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Superior Virtue, Inferior Virtue: A Doctrinal Theme in the Works of the Daoist Master Liu Yiming (1734–1821)

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The Daoist master Liu Yiming (1734–1821) frequently mentions “superior virtue” and “inferior virtue” (shangde and xiade) in his works. In his view, these terms define two aspects, or degrees, of Neidan (Internal Alchemy), respectively focused on “non-doing” (wuwei) and “doing” (youwei), and concerned with the cultivation of Nature (xing) and Existence (ming). This article presents Liu Yiming’s main writings on this subject and their background. Originally formulated in the Daode jing and first applied to alchemy in the Cantong qi, the distinction between the two types of “virtue” also reflects the history of the Neidan tradition and in particular the development of practices of self-cultivation that emphasize the “conjoined cultivation of Nature and Existence” (xingming shuangxiu).
Le maître taoïste Liu Yiming (1734–1821) mentionne fréquemment la “vertu supérieure” et la “vertu inférieure” (shangde et xiade) dans ses œuvres. Pour lui, ces termes définissent deux aspects, ou degrés, du Neidan (alchimie interne), centrés respectivement sur le “non-faire” et le “faire” et s’attachant à cultiver la nature (xing) et l’existence (ming). Cet article présente les principaux écrits de Liu Yiming sur le sujet ainsi que leur arrière-plan. Formulée à l’origine dans le Daode jing et appliquée pour la première fois à l’alchimie dans le Cantong qi, la distinction entre ces deux types de “vertu” reflètent également l’histoire de la tradition Neidan et plus particulièrement le développement de pratiques de culture du soi mettant l’accent sur la “culture conjointe de la nature et de l’existence” (xingming shuangxiu).

Affiliations: 1: (Friedrich-Alexander-Universität, Erlangen–Nürnberg)


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