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The Chinese Character: Xian

The Chinese Character Xian: Unoccupied Leisure

Xian (闲) (Chinese): Being unoccupied; idleness and leisure; a state of mind or consciousness that is unattached.

The character, word and concept of xian permeates ancient Chinese poetry, as well as the arts of Western civilization. It seems to me to be a precondition and complement of yijing discussed on this website in an earlier post. The ancient Chinese poets used this term to tell their readers that they have pulled off the fast lane of work and responsibilities to society and country, and will now proceed down the pathway of wine, enjoyment, and fellowship with friends and nature. It is time to relax and create.

Xian can be literal, that is a certain amount of physical, and or social, solitude and idleness is required in order to create. And it can also mean a state of mind, or a certain type of consciousness that one creates before they create.

Poems and quotations that illustrate xian:

“Finished building my small house within the sphere of human activities
Without the noises of horses and carriages.

I hear you ask, “Why would you do this?”
My heart and mind secluded in this remote area.

Gathering chrysanthemums below the eastern fence
Leisurely and carefree, within the sight of the Southern Mountains.”
Drinking Wine No.5 : Tao Yuanming


“…Our hearts and minds in leisure promote sudden flights of imagination.”
Xuangzhou, Xietiao Tower, Farewell Dinner for Editor Shu Yun: Li Bai


…“An unoccupied heart-mind stops holding on to things that don’t matter”
Chant a Red Chinese Plum Blossom Poem: Su Dongpo


“Sunset afterglow suddenly leaves the west
Step by step, moon rises in the east on a pond
Cool sunset, hair falls down in the leisure room…”
Summer Day: Southern Pavilion, Thinking of Xin Da: Meng Haoran


“Drink wine to increase awareness only” Meng Haoran


“Our music, the random and spontaneous sounds around us.” Meng Haoran


“This scenery makes my temperament open and free.” Meng Haoran


…“The few fishing and gathering firewood have very few wants and needs
Easy and carefree, the distant mountains at sunset.”
Return to Wang Chuan: Wang Wei


“To be busy is the law of our being. The law of theirs (heroic figures of visionary experience) is to do nothing…And it is precisely this (a profound stillness) which gives them their numinous quality, their power to transport the beholder…”
Heaven and Hell: Aldous Huxley


“When there is the letting go of static patterns, the light (Dharmakaya) occurs. It is often accompanied by a feeling of relaxation because static patterns have been jarred loose“.: Lila: Robert Pirsig


The Dharmakaya Light:

“Tyger Tyger burning bright
In the forest of the night
Who was it that framed thy fearful symmetry?”
Marriage of Heaven and Hell: William Blake


Update and addition from 19 April 2022

It startled me lately when I was rereading the classic novel, Fahrenheit 451.  Ray Bradbury understood well the importance of books and the creative process.  On page 78 in the most recent publication, two main characters, Montag and Faber are talking about their society’s lack of happiness.  They acknowledge the disappearance of books as being one explanation.  Faber tells Montag that it is not books we need, but rather what was once in and about the books being what we need.  He identified three things about reading books.  Number two of the three was leisure.  What is so important about leisure is that it gives us time to think.  It gives us time to ponder…to deliberate…to meditate about what are in the books, and what is in our lives.

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