Seven Steps to the Tao

Sima Chengzhen's "Zuowanglun"

The Zuowanglun, "Treatise on Sitting in Oblivion," by the Taoist patriarch Sima Chengzhen of the 8th century, is an excellent example for the mysticism aspired to and practiced in medieval China. The text itself outlines the development of the human mind and body toward complete oneness with the Tao in seven steps or stages. Its appendix, found independently also under the title Dingguan jing, "Canon on Concentration and Observation," provides practical meditation instructions.

Livia Köhn’s book offers complete and thoroughly annotated translations of these most revealing documents on medieval Chinese mysticism. More than that, it places the materials in a historical context and discusses underlying religious and psychological concepts within the framework of traditional Chinese thought. It provides, moreover, an understanding of Taoist spiritual realization in terms of 20th-century psychology. As alien as the ancient tradition of Taoism may ever remain to our experience, in this book we can yet appreciate its understanding of human salvation.


"Drawing from the most recent scholarship from China, Japan, and Europe, this slim volume makes important contributions to the history of Chinese religions, T’ang studies, and our understanding of meditation. ... This reader found Seven Steps to the Tao an enormously valuable study, full of fresh insights on the great classical traditions."

Suzanne Cahil in Philosophy East and West


"Taoism remains the world religious tradition least accessible to the Western reader. Livia Köhn's translation of four major works represents a significant first step toward remedying this unfortunate state of affairs. The editors deserve a special word of thanks for including the original text of all the material translated."

Terry F. Kleeman in Asian Folklore Studies


From the contents

Part One: Systematic Discussion

1. Dating and Lineage of the Text

2. The Seven Steps of Sitting in Oblivion

3. Concepts Underlying the Seven Steps

4. Steps and Stages in the Mystical System


Part Two: Translations

1. Discourse on Sitting in Oblivion (DZ 1036)

2. Inscription on Sitting in Oblivion

3. Visualization of Spirit and Refinement of Breath (DZ 834)

4. Canon on Concentration and Observation (DZ 400)

5. Tianyinzi (DZ 1026)

Appendices: Chinese Texts - Bibliography - Index



Monumenta Serica
Monograph Series XX

ISBN 3-8050-0195-9
ISSN 0179-261X