Inward Training
The Mystical Foundations of Daoism
Laozi and Zhuangzi under the "Jixia Academy" gate with the Chinese characters for "Inward Training" (neiye)


Colorful Taiji (yin yang symbol)
The Evolution of Daoism
 
There are four primary concerns that we see expressed in the
various texts and traditions that are referred to as Daoist:
 
 

1. Cosmology
Dao is not a system of thought (as it was for Confucius), but a cosmological principle: it is the ultimate source of the myriad things.
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Daoist meditating
2. Inner Cultivation
Daoists developed various “inner cultivation” techniques in their attempts to transform themselves in accordance with the cosmological Dao. In the early Daoist tradition, for example, practitioners employed apophatic (self-emptying) meditation in order to attain a state of unity with the Dao; one would then return from this state of unity to the world of multiplicity, but maintain the unifying connection to the Dao through its physical manifestation as de (Inner Power).
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Laozi on a (cosmic) throne
3. Sociopolitical Theory
Application of 1 and 2 to the sociopolitical context. This was initially an attempt to provide a Daoist response to the collapse of the sociopolitical order during the Eastern Zhou dynasty (770-256 BCE), though Daoist perspectives on the sociopolitical order continued to evolve throughout history.
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Daoist priests performing a temple ritual to the "Three Pure Ones"
4. Religious Organization
Beginning in the late 2nd century CE, various religious movements developed that were based on revelations from a deified Laozi (supposed author of the Daodejing) and/or other deities. These revelations led to the creation of formal religious organizations with ordained priests and elaborate rituals as well as new “sacred” texts that drew on early Daoist concepts but also incorporated aspects of folk religion.
Black and white koi (Goldfish) revolving in a yin-yang symbol
We can distinguish between at least five approaches to Daoism
that
evolved in (more or less) chronological order based on
how the above concerns are expressed in a particular tradition:
 
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.
Black and white koi (Goldfish) revolving in a yin-yang symbol
Political Daoism: Image of Daoist with a quote from Laozi: "The sage knows without having to stir, Identifies without having to see, Accomplishes without having to act."
II. Political (c. 4th-3rd Centuries BCE)
Combines the first three elements
Exemplified by various passages in the Daodejing (e.g. 10, 17, 25, 29, 32, 37, 39, 48, 49, 66, 78). This approach includes the self-cultivation practices of the Individualist but applies it to solve the sociopolitical problems of the Warring States period by suggesting that peace and order would be restored if the ruler eliminated selfish desire through self-emptying meditation.
Black and white koi (Goldfish) revolving in a yin-yang symbol
"Primitivit" Daoism: portrait of Shennong (the Divine Farmer)
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 is similar to the Political approach described above, but with a particular emphasis on returning to 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.

Black and white koi (Goldfish) revolving in a yin-yang symbol
Exemplified by the “Syncretist” chapters of the Zhuangzi as well as the Lushi Chunqiu, the Huainanzi, and the Huangdi Sijing (Four Classics of the Yellow Emperor). This approach is rooted in Daoist cosmology and meditation, but incorporates elements of Confucian morality and Legalist principles of government.
Black and white koi (Goldfish) revolving in a yin-yang symbol
Daoist Temple
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.
Black and white koi (Goldfish) revolving in a yin-yang symbol
Harold Roth speaking on the text "Inward Training"
 
