Restoring the Xuanpin Motif
Vol 4., No. 2, May 2019

Restoring the Xuanpin Motif

Harrison John Adams

Tapestry Institute Occasional Papers, Volume 4, Number 2.

May 7, 2019

To cite this article: Adams, Harrison John. 2019. Restoring the Xuanpin Motif. Tapestry Institute Occasional Papers, 4(2). *

English Summary:

An ancient Daoist book called Liezi quotes what we generally know as Passage 6 of the Daodejing, but instead of attributing it to the Daodejing attributes it to the Book[s] of the Yellow Emperor, a text which may no longer be extant. Because of this, many people have suspected that passage 6 of the Daodejing is actually a quotation from this much older text. There are other ancient texts that also seem to reflect the fact that passage 6 of the Daodejing is actually part of a much older text; people in ancient times viewed this short passage as being heavy with sacred meaning, but different people had different interpretations of what it meant.

This reconstruction of the Daodejing points to a recurring motif that was originally threaded throughout multiple passages. Over time, as different parts of the Daodejing diverged because of textual errors, this motif was lost and forgotten, and the remaining bits of it left in the modern version of the text have been misinterpreted for roughly 2000 years.

This recurring motif appears to have been, in its original form, a kind of exegesis of passage 6 that specifically interprets that ancient passage in terms of highly advanced, probably esoteric meditation practices. This type of meditation practice is of the type that modern Daoism would call xingming shuangxiu 性命雙修, which means that it involves both mental/spiritual and physiological aspects. The former leads to mental clarity and insight, and presumably spiritual realization; the later leads to health and longevity.

The Chinese language version is downloadable as a PDF, here. (Note: This PDF file was updated October 2021.) The companion article Zailun Gushen Wenduan 再论谷神文段 , which elaborates further on ideas presented in Recovering the Xuan Pin Motif, can be found in Volume 17 of the Academic Journal of Laozi (Laozi Xuekan 老子学刊).

All copyrightable text is © 2019 Harrison John Adams and Tapestry Institute. All rights reserved.

* Original url for this paper was That link now redirects to this page.