Thomas Cleary

Petr Mares lengqie at GMX.NET
Thu Feb 25 01:42:59 UTC 1999

Below is the review of the Cleary's book you have mentioned by
Fabrizio Pregadio. I can't more agree with prof. Predagio about
Cleary's style. It may be usefull for the readers of the Avatamsaka
and parts of XuYuoJi commentary translated by Thomas Cleary to
see his method of translating commented by excelent Sinologue
from Italy.

Thomas Cleary, Vitality, Energy, Spirit: A Taoist Sourcebook
Boston and London: Shambala, 1991; xxvii, 280 pages, $ 19.00.
Fabrizio Pregadio
Adapted from a review published in Journal of Chinese Religions 21
(1993): 154-158.

Vitality, Energy, Spirit aims to provide a historical overview of
neidan literature, but also includes translations from related
sources. The book is arranged in a general introduction followed by
eight main sections. The materials translated extend from early
texts (Laozi, Zhuangzi, Huainan zi, Wenzi, and a collection of
stories mostly drawn from the Liezi) to short selections from
writings of modern and contemporary Taoists. The bulk of the
anthology is devoted to the Southern and Northern lineages of
Song and Yuan Taoism, to samples of Ming works attributed to the
semi-legendary Zhang Sanfeng, and to three commentaries written
on earlier texts by the Qing neidan master, Liu Yiming.
The translated sources mainly deal with the principles rather than
the practices of neidan, but Cleary provides at the same time much
-- actually too much -- background material. Inclusion of selections
from the Laozi and Zhuangzi is commendable, but the passages on
cosmogony in both texts, that are crucial to the neidan doctrines,
are omitted. Elsewhere, the passages selected from a text often
are not the best suited to represent them, or even to elucidate the
general theme of the anthology. For example, both the Yuqing jinsi
Qinghua biwen (Secret Text of Qinghua, from the Golden Box of
the Jade Purity) and Chen Zhixu's Jindan dayao (Great Essentials
of the Golden Elixir) include lucid sections on jing, qi, and shen
(the eponymous "vitality, energy and spirit"). Relevant sections in
the Jindan dayao, in particular, would have helped to explicate the
meaning of these concepts in neidan.
Cleary has made better choices with such texts as the Guizhong
zhinan (Compass for Peering into the Center) by the Yuan author
Chen Chongsu, and Liu Yiming's commentary to the Yinfu jing
(Book for Joining with Obscurity). Liu Yiming's commentaries to the
Baizi bei (Hundred-Character Tablet) and the  Xiyou ji (Journey to
the West) also are included. These three works add to Cleary's
previous translations of Liu Yiming's texts, and he deserves credit
for continuing to bring this great neidan master to the attention of
Western readers.
The translations are smooth and pleasant to read, but the price
paid for this accomplishment becomes apparent on comparing
them to the original texts. Examples taken from the chapter
devoted to the Guizhong zhinan (pp. 161-174) may suffice. The first
juan of this text describes the neidan practice, arranged into nine
steps or stages; the second juan is devoted to explanations of
three important concepts of neidan, those of "Mysterious Female,"
"Medicinal Substances," and "Fire Times." Cleary provides an
almost complete English version of the second juan.
In his translation, the list of synonyms for the term "Mysterious
Female" omits "Room of geng and xin" (gengjia shi) and "Door of
jia and yi" (jiayi hu). The passage that describes the location of this
central point of the inner body lacks the sentence "it is below qian,
above kun, west of zhen, and east of dui." A quotation from Cui
Xifan also is omitted. The sentence "Fire is fundamentally the
Southern direction, it is the trigram li, and is associated with the
Heart" is shortened to "Fire is symbolic of mind." These examples
are typical of Cleary's tendency to elide expressions, e.g. those
related to cosmology, that would require an explanation. Cleary
detests footnotes, even when they could help his readers to
understand what he translates.
In other cases, the translations blur the meaning of the text. The
sentence jing fei chang jing is rendered as "the vitality is not
ordinary vitality," which does not make clear that the second jing
refers to the material aspect (in human beings, sperm and
menstrual blood) of the first, that denotes the original prima
materia. The meaning of the sentence translated as "Rouse the
breeze to operate the fire" is altered by the suppression of the
reference to the trigrams sun and kun. Other translations are
simply odd or inaccurate. Thus fu ("prefecture") is translated once
as "capital" and once as "place," heixi ("black tin") is "black lead,"
and a xianren ("immortal" or "transcendent") becomes a "wizard."
The sentence yiwei shui zhong jin ("the one ingredient, metal within
water") is rendered as "the uniformly flavored metal within water".
Cleary obviously is a gifted translator, but the quality of his works
could be enhanced if more care were taken. Instead, readers of the
Sourcebook are left with mere translations arduous to understand.

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list