Inward Training (Neiye)
 
 
The Original Dao?
 
Hal Roth
Religious Studies, Brown University

 
A survey of the full range of Warring States and early Han texts usually thought of as Taoist, in both traditional bibliographies and recent scholarship, yields three general categories under which the distinctive ideas of these texts could be subsumed:
 

1. cosmology: a cosmology based on the Tao as the predominant unifying power in the cosmos;

2. inner cultivation: the attainment of the Tao through a process of emptying out the usual contents of the conscious mind until a profound experience of tranquility is attained;

3. political thought: the application of this cosmology and this method of self-cultivation to the problems of rulership. (Original Tao, 7)

 
Based on which of the above layers appear in a particular tradition,
we can distinguish between three types of Daoism that evolved
in roughly chronological order (cf.
Original Tao, 7-8):
 

Individualist
c. 4th century BCE
Exemplified by the Inner Chapters (1-7) of the Zhuangzi, portions of the Daodejing, and the Neiye (Inward Training), which provides detailed information about the meditation/breath control practices used to bring about the state of union with the Dao. In this context, “Individualist” does not mean that the practitioner is self-centered, but rather that the focus is on individual self-cultivation, as opposed to social transformation; indeed, it is precisely by eliminating all self-centered thoughts and feelings that the practitioner opens up to the “inner power” (de) of the Dao, which allows one to live in harmony with the world.
  • Combines the first and second elements.
  
Primitivist
mid-3rd century BCE
Exemplified by various passages in the Daodejing (e.g. 19, 57, 65, 80), as well as portions of the Zhuangzi (most notably Chapters 8-11). This approach includes the self-emptying practices of the Individualist, but combines it with an emphasis on a “primitive” socio-political order, which is characterized by a minimalist government that promotes a simple, agrarian lifestyle in order to minimalize the desires of the people.
  • Combines the first, second and third elements.
 

Syncretist
late 3rd through 2nd centuries BCE
Exemplified by the “Syncretists” (a group credited with compiling the Zhuangzi and writing that text’s final chapter, which summarizes their position), as well as the Huangdi Sijing (Four Classics of the Yellow Emperor) and the Huainanzi. This approach is rooted in Daoist cosmology and meditation, but incorporates elements of Confucian morality and Legalist principles of government.
  • Combines the first, second and third elements, though the cosmology is more fully developed and the political dimension differs significantly from the ideals established in the “Primitivist” sections of the Daodejing and the Zhuangzi.
 
We can add to Roth’s organization of early Daoist textual traditions a fourth tradition that would develop in the late Han dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE):
 
Organized Daoism
2nd century CE to the present
Represents the refinement of a Daoist cosmology as well as the development of corresponding techniques of inner cultivation that lead to the “perfection” of the spirit with the ultimate goal of attaining “immortality.” It also develops a priesthood to serve the lay (i.e. non-ordained) community by performing rituals for health, social harmony, and well-being in the afterlife.
  • Combines the first three elements plus a concern for religious organization.
 

Technical Terminology
 

Qi (Ch’i): Vital Energy/Vital Breath
Original Tao, 41-2


Jing (Ching): Vital Essence
Original Tao, 42 and 101-3


Xin (Hsin): Mind
Original Tao, 42-3


Shen: Numen/Numinous
Original Tao, 43-4, 106-9


Tian (T’ien): The Heavens
Original Tao, 44


Dao (Tao): The Way
Original Tao, 44 and 101-3


De (Te): Inner Power
Original Tao, 104-6