• 微博
  • 微信

Barbara Hendrischke:The virtue of utmost sincerity in the Scripture on Great Peace (Taiping jing太平經)

来源:道教之音     作者:Barbara Hendrischke     时间:2017-05-12 12:51:06      繁體中文版     

The creators of the early Daoist religion inherited ideas about moral values and good conduct from the great moral philosophers of the pre-Qin era. In the process of this inheritance these old values gained new relevance and attractiveness, which this paper intends to document for the example of the virtue of utmost sincerity (zhi cheng 至誠).

The Scripture on great peace is one of the oldest and longest Daoist texts. It has been transmitted in an edition that reaches back to the sixth century CE but its language use, vocabulary and contents point to the late Han dynasty. It is now widely assumed that many parts of the preserved text reach back to the second century CE that is to the historical era during which the Daoist church originated (Kaltenmark 1979). This took place in the region of ancient Shu in China’s west (Kleeman 2016: 21-37). Chen Shou陳壽(372-451), author of the Sanguo zhi 三國志was a native of that part of China and, as we may assume, for this reason reported in some detail on the founders of the Daoist church that is on Zhang Lu張魯(d. 216 CE) and his predecessors. Their movement as well as that of other local protest movements was encouraged by the central government’s demise as well as by the many social and economic changes that went along with it. It is plausible that the texts that are assembled in the Scripture on great peace were also linked to such movements. We certainly know of texts on great peace that were created in the region of Langye (琅邪) in China’s east. This is also the region where the Great Peace Movement originated which erupted in the Yellow Turban rebellion and thereby initiated the breakdown of the Han dynasty and its empire.

For a number of reasons we may assume that the transmitted Scripture on Great Peace originated in the same social, cultural and political environment that was the breeding ground for popular movements. The text’s language resembles that of early Buddhist translations that were produced by people of limited education in the vicinity of Luoyang in the late second and early third century CE (Zuercher 1977). Another reason for seeing the origin of the text in local and alternative intellectual circles is its very high level of originality. Its topics are the analysis of the misery that large numbers of people are stuck with and advice on how to improve this situation. In this respect the Taiping jing follows in the tradition of the philosophical writings of pre-Han and Han dynasty times. However, it does not deal with these problems from the perspective of an educated observer who addresses other educated observers as was customary in philosophical writings. Instead, it is written as if directly addressing the people who suffer most from these problems. While established Han dynasty authors deplore misgovernment, poor harvests and continuous epidemics as well as the people’s lack of food and shelter and their exceeding poverty, the authors of the Scripture on great peace appear to be talking directly to the people who actually suffer from these factors. They write in a style that even someone with little education may have been able to make sense of. They do not refer to other texts or to any historical personages or events. They use only a rather limited number of characters and structure their sentences in some proximity to the spoken language. Dialogue elements enliven the text, and so does the introduction of a group of disciples who are not overly bright and often told so by their teacher. Their teacher is addressed as Celestial Master. His authority stems directly from heaven. Heaven is said to have sent him down to earth in order to promote great peace and thereby save the world from its imminent cataclysm. The disciples are set up to act as a bridge between the reader and the Master’s teachings. Their rather pedestrian questions often give direction to the Master’s lectures or sermons. What he says may be surprisingly new and unheard of but all is said repeatedly and in simple terms. It is certainly meant to be easy to follow. It must be added that in late Han dynasty China literacy seems to have been relatively high (Nylan 2009).

