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From the Tract of the Quiet Way, Yin Chih Wen
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Below are extracted ideas and concerns, mainly from the original foreword. Selections and arrangement are by TK.

Below is The Quiet Way, Yin Chih Wen, with extracts from the Chinese Commentary, translated from the Chinese by Teitaro Suzuki and Paul Carus in 1906, and edited by Dr. Paul Carus. It was published by The Open Court Publishing Company in Chicago in 1906 (Also by Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner. London, 1906). The page references in square brackets below are from the first of the two.

It is not easy to translate the title of the book. (p 4) It helps to think of it as "mysterious workings", but that will not express the full meaning well enough. The two translators finally decided to render the title The Tract of the Quiet Way, which is not intelligible without further explanation. (p 5)

It is an old tradition of China that the quiet ways of Heaven should be imitated by man. Man should do good to his fellows and show an impartial spirit without [too much] desire for praise. "Heaven's quiet way" consists of unostentatiously realizing the ideal of heavenly goodness, which is also virtuous (see p 5)

"In the 'Great Plan,' a chapter of the Shuh King, we may read: 'wei tien yin chih hsia min'. It means that "Heaven alone, in a quiet or mysteriously unnoticeable way, directs the affairs of mankind living below on earth."

A Chinese commentator:

"Indeed it is the guiding (ting) principle of creation that good men never lose an opportunity to do what is good. If you really practise it (i.e., the good) in your heart it is not necessary that others should know of it, for there is something in the unseen which fully regulates and determines (ting) your affairs."

The words Yin Chih ("the quiet way," or more explicitly, "the mysterious dispensation of Heaven showing itself in man's unostentatious virtue") are opposed to yin o, i. e., "the hidden evil in the bad man's heart." The word o . . . is the common term for evil or badness. (p 6)

The two translators, "We are fully conscious of the shortcomings of our rendering, but our readers will bear in mind the original sense and become accustomed to our translation by associating it with its right interpretation." (p 7)

On Wen Ch'ang Ti Chün

The rank of its attributed author Wen Ch'ang in the world of gods is "Emperor" and translated by "lord superior." . . . "Ti Chün" (Lord Superior) might also be translated "imperial master." (p 8)

The term chün is commonly applied also to leading thinkers such as Lao Tze and Confucius. (p 9)

Wen Ch'ang, or "scripture glory," is said to have been an ancient Chinese sage, but little is known of him. According to the commentator, "he lived during the T'ang dynasty (620-950 AD), and his secular name was Chang-O. Yüeh was his native province.

When he was dead, people far and near came to offer prayers at his tomb. The prayers were remarkably well responded to. Everybody then said, "There is in the heavens a star called Wen Ch'ang; the sage [i. e., Chang-O] must have been its incarnation."

The Chinese Title

The translators write, "The complete title of the Tract of the Quiet Way is "Wen-Chang Ti-Chün Yin Chih Wen Shih-Hsün". This means in a verbatim translation, "[Of] Scripture Glory, [the] Imperial Master, [the] Quiet-Way-tract, normal instruction." The last two words form one idea which might be translated "educational." Shih means "model," "norm" or "pattern"; and hsün, "instruction." In their combination the two denote that the present book is intended to serve educational purposes (p 11), and that it contains the established or orthodox standard of conduct (p 12) . . .

"The original Yin Chih Wen consists (1) of the tract itself which is here translated, (2) of glosses added by commentators, and finally (3) of a great many stories which are similar to the stories of the Kan-Ying P'ien, except that they are more rational and appear to avoid all reference to miracles and superstitious agencies. The book . . . exhibit[s] . . . respect for the officially recognized religions (p 12)."

The date is uncertain, but it is at least 400 years old (cf p 12).


From the Tract of the Quiet Way

He who wants to expand the field of happiness [Sanskrit, punyakshetra, possibly] let him lay the foundation of it on the bottom of his heart [where good deeds originate (p 31)] (p 17).

Let your deeds of merit be unheeded (yin) (p 17).

Practise goodness: acquire merit (p 18).

Be honest like Heaven in conducting your affairs (p 18).

Fulfil the four obligations*; impartially observe the three doctrines+ (p 18).

*According to a Chinese Buddhist sutra, the first obligation is to the parents, the second to all sentient beings, the third to the ruler of the country, and the fourth to the Triple Treasure (triratna) of Buddhism . . . The [Chinese] commentator's enumeration does not agree with the latter. He puts teachers and elders in place of the Triple Treasure, and Heaven and Earth, for all sentient beings.

+The three doctrines are Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism . . . [and] they all [relate to] the human heart, which is one and the same in all three religions (p 40-41).

Be congenial and friendly to brothers. Be sincere in your intercourse with friends. [Here are two of the five basic virtues (wu chang) of Confucianism - p 41) (p 18).

