Geof Nanto

Neiye 內業 (Inward Training)

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The Neiye 內業 (Inward Training) is a lesser known elder cousin of the Daodejing. It is widely considered a key part of a set of texts on techniques of the heart-mind (xinshu 心術) from the period of classical Daoism (480 B.C.E.-9 C.E.), and provides detailed principles and instruction for inner cultivation.


The brief twenty-six verses of this relatively straight forward text encapsulates what for me is the essence of Daoist cultivation. I’m presenting it below, chapter by chapter, over the coming days as part of my personal meditation on this text. I’m including it in my PPD rather than using the dedicated Neiye section of Dao Bums because it’s not meant for analysis or discussion – just silent contemplation of the work as a whole.






The vital essence of all things,

It is this that brings them to life.

It generates the five grains below;

It becomes the arrayed stars above.

When flowing amid the heavens and earth,

We call it ghostly and numinous.

When stored within the chests of humans,

We call such beings sages.


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Thus we may describe this qi —

Bright! — as if ascending to the heavens;

Dark! — as if entering an abyss;

Vast! — as if dwelling in an ocean;

Lofty!  — as if residing on a mountain peak.


Therefore this qi—

Cannot be controlled by force,

Yet can be stabilized through inner power (de).

Cannot be summoned by speech,

Yet can be welcomed through awareness.

Reverently guard it and do not lose it:

This is called “developing inner power.”

When inner power develops and wisdom emerges,

The bounty of ten thousand things will be realized.

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All the forms of the heart-mind

Are naturally replete and nourished by it [vital essence],

Are naturally generated and grow to completion [because of] it.

It is lost

Because of sorrow, happiness, joy, anger, and

desire for profit.

If you can cast off sorrow, happiness, joy, anger, and

desire for profit,

Your heart-mind will return to equanimity.

The disposition of such a heart-mind

Is that it benefits from calmness to attain repose.

Do not disturb it; do not disrupt it

Then harmony will naturally develop.




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Clear! as though right by your side;

Vague! as though it will not be attained;

Indiscernible! as though beyond the limitless.

The investigation of this is not remote

Daily we make use of its inner power.

The Dao is what infuses the body,

Yet people are unable to fix it in place.

It goes forth but does not return;

It comes back but does not stay.

Silent! no one can hear its sound.

Suddenly at rest, it resides in the heart-mind.

Obscure! we do not see its form;

Surging forth! it arises within us.

We do not see its form;

We do not hear its sound.

Yet there is order to its accomplishments.

We refer to it as “Dao.”

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Now then, the Dao is without a set place;

But the calmness of an adept heart-mind makes a place.

When the heart-mind is still and qi is regular,

The Dao may then come to rest.

Such a way is not remote from us—

When people cultivate it, they are thereby sustained.

Such a way is not separate from us

When people accord with it, they are thereby harmonious.


Thus, become concentrated as though roped together by it.

Become indiscernible as though beyond all location.

Considering the disposition of this Dao,

How can it be conceived of or discussed?

Cultivate the heart-mind and still your thinking;

The Dao may then be realized.

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Let us consider the Dao—

It is what the mouth cannot express;

It is what the eyes cannot perceive;

It is what the ears cannot hear.

It is that through which we cultivate the heart-mind

and align the body.

When humans lose it, they die;

When they attain it, they flourish.

When endeavours lose it, they fail;

When endeavours attain it, they succeed.

Now then, the Dao is without root or trunk;

It is without leaves or flowers.

The ten thousand things are generated because of it;

The ten thousand things are completed because of it.

This natural order, we designate as “Dao.”

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The ruling principle of the heavens is alignment.

The ruling principle of the earth is levelness.

The ruling principle of human beings is stillness.

Spring, autumn, winter, and summer are the seasons

Of the heavens.

Mountains, hills, rivers, and valleys are the constituents

Of the earth.

Pleasure, anger, accepting, and rejecting are the devices

Of human beings.

Thus, we may speak of the sage

Alters with the seasons but does not transform;

Shifts with things but is not changed by them.




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If you can be aligned and tranquil,

Only then can you become stable.

With a stabilized heart-mind at your core,

With the ears and eyes acute and bright,

And with the four limbs firm and fixed,

You are able to become a lodging place for vital essence.


The vital essence is the essence of qi.

When qi is guided, vital essence is generated.

When it is generated, then there is thinking.

When there is thinking, then there is knowing.

When there is knowing, then you should cease.

Considering the forms of the heart-mind,

Excessive knowing dissipates vitality.

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Those who can transform even a single being—

We call them “numinous.”

Those who can alter even a single situation —

We call them “wise.”