So what is the text’s message? The authors suggest that the people can be relieved from their misery by a process of personal and social transformation. Since the Taiping jing is a long text this transformation is shown from many different angles and involves a list of factors. Some are administrative reconfigurations: the implementation of the existing law against female infanticide; a general reduction of penalties; the decisive prosecution of local strongmen and reliable protection for whistle blowers; a prohibition against the hoarding of grain and other goods; environmental measures; and the prevention of military expeditions. Other factors on the list reach deep into the personal life of ordinary people. People are warned to change their attitude, adhere to heaven’s order, follow moral guidelines and practice self-cultivation. The original element in these teachings lies partly in what is understood as “morality”. A high priority is seen in bringing to life and in the protection of all that lives. The authors also hint at aspects of equality, as for instance that between men and women or superior and inferior. However, the teachings’ major novelty lies in their inclusiveness. The texts of China’s high tradition abound in ethical philosophy and in concrete advice on moral alignment. Following in Confucius’ footsteps these thoughts are usually addressed to men who can be expected to function as leaders. They can be political rulers and their staff or the authors’ own peers who are active as teachers or students and whose background and upbringing situate them in a position of leadership. In contrast to this, the authors of the Taiping jing address their advice to everyone. From their perspective, it is not enough that the men who are in charge follow moral guidelines. For change to happen and society to prosper, everyone must do so, by his or her own initiative. Since they see universal transformation as rooted in individual attitude the authors propose that someone who wants a better world must start with him- or herself. They argue that self-reproach is a good starting point, while people who resentfully reproach their sovereign or even heaven on high only increase their own and the general misery.

The authors envisage a world that is far more communal than the real world of second century China. Since in their view the creation of such a world depends on general participation they attempt to put their teachings in everyone’s reach. For this purpose they use new lines of argumentation that circumvent traditional learning. Instead, these lines start directly from what the authors call the basic conditions of all human existence. This is on the one hand human physicality as will become manifest in this paper when we deal with the text’s views on utmost sincerity. On the other the authors return to old ideas about the intimate connectedness of human beings and heaven and view everyone as religiously linked to heaven and its sphere. They argue that human beings have been created by heaven and earth and for this reason continue to owe heaven and earth thanks and respect. Since these ideas lie in everyone’s experience the authors assure their audience that all it takes to understand these new teachings is to be aware of the conditions of one’s own existence.

On this background the Taiping jing’s authors redefine the meaning of certain exclusive and sophisticated moral virtues so as to put them in reach of ordinary people. From their perspective, one does not have to be a junzi (君子) or any other extraordinary being to learn how to lead a moral life, that is, as they would put it, to hold on to dao and virtue. A striking example is the concept of sincerity or “integral wholeness”(Plaks 2014) that according to Mengzi 孟子is a quality of heaven that human beings can practice by reflecting on it (是故誠者,天之道也;思誠者,人之道也.Jiao 1987: 509). This is in fundamental agreement with the teachings of the Taiping jing, where the reflection on heaven’s order is in general seen as the root of good conduct. Mengzi adds another thought which for the thoroughly pragmatic authors of the text is of eminent attractiveness:

There has never been someone of utmost sincerity who would have failed to have an impact. On the other hand, someone who is not sincere can never hope to have an impact.

至誠而不動者,未之有也;不誠,未有能動者也.(Jiao 1987: 509)

The universal impact of sincerity is fully documented in the Zhongyong 中庸:

In all under heaven it is only someone with utmost sincerity who can bring order to the big lines that run through all under heaven, establish its great foundation, and understand how heaven and earth transform and nourish.

唯天下至誠,為能經綸天下之大經,立天下之大本,知天地之化育.(Johnston and Wang 2012: 370)

A sincere person is here set up on a pedestal as if he were capable of giving perfection to everyone and everything. By making the most of his own disposition he visibly changes and in consequence effects visible change on others. Sincerity even entails foreknowledge. It is depicted as if containing a magic component:

Sincerity is the end and beginning of things; without sincerity there would be nothing. On this account, the superior man (junzi) regards the attainment of sincerity as the most excellent thing.

