Xuan Mo
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08: Profoundly Serene
- (Gong mode,2 standard tuning: 5 6 1 2 3 5 6);
  Also called Zuo Wang (Sitting and Forgetting; Seated Meditation) 3
玄默 1
Xuan Mei
In a thatch hut sitting and forgetting 4      

This introduction also concerns a related melody called Lofty Tranquillity (Qingxu Yin5). Expressions such as Profoundly Serene, Seated Meditation, and Lofty Tranquillity are all ancient expressions conveying a range of mental states from emptying the mind to detaching oneself from worldly activities. Thus the Han History has, "Laozi was profoundly serene" and Huainanzi has, "The way of heaven is profoundly serene, without fixed form or pattern"; Zhuangzi relates Yan Hui telling Confucius he feels better because he can just "sit in abstraction" (meditate?).6 Literati artists continued to call on such expressions to describe the attitude they should have when creating works of art.7

Versions of this melody survive in nine handbooks from 1425 to 1670 (see chart).8 The four called Xuan Mei (also pronounced Xuan Mo) or Zuo Wang are most closely related to the melody in Shen Qi Mi Pu. Those in the handbooks dated 1425, 1539 and 1670 are, as usual, almost identical. Also, as usual, the version in Chongxiu Zhenchuan Qinpu (1585) has a quite different but clearly related melody with lyrics added.9

The other five handbooks, dated 1552, 1557, 1561, 1647 and 1692, have the melody called Qingxu Yin (Lofty Tranquillity Chant). Although listed separately, it is in fact a somewhat shorter version of the Xuan Mei melody. Qingxu Yin is always placed just before the longer melody Guanghan You.

The attributions suggested here, to the 6th c. BCE qin master Shi Kuang,10 as well as to the 3rd c. CE poet Xi Kang,11 are not found in the normal early qin sources, such as Qin History.

Elsewhere the title Zuo Wang is also connected to the 7/8th c. CE Daoist adept Sima Chengzheng, who lived in the Tiantai Mountains.12 Thus Folio 12 of Qinshu Daquan (1590) has an introduction to Zuo Wang (further details; no tablature) that says Zuo Wang and a melody called Baiyun Yin (White Cloud Prelude) were written by Sima Chengzheng. In the Account of Mr. Zhengyi Sima Chengzheng is said to have told the Tang Ruizong emperor13 that a state "was governed precisely in the same way as one's own body is governed, viz, by keeping absolutely and dispassionately negative, and by falling into a natural harmony with one's environment."14

In spite of these ancient attributions, neither Xuan Mo nor Zuo Wang seems to occur in early lists of qin melodies. It does, however, have some archaic fingering techniques to support its placement in Folio I of Shen Qi Mi Pu, the section said to contain the earliest melodies.15

In addition to my own there is a recording of Xuan Mei by Li Fengyun (with xiao) on her silk string CD Mei Shao Yue.16

Original preface:17

The Emaciated Immortal says,

some people claim Shi Kuang wrote this piece; others say Xi Kang wrote it. It is not known who is correct, only that it is very old: it has existed since the Spring and Autumn period (6th - 3rd c.) of the Zhou dynasty. The interest of this piece is in shrinking heaven and earth and narrowing the six directions (down to manageable size), in advance18 of creation. Its spirit wanders outside the Universe19 and causes one to forget whether one is separate from objects around him; this is in accord with the Dao. It has an indescribable interest, (but) the Superior Man can attain it.

Music (Timings follow the recording from my CD; listen with transcription)
Originally undivided; here arranged into five sections according to 1585 (compare elsewhere), 20 which adds lyrics 21

(00.00) 1. Shrinking the universe
(01.10) 2. Narrowing the directions
(01.58) 3. Becoming one with creation
(02.30) 4. Forgetting the difference between things and oneself
(04.07) 5. Changing along with the Dao
(05.32) -- End

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Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. References for "Profoundly Serene" (玄默 Xuan Mei) (might also be pronounced Xuan Mo)
For Xuan Mei 21288.327 玄默 has "沈靜寡言 very basic/essential few words"; nothing musical. It gives references to:

  1. 淮南子,主術訓 Huainanzi, Zhushu Xun (Sanmin Shuju edition pp.381/400); and
  2. 左思,魏都賦 Zuo Si, Rhapsody on the Wei Capitol (文選 Wen Xuan, p.243; translated in Knechtges, Vol. One, p.463, "darkly silent").

2/323 gives a few more references, and also see Zuo Wang below. Another literal translation for Xuan Mei might be "Profound Silence", while a translation that takes into account Zuo Wang could be "Silent Meditation".

2. Gong mode 宮調
For more on gong mode see Shenpin Gong Yi. For more general comments see Modality in Early Ming Qin Tablature.

