Trusting the Heart Inscription (Xìn Xīn Míng 信心銘)

Allow me to share this wonderful text attributed to Sēngcàn, the 3rd Chinese Zen Patriarch, who lived in the Sui Dynasty prior to the heyday of Zen, which is generally accepted to have been the Tang & Song Dynasties.  This text has Laozi running all through it.  The Chinese appears to be written for recitation or chanting, however it’s not easy to make the English read smoothly from couplet to couplet.  I’ve done my best and I think it’s good enough.  Wuji & Taiji together: “Not-Two!”

Xin Xin

Bu Er

Accessing Dao is not difficult

just don’t pick & choose

Without like & dislike

the chamber is naturally clear & bright

But make the smallest distinction

and set apart Heaven & Earth

If we wish to perceive the Original

don’t keep for & against

For & against mutually contend

serving to afflict the heart

If we don’t understand this mysterious point

it is futile to seek tranquility

Complete union with supreme emptiness

is without deficiency, without excess

But choose to accept or reject

then it is not so

Do not pursue entanglements

yet don’t dwell stuck in vacuity

Cultivate Oneness with a peaceful heart

thusly obliterating self-exhaustion

Stilling movement to return to stillness

only generates more movement

Only stuck in two sides

we cannot know cultivation of Oneness

Not accessing cultivation of Oneness

dwelling in duality, we forsake merit

Denying existence, we drown in existence

succumbing to vacuity, we get stuck in vacuity

The more we talk, the more we think

the further we wander astray

Cut off talking, cut off thinking

then there is nowhere we cannot access

Return to the root and get the point

but pursue appearance and lose the lineage

In a flash return the radiance

and successfully transcend vacuity

Transcending vacuity, shift & transform

with each & every fantastic appearance

It is no use to seek reality

just wait for appearance to cease

Dwell not in dual appearance

carefully avoid chasing & seeking

Make right & wrong

and the heart gets lost in confusion

Duality comes from the One

the One does not guard itself

The heart of the One is unborn

ten-thousand dharmas are no hindrance

No hindrance, no dharmas

no birth, no heart

“This” surrenders when “that” is extinguished

“that” is banished when “this” drops

“That” depends on “this”

“this” depends on “that”

If we wish to know these two

their origin is vacant Oneness

In vacant Oneness these two are equal

together they contain ten-thousand forms

Do not distinguish coarse & fine

extinguish one-sided views

The great Dao has a wide body

not easy, not difficult

Small views deceive like a fox

they wander quickly yet respond late

Grasp them and lose our parameters

certain to enter deviant ways

Just let things be as they are

and the body neither departs nor abides

Trust our nature to merge with Dao

at ease, troubles disappear

Overly studying distorts reality

sinking into dimness and ineptitude

It is inept to labor the spirit

Why neglect our kin?

If we wish to obtain the One Vehicle

do not dislike the Six Dusts

Not disliking the Six Dusts

stay aligned with correct awareness

Sages stay with wuwei

fools bind themselves

Dharma is not some unusual dharma

it is fantasy to cherish anything

Stirring up the heart’s desire

is this not a great mistake?

Confusion gives birth to isolation and upheaval

awakening is without good & evil

Every “thing” has two sides

overflowing beyond the brim

Dreams, illusions, vacant flowers

why labor to grasp them?

Gain & loss, right & wrong

release them at once

If the eye never sleeps

all dreams dissolve of themselves

When the heart makes no distinctions

the ten-thousand dharmas are as One

As the One Original Body

sever and forget all karmic entanglements

View the ten-thousand dharmas as equal

reverting and returning of themselves

Thereby obliterating their position

unable to hold to their locale

Stilling movement, there is no movement

Moving stillness, there is no stillness

Without the presence of duality

how can the One thusly exist?

In the end, all extremes are exhausted

nothing survives this path

Commit the heart to equanimity

and all phenomena come to rest

Foxly deceit is purged and exhausted

restoring trust and rectitude

Every “thing” doesn’t last

losing all recollection

Empty, bright, self-illuminating

no labor of the heart

Not dwelling on any thoughts

knowledge & emotion cannot fathom this

In the true Dharma realm

there is no self, no other

If we want immediate accord

just say “not-two”

In “not-two”, everything is the same

nothing is not contained

Sages of the ten directions

all enter into this lineage

The lineage does not rush or delay

one moment’s thought is ten-thousand years

Nothingness is located nowhere

pervading the ten directions, yet right before our eyes

The extremes of small & large alike

sever and forget all distinctions

The extremes of large & small alike

see no borders manifest

Existence is nothingness

nothingness is existence

It may seem not so

but we must not hold onto appearance

One is everything

everything is One

So surely indeed

why worry without end?

