''Hundun'' commonly occurs in classics of philosophical Daoism. The ''Daodejing'' does not mention ''hundun'' but uses both ''hun'' graphic variants. One section uses ''hun'' 渾 "bemuddle": "The sage is self-effacing in his dealings with all under heaven, and bemuddles his mind for the sake of all under heaven." Three others use ''hun'' 混 "bound together," "muddled," and "featureless":
*"These three cannot be fully fathomed, Therefore, They are bound together to make unity."
*"plain, as an unhewn log, muddled, as turbid waters, expansive, as a broad valley"
*"There was something featureless yet complete, born before heaven and earth."
The ''Zhuangzi'' has a famous parable involving emperors ''Hundun'' 渾沌, ''Shu'' "a fish name; abrupt; quick", and ''Hu'' "ignore; neglect; sudden". Girardot cites Marcel Granet that Shu and Hu synonymously mean "suddenness; quickness" and "etymologically appear to be linked to the images of lightning and thunder, or analogously, flaming arrows." The "Heavenly Questions" chapter of the ''Chu Ci'' uses Shu and Hu as one name: "Where are the hornless dragons which carry bears on their backs for sport? Where is the great serpent with nine heads and where is the Shu-Hu?"
The emperor of the South Sea was called Shu , the emperor of the North Sea was called Hu , and the emperor of the central region was called Hun-tun . Shu and Hu from time to time came together for a meeting in the territory of Hun-tun, and Hun-tun treated them very generously. Shu and Hu discussed how they could repay his kindness. "All men," they said, "have seven openings so they can see, hear, eat, and breathe. But Hun-tun alone doesn't have any. Let's trying boring him some!" Every day they bored another hole, and on the seventh day Hun-tun died.
Compare Watson's renderings of the three characters with other ''Zhuangzi'' translators.
*Change, Suddenness, Confusion — Frederic H. Balfour
*Sh?, H?, Chaos — James Legge
*Change, Uncertainty, Primitivity — Yu-Lan Fung
*Shu, Hu, Hun Tun — Herbert Giles
*Immediately, Suddenly, Undifferentiation — James R. Ware
*Light, Darkness, Primal Chaos — Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English
*Fast, Furious, Hun-t'un — A.C. Graham
*Lickety, Split, Wonton — Victor H. Mair
*Change, Dramatic, Chaos — Martin Palmer
*Helter, Skelter, Chaos — Wang Rongpei
Two other ''Zhuangzi'' contexts use ''hundun''. Chapter 11 has an allegory about Hong Meng 鴻蒙 "Big Concealment", who "was amusing himself by slapping his thighs and hopping around like a sparrow", which Girardot interprets as shamanic dancing comparable with the ''Shanhaijing'' below. Hong Meng poetically reduplicates ''hunhun-dundun'' 渾渾沌沌 "dark and undifferentiated chaos" in describing Daoist "mind-nourishment" meditation.
"You have only to rest in inaction and things will transform themselves. Smash your form and body, spit out hearing and eyesight, forget you are a thing among other things, and you may join in great unity with the deep and boundless. Undo the mind, slough off spirit, be blank and soulless, and the ten thousand things one by one will return to the root – return to the root and not know why. Dark and undifferentiated chaos – to the end of life none will depart from it. But if you try to know it, you have already departed from it. Do not ask what its name is, do not try to observe its form. Things will live naturally and of themselves."
Chapter 12 tells a story about the Confucian disciple becoming dumbfounded after meeting a Daoist sage. He reported back to Confucius, who denigrated ''Hundun Shi zhi shu'' 渾沌氏之術 "Mr. Hundun's techniques/arts".
"He is one of those bogus practitioners of the arts of Mr. Chaos. He knows the first thing but doesn't understand the second. He looks after what is on the inside but doesn't look after what is on the outside. A man of true brightness and purity who can enter into simplicity, who can return to the primitive through inaction, give body to his inborn nature, and embrace his spirit, and in this way wander through the everyday world – if you had met one like that, you would have had real cause for astonishment. As for the arts of Mr. Chaos, you and I need not bother to find out about them."
The ''Huainanzi'' has one occurrence of ''hundun'' 渾沌 in a cosmological description.
Heaven and earth were perfectly joined , all was chaotically unformed ; and things were complete yet not created. This is called of the Great One. . All came from this unity which gave to each thing its differences: the birds, fish, and beasts. This is called the lot of things.
Three other ''Huainanzi'' chapters use ''hun'', for example, the compound ''hunhun cangcang'' 渾渾蒼蒼 "pure and unformed, vast and hazy".
The world was a unity without division into classes nor separation into orders : the unaffectedness and homeliness of the natural heart had not, as yet, been corrupted: the spirit of the age was a unity, and all creation was in great affluence. Hence, if a man with the knowledge of I appeared, the world had no use for him.
The ''Liezi'' uses ''hunlun'' 渾淪 for ''hundun'', which is described as the confused state in which ''qi'' 氣 "pneuma; breath", ''xing'' 形 "form; shape", and ''zhi'' 質 "matter; substance" have begun to exist but are stilled merged as one.
There was a Primal Simplicity, there was a Primal Commencement, there were Primal Beginnings, there was a Primal Material. The Primal Simplicity preceded the appearance of the breath. The Primal Beginnings were the breath beginning to assume shape. The Primal Material was the breath when it began to assume substance. Breath, shape and substance were complete, but things were not yet separated from each other; hence the name "Confusion." "Confusion" means the myriad things were confounded and not yet separated from each other.
