Sunday, April 6, 2014

A Translation of the Longmen "Lineage Poem"

Many Taoist lineages bestow "ordination names" or "lineage names" using the characters found in a specially-written poem. Each generation of disciples receives their names using in sequence one character of the poem. Thus the name of a first-generation master includes the first character; the name of a second-generation master includes the second character; and so forth. These poems are known in general as "lineage poems" (paishi).

The most famous "lineage poem" in Taoism is the one of the Longmen (Dragon Gate) lineage. Known as the "Longmen Lineage Poem" (Longmen paishi), the "Hundred-Character Lineage of Ancestor Qiu" (Qiuzu baizi pai), or in other similar ways, it is made of 20 verses of 5 characters. The 100 different characters of the poem should suffice to assign lineage names for about two and a half millennia, and perhaps even longer.

Below is a translation of the poem. Each word is translated with a different English word, and the translation retains the sequence of the words in each verse. While this results in a definitely not elegant (and possibily ungrammatical) translation, it gives a better idea of the nature and purpose of the poem.


The Dao and its Virtue pervade the mysterious quiescence,
true constancy guards the grand clarity.
The One Yang comes and returns to the root:
the united teaching is unendingly whole and bright.

The perfect principle is at the origins of sincerity and truthfulness:
venerable and lofty, it transmits the doctrine’s prosperity.
The world’s appearance is flourishing and thoroughly luxuriant,
the inaudible and imperceptible spreads and of-its-own is peaceful.

Dwell in cultivating the correct humanity and righteousness:
transcending and rising to the clouds, you will be able to ascend.
In the great subtlety the central yellow is honored:
the saintly body entirely performs its function.

In emptiness and vacuity, Qian and Kun are splendid:
Metal and Wood in their natures reciprocally meet.
In mountains and seas, Dragon and Tiger conjoin:
the lotus opens and manifests the treasure anew.

When the practice is complete, the red writ is proclaimed,
from the moon’s fullness an auspicious radiance is born.
For ten-thousand ages shall continue the immortals’ names,
and the three realms will all be akin.

Chinese Text


Related Materials

For a version containing a longer introduction and short notes to the poem, please download this PDF from the Golden Elixir website:

• The Longmen "Lineage Poem": A Translation (PDF, 4 pages)

See also the free PDF: "The Longmen Lineage: Historical Notes" (Golden Elixir Press, Occasional Papers no. 4, free download)

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