The Chinese character 真 (zhēn), also written as 眞 (zhēn), stands for truth, genuineness, and reality, and being authentic, right, accurate, or correct. It also refers to the qualities of being pure, sincere, or divine.
眞 is the form found in the first comprehensive Chinese etymological dictionary, “Shuo Wen Jie Zie” (說文解字), or “Explaining Simple and Analyzing Compound Characters.”
According to “Shuo Wen Jie Zie,” 眞 depicts an immortal transforming and ascending to heaven.
This meaning can be seen from the character’s components. The L-shaped radical at the top refers to transformation or change. 目 (mù) in the middle is the character for “eye.”
The L-shaped radical 乚 around the eye means to hide, to be unseen, or even to disappear. And 八 at the bottom refers to a vehicle of transportation, indicating the means by which the immortal ascends to heaven.
Examples of terms that use 眞(zhēn), or真 (zhēn), include 真理 (zhēn lǐ), true or orthodox principles; 真心 (zhēn xīn), sincerity or true-heartedness, where 心 (xīn) means heart; 真正 (zhēn zhèng), genuine, authentic, or true, where 正 (zhèng) means right/correct or upright; and 真實 (zhēn shí), true, real, or actual, where 實 (shí) means true as well as honest and solid.
天真 (tiān zhēn) refers to innocence—literally “heaven’s truth” or “being true to heaven.” 天 (tiān) stands for heaven or sky.
真相 (zhēn xiàng) refers to the real facts or true situation, while the idiom 真相大白 (zhēn xiàng dà bái) expresses that “the whole truth is revealed.” 大白 (dà bái), literally “big white,” depicts a state of complete openness and clarity.
真金不怕火 (zhēn jīn bù pà huǒ), literally genuine gold (金, jīn) is not (不, bù) afraid (怕, pà) of fire (火, huǒ), states that genuine truth can withstand any test.
Daoist philosophy emphasizes the cultivation of 真(zhēn), or self-improvement of character in terms of truth. It teaches one to speak the truth, behave truthfully, and be a truthful person.
A cultivator seeking to achieve the Dao, or the Buddhist concept of enlightenment, strives to return to his or her original true self, or 返本歸真 (fǎn běn guī zhēn), where 返 (fǎn) and 歸 (guī) both mean “to return,” while 本 (běn) refers to the origin, root, or source.
A cultivator seeks to ultimately become a “true person,” or 真人 (zhēn rén), through cultivation. 人 (rén) is the character for a human being.
修真養性 (xiū zhēn yang xìng) describes the process of cultivating/practicing (修, xiū) truthfulness while nurturing (養, yang) one’s essence or (true) nature (性, xìng).
真人不露相 (zhēn rén bù lòu xiàng) states that a true person, one who has attained the Dao and achieved enlightenment, does not (不, bù) reveal (露, lòu) his or her (true) form or identity (相, xiàng).
It explains that true masters often appear quite ordinary on the surface, with their strength or advantage unseen and undisclosed.
The phrase conveys that gods do not casually reveal themselves to humankind, as doing so would disclose heavenly secrets. Thus, you will be unable to recognize it even if a god is right before your eyes.
According to Buddhist belief, people dropped into the maze of the human world because they committed wrongdoing. To return to their origin, they must cultivate and enlighten to true principles in this dimension of illusion, without being deluded by the false impressions that manifest in human society.
Cultivators must be steadfast in their belief in gods and true principles, even if unable to see their manifestation.