The ''Shanhaijing'' collection of early myths and legends uses ''hundun'' 渾敦 describing a '''' 神 "spirit; god" on Tian Shan 天山 "Heaven Mountain".
There is a god here who looks like a yellow sack. He is scarlet like cinnabar fire. He has six feet and four wings. He is Muddle Thick. He has no face and no eyes. He knows how to sing and dance. He is in truth the great god Long River.
This "great god Long River" translates Di Jiang 帝江 "Emperor Yangtze River", which is identified with Huang Di 黄帝 "Yellow Emperor". Toshihiko Izutsu suggests that singing and dancing here and in ''Zhuangzi'' refers to shamanic trance-inducing ceremonies, "the monster is said to be a bird, which is most probably an indication that the shamanistic dancing here in question was some kind of feather dance in which the shaman was ritually ornamented with a feathered headdress."
The ''Shen yi jing'' 神異經 "Classic of Divine Wonders" records a later variation of Hundun mythology. It describes him as a divine dog who lived on Mt. Kunlun, the mythical mountain at the center of the world.
It has eyes but can't see, walks without moving; and has two ears but can't hear. It has the knowledge of a man yet its belly is without the five internal organs and, although having a rectum, it doesn't evacuate food. It punches virtuous men and stays with the non-virtuous. It is called. Hun-tun. ] Hun-tun was Meng-shih's untalented son. He always gnaws his tail, going round and round. Everyone ridiculed him.
A poem in the Tang Dynasty collection refers to the ''Zhuangzi'' myth and reminisces about ''Hundun''.
How pleasant were our bodies in the days of Chaos, Needing neither to eat or piss! Who came along with his drill And bored us full of these nine holes? Morning after morning we must dress and eat; Year after year, fret over taxes. A thousand of us scrambling for a penny, We knock our heads together and yell for dear life.
Note the addition of two holes to the original seven .
''Hundun'' myths have a complex history, with many variations on the "primordial chaos" theme and associations with other legends.
The sociologist and historian Wolfram Eberhard analyzed the range of various ''hundun'' myths in his book on local cultures in South and East China. He treated it as a World egg mythic "chain" from the southern Liao culture, which originated in the Sichuan and Hubei region.
#''Hundun'' creation myths involving humanity being born from a "thunder-egg" or lump of flesh, the son of an emperor, the Thunder god represented as a dog with bat wings, localized with the Miao people and Thai people.
#''The animal Lei'' "is a creature like a lump, without head, eyes, hands, or feet. At midnight it produces noises like thunder."
#''The hundun dumplings'', etymologically connected with "round", "unorganized; chaotic", and perhaps the "round mountain" Kunlun.
#''The world-system huntian'' 渾天 in ancient Chinese astronomy conceptualized the universe as a round egg and the earth as a yolk swimming within it.
#''The sack and the shooting of the god'' connects sack-like descriptions of ''hundun'', perhaps with "sack" denoting "testicles", legends about Shang Dynasty king who lost a game of chess with the god Heaven and suspended a sack filled with blood and shot arrows at it, and later traditions of shooting at human dolls.
#''Pangu'' 盤古 is the mythological creator of the universe, also supposedly shaped like a sack, connected with dog mythologies, and who grew into a giant in order to separate Heaven and Earth.
#''Heaven and earth as marital partners'' within the world-egg refers to the theme of Sky father and Earth Mother goddess.
#''Zhongli'' 重黎 or 融黎 is identified with 祝融 "god of fire", which is a mythology from the southern state , with variations appearing as two gods Zhong and Li.
#''Zhongli'' 重黎 clan, which has variant writings, originated in the Ba , near present-day Anhui.
#''The brother-sister marriage'' is a complex of myths explaining the origins or mankind , and their first child is usually a lump of flesh, which falls into pieces and populates the world. In later mythology, the brother Fu Xi and sister Nüwa, who lived on Mt. Kunlun, exemplify this marriage.
Norman J. Girardot, professor of Chinese religion at Lehigh University, has written articles and a definitive book on ''hundun''. He summarizes this mythology as follows.
#The ''hun-tun'' theme in early Taoism represents an ensemble of mythic elements coming from different cultural and religious situations.
#The symbolic coherence of the ''hun-tun'' theme in the Taoist texts basically reflects a creative reworking of a limited set of interrelated mythological typologies: especially the cosmic egg-gourd, the animal ancestor-cosmic giant, and primordial couple mythologies. The last two of these typologies are especially, although not exclusively, linked to what may be called the deluge cycle of mythology found primarily in southern local cultures.
#While there may also be a cultural connection between the southern deluge cycle and the cosmogonic scenario of the cosmic egg , the fundamental linkage for all these typologies is the early Taoist, innovative perception of a shared symbolic intention that accounts for, and supports, a particular cosmogonic, metaphysical, and mystical vision of creation and life.
Interpretations of ''Hundun'' have expanded from "primordial chaos" into other realms. For instance, it is a keyword in ''Neidan'' "Chinese internal alchemy". Robinet explains, "Alchemists begin their work by "opening" or "boring" ''hundun''; in other words, they begin from the Origin, infusing its transcendent element of precosmic light into the cosmos in order to reshape it."