Sima Chengzheng
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Sima Chengzheng
- Qin Shi #116
司馬承正 1
琴史 #116 2
Sima Chengzheng at ease 3   
Sima Chengzheng (647 - 735) was "one of the most eminent religious figures of the Tang dynasty and an important member of the literary world during the
Xuanzong Emperor's reign (712 - 756)."4 Originally from what is today Henan province, he left a career in government to study at Songshan with Pan Shizheng,5 eventually succeeding him. He then traveled extensively until settling at a religious center in the Tiantai Mountains. He also serving as patriarch at Maoshan, but rarely lived there, ending his days at Mount Wangwu,6 again in Henan. He was a prolific writer and skilled painter and calligrapher, but "as important as the texts written by him are the lives he touched and impressed with his piety" (op.cit). He was often summoned to the court, had very close relations with Xuanzong, and was one of the Transcendent Group of Ten Friends.

Qinshu Daquan references say Sima Chengzhen wrote about the qin, was once rewarded with a "precious qin", and created qin melodies. The references include:

Folio 12, #47 (the melody Zuo Wang;7 combined there with #48 but separated here because it is also a melody title)
Folio 12, #48 (the melody Baiyun Yin;8 introduces this together with Zuo Wang)
Folio 17, #41 (Account of Mr. Zhengyi;9 elaborates on some of the other information here)

The Qin Shi entry is quite long, as it contains a version of the complete text of Sima Chengzheng's essay Su Qin Zhuan (Record of an Unadorned Qin10). Near the beginning of the entry Zhu Changwen writes that he has seen this essay, but he fears there may be errors in it. Nevertheless, he goes ahead and includes the version he has of the entire text, then closes the entry with a few further comments.

The original Qin Shi essay begins as follows:11

Sima Chengzheng, style name Ziwei, as a youth served Pan Shizheng, who transmitted 辟穀法 pigu fa (a method of attaining immortality by abstaining from cereals) and 導引術 daoyinshu (an art comprised of Daoist breathing exercises). There was nothing (Sima Chengzhen) could not accomplish, and Shizheng considered him quite extraordinary, saying, "I attained the Completely Orthodox Method of Tao Yinju...." (there seems here to be a reference to Tao Hongjing12)....and so transmitted it. (Sima Chengzheng) resigned and traveled all over to famous mountains: Lushan (in Jiangxi), (Fushan, in Hubei?), Tiantaishan. He did not come out from there. Once I attained a copy of A Record of an Unadorned Qin, said to have been written by (Sima) Ziwei. But the text perhaps had been printed with too many errors. What it transmitted said,

(There follows a version of the text of Record of an Unadorned Qin. It mentions such qin melody titles as You Lan, Bai Xue, Penglai Cao (compare You Penglai) and Baiyun Yin; he seems to say he wrote the later two.)

Ziwei enjoyed living in reclusion and cultivating himself. The Ruizong Emperor (see under Zuo Wang) ordered his brother Chengyi to get him. When (Chengzheng) came to the central side apartments, (the emperor) asked him about his arts....

Translation incomplete.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Sima Chengzheng 司馬承正 or Sima Chengzhen 司馬承禎
The title of this entry is actually 司馬子微 Sima Ziwei, using the style name. 3306.191 has 司馬承禎 Sima Chengzhen, adding that he was 唐溫人字子微,號白雲 from Wen (in Henan), style name Ziwei, nickname Baiyun (White Cloud), adding that his posthumous title was 貞一 Zhenyi. I don't know why there are the different versions of his given name - I have also seen 司馬承貞, also pronounced Sima Chengzhen. His nickname is also sometimes given as 正一先生 Zhengyi Xiansheng (Mr. Zhengyi; see below).

Giles says Empress Wu (Wu Zetian) summoned him to court but he refused. Emperor Ruizhong succeeding in bringing him there, and they held long conferences in which Sima Chengzheng said one should rule a country as one rules one's own body -- keeping dispassionate and being in harmony with nature. Emperor Minghuang (Xuanzong) also summoned him and benefitted from Chengzheng's calligraphy skills. He died age 89. Giles has 承貞 and 貞一.

In addition to his Essay on an Unadorned Qin Sima Chengzheng wrote an essay called 坐忘論 Zuowang Lun (see below).

2. 73 lines: mostly a quote from Record of an Unadorned Qin.

3. Sima Chengzheng at ease
This image is from an illustrated Ming dynasty Liexian Quanzhuan, which developed out of the Han dynasty Liexian Zhuan.