Convert both the cunning and the dull. By preaching on the canonical books and histories, enlighten the ignorant and the benighted (p 18).

Relieve people in distress as speedily as you must release a fish from a dry rill [lest he die] (p 18).

Help the poor (p 18).

Promote the good and recommend the wise. (p 19).

Be lenient with others and exacting with yourself (p 19).

Establish philanthropic institutions for the education of children (p 19).

If your own family is well provided, extend a helping hand to your relatives. If the harvest fails, provide for and relieve your neighbours and friends (p 19).

Let measures and scales be accurate; and be neither chary in selling nor exacting in buying (p 19).

[How to] Treat your servants . . . Do not expect perfection nor be too strict in your demands (p 19).

Publish and make known sutras* and tracts. Build and repair temples and shrines (p 19).

*A sutra is a 'thread', i.e., 'thread of thought", in other words a terse or perhaps aphoristic statement. In this work it refers to Buddhist books, but the commentator broadens the thought of it thus: "We may better understand them as virtually including all the classical books belonging to the three religions." (cf. p 41)

Distribute medicine to alleviate the suffering of the sick (p 19).

Buy captive animals and give them freedom * (p 20).

*This is a Buddhist custom, the saving of lives is . . . very meritorious (p 41).

To buy up captive animals for the sake of setting them free is [a deed] of a sympathetic heart. Thoughtless people make light of puny creatures such as ants, spiders, etc., and wantonly kill them, having no thought of pity or remorse; but pious hearts refrain from such cruelty (see p 35)

How commendable is abstinence that dispenses with the butcher! (p 20).

While walking be mindful of worms and ants (p 20).

Be cautious with fire and do not set mountain woods or forests ablaze (p 20).

Do not go into the mountain to catch birds in nets, nor to the water to poison fishes and minnows * (p 20).

*In the Confucian Analects we read: "The Master angled, but did not use a net. He shot, but not at birds perching." (12; 27.) The passage is understood to mean that Confucius was so tender-hearted as not to take advantage of animals when hunting, and that he killed them only when it was necessary for sustaining human life (cf. p 41).

Do not butcher the ox that ploughs your field (p 20).

Do not [carelessly and thoughtlessly] throw away paper that is written on * (p 20).

*The Chinese show great respect for writing and writing materials, because by them we get to know the virtues, wisdom and sayings of ancient sages (cf. p 41).

Do not scheme for others' property (p 20).

Do not envy others' accomplishments (p 20).

Do not approach your neighbour's wife or maids (p 20).

Do not meddle with your neighbour's conjugal affairs (p 20).

Never take advantage of your power, nor disgrace the good and law-abiding (p 20).

While attending to your duty, be humble and modest * (p 21).

*Sacred books and the value of sacred books can be found in your own heart (cf. p 42)

Live in concord with your relatives and clansmen (p 21).

[Good friends] will help you to practise virtue with body and soul (p 21).

Those that are wicked, keep at a distance; it will prevent evil from approaching you (p 21).

Promulgate all that is good (p 21).

Don't assert with your mouth what your heart denies * (p 21).

*Compare, "My people come to you . . . and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain." - Ezekiel 33;31

Always have in mind helpful sayings (p 21).

Do not use improper language (p 21).

Cut the brambles and thorns that obstruct the highway. Remove bricks and stones that lie in the path (p 21).

Build bridges to be traversed by thousands and ten thousands of people (p 21).

Supply the means to give instruction to people of talent (p 22).

Let your work conform to Heaven's reason*, and let your speech express humaneness (p 22).

*"Heaven's Reason consists of two words; but they are in your own heart. If when you do a thing, there remains in your heart some misgiving, then your deed is against Heaven and contrary to Reason. A virtuous man punctiliously guards himself when alone, solely to retain [reason and rationality] and to calm human desires. Therefore . . . "Attend to your duty and . . . Look after what you ought to do."

The source of good and evil is in the heart.

Ever wakeful is the heart of him who does good.

The teachings of holy men are written in the six canonical books. There are thousand gates and ten thousand doors; through which shall we enter? The main thing is to guard oneself when alone, lest one go astray. . . .

Proceed in evil for half a minute and you will have too much (from p 36).

Keep the ancient sages before your eyes even when at supper or while looking over the fence * (p 22).

*This means not to forget helpful instructions of wise men of old, in order to "to be always on guard lest the heart might go astray." Confucius says in the Analects 4, 5: "The superior man does not, even for a space of a single meal, act contrary to virtue. In moments of haste his mind dwells on it. In time of danger his mind dwells on it."

In the Doctrine of the Mean, it is said that the tao ("path," or "doctrine") is not for a moment to be ignored, for that which can be ignored is not the tao (p 42).