誠者物之終始,不誠無物.是故君子誠之為貴.(Johnston and Wang 2012: 336; as translated by Legge 1960: 418)

Based on propositions like this Ames and Hall (2001) represent the term cheng in English as “creativity”. The passage argues that a superior man takes or should take an interest in this creativity. In the Zhongyong (12;13. Johnston and Wang 2012: 241-261 and 426-433) it is observed that common men and women are able to engage in basic moral conduct (道不遠人). However, sincerity is not mentioned as being part of their conduct, and, most importantly, what is said here is not directly addressed to “common men and women”. The Zhongyong with its many references to historical personages and quotations from the Odes is not meant for an audience of ordinary people.

The authors of the Taiping jing uphold the thesis of the Zhongyong. They fully agree that a person of utmost sincerity has a cosmic impact although they talk about this impact in more humble, precise and, most importantly, personal terms. For them, “sincerity” is in the first place not meant to give direction to the cosmos but to improve one’s own situation. The topic is introduced by disciples who raise the following question:

We would now like to hear how utmost sincerity can have an impact on the numinous beings of heaven and earth. 「今願聞至誠以何而感動天地神靈乎?」

As often, the Master’s response is devastating:

Oh, how can you be so foolish! You have studied my book, and yet there is a lot that you have been too stubborn to comprehend? 「噫!真人於是殊為愚,學吾書文,多固固未解邪?」(Wang 1979: 425)

The disciples apologise with similar vehemence: “Foolish as we are, benighted and blind….愚生其為暗昧”. This allows the Master to start his lecture. After advising the disciples to pay proper attention he promises to fully explain why utmost sincerity is as powerful as it is:

Well, now to utmost sincerity: What we call utmost sincerity means that we look up to heaven and act by emulating the workings of its dao and that we look down to earth and act by emulating the developments achieved by its virtue. We keep in mind that heaven and earth have made our father and mother bring us to life and raise us and that they do not want us to be evil. Before we move into action we must in our hearts be aware of filial piety. The heart is the most miraculous and venerable inner organ. It is spirit-like, wise, pure Yang, and the phase of fire. Fire when in motion goes upwards with a brightness that equals heaven. Therefore, once the sun as king of fire becomes heaven’s principal all is completely lit up. So if a man of utmost sincerity were to suffer pain in his innermost heart there would be response. Spirit of the heart in its utter wisdom would send a report upwards to the sun and the sun would send a report upwards to heaven. Therefore, utmost sincerity [when situated] in the five inner organs has an impact on numinous beings. Since this is so, how can you not pay attention?

然,夫至誠者,名為至誠,乃言其上視天而行,象天道可為;俯視地而行,象地德而移.念天地使父母生長我,不欲樂我為惡也,還孝之於心乃行.心者,最藏之神尊者也.心者,神聖純陽,火之行也.火者,動而上行,與天同光.故日者,乃火之王,為天之正,無不照明.故人為至誠,心中正疾痛應.心神至聖,乃上白於日,日乃上白於天.故至誠於五內者,動神靈也.是故可不慎乎?」(Wang 1979: 426)

This is a full and by the standards of the Taiping jing reasonably coherent explanation. It is set up within a framework of images that have accompanied much of Han dynasty thought. Being situated between heaven and earth human beings are meant to develop a persona that lives in accord and in communication with both. The channel for this communication is said to be the human heart. In “spirit of the heart” there is moreover a spokesperson that being spirit can report almost directly to heaven. The condition for this communication lies in a person’s attitude that is in his or her sincerity. In other words, heaven responds positively to a human being’s intention to emulate its own workings.

