Translated variously as “inward training,” “self-cultivation,” and “inner development,” the Nei-yeh is an early Daoist work consisting, according to the translation we have followed, of 26 interconnected verses. Set out in these subtle, beautiful poems is a program concerned with aligning one’s posture, breathing, and mind with the Way of things. Some Daoist scholars, therefore, have come to regard this “biospiritual” text as an important complement to the social and political aspects of the Daodejing as well as to the mystical aspirations of The Inner Chapters.
In contrast with its competitors then and now, Inward Training makes no promises about longevity or eternal life. This is because its aim is not supernatural but more humbly human: it is to lead the best kind of life a human can. Though the details of the program are obscure, the rough outline is fairly clear. The practitioner who is diligent and regular in his practice may discover that the substantial force that animates all things is now also animating his life and this more and more. Whatever flows through the cosmos also flows through him; whatever would otherwise tend to depart now remains with him; no longer “an obstruction,” he is a vessel for receiving, his life an example of proper attuning to this higher, all-pervading force. To be sure, as he aligns his breath and calms his mind, the results will be revealed, at least in part, in his countenance, in his easy strength, in the kindness others show him. Moreover, because he has learned proper measure, he may also lead a longer life than those who would recklessly go contrary to the Way. Yet good health, good reputation, and longevity have never been his reasons for following the Way; rather, it is to accord himself with this reality for its own sake.
One final word. These readings were recorded over a two-week period in late April and early May of 2014. In keeping with Daoist philosophy’s requirement that one come to experiential awareness of its teachings, Alexandra and I went about learning how to read this work as we learned what it was about: our exploration of diction was to be spiritual exercise in itself. In all this, however, we make no claims to be Daoist sages nor would we. As is evident, we are but learners nearer to the beginning of the course than the end.
–Alexandra and Andrew Taggart Joshua Tree, California, Spring 2014