The Secret Book on the Inner Elixir as Transmitted by the Immortal Sun Bu’er

September 30th, 2013

(Sun Bu’er yuan jun chuan shu dan dao mi shu) 

IMG_0836Composer: Yii Kah Hoe (Malaysia)

Text: Sun Bu’er
12th-century Chinese Daoist practitioner and teacher; the only woman among the Eight Daoist Immortals

Performed in modern Mandarin

Please find text and translation below.


This, the longest song cycle, is scored for soprano, piano, Ebows  and percussion. It sets fourteen poems from The Secret Book on the Inner Elixir as Transmitted by the Immortal Sun Bu’er (Sun Bu’er yuanjun chuanshu dandao mishu), by the twelfth-century female Daoist practitioner Sun Bu’er.  Sun Bu’er was the only female member of the ‘Seven Immortals.’  These poems instruct the reader, in metaphorical language, in the practices of ‘nüdan,’ which specifies the method of Daoist inner cultivation especially modified for the female body.

Yii Kah Hoe has composed these songs based on the texts helpfully provided by Dr. Robin Wang (Marymount Loyola University (Philosophy)). My experience singing in Chinese (for example Evan Ziporyn’s ‘Ornate Zither and Nomad Flute’), and my frequent visits to China through Scripps’ faculty exchange initiative, teaching in both Mandarin and English, gave me confidence to propose that the composer set these poems in modern Mandarin.


Text and translation
(by Dr. Robin Wang, Marymount Loyola University)


第一收心(男女同)Step One: Collecting Heart/Mind (shouxin)


Primordial qi already existed before the time of my existence;

Like jade being ground to reveal its brightness, how could it be possible that more polishing would make it darker?

Eliminating the seas of desires for life and death to guard the ultimate gate;

At the place of half a grain of rice where the empty spirit is alert, the adjusted fire is at its perfect temperature.


第二養氣(男女同)Step Two: Cultivating Qi (yangqi)


The origin begins in non-action, but it then collapses into posterity;

Once the first sound of crying bursts forth, breathing starts to take control of life.

Earthly dusts and laboring exhaust one’s life; one’s body is tangled with weakness and illness;

Abundance of children can benefit the mother, how can we say that we are unable to return to our beginning?

第三行功(未二句女子獨用)Step Three: Moving Energy (xingqi)


At the place of concentrating breath and spirit, the generating qi comes from the east;

Myriad desires have no place to stay, so only unified breath reachesto the stage of spirit;

The image of yin is descending in the front while the light of yang is ascending at the back;

When the top of the mountain is united with the bottom of the ocean there is thunder after the passing rain.


第四斬龍(女子襡用)Step Four: Slaying the Dragon (zanlong)


Extreme stillness can generate motion, where yin and yang coalesce;

Capturing the jade tiger in the wind and grasping the golden bird in the moon;

Keep eyes alert to the moment of intercourse of heaven and earth and be aware

At the meeting places of the magpie bridges, the qi of the elixir returns to the stove.


第五養丹(首二句女子獨用Step Five: Cultivating the Elixir (yangdan)


The captured tiger returns to the authentic spot while the grasped dragon gradually shows the effective elixir;

Disposition must be as clear as water while the desires of heart/mind must be still like the mountain;

Adjusted breath collects in the golden cauldron and a peaceful spirit guards the jade gate;

One can increase the cord of rice every day and a woman’s gray hair can return to youthful radiance.


第六胎息(男女同)Step Six: Embryonic Breathing (taixi) 


In order to arrive at the perfection of the elixir quickly, one must eliminate all stressful situations in the human world;

Each movement of the heart guards the spiritual medicine and each breath returns to the beginning of heaven;

Qi returns and penetrates the three islands and the forgotten spirit unites with the ultimate void;

Whether coming or leaving, wandering just like a Buddha.