To transform without expending qi,

To alter without expending wisdom,

Only extraordinary persons who adhere to the One can do this.

Adhere to the One without losing it

And you will be able to master the myriad types of beings.

Extraordinary persons act upon beings,

But are not acted upon by them.

This is the principle of attaining the One.



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With a well-ordered heart-mind within you.

Well-ordered words issue from your mouth.

And well-ordered tasks are presented to others.

Then all under the heavens will be well-ordered.


When the whole meaning is realized,

Then all under the heavens will be covered.

When the whole meaning is stabilized,

Then all under the heavens will be heard.

This is that to which we are referring.

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When your body is not aligned,

The inner power will not arrive.

When the centre lacks stillness,

The heart-mind will not be well-ordered.

Align your body and assist inner power—

Then it will gradually arrive on its own.





Edited by Yueya
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The numinous [heart-mind], no one knows its limits;

Its luminosity extends to know the ten thousand things.

Guard it at the centre and do not let it waver.

Do not disturb your senses with external things.

Do not disturb your heart-mind with the senses.

This is called “attaining the Centre.”





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There is a numinous [heart-mind] naturally residing in the body.

One moment it leaves, the next it arrives.

There is no one who is able to conceive of it.

If you lose it, you will inevitably be disordered;

If you attain it, you will inevitably be well ordered.

Reverently clean out its dwelling place

And vital essence will naturally arrive.

Still your attempts to imagine and conceive of it.

Relax your efforts to think about and control it.

Abide in dignity and reverence

And vital essence will naturally become stable.

Attain it and do not release it.

Then the ears and eyes will not overflow;

The heart-mind will not desire anything else.

With an aligned heart-mind at the centre,

The ten thousand things will be seen in their proper perspective.




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The Dao fills all under the heavens.

It is everywhere where people reside,

But people are unable to recognize it.

When you explore the whole meaning,

You extend up to the heavens above,

And stretch down to the earth below.

You pervade the nine inhabited regions.

What does it mean to investigate this?

The answer resides in the calmness of the heart-mind.

When your heart-mind is well ordered,

The senses then are also well ordered.

When your heart-mind is calm,

The senses then are also calm.

The heart-mind is what makes them well ordered;

The heart-mind is what calms them.

You store the heart-mind by means of the heart-mind;

Within the heart-mind, there is yet another heart-mind.

That inner heart-mind is an awareness that precedes language.

Only after there is awareness is there form.

Only after there is form is there language.

Only after there is language is there usefulness.

Only after there is usefulness is there order.

Without order, you will inevitably be chaotic.

If chaotic, you die.



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With vital essence preserved and naturally generated,

Calmness will come to flourish externally.

Stored internally, we consider this to be the well-spring.

Flood-like, it harmonizes and balances.

We consider it to be the source of qi.

When this source does not become exhausted,

The four limbs are firm and strong.

When the well-spring does not become drained,

The Nine Cavities are in accord and connected.

Then you may fully investigate the heavens and earth.

You may then extend to the four oceans.

At your centre, there will be no delusions;

Externally, there will be no deviation or calamity.

The heart-mind will be unimpaired at the centre;

The body will be unimpaired in its appearance.

Such people do not encounter celestial calamities;

Such people do not meet with harm from others.

We call these individuals “sages.”



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If people are able to be aligned and tranquil,

Their skin will be ample and smooth,

Their ears and eyes will be acute and bright,

Their sinews will be supple, and their bones will be strong.

Then they will be able to hold up the Great Circle [of the heavens],

And they will tread firmly on the Great Square [of the earth].

They will mirror all [reality] with great clarity;

They will perceive through great luminosity.

Be reverent and careful and do not waiver.

Daily replenish your inner power.

Thoroughly come to know all under the heavens,

And investigate everything within the four directions.

To reverently manifest this effulgence.

This is called “internal attainment.”

If you do this but fail in its reversal

This will cause a disruption in vitality.






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Considering the practice of the Dao,

You must coil, you must contract.

You must uncoil, you must expand.

You must be firm, you must be dedicated.

Guard adeptness and do not become lax.

Chase away the excessive, discard the trivial.

When you reach the ultimate limit,

You will return to the Dao and inner power.





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An unimpaired heart-mind within you,

Cannot be concealed or hidden.

It will be known through your countenance,

and will be seen in the colour of your skin.

If with good qi you encounter others,

They will be kinder to you than your brothers.

If with harmful qi you encounter others,

They will injure you with their weapons.

The reverberation of the wordless

Is more rapid than the drumming of thunder.

The perceptible form of the heart-mind’s qi

Is brighter than the sun and moon.

It is more manifest than the concern of parents.