Be mindful when you are alone * in the shadow of your coverlet + (p 22).

*A Buddhist sentiment (p 41).

+Confucian teaching as well: The Great Learning and The Doctrine of the Mean teach one to be watchful over himself when he is alone. This watchfulness is not merely intellectual, but a heart's. Confucians show earnestness and reverence toward Heaven's Reason (Tien Tao) [extracted, see p 42).

Anything evil - refrain from doing it; [see third note upwards] all good deeds - do *! So will you always be encompassed by good guardian angels + [condensed from p 22).

*This is one of the noblest injunctions by Buddha in the Dhammapada, verse 183). Niao Che, a Buddhist recluse who lived in Hang Chou about 800 AD, declares: "Even a three year old child can say this, but even a grey-haired man finds it difficult to practise."

Compare also "Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it" in Psalm 34,14 and "Turn from evil and do good; then you will dwell in the land forever" in Psalm 37,27 (p 42-43).

+"The Chinese word shen means god or any spiritual being, and according to the context it has been translated by "angel" (cf. p 43).

[Immediate rewards for virtue you will receive in person, and remote rewards will devolve on your posterity [Extracted, see p 22).


Tales and Teachings

- as found in the Chinese Commentator's Notes.

A Sympathetic Heart

To buy up captive animals for the sake of setting them free is nothing but [a deed] of a sympathetic heart. Thoughtless people make light of puny creatures such as ants, spiders, etc., and wantonly kill them, having no thought of pity or remorse; but pious hearts refrain from such cruelty. (p 35)

A Good Judge

Yü King of the Han dynasty (206 BCE to 23 CE) was judge of a criminal court on the eastern shore of China. In his district there was a young widow who, on account of her parental devotion, showed no disposition to marry again, lest her mother-in-law be left without support. The aged woman, however, was so much distressed over her helplessness that finally she hanged herself to release her daughter-in-law from the duty of self-sacrifice. Her own daughter hearing of the incident went to court and charged her sister-in-law with murder, and the latter, unable to vindicate herself, was condemned to death in spite of Yü King's protest.

After this tragedy, Heaven failed to give rain all along the eastern coast for a period of three years. When a new governor was installed, Yü King explained to him the cause of the long drought. Thereupon the grave of the dutiful daughter-in-law was officially decorated, and then at last it started to rain.

Yü King's son became prime minister and was created a noble, and his grandson, too, was promoted to a responsible position in the government. (p 26-27)

Two Brothers

He who took pity on ants attained the highest literary honour.

Sung Chiao and Sung Ch'i (1000s CE) were brothers. When they were both at college, a strange Buddhist monk examined their physiognomy and prophesied: "The younger Sung will be the first on the list of literary graduates, and the elder, too, will unfailingly pass."

Ten years later, the elder Sung again happened to meet the monk on the road. The monk showed great astonishment, exclaiming: "Your fortunes have suddenly changed. You look as if you had saved millions of lives."

Sung said, laughing: "How could I achieve such a feat as that?"

The monk answered, "Even the meanest creatures are enjoying their lives, you know."

Reflecting a little while, Sung said: "I remember that about ten days ago I found an ants' nest under my porch in danger of being flooded. I took a few bamboo sticks and made a bridge over the water to let the poor ants cross over it. May this be it?"

"Exactly," answered the monk, "the younger Sung is now leading the list but you will not be second to him."

When the order of literary graduates was declared, the younger Sung was found to be the first and the elder Sung the second. But the Empress Chang Hsien decreed that the younger brother should not precede the elder, and Sung Chiao was put at the head of the list. (p 29-30)

The Foundation of Bliss

All deeds originate in the heart.

All the good acts that are enumerated below begin in the heart and are completed, too, in the heart. The heart's inmost recess is the very spot where there is Heaven and where there is Hell.

The difference between sages such as Yao and Shun and wretches such as Chieh or Chou, simply pivots around this "little thing" [the heart). Unexpected blessings grow, as it were, in a very actual field, which can be ploughed and harvested. The heart, though spiritual and mysterious, yet possesses a solid, tangible soil, which can be watered and tilled [emphasis added).

The soul of a true, earnest gentleman* has its root in this obscure recess, which he examines and purifies in solemn silence and privacy . . .

[Don't have] a heart for making light of the world.

[Keep on] earnestly to promote [your] conversion; not . . . [indulging in] self-delusion. This is [part of] the way of self-purification and . . . bliss. (p 31)

*Person of merit, a truly respectable man. He can also be a scholar.

The Snake with Two Heads

He who buried out of sight the snake of bad omens, was deemed worthy of the honour of premiership.