Step Seven: Symbolic Firing (fuhuo)


At the harmonious place of embryonic breath one must distinguish the timing/opportunity of motion and stillness;
The light of yang should gradually move forward and the spirit of yin should be protected to avoid its flying away;

The pearl in the pond reflects the scenery and the moon at the top of the mountain radiates brightness;

Be constant and concentrating through the six periods of the day, cultivate the abundant elixir.


Step Eight: Receiving the Elixir (jieyao)


Halfway to grasping the mysterious opportunity, the sprout of elixir appears like a dewdrop;

Though it is said that it can stabilize life, it still must be cultivated into a form.

Use the nose to smell and receive the pure yang while the divine mercury penetrates the bodily spirit.

Cultivation must be careful and it will take off as soon as it is complete.

Step Nine: Transforming the Spirit (lianshen)


Before birth there was a primordial spirit that once came into my body;

Be careful to hold on to it like holding a delicate vessel and be gentle to it as touching a soft infant;

The gate of earth must be firmly closed and the palace of heaven needs to be opened first;

Washing and reflecting the yellow sprout so that the top of mountain is shaking and booming.

Step Ten: Taking Food (fushi)


The great molding forms the mountains and ponds and within they contain the essence of transformation;

In the morning it receives the qi of the sun and in the evening it absorbs the essence of moon;

At the proper time one can pick up the elixir and return to youthfulness, and the body will become light and clean;

At the dwelling place of primordial spirit myriad apertures radiate the bright lights.


第十一辟穀(男女同)Step Eleven: Fasting (bigu)


Get vital qi from food and cleanse, purify the internal organs;

A mindless spirit has no desire to be attached and the unified ultimate contains emptiness and space;

Yearning for food one will find mountain taro and hunger will pick magic fungus;

If one is still involved with the ordinary cooking fire then one can never reach the divine pond.


第十二面壁(男女同)Step Twelve: Facing the Wall (mianbi)


Myriad things are all put to rest while one sits at a small shrine in concentration;

A light body rides the purple qi, and one’s purified nature is washed in the clear pond;

Qi of yin and yang become one and the spirit unites with heaven and earth to become three;

The completed training moves toward the jade palace, and a long breath blows out the morning haze of mountains.


第十三出神(男女同)Step Thirteen: Coming Out of the Spirit (chushen)


There is a body outside the body but it has nothing to do with the achievement of skillful magic;

Circulating this spiritual qi activates the primordial spirit;

The bright moon forms golden fluid, and green lotus transforms the genuine jade;

Receiving smoothly the essence of bird and rabbit in the moon; holding the bright pearl, one never worries about poverty.


第十四沖舉(男女同)Step Fourteen: Ascendant Breaking Through (chongju)


At a good time it will come out of the ravine and fly up to the divine cloud;

The jade girl rides the green phoenix, and the golden boy sends the silk peach;

Performing on the pipa in front of the flower and playing the jade flute under the moon;

Once immortal and mortal are separated one can calmly deal with the waves of the ocean.

Shir ha Shirim • Song of Songs

September 30th, 2013


Composer: Moshe Shulman;

Text: Anonymous female voice
excerpted from ‘The Song of Songs’ in the Bible/Tannakh;

Performed in Biblical Hebrew


Perhaps no other biblical text has inspired so widely diverging commentaries and interpretations as the Shir Ha Shirim, ed or ‘Song of Songs’, ailment found in the Ketuvim  in the Tanakh (Jewish tradition) also known as the Psalms of the Old Testament (Christian tradition).  Although commonly attributed to King Solomon, allergy it is more properly recognized as the work of an anonymous author, whose skillful erotic verses are unusually lyrical and alliterative. The Shir Ha Shirim has been interpreted as, variously, the courtship and consummation between God and the people of Israel, or the soul and God, or the Church and Christ. In Zoharic Kabbalah it is often interpreted as the mystical unification of female and male sephirot emanations. Contemporary Russian-Israeli composer Moshe Shulman selected verses and composed these new settings for premiere, including musical settings of the Hebrew numbering system.