Rewards are insufficient to encourage goodness;

Punishments are insufficient to discourage transgression.

And yet, once this exceptional qi is attained,

All under the heavens will come to be contained.

Once this unimpaired heart-mind is stabilized,

All under the heavens will come to listen.



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By concentrating your qi as if numinous,

The ten thousand things will be contained in you.

Can you concentrate? Can you unite with them?

Can you not resort to divining by tortoise [shell] or milfoil [stalks]

And yet recognize the auspicious and the inauspicious?

Can you stop? Can you cease?

Can you not seek it in others,

And yet realize it within yourself?

You think about it and think about it,

And think still further about it.

You think and yet you cannot connect with it.

The ghostly and numinous can connect with it,

This is not due to the power the ghostly and numinous,

But to the utmost capacity of vital essence and qi.

When the four limbs become aligned,

The blood and qi become tranquil.

Unify your awareness and concentrate the heart-mind,

Then the ears and eyes will not overflow with stimulation.

And even the remote will seem close at hand.



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Thinking and inquiring give rise to knowing.

Idleness and carelessness give rise to worry.

Cruelty and arrogance give rise to resentment.

Worry and grief give rise to illness.

When illness reaches its apex, then you die.

When you think about something and don't let go,

There will be internal distress and external weakness.

Do not plan things out prematurely

Or your vitality will abandon its dwelling place.


In eating, it is most appropriate not to fill up.

In thinking, it is most appropriate not to overdo.

Regulate these to an appropriate degree of activity,

And you will naturally reach vitality.




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Considering the life of human beings,

It is the heavens that brings forth their vital essence,

And the earth that brings forth their form.

These two combine to make a human being.

When they are in harmony, there is vitality.

When they are not in harmony, there is no vitality.

Inquiring into the way of harmonizing them,

What is essential is unable to be perceived,

And what is subtle is unable to be compared.

If balance and alignment permeate your torso,

This harmony swirls and blends in your heart-mind.

This provides enhanced longevity.

When joy and anger are not limited,

You must make a plan to limit them.

Regulate the five sense-desires

And cast off the two misfortunes.

When both joy and anger are negated,

Balance and alignment will permeate your torso.




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Considering the vitality of human beings.

It inevitably occurs because of balance and alignment.

The reason why balance and alignment are lost

Is inevitably because pleasure, anger, grief, and anxiety.

And so, for inhibiting anger nothing is better than poetry.

For casting off grief nothing is better than music.

For limiting joy nothing is better than ritual propriety.

For guarding ritual propriety nothing is better than reverence.

For guarding reverence nothing is better than tranquillity.

When you are inwardly tranquil and outwardly reverent,

You are able to return to your innate nature;

Your innate nature will become greatly stabilized.





Harold Roth devotes 4 pages of Original Tao: Inward Training (Nei-yeh) to deeply researched discussion around the genealogy of this as the only verse with a Confucian orientation. On the balance of evidence, he suggests that it is probably a later addition.


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Considering the way of eating,

If you over-indulge, your qi will be injured.

This will cause your body to deteriorate.

If you over-restrict, your bones will be weakened.

This will cause your blood to congeal.

The place between over-indulgence and over-restriction,

We call this “harmonious completion.”

Here is the lodging-place of vital essence.

It is also where knowing is generated.

When hunger and satiation lose their regulation,

You must make a plan to rectify this.

If you are overly satiated, engage in activity.

If you are hungry, expand your thinking [beyond food].

If you are old, forget your worries.

If you are overly satiated and do not move,

The qi will not circulate through the limbs.

If you are hungry and do not expand your thinking,

When you finally do eat you will not stop.

If when old you do not forget your worries,

The well-spring of your vitality will dissipate.




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Expand your heart-mind and release it.

Relax your qi and allow it to extend.

When your body is calm and unmoving,

Guard the One and discard myriad disturbances.

You will see profit and not be enticed by it.

You will see harm and not be frightened by it.

Relaxed and unwound, yet acutely sensitive,

In solitude you will delight in your own being.

This is what we call “circulating the qi.”

Your thoughts and deeds are natural and spontaneous.




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— 2 5 —


Considering the vitality of human beings,

It inevitably comes from peace of mind.

When anxious, you lose the guiding thread.

When angry, you lose the fundamental point.

If you are anxious, sad, pleased, or angry,

There is no place within you for the Dao to reside.

Love and desire: still them!

Folly and confusion: correct them!

Do not push, do not pull!

Auspiciousness will naturally return to you,

And that Dao will naturally come to you

So you can rely on it and be guided by it.

If you are tranquil, you will come to realize it.

If you are agitated, you will come to lose it.




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