In a recent review essay I argued for the presence of a “bimodal” mystical experience in early Daoism, particularly evident in the “inner chapters of the Zhuangzi. The first mode is an introvertive unitive consciousness in which the adept achieves complete union with the Dao. This corresponds, in general, with Stace’s “introvertive mystical experience” and with Forman’s “Pure Consciousness Event.” The second is an extrovertive transformed consciousness in which the adept returns to the world and retains, amidst the flow of daily life, a profound sense of the unity previously experienced in the introvertive mode. This experience entails an ability to live in the world free from the limited and biased perspective of the individual ego. This second mode corresponds, in general, to Stace’s “extrovertive mystical experience,” although I would regard it as a quite profound subcategory of it. This bimodal character of mystical experience is, actually, quite prevalent in mystical experience across traditions, but it is often overlooked by scholars, who tend to focus on the introvertive mode exclusively. While evidence for its presence is not as strong in the Laozi as in the Zhuangzi, it is, as we shall see, most certainly there. (Harold D. Roth, “The Laozi in the Context of Early Daoist Mystical Praxis,” Religious and Philosophical Aspects of the Laozi, 66)
Black and white koi (Goldfish) revolving in a yin-yang symbol
Cover of the book "Original Tao: Inward Training and the Foundations of Taoist Mysticism"
Inward Training (Neiye)
The Original Dao?

Translations from Original Tao Additions/revisions in round brackets

The vital essence (jing) of all things:
It is this that brings them to life.
It generates the five grains below
And becomes the constellated stars above.
When flowing amid the heavens and the earth
We call it ghostly and numinous.
When stored within the chests of human beings,
We call them sages.
(Original Tao, 46 [Neiye I]; cf.
Original Tao, 101)
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Chinese character for "inner power/virtue" (de)
Therefore this vital energy (qi) [that is the vital essence]
Cannot be halted by force,
Yet can be secured by inner power [Te]
Cannot be summoned by speech,
Yet can be welcomed by the awareness.
Reverently hold onto it and do not lose it:
This is called “developing inner power.”
When inner power develops and wisdom emerges,
The myriad things will, to the last one, be grasped.
(
Original Tao, 48 [Neiye II]; cf. Original Tao, 103)
 
Roth: “One way to conceive of the relationship between inner power and the vital essence is that the latter appears to be the physiological substrate associated with the former; one way to conceive of the relationship between the Way and inner power is that inner power represents a quality of mind, discovered through the tranquility attained through breathing practice, through which the presence of the Way that dwells within human beings is revealed to them.” (Original Tao, 104)
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Chinese character for "heart/mind" (xin)
The Lodging Place
If you can be aligned and be tranquil,
Only then can you be stable.
With a stable mind at your core,
With the eyes and ears acute and clear,
And with the four limbs firm and fixed,
You can thereby make a lodging place for the vital essence.
When the vital energy (qi) is guided,
it [the vital essence (jing)] is generated,
But when it is generated, there is thought,
When there is thought, there is knowledge,
But when there is knowledge, then you must stop.
Whenever the forms of the mind have excessive knowledge,
You lose your vitality.
(
Original Tao, 60 [Neiye VIII]; cf. Original Tao, 109-10, 114)
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Image of a Daoist practitioner meditating
When your body is not aligned,
The inner power will not come.
When you are not tranquil within,
Your mind will not be well ordered.
Align your body, assist the inner power,
Then it will gradually come on its own.
(
Original Tao, 66 [Neiye XI]; cf. Original Tao, 104)
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There is a numinous [mind] naturally residing within;
One moment it goes, the next it comes,
And no one is able to conceive of it.
If you lose it you are inevitably disordered;
If you attain it you are inevitably well ordered.
Diligently clean out its lodging place
And its vital essence will naturally arrive.
Still your attempts to imagine and conceive of it.
Relax your efforts to reflect on and control it.
Be reverent and diligent
And its vital essence will naturally stabilize.
Grasp it and don’t let go
Then the eyes and ears won’t overflow
(i.e. exceed their proper functions)

And the mind will have nothing else to seek
(since it is guided by the vital essence).

When a properly aligned mind resides within you,
The myriad things will be seen in their proper perspective
(or “One will naturally respond to the myriad things
according to their proper measure”).
(
Original Tao, 70 [Neiye XIII]; cf. Original Tao, 106)
Cartoon image of LaoziChinese characters for "Inward Training" (neiye)Cartoon image of Zhuangzi