The Damo Taixi Lun is a text ascribed to the Chan master Bodhidharma which introduces the practice of “embryonic breathing” (胎息). This text enjoyed great popularity beginning from the period of the Five Dynasties up until the Song dynasty. Previously, a number of scholar have taken an interest in this text, due to its great value for the study of the interaction between Buddhism and Daoism. Yet, all past research was conducted based on the two versions of the text found in the Daoist canon (道藏), the Yunji Qiqian (雲笈七籤) and the Daoshu (道樞). In this article, I will discuss the three variants found among the Dunhuang texts. These variants prove to be valuable new resources for the study of this text, presenting significant differences from the versions contained in the Daoist canon.
This article begins with a basic survey and analysis of the contents of the aforementioned Dunhuang versions. Subsequently, I will conduct a preliminary discussion of the dates of the Damo Taixi Lun, the context surrounding its emergence, and its relationship with the other variants of the text. I have determined that the text must have appeared no later than during the period of the Five Dynasties, and that the main source for its composition was the Daoist text called the Liuzhen Miaoyong Jue (內真妙用訣) which imparts a form of breathing technique based on the harmonizing of shen (神) and qi (氣). The Dunhuang versions follow the general outline of this text, and were probably early adaptations of the original, related to the Daoist fasting practice called pigu (辟穀). The Daoshu (道樞) variant on the other hand draws from the Daoist practice of internal alchemy, neidan (內丹), to create a new form of “embryonic breathing” practice. By analyzing its method of practice and looking at passages in the Diaoshenge (調神歌) which borrows from Zhang Boduan’s (張伯端) poetry, we can surmise that this text was composed in the middle of the Northern Song dynasty under the growing influence of the Southern school of Neidan practice.
Damo Taixi lun, Embryonic Breathing, Internal alchemy, Bodhidharma