Nei-yeh — Inward Training and the Unity of Spirit
All the forms of the mind are naturally infused and filled with it [the vital essence], are naturally generated and developed [because of] it.
It is lost
inevitably because of sorrow, happiness, joy, anger, desire, and profit-seeking.
If you are able to cast off sorrow, happiness, joy, anger, desire and profit-seeking,
your mind will just revert to equanimity.
The true condition of the mind
is that it finds calmness beneficial and, by it, attains repose.
Do not disturb it, do not disrupt it
and harmony will naturally develop.
Clear! as though right by your side.
Vague! as though it will not be attained.
Indescribable! as though beyond the limitless.
The test of this is not far off: daily we make use of its inner power.
I Ching / Qingyang Taoist Temple – Chengdu
The Way 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! none can hear its sound.
Suddenly stopping! it abides within the mind.
Obscure! we do not see its form.
Surging forth! it arises with us.
We do not see its form,
we do not hear its sound,
Yet we can perceive an order to its accomplishments.
We call it “the Way.” (or the Tao).
The above translation of chapters three and four of the Nei-yeh is by Harold Roth, and excerpted from his book, Original Tao: Inward Training (Nei-yeh) and the Foundation of Taoist Mysticism.
By way of introduction to the text, Mr. Roth writes:
“Nei-yeh (Inward Training) is a collection of poetic verses on the nature of the Way (Tao) and a method of self-discipline that I call “inner cultivation” — a mystical practice whose goal is a direct apprehension of this all-pervading cosmic force. It contains some of the most beautiful lyrical descriptions of this mysterious cosmic power in early Chinese literature and in both literary form and philosophical content is quite similar to the much more renowned Lao Tzu (also called the Tao Te Ching).
The Nei-yeh is a Taoist scripture, believed to have been written in the 4th century BC, making it — alongside the 6th century BC Lao Tzu Te Tao Ching and the 4th century BC Chuang Tzu — one of the earliest articulations of Taoist mysticism.
The Nei-yeh has been translated into English variously as: Inner Cultivation, Inward Training, Inner Enterprise or Inner Development. Though less known than the Te Tao Ching and Chuang Tzu, it is increasingly being recognized and honored as a foundational text of early Taoism. Though belonging primarily to the Taoist Canon, the Nei-yeh resonates strongly with other non-dual spiritual traditions, Chan / Zen Buddhism in particular.
Focusing, keeping our attention, and reading the above more than once is how we internalize thoughts we want to become familiar with, relate to, or both.
Like studying for a test. For myself, when I was teaching, I would read aloud first as I would in class, to adjust how the words sounded as I spoke. It was much easier then when I “put on the words” again, as if they were old friends. What is the meaning of what I am reading, saying, or listening to, and how does that relate to undoing old habits and learning new ones. It’s part of the essence of mindfulness we referred to earlier and remaining in the present. This relates to the idea of “clearing our mind – or as some have said finding the silence”, that serves so ably in empowering us. Removing those things of little or no use to us we sometimes refer to as attachments, and filling with structure so that we pay attention to what does.
Western thought, philosophy, and religion can do the same. Staying in the present means however that we are open to what takes us to new horizons. Not leaving behind essentials, but prepared to replace as if clothes that are worn out, and replacing with new clothes and a better fit that helps to take us there. As we look for the common thread that binds it all together.
As we begin to think of Western philosophy as to what unifies all under what we would say in the Lord’s Prayer… “Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven”. In the West there were inquisitions and excommunication prior to the renaissance in 15th century Europe as to what Thy will is… or was. If God is out there – then who speaks for Him? The New World was founded partly because people were escaping the Church of England and others due to religious intolerance. Even in New England, this “puritan” sensibility dictated norms. Whereas, in China, various opinions came forward as “commentaries” to previously accepted doctrine. However, the I Ching would dictate change is inevitable and nothing remains the same or stagnate over time. What can define us other than where we find ourselves in nature and our surroundings?