4. ICTCL, pp. 719 - 720. This entry, by Douglas Nielson, discusses Sima Chengzhen's life as well as writings, and it is the source of most of the information in this paragraph.

5. 潘師正 Pan Shizheng (585-682)
Pan, "the eleventh Mao-shan Grand Master (zongshi), was the spiritual heir of *王遠知 Wang Yuanzhi, and the transmitter of Wang's authority to *Sima Chengzhen, the greatest of all Tang Taoists." (Formerly on a web page of Russell Kirkland, 1998; try his new site).

6. Mount Wangwu (Wangwu Shan or Wangwushan 王屋山)
The Daoist center there is north of Luoyang. Websites such as and mention Sima Chengzheng's connection here.

7. Zuo Wang (坐忘引 Zuo Wang Yin and 坐忘論 Zuo Wang Lun)
Sima Chengzheng's Zuowang Lun (Essay on Sitting and Forgetting) has the subtitle "Seven Steps to the Dao". It has been translated and analyzed by Livia Kohn: see her online book Sitting in Oblivion, The Heart of Daoist Meditation (Three Pines Press) as well as her Seven Steps to the Tao: Sima Chengzhen's "Zuowang Lun". The Zuowang Lun text is available online (e.g., here), and the seven steps are (translation from Kohn):

  1. 敬信 Respect and Faith
  2. 斷緣 Interception of Karma
  3. 收心 Taming the Mind
  4. 簡事 Detachment from affairs
  5. 真觀 True Observation
  6. 泰定 Intense Concentration
  7. 得道 Realizing the Dao

According to the comment quoted in Qinshu Daquan (next footnote), writing this essay led to Sima Chengzhen also writing a melody called Zuo Wang Yin. The melody Xuan Mei, also known as Zuo Wang, in its earliest surviving form was not divided into sections. It was later divided into five and eight, but based on the actual melody could as well be divided into seven.

8. White Cloud Prelude (白雲引 Bai Yun Yin)
Baiyun was a nickname of Sima Chengzheng. No tablature survives, but the title can be found on some old melody lists. In Qinshu Daquan Folio 12 it is paired with Zuo Wang (i.e., Zuo Wang Yin; compare under Xuan Mei), with both melodies credited to Sima Chengzheng. The text there is as follows:


The text mentions the melody Zuowang Yin in connection with Sima Chengzhen's essay Zuowang Lun (see previous footnote).

9. Account of Mr. Zhengyi (with Gift of a Valuable Qin with Mist Crackle [see duanwen])
正一先生傳 Zhengyi Xiansheng Zhuan (with 賜寶琴霞帔 Ti Bao Qin Xiapei)
The text in Qinshu Daquan Folio 17, #41 (.pdf) has a few characters different from versions found on the internet, such as the following:



The essay apparently continues with comment on Baiyun Ji; see, e.g., The text there begins 後周瑯琊公司馬裔玄孫,名承禎,字子微,洛州溫人也。事潘師正.... continuing as here. After that it continues:


(Not yet translated.)

10. 素琴傳 Su Qin Zhuan (Record of an Unadorned Qin)
This essay (27924.231xxx; the title can also be translated Record of an Unadorned Qin) is listed in Qinshu Cunmu, Folio II, #10, but the text only copies what is in Qin Shi, in particular the part that says Zhu Changwen saw the essay but thinks the version had a number of errors (the original Qinshu Cunmu text is attached in .pdf form; the original Qin Shi text is below).

11. Original Qin Shi text of Sima Chengzheng entry:
Compare the opening of the following with the text in Qinshu Daquan, Folio 12, which says it comes from 赤城叢紀 Chicheng Congji (37843.167 is 赤城集 Chicheng Ji by 林表民 Lin Biaomin [Bio/1450], but that is about 100 years later). It also seems to draw on 唐書 Tang History (which has 逮四世矣 instead of 逮汝四世矣 here or 逮而四世矣 in Qinshu Daquan).


(There are some differences between the text here and online versions such as the one in Wikisource)


(The original Qin Shi text is included here in .pdf form: pp.1-4 / pp.4-7.)

12. "I attained the Completely Orthodox Method of Tao Yinju" (我得陶隱居正一法)
Note that 正一 Zhengyi ("completely orthodox"?), like 貞一 Zhenyi, was a nickname of Sima Chengzhen. 16611.1 says 道家有正一法,即道家修煉之法。唐潘師正得陶隱居正一法,授與司馬承禎。 In other words, it gives basically the same information as is here, though more specifically stating that Pan Shizheng passed it on to Sima Chengzhen. I am not sure how this relates to Zhengyi Daoism as discussed in Wikipedia.

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