3. Sitting and Forgetting (坐忘 Zuo Wang)
Zuo Wang, literally "sitting forgetting", might also be described as "sit in forgetfulness", "sit in abstraction" and so forth, but perhaps the most evocative translation would be "Seated Meditation" in the sense of just emptying the mind. It is easy to think of the qin as an instrument of meditation, but there are as many ways of understanding the word "meditate" as there are Chinese words used to say it: 沉思 shen si, 冥想 ming xiang, 靜心 jing xin and so forth. Is it Daoist meditation, Buddhist meditation, or a uniquely qin meditation? Can one evoke the Zhuangzi Butterfly Dream to say the aim is not to know whether I am playing the qin or whether the qin is playing me. What within the music itself would make it more or less "meditative" than other quiet music?

As for 5067.31 坐忘 (zuo wang), it has nothing on music; it mainly quotes 莊子,太宗師 Zhuangzi, Taizong Shi (James Ware, Zhuangzi, Chapter 6, Let God be Teacher: Yan Hui explains to Confucius what he means by "sitting and forgetting".) Zuo Wang is a term apparantly also used in religious Daoism. See the story above about Sima Chengzheng. A chapter in Thomas Cleary, Taoist Meditation, is "Treatise on Sitting Forgetting", described as "A Tang Dynasty text that sets meditation practice in terms familiar to Confucians and Buddhists." It is also a term used to describe the attitude an artist should have when being creative.

Another related expression could be 端坐 duan zuo. In Gu Guan Yu Shen it seems to mean "sit straight" or "sit properly". However, it can also mean "sit quietly" or "sit in stillness", as in this poem by 郗曇 Chi Tan:

溫風起東谷   Warm winds rise from the eastern valley,
和氣振柔條   The mild air shakes the tender branches.
端坐興遠想   Sitting in stillness, stirred to remote thoughts,
薄言遊近郊   Which swiftly roam theacross the city's outsikirts.

Translation from Swartz, pp .295-6.

4. Illustration: 茅亭坐忘 Maoting Zuo Wang, by 婁辛壺 Lou Xinhu (1943)
Lou Xinhu (1880-1950)was from Zhejiang. The inscription on his painting has a 7x4 poem, with the first phrase saying, "In a thatch hut all day I sit and forget opportunities." Note the small figure sitting in the thatch hut.

The whole poem is as follows:

茅亭長日坐忘機,     In a thatch hut all day I sit and forget opportunities,
靜聽流泉心事違。     Peacefully listening to the flowing spring my worries are lost.
山外夕陽歸鳥盡,     Beyond the mountains and stars the birds have all returned,
滿懷詩思入雲飛。     I am imbued with poetic thoughts of flying into the clouds.

The image was downloaded from a Korean website, but it could also be found on a Chinese auction site.

5. 清虛吟 Qingxu Yin
Qingxu Yin 18003.xxx; 18003.487 清虛 Qingxu: "清高淡泊也 lofty ideals without effort"; references include Huainanzi, same section as Xuan Mei (淮南子, 道應訓). See also Bo Juyi (白居易,睡起晏坐詩) .

This title survives first from Taiyin Buyi or Qinpu Zhengchuan (listed here as 1552 and 1661 respectively but their actual compilation dates are unclear). Zha Fuxi's Guide 18/176/-- lists it as a separate melody but it is clearly related to Xuan Mei: see appendix below. The only preface to Qingxu Yin (it is the same in both 1552 and 1557; see QQJC, III/326 and IV/49-50) connects the melody to the story of emperor Tang Ming Huang and Yang Guifei:

"Old Man Xingzhuang says, according to oral tradition, (Tang emperor) Minghuang once traveled up to the moon. Later people, impressed by this story, wrote Qingxu Yin and Guanghan You as a romance (chuanqi: also refers to short stories from the Tang and Ming dynasty as well as a form of opera during the Ming).

It is possible that here "chuanqi" simply means a marvelous story but, although my dictionaries do not give Guanghan You as the name of a chuanqi drama, the story is often told in drama. There are more details with the comments on the qin melody Guanghan You as well as on its prelude in the 1525 version, Da Guan Yin.

6. See footnote above for citation.

7. Citations needed.

8. Tracing Xuan Mei
The appendix below is based mainly on Zha Fuxi's Guide 3/29/34 and 18/176/-- (Qingxu Yin). Only 1425 and 1585 have prefaces, and these are identical. The version in Chongxiu Zhenchuan Qinpu has lyrics and is somewhat different; the ones in Fengxuan Xuanpin and Qinyuan Xinchuan Quanbian (called Zuo Wang) are almost identical to 1425. Fengxuan Xuanpin and Qinyuan Xinchuan Quanbian both often copy SQMP pieces. Most of the melodies called Qingxu Yin seem to be shortened versions of Xuan Mei.

