Nei-yeh (Chinese Self-Cultivation Manual)

Verse 26. Regarding Ch’i within Hsin, the Heart-Mind

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  1   That mysterious vital energy (ch’i) within the mind (hsin):

  2   One moment it arrives; the next moment it departs.

  3   So fine, there is nothing within it;

  4   So vast there is nothing outside of it.

  5   We lose it

  6   Because of the harm caused by mental agitation.

  7   When the mind (hsin) can hold onto tranquility,

  8   The Way (Tao) will become naturally stabilized.

  9   For people who have attained the Way (Tao):

10   It permeates their pores and saturates their hair.

11   Within (zhöng) their chest, they remain unvanquished.

12   [Follow] this Way (Tao) of restricting sense-desires

13   And the myriad things will not cause you harm.


The opening line clearly identifies the focus of Verse 26 – ch’i within hsin (the heart-mind).


Lines 1-4:

  1   Regarding the mysterious vital energy (ch’i) within the mind (hsin):

  2   One moment arriving; the next moment departing.

  3   So fine, there is nothing within it;

  4   So vast there is nothing outside of it.


Ch’i is modified by the adjective ‘mysterious’. Shaman is one of the components of the ‘mysterious’ ideogram. The word choice suggests that ch’i is not just ordinary energy, but is instead associated with the shaman’s transcendent/mystical states of consciousness.

Again the Nei-yeh emphasizes the unpredictable nature of ch’i‘arriving and departing’ without apparent reason. Each of the cosmic energies behaves in similar fashion. This erratic conduct could be likened to spirit behavior. As we’ve seen, the metaphor of attracting these benevolent spirit energies to our core permeates the Nei-yeh.

The final lines of this sequence suggest that ch’i is beyond traditional categories – just like the other cosmic energies. In this case, ch’i seems to have a somewhat paradoxical nature in that it is ‘so fine and vast that nothing is within or outside of it’.


Lines 5-6:

  5   We lose it

  6   Because of the harm caused by mental agitation.


Evidently ch’i leaves the mind due to mental agitation – a consistent theme in the Nei-yeh.


Lines 7-8:

  7   The mind (hsin) holding onto tranquility,

  8   The Way (Tao) becoming naturally stabilized.


Just as ch’i leaves our core due to mental agitation, mental tranquility naturally stabilizes the elusive Tao.


Lines 9-11:

  9   Attaining the Tao people:

10   Permeating their pores and saturating their hair.

11   Within the core (zhöng) of their chest, remaining unvanquished.


Line 9 is a great example of the difference between the 2 types of translations – subject-object and gerund-like. Roth’s subject-object translation implies that certain people have attained the Tao. The gerund-like translation implies that certain people are in the process of attaining the Tao. In the first, the people have reached a destination, i.e. the Tao. This fixed metaphor implies permanence – like arriving home. In the second, the people are on the Path to the destination. This transitory metaphor implies the need for maintenance – keeping on course. Many of us are on the Path. How many, if any, have actually permanently attained the Tao?

The Path (Tao) is presumably the process of self-cultivation enunciated by the Nei-yeh. For those who are on this Path, it permeates their pores, saturates their hair, and they will remain unvanquished within their core. In other words, this ideal self-cultivation process (Tao) will exhibit a positive effect upon both our physical body and our emotional state.


Lines 12-13:

12   [Follow] this Way (Tao) of restricting sense-desires

13   And the myriad things will not cause you harm.


If we follow the Way (the Tao) of restricting our sense-desires and nothing will harm us. Harm could include both physical injury and mental pain. In this sense, the practice of restricting sense-desires results in maintaining our physical and emotional balance regardless of external events. Regarding the entire verse, cultivating mental tranquility results in the mysterious ch’i remaining in the chest’s core, hsin, to provide us with vitality and protection from harm.

Master Ni on Ch’i, Mind and Desires

Master Ni expresses similar sentiments a few millennia later.

Ni: “Where does Ch’i come from?
Ch’i from Mind.
As example: If Mind [is] disturbed, Ch’i [is] rough.
If Mind at peace, Ch’i flows naturally.” (October 2000)

Simply, ch’i flow is disrupted when the mind is disturbed. Conversely, ch’i flows naturally when the mind is tranquil. This is an example of how our mental state influences the operation of our body; in this case our breath (ch’i). Both Master Ni and the Nei-yeh view the body/mind complex as an interactive network.

How do we calm the mind in order to have a natural ch’i flow?

Ni: “Mind is Fire.
Fire always burning.
Burning things up.
Still Mind.
Don’t fan Fire.” (March 25, 2000)

Mind is hsin; Fire can be thought of as our emotions. Instead of fanning (accepting) the Fire of our emotions, we must still our Mind. We must consciously ‘reject’ strong emotions. (V7) We must resist the temptation to add mental fuel to the emotional fire.

Master Ni also directly connects breathing (ch’i), the Mind and desires in a neat little package, as the following quotation illustrates.

Ni: “How can I teach Breathing when it comes from the Mind?
When someone angry - breath rises and becomes quick. Like this.”
He gives a brief demonstration of short shallow breathing.
Ni: “This evidence of how Mind affects Breathing.”
Me: “Mind also affects Body. When nervous, shoulders rise.”
Ni: “Right. How do I teach Breathing, if it comes from the Mind?”
Me: “Train the Mind?”
Ni: “How do I train Mind, when it is independent?
Shoulders rise despite intention. Anger comes without asking.
How do I teach Breathing to the Mind?
Necessary to quiet Mind. But how to quiet Mind?”
Me: “Still desires?”
Excitedly Ni: “Right. But how to still desires, when Mind desires what it sees?
Has to do with growth. When plant is weed, must cut down.
Weed like desires that Mind feeds. No attention, no weeds.”
Me: “If Mind cultivates desires, they grow.
Desires disturb Mind, which disrupts Breathing.”
Ni: “Right. Necessary to keep Mind very still and quiet.
For good and bad, not just bad.
Quieting the Mind stills desires. Good for Breathing.” (June 17, 2002)

He states that breath (ch’i) is dependent upon our state of mind. As in the earlier quote, desires disturb the Mind, which disrupt the breath, hence our ch’i flow. Unfortunately, Mind is independent in that it ‘desires what it sees’.

As a supplement to the Nei-yeh’s framework, Master Ni offers a suggestion as to how to limit these naturally arising desires. He employs the plant metaphor. We cultivate plants by watering them and cutting down weeds. He likens attention to water. Don’t give the weed/desires water/attention and they will naturally die. As before, ‘don’t fuel the Fire’ (of desires) and it will become extinguished.


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