The disciples are so happy with this explanation that they demand more. At this point the authors of the Taiping jing interrupt the philosophical enquiry to allow their readers a glance at the interaction between disciples and Master. Both are shown to fill their roles in exemplary style. Their attitude is exactly as it should be. This appraisal of their personal virtue is a literary device to add vigor and authority to the contents of their discussion:

Although each time we raise a question with the Celestial Master we are startled and terrified, when we ask there is advice and a great solution, and when we don’t there is no chance of understanding things. 「今雖每問天師而怖駭者,又問乃訣乃大解,不問又無緣得知之.」

Well, what you say is right. If being in the dark you would not like to ask, how could you be enlightened? Speak up. What do you want to ask? 「然,子言是也,暗而不好問,何時復得昭昭哉?行言,欲問何等?」

Now, we have already heard with respect that utmost sincerity moves heaven. We would like to hear what “it moves earth”means.「今謹已聞至誠動天,願聞動地意.」

Good. What you say is becoming deeper. Don’t give up. All right, sit still, and I will tell you. If I were not to speak I am afraid I might do wrong by you, as if heaven on its own, pained by the lack of utmost sincerity in latter-born men, had sent you, Perfected, to come and pose questions.「善哉!子言日益大深,不惜之也.行,安坐,為子道之.不言恐得過於子,若天獨疾後世人不至誠,而使真人來主問之也.」(Wang 1979: 426)

In response, the Master starts another short lecture that is in some contrast to what has been said before. Throughout the Taiping jing the authors, intent on persuading everyone, have no fear of providing different or even contrasting proof for the reliability of their proposals.

As in the previous explanation the Master starts his account of earth’s response to a person of utmost sincerity from the general condition of human existence and from experiences that we all share:

All right, it is utmost sincerity in people that things they remember give their heart pain. So with the heart commiserating, the belly cannot eat. Remembering is done by heart and conscience (yi 意). When heart and conscience do not forget, the liver is filled with benevolence. So the eyes, thus authorised, shed tears. This is the utmost sincerity of a person’s vital reflections. It is the heart that has a vital comprehension of others. It is conscience and spleen that keep in mind and do not lay aside. Heart is pure Yang, and is positioned close to heaven. Spleen is pure Yin, and is positioned close to earth. Once utmost sincerity has managed to monopolise memory, the heart aches and tears burst forth, and the heart lets conscience and memory take charge of actions and make announcements to distant regions. Conscience is Yin. When Yin is in pain, this must be announced to Yang. Therefore, an announcement is sent upwards to the numinous beings of majestic heaven. The spleen is Yin, with a home in earth. So an announcement is sent down into earth. Thus heaven and earth become active on someone’s behalf and spirits all over move on this person’s behalf. If you want to know a great token for this – I would not cheat you, Perfected -  when you sit quietly and at leisure in the dark hut, think in your hear of spirits and they will all arrive on their own. Isn’t this clear verification? It proves what I have told you about utmost sincerity. I have yet to speak out of the blue and without a model. For this reason, when ordinary people search for dao and virtue and base their conduct on utmost sincerity, heaven and earth will respond and numinous beings will come to announce it. Without utmost sincerity, someone cannot move heaven and earth or activate numinous beings. So after inheriting and transmitting [trespasses], people of lower antiquity are really without faith (wu xin 無信) and have no utmost sincerity. They cannot influence heaven and earth but get together to betray them. Therefore, numinous beings harm people without end.

「行,人之至誠,有所可念,心中為其疾痛,故乃發心腹不而食也.念之者,心也,意也.心意不忘,肝最仁,故目為其主出涕泣,是其精思之至誠也.精明人者,心也.念而不置者,意也,脾也.心者純陽,位屬天;脾者純陰,位屬地.至誠可專念,乃心痛涕出,心使意念主行,告示遠方.意,陰也,陰有憂者當報陽,故上報皇天神靈.脾者,陰,家在地,故下入地報地.故天地乃為其移,凡神為其動也.子欲知其大效,吾不欺真人也,真人但安坐深幽室閑處,念心思神,神悉自來到,此不明效證邪?是吾告子至誠之信也,吾未嘗空無法而說也.故求道德,凡人行皆由至誠,乃天地應之,神靈來告之也.如不至誠,不而感動天地、移神靈也.故承負之後,下古之人實無信,不至誠,不而感動天地,共欺天與地,故神靈害之不止也.」(Wang 1979: 426-7)

