Sunday, October 10, 2010

What is not Neidan?

Over the years, I have written quite a bit on neidan (inner alchemy) with numerous quotations cited from the right books, Daoist texts, and ancient classics with the hope that readers can learn something for themselves in the event they intend to practise or are already into the practice.

It seems that fellow travelers are far and few in between. Most others tend to think as they are told by their teachers that they can reach enlightenment by doing this or that. Sadly these students will be really disappointed at the end of the day, when they realize that they had been misled.

So what is considered not neidan?

All forms of martial arts whether they are of Chinese and Indian origin are not neidan. (Japanese and Korean martial arts are already included.) Some masters may argue that their martial arts for example Taijiquan and Neigong deal with internal breath (qi) control and therefore it is related to neidan. But that is far from the truth if we know what neidan practice involves.

All forms of Yoga including the so-called Daoist yoga are not neidan. Remember that yoga is Hindu? What has yoga got to do with Daoist neidan? If Daoist yoga is neidan, Zhang Boduan and Liu I Ming of Quanzhen would not have warned against it in their respective writings.

All forms of qigong exercises are not neidan. Here I find many masters making claims on the web including Daoist forums that their exercises will lead to enlightenment. Sadly these are ridiculous and false claims but many of their students do not think so. While qigong exercises can improve the health and increase the qi levels of students, neidan practice can do more than that.

Most forms of meditation are not neidan even if they happen to deal with breath control.

If the breath is not circulated, it is not neidan. If the breath is circulated but no light is seen within it is not neidan meditation. If the breath and the light circulate together but then the practitioner feels kundalini arising, that is not neidan. Kundalini, as the well read know, is a Hindu practice.

Chan and Zen Buddhists, going by the Youtube postings of a well respected master in the West teaching meditation, are not practising neidan. They just meditate. Some love to play mind games. Probably such games are good for the mind. No wonder the Chan Buddhists of old love to read Zhuangzi.

However, Zhuangzi did not practise neidan in case readers did not discern. How could he when he rejected the Ways of Earth and Man and only concentrated on the Way of Heaven?

But this has nothing to do with Bodhidharma, the first patriarch of Chan Buddhism. His teachings are fine and they involve the cultivation of nature and fate which is no different from neidan as taught in the Book of Changes (Yijing). The Buddha taught the cultivation in the Buddhist sutras, the same as what is written in the Tao Te Ching by Laozi. But then you may disagree.

No wonder, I have not seen you walking along the Way!


The Crow said...

You are not too lonely, then.
Not when you are everything, and everything is you.

baroness radon said...

This post is...breathtaking.

Hi, Crow!

Paul said...

Hi Crow and others,

...O, I didn't know there are so many people interested in Taoist stuff (for whatever reason...), it was lucky that I ventured into this small community through a rather random google search. The unexpected often times yield more interesting fruits.

Back to subject, this post is certainly interesting, though more substantive comments from ME seems quite inappropriate, you know, it is quite unlikely for one to change one's (core) personality features (Tao has many faces!), as ancient Chinese wisdom says, it is easier to overthrow an (authoritative) Government than to change a person's personality. Having said that I do believe the world (tao or otherwise) would be more interesting if more crows (like THE crow) were no longer afraid of scarecrow...

Just back from an overseas' trip... let's toast: We are all great! It's a wonderful world that we're living in!

The Crow said...


Like people, crows are different from each other.
The enlightened crow knows he is also the scarecrow, and why should he fear himself?

Paul said...


but O dear, like humans, crows have to eat, would the enlightened ones be feeding on themselves...


The Crow said...

Their own bodies: the world.
What else, would they eat?
Alone, each crow, a fool.
Nourished by the whole,
less foolish.

paul said...

Congratulation Mr. Crow, you have achieved immortality (intellectually), and assuming that you can walk your talk (i.e. truly experience [or living in] immortality), you can do as Jesus did: Love thy neighbor as thyself. BTW: Neidan is one of the training instructions (or "manuals") to immortality.

