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Nei Gong – Philosophical Art of Change

While most people will have heard about Qi Gong, Nei Gong is still a relatively unknown subject on our side of the planet. Qi Gong, meaning ’energy work’, often refers to various sets of exercises with specific aims—e.g. improving health, developing martial power, etc. As the name implies, Qi Gong works with Qi to achieve its aims. Nei Gong (‘internal work’) has a wider scope than Qi Gong. The most fundamental difference between the two is that Nei Gong does not refer to any specific practices or exercises; nor does it have any predetermined aims. Rather, Nei Gong is a process that works with transforming your inner being. While Qi Gong can be taught through exercises—by telling you how to breathe and move, for instance—Nei Gong requires transmission from an experienced teacher who has been through the process themself.

Nei Gong is essentially a tool to awaken our energy system and take us backwards through the process of creation. Thus, we start working with our acquired mind so we can eventually lead it back to its original or congenital state of being. Classically, Nei Gong was the practice that manifested the philosophy of Daoism into something tangible; as such, it provides strong foundations for other practices like Nei Jia (the internal martial arts) and Nei Dan Gong (internal alchemy). If we consider it in terms of how far it can take us on our journey from the acquired to the congenital mind, Nei Gong sits halfway between Qi Gong and Nei Dan Gong. Because it contains various elements from both disciplines, Nei Gong can be tricky to define. Also, the fact that it is a process, rather than a defined practice or set of practices, means that it can be taught in very different ways. In a few words, Nei Gong could be defined as the philosophical art of change.

Nei Gong is taught in a very systematic way within Lotus Nei Gong. Damo Mitchell has put together specific sets of Qi Gong and Dao Yin exercises to take beginners through the early stages of the process. These notably include Ji Ben Qi Gong (fundamentals of energy work) and Dragon Dao Yin (pulling and guiding moving sequences) exercises. By triggering reactions similar to Kriya in Yoga, these exercises help the students clear any major energetic and physical blockages. As stated above, these energetic exercises are only used as tools to facilitate the Nei Gong process. At more advanced stages, the focus progressively shifts towards standing postures and sitting practices. What distinguishes Nei Gong from many other methods is the extensive use of transmission to help the students through the process. This is how Daoism was taught traditionally.

Conversion Process

The most crucial tools in the process of conversion initiated by Nei Gong are the three main energy centres referred to as the Dan Tien (which, quite literally, translates as ‘elixir field’). Therefore, many Daoist practices aim at working with those energetic spheres. The lower Dan Tien is the single most important instrument when we start practising as it allows us to start the process of conversion from Jing to Qi. In other words, we can switch our mind from the physical to the energetic realm, which can be described as the first step in the process of refinement we seek to create within our body. The lower Dan Tien can be viewed as a catalyst that triggers this process—it corresponds to the stage of Taiji within the creation of the universe.

Once the lower Dan Tien is active, the frequency we are working with can be further refined. At this stage, we start working with the middle Dan Tien, where the conversion from Qi to Shen can take place. This is when we start working with our emotions and the deeper aspects of ourselves. If we are to move further within the Nei Gong process, it is essential that we balance the emotions. Within Daoism, emotions are viewed as distortions of the mind; they are part of our acquired (or ‘post-heaven’) nature. Unfortunately, these negative aspects of the human psyche are often celebrated in modern societies. Therefore, people find it difficult to accept that emotions stand in the way of balance and spiritual progression.

In Chinese medicine, Jing, Qi and Shen are often viewed as a more or less refined substance or texture—Jing being the closest to physicality. Viewing those categories in terms of a substance can help us understand how they work within the three bodies of man (the physical, energy and consciousness bodies). Jing is generally said to become depleted through excessive sexual activity and overwork. Qi, on the other hand, is affected by the constant interplay of our emotions on the level of the Heart-Mind. The more advanced stages of the Nei Gong process take place in the upper Dan Tien, which is in charge of the conversion from Shen to Dao. When we are working with Shen, our distorted perception of reality is what stands in the way of our progression. Classical Daoist texts often stress the necessity to see beyond the outer forms of the world. In this sense, the biggest obstacle to our spiritual awakening is narrow-mindedness.

Daoist Theory of Creation

Within Daoism, the universe is said to spring from original emptiness or Wuji. Wuji does not contain existence per se; rather, it can be said to contain the potential for existence. It is the blank canvas on which the whole of what we call ‘reality’ is projected. What allows this reality to come into being is Taiji, the catalyst from which the ‘ten thousand things’ spring. In other words, Taiji is the initial spark that triggers the process of creation. It is the point of origin for Yin and Yang—the Liang Yi or twin poles that contain the whole of existence. This process of creation applies to both the universe at large and individual human beings.

Fundamental to the Daoist worldview is the correspondence between macrocosm and microcosm. Understanding how the universe exists on a macrocosmic level should allow us to grasp the process of creation as it unfolds within human beings. At the heart of the philosophy of Daoism is the idea that the universe created itself so it can experience existence. Following from this, it can be said that human beings only created themselves so they could experience existence—their ultimate goal being spiritual elevation. This conjures up a key idea of Daoism, namely that thought always precedes physicality. In other words, whatever comes into being on the plane of matter is always the result of an intention on the plane of consciousness.

When looking at the Daoist process of creation, one of the most basic facts is the notion that everything that exists springs from nothingness (Wuji): ‘something’ always comes from ‘nothing’. While this idea might appear over-simplistic to people living in the modern world, the same people will often find it difficult to grasp its immediate relevance to the creation of human beings. Our societies are governed by a materialistic worldview that takes it for granted that physicality precedes everything else. Daoism, by contrast, states that the physical realm is always a manifestation of an intention that originates on the plane of consciousness or Shen. Thus, every individual is said to spring from a single speck of consciousness—this idea constitutes the root of the Daoist process of individuation.

Every speck of consciousness is an individual manifestation of Wuji (which can be translated as ’without extremities’). This individuated aspect of consciousness is referred to as the Yuan Shen (original consciousness). The Yuan Shen then divides down to form the human mind: this is when the process of creation really starts. This division of consciousness manifests through five lights, which create all the different aspects of our mind. From consciousness springs the energetic realm, which includes the meridian system (Jing Luo). Only then can the physical aspect of man come into being. From this we can see how the modern view of man is completely at odds with older spiritual traditions like Daoism. Every time we have a thought, we repeat this universal process of creation through the body. That is why it is said that every single thought affects the body.

In Daoist terminology, this process can be summarised through the three fundamental categories of Shen, Qi and Jing, which respectively relate to the consciousness, energy and physical bodies. On the macrocosmic level, these match the categories of Heaven, Man and Earth. The most generic aim of Daoism is to get back to the point where thought originates by reversing the process of creation. This illustrates the notion that Daoism always works backwards. Thus, we first work with Jing, then Qi and eventually Shen. Daoism understands that Jing, Qi and Shen are essentially one and the same vibration, only at different levels of frequency. These three categories essentially describe a process of vibrational refinement that takes place in the universe and within our body. By reversing this process, Daoist practices seek to initiate a conversion so we can switch back to our congenital (or pre-heaven) mind—the ultimate goal being to attain transcendent, unmediated comprehension.