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Neiye

Category: Books sutras and myths

The Neiye 內業 or Inward Training is the oldest Chinese received text describing Daoist/Taoist principles.  The title is a combination of two common Chinese words: nèi 内 meaning "inside; inner; internal" and yè 業 "work; deed; achievement; production".  Professor A. C. Graham's and Professor Harold D. Roth's Inward Training is probably the most common English title.  The date when the Neiye was compiled is uncertain, however,

  • Professor Angus Charles Graham the Welsh scholar and Sinologist who was Professor of Classical Chinese at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, dated it to the 4th century BCE, and regarded the Neiye as "possibly the oldest 'mystical' text in China" (1989: 100).
  • The Professor of religious studies Harold D. Roth dated it to the mid-4th; and described it as "a manual on the theory and practice of meditation that contains the earliest references to breath control and the earliest discussion of the physiological basis of self-cultivation in the Chinese tradition" (1991: 611-2)
  • Professor Jeffrey Riegel [Emeritus Professor in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Stanford as well as Louis B. Agassiz Professor Emeritus of Chinese at the University of California, Berkeley] proposed that the poetic features of the Neiye would have facilitated memorization and recitation, suggesting that they might have been transmitted orally for some period of time before the compiler assembled and wrote them down. (1978: 148).  Its distinctive literary structure as a composition of rhythmic and rhymed verse is a sign of oral transmission before literacy became widespread in the latter half of the 4th century BCE

Overall therefore, this text could be based on extremely ancient wisdom, even though for convenience it is generally dated to around 350-300 BCE.

Neiye traditions influenced Chinese thought and culture. For instance, it had the first references to cultivating the life forces jing "essence", qi "vital energy", and shen "spirit", which later became a fundamental concept in Daoist Neidan "internal alchemy", as well as the Three Treasures in traditional Chinese medicine.

Professor Roth calls the mystical method "inner cultivation", the goal of which is to directly apprehend this "all-pervading cosmic force" (1999: 11).   In other words it is a guide for those on the spiritual path and those seeking direct spiritual experience.

Content

The principle concepts used in the Neiye are

  • QiEnergy
  • JingSpirit/system programmed energy and thus the functions of the universe
  • XinPersonality and mortal soul including the mind
  • ShenHigher spirit and thus immortal soul.  The original meaning of shen was "god; spirit; deity" in other words the immortal in all of us
  • Dao/Tao "the Way" -The Great Work

The methods described are generally those found in the overall approach we have on the site called contemplation and detachment, which encompasses a number of other activities designed to ‘still the chattering mind’ and ‘reduce the ego’ – the ego is the biggest block to spiritual experience

When your body is not aligned [形不正],
The inner power will not come.
When you are not tranquil within [中不靜],
Your mind will not be well ordered.
Align your body, assist the inner power [正形攝德],
Then it will gradually come on its own. (Verse 11, tr. Roth 1999: 66)


 

 

Format

The Neiye 內業 consists of a collection of poetic verses that describe the methods [activities], concepts and symbols for those on the spiritual path and ways of experiencing the concepts above.

The text contains a total of 1,622 characters, and the verses are written almost exclusively in rhymed prose. Most of the lines of verse are tetrasyllabic, that is, they contain four syllables each of which is represented by one character, but other patterns of five or more syllables sometimes occur. The rhymes occur most often at the end of every second line (Roth 1999: 12).

Although extant editions of the Neiye text have only two or three general divisions, it is possible to identify distinct units based on semantic, syntactic, and phonological criteria. Some different proposed textual separations are:

  • fifteen separate verses with some subdivisions (Ma Feibai 馬非百, W. Allyn Rickett 1985-98);
  • eighteen verses plus four subdivisions (Gustav Haloun and Jeffrey Riegel 1978); and
  •  twenty-six separate verses (Roth 1999: 14).

Both the Neiye's rhymed literary form and philosophical content are similar to the more renowned Daode jing, which is about three times longer (Kirkland 2008: 771).

The Neiye and the Guanzi

The Neiye is also contained within the Guanzi - an heterogenous collection of writings by diverse Legalist, Confucianist, and Daoist authors; whose compilation probably began around 300 BCE:

  • Four chapters (piān 篇) have descriptions of meditation practices:
  • Xinshu 心術 "Techniques of the Mind I and II" (chapters 36 and 37),
  • Baixin 白心 "The Purified Mind" (38), and
  • Neiye 內業 "Inward Training" (49).

When Professor Roth analysed the linguistic features of the Neiye, Xinshu I and II, and Baixin; he concluded that the Neiye is the original text while the others are derived from it (1999: 23-25).

If you can be aligned and be tranquil [能正能靜],
Only then can you be stable.
With a stable mind at your core [定心在中],
With the eyes and ears acute and clear,
And with the four limbs firm and fixed [四枝堅固],
You can thereby make a lodging place for the vital essence [可以為精舍].
The vital essence: it is the essence of the vital energy.
When the vital energy is guided, it [the vital essence] 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. (tr. Roth 1999: 60)

The first three works have close conceptual and textual parallels, but the Baixin—which is a mostly prose essay on how a sage ruler can apply the meditation techniques to governing—is considered the latest work in the group.

Xinshu I:

"The Tao is not far off, but it is hard to reach its limit.
It rests together with man, but it is hard to grasp.
Empty out your desires, and the numen will enter its abode.
If the abode is not thoroughly swept clean, the numen will not remain there."
 (tr. Roth 1991: 623)

It is worth noting that the methods described in the Neiye appear to have been well known, indicating that the oral tradition was going strong long before any recording was made.  A 45-character inscription on a Warring States era jade artefact may possibly be an earlier record of breath meditation than even the Neiye (Harper 1999: 881). This rhymed passage entitled Xíngqì 行氣 "circulating the vital breath" was inscribed on a dodecagonal block of jade, with nine trisyllabic phrases describing the stages of breath cultivation. While the dating is uncertain, estimates range from earlier than 400 BCE (Joseph Needham).

After the Guanzi political and philosophical compendium included the Neiye around the 2nd century BCE, it was seldom mentioned by Chinese scholars until the 20th century, when it was re-evaluated as a "proto-Daoist" text that clearly influenced the Daode jing, Zhuangzi, and other classics.

 

Observations

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