The Baopuzi (抱朴子Master Who Embraces Simplicity), written by the Jin Dynasty scholar Ge Hong 葛洪 (283-343), is divided into esoteric Neipian 內篇 “Inner Chapters” and exoteric Waipian 外篇 “Outer Chapters”. The Daoist Inner Chapters discuss topics such as techniques for xian 仙 “immortality; transcendence”, Chinese alchemy, elixirs, and demonology. The Confucianist Outer Chapters discuss Chinese literature, Legalism, politics, and society.
The eponymous title Baopuzi derives from Ge Hong’s hao 號 “sobriquet; pseudonym” Baopuzi (lit. “embrace simplicity master”), which compounds bao 抱 “embrace; hug; hold in both arms; cherish”, pu 樸 or 朴 “uncarved wood, [a Daoist metaphor for a] person’s original nature; simple; plain”, and zi 子 “child; offspring; master”. Baopu is a classical allusion to the Daodejing, “Evince the plainness of undyed silk, embrace the simplicity of the unhewn log; lessen selfishness, diminish desires; abolish learning and you will be without worries.”
According to Ge Hong’s autobiography, he divided the Inner and Outer Chapters on the distinction between Daoism and Confucianism. Ge philosophically described Daoism as the ben 本 “root; trunk; origin” and Confucianism as the mo 末 “tip; branch; end”). When asked, “Which has the priority, Confucianism or Taoism?” – Baopuzi replies, “Taoism is the very trunk of Confucianism, but Confucianism is only a branch of Taoism.”
The twenty Neipian “Inner Chapters” record arcane techniques for achieving xian “transcendence; immortality”. These techniques span two types of Chinese alchemy that Tang Dynasty scholars later differentiated into neidan 內丹 “internal elixir; internal alchemy” and waidan 外丹 “external elixir; external alchemy”. The word dan 丹 “cinnabar; red; pellet; [Chinese medicine] pill” means “pill of immortality, elixir of life, Philosopher’s stone” in alchemy. Ge Hong details his researches into the arts of transcendence and immortality. “Internal alchemy” concerns creating an “immortal body” within the corporeal body through both physiological methods (dietary, respiratory, sexual, etc.) and mental practices (meditation, visualizaiton, etc.). “External” or “laboratory alchemy” concerns compounding elixirs (esp. from minerals and metals), writing fu talismans or amulets, herbalism, and exorcism.
Lai outlines the Inner Chapters subjects:
- proofs of the per se existence of immortals and transcendent states of immortality of the body;
- stipulation of the accessibility to the perfect state of long life to everyone, irrespective of one’s social status but dependent on whether one could study deeply and strenuously cultivate the necessary esoteric methods;
- Elaboration of diverse esoteric techniques leading one to become a hsien-immortal; and
- Descriptions and criticism of the diverse contemporary Taoist discourses and sects.
Several chapters have specific themes. Chapters 4, 8, 11, and 16 describe waidan “external alchemy”. Inner Chapter 18 details meditation practices. In Chapter 19, Ge Hong praises his master Zheng Yin 鄭隱 (ca. 215-ca. 302), catalogues Daoist books, and lists talismans.
Table 1: The Neipian 內篇 “Inner Chapters”
Number Pinyin Characters Translation (adapted from Ware 1966)
1 Changxuan 暢玄 Defining the Mysterious
2 Lunxian 論仙 About Immortals
3 Duisu 對俗 Rejoinders to Popular Conceptions
4 Jindan 金丹 Gold and Cinnabar [pill of immortality]
5 Zhili 至理 The Ultimate Order
6 Weizhi 微旨 The Meaning of “Subtle”
7 Sainan 塞難 Countering Objections
8 Shizhi 釋滯 Resolving Obstructions
9 Daoyi 道意 The Meaning of “the Way”
10 Mingben 明本 Clarifying the Basic [Confucian and Daoist differences]
11 Xianyao 仙藥 The Medicine of Immortality
12 Bianwen 辨問 Discerning Questions
13 Jiyan 極言 The Ultimate Words [about immortality]
14 Qinqiu 勤求 Diligently Seeking [for a teacher]
15 Zaying 雜應 Miscellaneous Answers
16 Huangbai 黃白 Yellow and White [gold and silver]
17 Dengshe 登涉 Climbing [Mountains] and Crossing [Rivers]
18 Dizhen 地真 The Terrestrial Truth
19 Xialan 遐覽 Broad Overview [of Daoist literature]
20 Quhuo 袪惑 Allaying Doubts
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