Someone’s sincerity transforms what he or she feels into a message that reaches heaven and earth. The different stages of this process are described in detail. It starts with the pain people feel, with their tears and their lack of appetite. This pain, as we must assume, results from unfair interactions between human beings or may also be inflicted by spirits. Pain and concern are kept in mind and remain active factors by means of someone’s memory. In this way the cooperation of the internal organs heart, spleen and liver transforms personal grief into a cosmic matter. The authors assure their audience that this remedy is open to everyone: “when ordinary people search for dao and virtue and base their conduct on utmost sincerity heaven and earth will respond and numinous beings will come to announce it”. To explain the potency of spiritual impact the Celestial Master reminds his disciples of their own meditative practice that entails the visualisation of spirits:  heaven and earth, when approached by a sincere person, will respond, just as spirits will appear, once they have been properly addressed. Towards the end of the lecture the Celestial Master adds another point that directly pertains to the situation of his disciples as well as of his potential readers. They all live as he puts it in historical times that suffer from the impact of the load of mistakes that were committed by former generations. This load is inherited and transmitted by each generation and has at present reached such a size that it endangers the relationship between heaven and human beings. For this reason people have a particular need for utmost sincerity but at the same time may find it particularly hard to enact.

Michel Foucault (1997) has described the Hellenistic and Roman period as the era of the “technology of the self” since a large portion of philosophical activity was absorbed by general reflections on one’s mode of living and choice of existence. Late Han dynasty times can be viewed from a similar angle, and Daoist attempts, as for instance those preserved in the Taiping jing were instrumental in this achievement. For the authors of the text great peace would reign only after “all-under-heaven” or the whole world had been convinced to join ranks in bringing it about. For this reason they conveyed ideas about personal conduct and political organisation that had been developed in centuries of academic social philosophy to a new audience. In this process they modified these ideas in form and contents to make them reasonable and attractive to as wide a group of people as possible.


Ames, Roger and David Hall, Focusing the Familiar. A Translation and Philosophical Interpretation of  the Zhongyong, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2001.

Foucault, Michel, Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth. London: Allen Lane and The Penguin Press, 1997.

Hendrischke, Barbara, The Scripture on Great Peace. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.

Jiao Xun, Mengzi zhengyi. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1987.

Johnston, Ian and Wang Ping, Daxue and Zhongyong. Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 2012.

Kaltenmark, Max, “The Ideology of the T’ai-p’ing ching.” In HolmesWelch and Anna Seidel (eds), Facets  of Taoism. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979: 19–52.

Kleeman, Terry, Celestial Masters: History and Ritual in Early Daoist Communities. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Asia Center, 2016.

Legge, James, The Chinese Classics. Repr. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1960.

Nylan, Michael, “Classics Without Canonization: Learning and Authority in Qin and Han.” In John Lagerwey and Mark Kalinowski (eds), Early Chinese Religion. Part One: Shang through Han (1250 BC–220 AD). Leiden: Brill, 2009: 721–776.

Plaks, Andrew H., “The Daxue (Great Learning) and the Zhongyong (Doctrine of the Mean).” In V. Shen (ed.), Dao Companion to Classical Confucian Philosophy. Springer: Dordrecht, 2014: 139-152.

Wang Ming, Taiping jing hejiao. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1979.

Zuercher, Erik, “Late Han Vernacular Elements in the Earliest Buddhist Translations.” Journal of the Chinese Language Teachers’ Association 12 (1977): 177–203.



  • 流泪


  • 鼓掌


  • 愤怒


  • 无语




  2、本网站内凡注明“来源:道教之音”的所有文字、图片和音视频稿件均属本网站原创内容,版权均属“道教之音网站”所有,任何经营性媒体、书刊、杂志、网站或个人未经本站协议授权不得转载、链接、转贴或以其他方式复制发表。已经本网协议授权的媒体、网站,在下载使用时必须注明“来源:道教之音”, 违者将依法追究责任。