Book Select : The Baopuzi (抱朴子Master Who Embraces Simplicity)

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.”

Inner Chapters
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:

  1. proofs of the per se existence of immortals and transcendent states of immortality of the body;
  2. 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;
  3. Elaboration of diverse esoteric techniques leading one to become a hsien-immortal; and
  4. 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


To view the book in Chinese go to   – TaoistStudy