PS: I still enjoy more one medium-done-aged-steak in New York (of course I have to pay, the restaurants there don't practice Crow's wisdom), rather than....(ugh!!!!)

Enjoy talking to you....

The Crow said...

Likewise :)
Doing a Jesus is not as easy as it looks:
I did manage the first part, though:~
Forty days and forty nights, alone in the desert, certainly did the trick.
Loving thy neighbor?
Well, that's really the master-class, isn't it?
Can't say I successfully manage that yet.

Paul said...

...being human we can be conscious of the suffering arising from living as manifested in ever-changing opposites (you vs me, good vs bad [or my good vs your bad, or vice versa]...). Yet being human, we have the opportunity to seek redemption or enlightenment, the never ending (enjoyable) process (for common folks [like you (I suppose) and me] other than ..... like Jesus) of seeking balance out of imbalance and vice versa....

Paul said...

Mr. Crow, I hope our host won’t be upset about us using his precious space for our discussions. Needless to say, your blog would be a more appropriate place for any lengthy talks….

But before I move on, I think it would only be appropriate (rent paying?) if I could comment on (at least) one substantive issue:

“If the breath is not circulated, it is not neidan”.

We breath in oxygen (and breath out carbon dioxide), and that is external chi. External chi is managed by our lungs and associated muscles. We simple DON’T circulate external chi. However, we do use the mechanism of external chi to drive or move internal chi. The moving of internal chi along defined (as defined by different disciplines) paths is common to all practices that use internal chi as an important tool (the Indians call it prana and the Japanese call it ki). The circulation of chi (from here on, for simplicity I drop the word “internal”) along the microcosmic path belongs distinctly to Taoist practice (some Tai-chi practitioners also use microcosmic in their practice). Two points: (1) microcosmic is ONLY the very beginning (the later stages involve moving the “furnace” upwards from lower Dantian to middle Dantian to upper Dantian and finally controlled OBE. Which practice however is quite unlike (the rather scary) improper practice of kundalini awakening (documented in many books, kundalini awakening can be a controlled experience with proper, but rather lengthy, Indian yoga practice), or folks with traumatic experience with involuntary OBE (whatever enlightenment arising there from is another issue). (2) Mere circulation is NOT microcosmic practice: there are two key elements. One is “How to generate the chi in the first place?” (In classical Taoist practice chi must be from absolute calmness (yin/yan conversion), however, there are indeed more than one way to generate the necessary starting chi-energy). Two is “specific point-chi-meditation” along the route (In classical Taoist practice, it is called “Bathing”). Actually these two key elements are also applicable to Indian practices, but handled in different ways.

Allan said...

Transfer of Silentium's comment to the relevant blog entry:

Silentium said...
Your thoughts expressed in "What is not Neidan?" are interesting. For some reason, they remind this one of Neti, Neti - "Neither this, nor that..."

Neidan approaches the Ultimate, it seems, but does not quite reach it.

One of your most relevant comments here was: "It seems that fellow travelers are far and few in between."

Well, here you find a wanderer who does agree with your final observation:
"But this has nothing to do with Bodhidharma, the first patriarch of Chan Buddhism. His teachings are fine and they involve the cultivation of nature and fate which is no different from neidan as taught in the Book of Changes (Yijing). The Buddha taught the cultivation in the Buddhist sutras, the same as what is written in the Tao Te Ching by Laozi."

27/10/10 8:11 AM

trevortonsi said...

You talk about what nei dan is not, but say little of what you believe it is. I agree with what you say about kundalini and most martial arts and even about most chi kung arts. I have practiced and taught Ch'an , Taoist Inner Alchemy and Shaolin kung fu for 25 yrs. and I would like to know more of what you think neidan actually is before I comment on what I disagree with because you do make some very, how would I say interesting statements. So please explain without cryptic staements for masters do not need them they can speak plainly if they so wish, how to become an immortal in your view.