Nei-yeh (Chinese Self-Cultivation Manual)

2. Inner Power (Te) & Intention (Yi) to attract & stabilize Ch’i.

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  1   Therefore this vital energy (ch'i) is:

  2   Bright! – as if ascending the heavens;

  3   Dark! – as if entering an abyss;

  4   Vast! – as if dwelling in an ocean;

  5   Lofty! – as if dwelling on a mountain peak.

  6   Therefore this vital energy (ch'i)

  7   Cannot be halted by force,

  8   Yet can be secured by inner power (te).

  9   Cannot be summoned by speech,

10   Yet can be welcomed by awareness (yi).

11   Reverently hold(ing) onto it (ch’i):

12   This is called "developing inner power (te)".

13   When inner power (te) develops and wisdom emerges,

14   The myriad things will, to the last one, be grasped.

Commentary

The topic of Verse 2 is ch’i (a.k.a. qi in the modern Pinyin spelling).

 

Lines 1-5:

     1   Therefore this vital energy (ch'i) is:

     2   Bright! – as if ascending the heavens;

     3   Dark! – as if entering an abyss;

     4   Vast! – as if dwelling in an ocean;

     5   Lofty! – as if dwelling on a mountain peak.

 

Ch’i (vital energy) is virtually everywhere – in both the vertical mountains and the horizontal ocean. Not just limited to living systems, heavenly spirits and earthly ghosts, as is jing,ch’i has a more universal component. While jing is associated with life’s sexual energy, ch’i is associated with breath, both individual and universal. Along with jing, ch’i is another cosmic energy source that we want to cultivate.

From a contemporary perspective, ch’i can almost be viewed as ‘the Force’ of Star Wars fame, as it is both ‘within’ and ‘without’ us. As it permeates everything, ch’i could be likened to the natural forces that characterize and bind the universe together. Like the Force, ch’i encompasses both the macro scale of the universe and the micro scale of the human world. Also like the Force, we would like to tap into ch’i’s universal cosmic energy on the personal level.

 

Lines 6-10:

     6   Therefore this vital energy (ch'i)

     7   Cannot be halted by force,

     8   Yet can be secured by inner power (te).

     9   Cannot be summoned by speech,

   10   Yet can be welcomed by awareness (yi).

 

How do we tap into this abundant ch’i energy?

Although we want to channel ch’i’s universal energy, it can’t be halted by force nor can it be summoned by speech. Both force of arms and commands are helpless in evoking this elusive energy. It seems that ch’i cannot be called up consciously or directly.

Instead the only way to channel ch’i power is to secure it with inner power (te) and welcome it with intention (yi). Inner power (te) is associated with the ability to exercise self-restraint, as the following diagram indicates. It seems that we must employ 2 components to utilize ch’i te and yi.

Lines 11 - 14:

   11   Reverently hold(ing) onto it (ch’i):

   12   This is called "developing inner power (te)".

   13   When inner power (te) develops and wisdom emerges,

   14   The myriad things will, to the last one, be grasped.

 

Once we have secured ch’i via inner power (te) and welcomed it with awareness (yi), we must hold onto it. ‘Developing te’ is the process that is employed to ‘reverentially hold onto’ ch’i. (Due to parallel inferential structures in later verses, we employ the word ‘stabilizes’ for ‘holding onto’ in the following diagram.)  As we develop te, wisdom emerges. This wisdom enables us to understand the workings of the cosmos.

Ideogram for Ch’i

This verse highlights ch’i, how to both ‘secure’ and ‘hold onto’ it. To gain a better understanding of this cosmic energy, let us examine its ideogram – shown below. The four strokes on top symbolize ‘breath’ or even ‘vapor’. The ‘breath’ symbol encloses the character for ‘uncooked rice’, which looks roughly like a cross super-imposed on an ‘X’.

The character for rice, , has broad implications for the Chinese. Not merely an uncooked kernel, “the character shows a rice seedling complete with roots, leaves and grains.”1 This is a quintessential symbol for abundant fertility. Farmers can utilize countless grains of rice to plant more rice fields. Once harvested and then cooked, rice can and does nourish the entire population of China. Further, it takes a stable agrarian population to tend the myriad fields of grain. Due to these many connotations, rice fields with their seedlings are fundamental to Chinese civilization.

The character for ‘breath’ in the ch’i ideogram also has significant connotations that extend far beyond the respiratory system. As an indication of its potency, the modern ideograms for both yin and yang include the exact same breath symbol.

Recall the breath symbol encloses the rice symbol in the ch’i ideogram. Similarly, in the yang ideogram the breath symbol encloses the sun. In the yin ideogram, the breath symbol encloses the moon. This parallel construction for the ideograms of the highly significant concepts, ch’i, yin and yang, underlines the importance of the breath symbol.

The combination of the potent symbols for rice and breath in the ideogram indicates that ch’i is more than just breath. The fact that rice is in an uncooked state implies that ch’i is a raw form of energy that must be cooked before we can utilize its nutritive powers. The subsequent verses of the Nei-yeh indicate how to cook this raw energy in order to extract its beneficial essence.