9. This 1585 version also divides the melody into five sections; these titles have been applied to the music here.. Its lyrics concern...

These lyrics can be made to fit the SQMP fingering following the common method of one character for each right hand stroke and certain left hand plucks. Most of the melodies in Zheyin Shizi Qinpu (<1491) are identical to those in SQMP, but with lyrics added; however, the surviving Zheyin is incomplete. The fact that the 1585 lyrics can fit the SQMP melody suggests that Xuan Mei might have been included in a complete version of Zheyin.

10. Shi Kuang 師曠 9129.198; See 琴史 Qin Shi #31.

11. Xi Kang 嵇康 ; see Qin Shi #84.

12. Sima Chengzheng
The Qin Shi biography of 司馬承正字子微號白雲 Sima Chengzheng quotes extensively from 素琴傳 Su Qin Zhuan, a qin book attributed to him (Wang Mengshu's Wusilan Zhifa Shi, p.21 #9, seems to indicate it is quoting his 琴賦 Qin Fu). It does not mention Zuo Wang, but it does mention Baiyun Yin and also the melody You Lan.

13. Tang Ruizong emperor 唐睿宗 (lived 662–716; Wikipedia)
Mostly ruled as puppet of Empress Wu (Wu Zetian).

14. Melodies connected to Sima Chengzheng
This story concerning Sima Chengzheng is in Qinshu Daquan Folio 12, #47 (1590; QQJC, V.270), which says it is quoting 赤城叢紀 Chicheng Congji; it also discusses melodies called 白雲引 Baiyun Yin (White Cloud Prelude) and 坐忘引 Zuowang Yin. (Sitting and Forgetting Prelude).

15. Archaic clusters
See Xuan Mei in my SQMP transcriptions.

16. Xuan Mei in Li Fengyun, Mei Shao Yue
This silk string CD has two melodies from Shen Qi Mi Pu (the other is Tian Feng Huan Pei) and one (the title track) from Xilutang Qintong. Her Mei Shao Yue is generally faster than mine; the other two have note values often quite similar to my own. The xiao accompaniment with Xuan Mei at times adds very interesting counterpoint.

17. Preface
Original not yet online.

18. 26418.14 兢奔 jingben "爭先奔走也 struggle to be first hastening".

19. "Great Void"

20. Music
The original 1585 section titles are:

  1. (Xiao tian di [小天地]) ;
  2. (Ai liu he [隘六合]);
  3. (Ju zao hua [俱造化]);
  4. (Wang wu wo [忘物我]);
  5. (Tong zao hua [同造化]).

Compare 8 sections of 1670 as well as the Seven Steps in Sima Chengzhen's Zuowang Yin.

21. Lyrics not yet translated.

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Appendix: Chart Tracing Xuan Mei and Qingxu Yin
Based mainly on Zha Fuxi's Guide 3/29/34 and 18/176/-- (comment)

    (year; QQJC Vol/page)
Further information
(QQJC = 琴曲集成 Qinqu Jicheng; QF = 琴府 Qin Fu)
  1.  神奇秘譜
      (1425; I/125)
Xuan Mei; not divided into sections; no phrasing indicated; "一名坐忘 also called Zuo Wang"
Has repeated passages (「兩」至「忘」」 and 「古」至「音」; compare 1670) 
   .  浙音釋字琴譜
      (<1491; I/--)
Not in this edition, but lyrics of 1585 fit 1425, so perhaps it was originally included
  2. 風宣玄品
      (1539; II/94)
Xuan Mei; same as 1425 but adds phrasing
  3. 太音傳習
      (1552-61; IV/49)
清虛吟 Qingxu Yin; 3; "廣寒遊以傳之"; has commentary
opening is different, but then it seems like a shortened version of 1425 Xuan Mei
  4. 太音補遺
      (1557; III/326)
Qingxu Yin; 3; like 1552;
precedes Guanghan You, sharing same commentary
  5. 琴譜正傳
      (1561; II/492)
Qingxu Yin; 3; precedes Guanghan You
similar to 1552 (not in 1547)
  6. 重修真傳琴譜
      (1585; IV/350)
Xuan Mei; 5, titled; lyrics; somewhat different from 1425 and 1552
  7. 徽言秘旨
      (1647; X/56)
Qingxu Yin; 3; like 1552;
no commentary
  8. 徽言秘旨訂
      (1692; X/--)
identical to 1647? missing?
  9. 琴苑新傳全編
      (1670; XI/483)
Zuo Wang; 8 sections; still no phrasing but writes out repeats; otherwise almost the same as 1425
"by Shi Kuang, an old melody"

Return to top, to the Shen Qi Mi Pu ToC or to the Guqin ToC.