Shun Shu-ao of the Chu state, when a boy, used to go out very often. One day he saw a snake with two heads. At once he killed it and to put it out of sight, buried it in the ground. He came home in gloom and showed no appetite at the table. An anxious inquiry of his mother brought him to tears, and he said mournfully: "People say that those who have seen a snake with two heads are doomed to die soon. I saw one today and fear that before long I shall die, mother, and will have to leave you alone."

The mother then asked him, "Where is the snake now?"

" I killed and buried it, fearing that others might see it too."

"Never mind, then," said the mother, "you won't die. I understand that secret virtue (yin the) brings rewards that are open. Where there is virtue, a thousand blessings will be gathered there. Where there is benevolence, a hundred evils are distanced. Heaven above attends to affairs below. You will become eminent in the state."

When Shun was a man, he was made a minister of state. (p 30)

Filial Piety

Yao-jao Hou says: "The four essential elements of filial piety are:

  • To be established in virtue;
  • To keep up the family;
  • To keep the body unimpaired;
  • To cultivate the character."
Pious children will not let their parents' hearts be grieved or embarrassed, feel ashamed or indignant. (see p 34)

Seek Truth for the Sake of Salvation

Those who are able to think of others are called superior men, and those who think of themselves are called small men. The difference is in one's own fundamental thought . . . Some incessantly accumulate evils, others good deeds.

Li Kwang-Yüen, an eminent seeker of truth, was once warned by a strange saintly personage: "I see you are seeking truth. But would you have it for your private self, saints and gods will have no regard for you." (p 32)

Heaven And Earth

Chou-tze says: "It is not enough for an officer of high position to refrain from coveting promotion and from seeking wealth. He should employ his benevolence so as to benefit his fellow men; otherwise the purpose for which Heaven has created us will be altogether lost." (p 26)


Mother Cheng used to instruct her children to this effect: "Treat others' property as if it were your own, thus you will be thoughtful in using it."

Hsieh Wen-Ching says: "Only be cured of the disease of selfishness, and your heart will be broadened even to the vastness of infinite space.

Happiness, health, and longevity could all be enjoyed with others. [Extracts, see p- 32-33)

Humaneness Rewarded

Tou Yü-Chün was not yet favoured with a son when he was thirty years old. One night his grandfather appeared to him in a dream and said: "You may not have any issue at all, nor may you live long, unless you are diligent in performing benevolent deeds." (p 27)

Yü-Chün was well-to-do and could afford to do many benevolent things. One of his servants stole a considerable sum of money from his chest. When the fact was exposed, the guilty one fled leaving his daughter thirteen years old, to whom a note was attached which read: "Offer this girl and my house for sale. With the money thus realized I wish to pay my debt."

Yü-Chün burned the note, took the girl to his own house, and had her reared by his wife. When she reached maturity he gave her a large dowry and chose for her a good husband. When her father heard of it he was greatly affected and returned home full of repentance. His old master forgave him and did not say anything about his former crime.

Yü-Chün did many other good things . . . Poor children were educated and the helpless taken care of, while he himself lived most frugally. He also built a large library and gave employment to many learned men.

In the meantime, in a dream he saw again his grandfather, who said: "You were originally destined not to have any offspring and to live only a few more years. But on account of your humane deeds, the Heavenly Lord has recorded your merits. Your life will be prolonged and you will have five children who will be very prosperous."

"The way of Yin and Yang," the spirit added, "is like the law of Karma . . . You must cherish no doubt about this."

Yü-Chün's five sons successfully passed the literary examinations and were promoted to high official positions. (p 28-29)

Buddhism and Confucianism

Stupid and not endearing frivolity is to be avoided. Unwise frivolity may render you unreliable (cf. p 34-35).

A reverential heart is most excellent, and a sincere heart is best. (see p 34) Sincerity and reverence make us companions of heaven and earth.

A vigilant guard over the heart in turn fosters readiness to do good. This enlightenment is called a most happy land.*

* The Western Paradise (sukhâvati) is interpreted as a state of mind here.

Tract of the Quiet Way, Yin Chih Wen, Literature  

Chung, Brian, tr. Lord Superior Wen Chang's Tract on the First Step Towards Non-Abidance: A Modern Translation With Commentary. Translation and Commentary by Brian Chung. Np, 2014. Online ⍽▢⍽ With different key interpretations than those of Suzuki and Carus. For example: "The term "Quiet Way" was coined by earlier translators . . . / However, . . . I believe that the deep meaning of . . . Yin Chih . . . can be translated into "First Step Towards Non-Abidance". (p 2)

Suzuki, Teitaro, and Paul Carus, trs. The Quiet Way, Yin Chih Wen. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1906. ⍽▢⍽ Their translation leaves ample room for other text interpretations: "We are fully conscious of the shortcomings of our rendering, but our readers will bear in mind the original sense and become accustomed to our translation by associating it with its right interpretation." (p 7)

Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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