Yinfu jing (Book of the Hidden Agreement)

Book of the Hidden Agreement

 

Despite its brevity, the Yinfu jing, or Book of the Hidden Agreement, is one of the most obscure and difficult Taoist texts. Traditionally attributed to the Yellow Emperor (Huangdi, one of mythical founders of Chinese civilization, and the foremost in the eyes of the Taoists), it dates from between the late sixth and the eighth century. Within Internal Alchemy, the text is especially well-known for its idea of “stealing the mechanism”, which Neidan adepts understand as meaning the inversion of the process that leads from the precelestial to the postcelestial domains.

Several dozen commentaries to the Yinfu jing are found both within and outside the Taoist Canon. The commentary translated here is by Yu Yan (born in Suzhou, 1258–1314), a learned and prolific author who wrote both independent works and commentaries to earlier texts.

These selections are quoted from:

Taoist Internal Alchemy

Taoist Internal Alchemy: An Anthology of Neidan Texts

Fabrizio Pregadio
Paperback

This anthology presents complete or partial translations of sixteen important works belonging to the Taoist tradition of Neidan, or Internal Alchemy. The selections are representative of the main Neidan lineages and branches. Read more.

A complete translation of the Yinfu Jing, including Yu Yan's commentary, is also found in:

From the Book of the Hidden Agreement (Yinfu jing 陰符經)

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Contemplate the Way of Heaven, hold to the operation of Heaven: this is completeness.

Commentary

Being of itself as it is is the Way of Heaven; revolving to the left and turning to the right, without interruption day and night, is the operation of Heaven.

As this sincerity has no pause, it nourishes with continuity, moment after moment, without interruption for even one instant.

The Zhongyong (The Middle Course) says: “Sincerity is the Way of Heaven.”(1) It also says: “Utmost sincerity has no pause.”(2) Sincerity means to “be true and devoid of artificiality,” and to “match the principle of Heaven” of being so of itself. As this sincerity has no pause, it nourishes with continuity, moment after moment, without interruption for even one instant. If one can contemplate the Way of Heaven and preserve one’s sincerity, and if one can hold to the operation of Heaven by being strong and untiring, then one is a companion of Heaven.

“This is completeness” means that although the words “contemplate the Way of Heaven, hold to the operation of Heaven” are concise, their meaning is complete. There is nothing to add.

Notes

1. Zhongyong, sec. 20. The Zhongyong, one of the main early Confucian works, is often quoted by authors of Neidan texts.

2. Zhongyong, sec. 26.

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Heaven gives life and Heaven gives death: this is the principle of the Dao.

Commentary

As there is the rain of spring that gives forth life, so there is the frost of autumn that causes life to wither. This is the Way of Heaven being as it is, and the Principle being so of itself.

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Therefore it is said: Eat at the right time, and the hundred bones are regulated.(1) Set that mechanism in motion, and the ten thousand transformations are at rest.

Commentary

“Time” means the time of Heaven and Earth. If I can “eat at the right time” and be joined with Heaven and Earth, then “the hundred bones are regulated.”

“Mechanism” means the mechanism of the Heart of Man. If I can “set that mechanism in motion” and be joined with Heaven and Earth, then “the ten thousand transformations are at rest” in me.

Note

1. “Eating at the right time” refers to taking one’s nourishment from the precelestial Original Breath (yuanqi) as it manifests itself in the time cycles of the postcelestial domain.

 

© Fabrizio Pregadio and Golden Elixir Press 2019