Oftentimes history tells the story, regardless of how we may wish it were told. In the East, it would be the sense of convergence of what might be seen as opposites that meant all would find a way to acceptance and unity. If the stars above moved from day to day, and nature, i.e., by cause and effect, and the seasons changed, then how could we be different and not change by way of our thoughts and attitudes as well? As if acknowledging a thread-like string of pearls running through it all and recalling that we are simply an extension of those stars above as our source we forever will remain attached to.
Above is Xiantao Feng commonly referred to as “Fairy Peach Peak”, or “Flying Rock”; also known as “Old Man watching the Sea” on Yellow Mountain in Huangshan, Anhui Province.
The nature of man, and more importantly the universe was always changing. Man would change inwardly, so that outwardly he could survive the elements. Just as in nature, change was seen as inevitable. Adapting to change, both internal and external, led to pragmatism that would lead to a better life. Hence, new commentaries as to what was meant by this reality would always be changing. But even then, when Confucianism was mandated by the state and the old shrines to shamanism were discarded, they remained as innate traits of the people themselves. Historically, the tasks of the shaman had included rain-making, divination and medicine; work or duty that involved a performance element using music and dance that brought everyone into the realm of what we would call today the spirit, supernatural… or attribute to God or a deity.
Unity of Spirit
One cannot help but think Meister Eckhart in the 1300’s looked back to Aristotle (384–322 BC) and Greek philosophy as he was teaching at the university in Paris. He was sent to the University of Paris in 1294 to lecture on Peter Lombard’s Sentences, the main text in the Middle Ages on intermediate theological studies, as part of his own curriculum leading to the coveted title, Meister/Master by the the Dominican Order of the Catholic Church. The University of Paris was the center of medieval academia, a place where Eckhart had access to all noteworthy works—and he evidently read most of them. For Eckhart, God’s supremely glorious nature can only mean that God is fully transcendent and fully immanent, entirely beyond all and yet completely within all as the One who alone is pure spirit and the essence of all.
Aristotle, was a Greek philosopher and scientist, a student of Plato and tutor to Alexander the Great. It was Plato who appears to have been the founder of Western political philosophy. He believed that there must be something beyond simple knowledge that leads us to wisdom and that it is our nature that takes us there. Eckhart was convinced there was an underpinning unity, or starting point recognizing it all begins with philosophy for what we choose to believe.
For Eckhart, this manifested as a “unity of spirit”, that served as the vital reasoning for how it all fit together. He too, felt the beginning point was from within each person who needed to reach out and touch the universe with his own presence, his own thoughts, as he responded by lighting his own world, as well as, the world around him. That it begins from within. It is as though we try to give credit to who may have invented the wheel. When in fact it was created, almost globally, as if only by the universal needing to do so.
Two things stand out to me, among many, as to Eckhart’s role. First, Eckhart contended that the absolute principle (or the absolute cause: God) is pure intellect and not being.
According to this view, being is always caused and thus presupposes intellect itself without being, as the cause of being. Eckhart holds that being is, in intellect, nothing other than intellect and, therefore, not simply being, but instead being that has been elevated to intellect. If someone should nonetheless object that in God knowing or anything else might be described as ‘being’, the proper response for Eckhart is that this ‘being’ still presupposes the knowing of intellect. As if saying… if you wish to call intelligizing being, that is all right with me. For thirteenth century Europe this idea was pretty radical. He was on the way to being charged by the church as heretical and as suspect of heresy. Eckhart, however, did not live to see his condemnation; he died sometime before April 30, 1328.
