and "Jia-Zi" (ancient Chinese calendar method), one must be completely merged with the Heaven in order to find the hidden entrance. The transformation of Yin and Yang can then be uplifted to reach its perfection and Eternity within Man.