Clearly on a historical level, ch’i is connected with nutritive rice, the fundamental food source of China. But ch’i energy embodies a broader symbolic relevance as well. As Verse 2 above illustrates, ch’i is a universal energy that permeates and animates every aspect of the cosmos. This key verse articulates the processes by which we can secure and stabilize, thereby channel ch’i, the most universal of the cosmic energy sources.

‘Developing Te’

To attract ch’i, we must exercise both te and yi, two significant word-concepts in the Nei-yeh. From Line 10, ‘te (inner power) secures’ and ‘yi (intent) welcomes’ this universal breath. Let us examine these concepts in more detail.

Roth translates te as ‘inner power’. It is sometimes translated as 'virtue'. This is the same te, as in the title of the Taoist classic – the Tao te Ching. What is this inner power, te? Let’s see what Kirkland has to say about this enigmatic word.

“The Nei-yeh – unlike the more familiar ‘Lao-Chuang’ texts – states that one’s te is something that one must work on, each and every day. The practitioner must work to build up his/her te by practicing diligent self-control over all thought, emotion and action.”2

From this perspective, te is not so much an inborn attribute, but instead is like a muscle that must be developed. As a mental muscle, te is associated with the related words – self-control, restraint, and deferred gratification. According to the Nei-yeh, te seems to be one of the primary mental muscles that we employ to corral the elusive forces of nature, such as ch’i. Rather than surrender our discretion to the relatively automatic behavior of socio-genetic conditioning, we can choose to exercise te, our self-restraint muscle.

Welcomed by Awareness (Yi)

In addition to securing ch’i with te, we must also ‘welcome [ch’i] with awareness [yi]’. What a curious phrase. It is as if we are greeting and inviting a friend into our home. ‘Welcoming’ certainly does not have, for instance the authoritarian connotations of force and commands. Further ‘welcoming’ implies the existence of something external. Ch’i, in this context, could be likened to a beneficent spirit that we are welcoming into the life of our family.

While ch’i certainly represents our individual breath, ch’i could also be considered the universal breath – the spirit that breathes life into the cosmos. We want to attract this spirit into our internal home – our spirit house. This is the first, but not the last time, that the Nei-yeh’s imagery is suggestive of a ‘spirit house’ metaphor.

How do we entice this cosmic energy source to come inside and stay awhile? We cannot simply ‘summon’ this energy to visit us at our whim. But rather like a good host, we must be prepared to ‘welcome’ our guest upon arrival. Our intention must not be focused upon our personal agenda, but rather upon the interests of our visitor. When we are fully aware of our guest’s importance, we can best attend to what they have to contribute.

In the context of this verse, like a good host we must pay attention to our visitor, in this case ch’i. In order to welcome ch’i to us, we must have a positive intention. Validating this perspective, many Taoist texts exhort the practitioner to ‘be aware of the breath’, i.e. our personal ch’i. This attention (yi) could be passive, as in simply observing the breath. Yi could also be active, as in consciously regulating our breath. ‘Revolving the ch’i’ is a phrase the Taoists employ in this context.

Let us now focus our attention upon yi. The character that Roth translates as ‘awareness’ in this phrase from line 10 is the Chinese word ‘yi’. This is a significant word-concept in the contemporary martial arts community. One text translates yi as “idea, intent, thought, content, purpose”3. Some implications could be simply ‘paying attention’, ’intentionality’, or ‘purposeful action’.

Like te (restraint), yi also seems to be a mental muscle. As a complement to te, yi is associated with attention and intention through the medium of awareness.

Te and yi in this verse could be likened to complementary mental muscles. The complementary relationship of contraction and release, of te and yi, attracts ch’i. This process is not simultaneous, but is instead based upon alternation. Further there is a bit of each in the other that tends to moderate the extremes. Intention (yi) guides the focus of restraint (te) and te moderates the potential obessiveness of intention (yi). 

For these reasons, we have chosen the yin-yang symbol to represent this process. Because it is directive, yi is linked with yang; because it is restrictive, te is linked with yin.

Reviewing: exercising the complementary te-yi pair secures and welcomes ch’i. If ch’i is to stay awhile, we cannot be mental couch potatoes. Instead we must ‘develop te’ in order to hold onto and stabilize ch’i’s energy after it enters our core.

In subsequent verses, the Nei-yeh refines our understanding of both word/concepts – te and yi.

Summary

Verse 2: Ch’i is a pervasive, powerful, yet elusive, cosmic energy. On the individual level, ch’i is traditionally associated with breath and blood flow. To attract ch’i, we must employ the complementary mental muscles – te (restraint) and yi (intent).

However simply attracting ch’i is not enough, as it might leave suddenly. We must stabilize this important energy source. ‘Developing te’, inner power, stabilizes ch’i. Wisdom naturally emerges from this developmental process.

It is evident that we want to cultivate the energies of both jing and ch’i as they bring Sagehood and wisdom.

Footnotes

1 Chinese Calligraphy, Edoardo Fazzioli, Rebecca Hon Ko, Abbeville Press, 1986, p.198

2 Russell Kirkland, Taoism, the enduring tradition, Routledge, 2004, p. 46

3 Chinese for the Martial Arts, Carol M. Derrickson, Charles E. Tuttle Company, Rutland, Vermont & Tokyo, Japan, 1996, p. 19

 

 

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