Second, was the goal of the rational form of life – of living in and with the spiritual perfections at the level of that transcendental being – is living in and from the absolute one (in and from the divine nature as presuppositionless unity). This idea is as close to being recognized as in line with Taoism, and general Eastern philosophy, as could be… He contended, “If, God’s ground is my ground and my ground God’s ground”, then man is no longer simply on the way towards unity. Instead, unity is something that has always already been achieved. By and through his nature he is already universal, i.e., unified with the divine. (In Chinese philosophy man is simply one of the ten thousand things). He alone is what matters, in that he is responsible not only for himself, but all he encounters. Because man, once he becomes accountable from within himself has left behind everything that stands in the way of his living in and from this unity. Man was one with God, and God was one with him. That the soul is more interior in this unity than it is in and of itself. This is true equanimity – letting go – as the goal of human life becomes not only okay, but essential. Living in and from unity in the manner envisioned by Eckhart as the end of self-discovery becomes possible through a change in intellectual disposition. The possible intellect – which, as defined by Aristotle, can become all things and is able to be known either as ordinary consciousness, or as self-consciousness through self-knowledge… or Inward Training. Or as stated above… The Way (Tao) is what infuses the body.
Five hundred years later, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau would take this idea of “unity of spirit”, and create what was to become the transcendental movement that changed America and the world.
They deserve an entry of their own, so it will be coming in a few weeks here on my website. Challenging the status quo as to man’s relationship with God, nature and the universe, was to have a similar effect. Especially the writing of Emerson, similar to that Ekhart had on the status quo as a given challenging the theology of Thomas Aquinas many centuries earlier, who was the accepted voice of the church at the time.
Again, it would be in this unity of thought… now seen as “New Thought”, that was to move this sense of the “Universal or Christ presence” that resides within each of us to new heights.
From my own maybe unique perspective, and interest in China, I am drawn to what makes the “Family Christian Church” work in China. The Christian faith, or religion, is accepted and certainly allowed in China, but within a different perspective. From a historical standpoint there is even something called the Great Unity, whose beginnings can be traced back to roughly 900 BC, and sometimes referred to in Chinese as Datong. It is a Chinese utopian vision of the world in which everyone and everything is at peace. It is found in classical Chinese philosophy which has been invoked many times in the modern history of China. What is important to note here, is that this concept is not based on a “religious pretext”. Except for the notion found empowering in all religions… “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. More on the Great Unity next time.
Something I wrote many years ago as I was going through a difficult transition that ultimately led to moving to another state and new job seems appropriate here… I especially like the clothes analogy. I often think of churches and spiritual communities as grades in school, just as with a circle of friends. When you reach a higher level of spiritual maturity you just graduate out, unless the whole group graduates with you. It’s bringing others along for the ride that makes it all so worthwhile and appealing. Some though seem happy with just where they are. Perhaps we should just be happy for them too. From my manuscript… “My travels with Lieh Tzu”.
Forever reaching for the next rung on the ladder that must be followed.
Beyond earthly endeavors.
Attachments strewn about like dirty clothes waiting for their place in the right laundry basket. One’s life simply the process of cleaning the clothes previously worn that must be recycled over and over again. To be constantly reborn. Anything that is seen of paramount importance only a test to be mailed in after you have found and corrected your own mistakes.
Outcomes only determined by lessons learned with only yourself checking and knowing the right answers. Mistakes although constantly repeated. Leading only to an eternity of self‑fulfilling prophecies of our own unwillingness to follow the ultimate path we know must be taken.
Finding the courage to change. Leaving behind patterns filled with adversity we have come to know as a life support. Forever keeping us down as a one-thousand-pound weight around our shoulders. Continually given the eternal chance to change.
To keep living until we get it right as we live and die simply by letting go.
Finally finding the ladder.
Cautious steps of optimism leading to places previously unheard of and unseen. Knowing that eternal truth lies only in the steps that must be followed. Never looking back, thereby losing your balance the constant order of the day.
Be forever the agent of change. Knowing that the content found by others with everything as it remains is not the way things ultimately will be. Remaining forever unattached, letting go and finding yourself in clothes that are eternally clean. 12/30/94