Verse 25 focuses upon human vitality (shêng) – again. As an indication of its importance to the Nei-yeh, this is the third verse that identifies vitality (shêng) as its prime topic. This conclusion is not guesswork or inference. Each verse begins with identical ideograms that could be translated as: “regarding human vitality”.
Verse 21 connects harmony/balance with vitality. Verse 22 states that music and poetry mitigate the emotions that erode vitality. Verse 25, the current verse, stresses the importance of mental tranquility and alignment for human vitality.
(As in other verses, we took the liberty of gerundizing and removing pronouns from the translation.)
1 Regarding the vitality (shêng) of all people
2 Inevitably coming from peace of mind (hsin).
This song-poem has a tight logical sequence: Root, Problem, Solution, Positive Consequences, Summary.
The Root: Peace of mind is the root of vitality (shêng). The importance of mental tranquility has been a recurring theme throughout the Nei-yeh.
3 When anxious, losing this guiding thread;
4 When angry, losing this basic point.
5 When anxious or sad, pleased or angry,
6 The Way (Tao) has no place to settle.
The Problem: Emotions, positive and negative, disrupt mental tranquility thereby driving away the Tao, the source of vitality. When our mind is filled with emotions such as anger, anxiety, sadness or even being pleased, we lose our tranquility, i.e. the ‘guiding thread’. Due to this emotional disturbance, ‘the Tao has no place to settle’.
Recall from Verse 4: when the Tao abides within the mind (hsin), vitality (shêng) surges forth. Vitality is evidence of the Tao’s presence within us. Without the Tao, there is no vitality.
It seems that anxiety, anger, and sadness, as well as being pleased, disrupt mental tranquility. In other words, both positive and negative emotions repulse the Tao and its attendant vitality. Pure mental equanimity is the necessary precondition for personal vitality.
As an example of the universality of human experience, the Greek philosopher Epicurus and his Roman follower Lucretius also counsel us to reject both positive and negative emotions in order to maximize personal potentials, such as happiness.
7 Love and desire; still (ching) them!
8 Folly and disturbance; correct (cheng) them!
9 Do not push it [vitality]! Do not pull it!
The Solution: The first two lines suggest how to avoid or at least mitigate the disruptive emotional states that compromise vitality: Engage in the twin processes of calming (ching) love and desire and rectifying (cheng) folly and disturbance. Again ching and cheng, tranquilizing and aligning, play a crucial role in the Nei-yeh’s self-cultivation process. It is as if we are stilling our children and keeping them on course.
To attain peace of mind, we must also avoid pushing or pulling vitality. This new suggestion evokes the image of an over-achiever – those who are constantly ‘pushing and pulling’ themselves to do more. Rather than consuming stimulants to ‘push’ the limits of our personal energy; rather than spending our entire store of energy on projects and fun; rather than overexerting our will to ‘pull’ our body to the edge of exhaustion, the implicit suggestion is to conserve vitality. Don’t force things. As jing is the root of vitality, this falls in the category of ‘nurturing jing’.
10 Good fortune naturally returning,
11 That Way (Tao) naturally coming,
12 Relying on and taking counsel from it [vitality].
Positive Consequences: Calming (ching) emotions, rectifying (cheng) behavior, and resisting the temptation to do too much results in both good fortune and the Tao naturally returning. Further instead of being depleted or erratic, we are able to rely upon and take counsel from our vitality.
The last line is interesting. How can we take counsel from vitality? Following the Nei-yeh’s advice presumably results in reliable, i.e. consistent, personal energy. Steady vitality enhances our cognitive skills. In such a way, reliable vitality is associated with reliable insights.
Conversely, when vitality is low, the mind tends to drift to the endless mental loops that are so draining energetically. Experiments have even shown that low personal energy erodes critical thinking skills. For instance, sleep deprivation frequently leads to emotional disturbances, such as paranoia.
13 If tranquil (ching), attaining it [vitality].
14 If agitated, then losing it.
Summary: Mental tranquility results in attaining vitality, while mental agitation results in losing it. This is a reiteration of the verse’s beginning lines: ‘Peace of mind’ is a prerequisite for sustainable vitality.
1 Harold Roth, Original Tao, Inward Training (Nei-yeh), Columbia University Press, 1999, p. 94
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