Trust the heart to “not-two”

as not-two trusts the heart

Words and speech sever Dao

it is not going, coming, or present

Translation by Nameless Stream (無名川), 2019

On Having Direction (往)

Wang - Direction

It’s helpful to have a direction.  Essential perhaps.  A clear direction guides our each & every step.  It’s wonderful to know just want we’re supposed to do in each & every aspect of our life.

One Chinese character for direction, wǎng (往), suggests mastering our stepping – mastering our conduct.  Ensuring that each & every gesture is moving us toward where we want to be.

But I’m afraid wuweidao doesn’t give us some specified direction.  Some special state to attain or goal to work toward.  It does reveal a kind of qi-quality, but that’s about it.

Indeed, we can generate some concept that we’ve “lost it” and need to “return” – that’s is a direction.  But that’s not really wuweidao – that’s only relevant if we’re not really in the practice.

Our tradition takes a different tack.  It’s not geared toward people not in the practice.  It’s not “geared” toward anything actually.  This non-gearedness is the great treasure of this path.

So in this spirit, we sit for a while every day without any direction whatsoever, beyond the basics of natural posture.  Sticking with this practice regularly over a period of time, something arises that Laozi observes is inaccessible from any direction-based action or method.

But it’s not the case that wuwei practitioners have no direction.  Anything but.  When hungry, our direction is to eat, if someone is thirsty, our direction is to bring them something to drink.  Correct direction is self-revealing – it doesn’t come from philosophy or religion or doctrine or faith or effort or method or this or that.  Nature brings it forth moment-to-moment.

This is the direction of wuweidao.

Method (術)


Shu-MethodLet’s check out this Chinese character – (shù, 術).  It has 3 parts – center, left, & right.  In the center is the character for wood (mù, 木).  Wood is one of the Five Elements or Qi-Phases; it represents young yang, springtime, morning – like a young shoot piercing through the surface of the earth.  I’m not sure what the small stroke at the top means (术), but I surmise that it has something to do with the movement of wood – so I take the central character to essentially mean growth or the process of qi rising and moving and transforming.

The character on the left (chì, 彳) means stepping with the left foot.  The character on the right (chù, 亍) means stepping with the right foot.  If we take the left & right character together and remove the center, it means to step slowly (chìchù, 彳亍).  If we put them into a single character, we get xíng (行), which means to walk or circulate – remember the Xing Qi Jade Inscription?

So what does the full character shù (術) mean?  The slow stepping of wood?  The step-by-step process of growth and transformation.  Moment-to-moment flow of Dao.  It may surprise us to learn that the character translates as “method”, “art”, or “technique”, as in wushu (wǔshù, 武術) – martial art.

We sometimes refer to our central practice of Zuowang as the method of no-method, similar to Silent Illumination Chan.  But of course there’s a method to sitting appropriately, just like anything else.

I practice a Russian martial art called Systema.  One of the central ideas of Systema is not focusing on techniques but rather the principles of posture, relaxation, breathing, & natural movement.  Of course there are tons of techniques, but Systema lets them arise spontaneously in response to the situation.  This is why I’ve always felt Systema is a marvelous expression of wuwei.  It’s not about not having any techniques, but not “making” any techniques, not forcing anything onto the situation – staying precisely in the situation we’re in and responding appropriately based on the principles.  Techniques arise of themselves.  The nice thing about martial arts is we can test their efficacy – it’s not just a philosophical position.  That unforgiving feedback is really helpful!

Shu (術) doesn’t mean we have to practice this method or that method.  And it certainly doesn’t mean we need to introduce unnatural or exotic practices into our experience.  It means if we’re going to practice some art – whatever it is – then we need to attend to the process of growth and transformation very carefully, step-by-step.  This means staying with reality as-it-is right now.

Our tradition speaks of “method” in terms of formal practice & informal conduct.  Formal practice means various arts of hygiene, meditation, & ritual, all practiced within the context of our view-teaching.  Different ways to support & express our human life.  But Daoism doesn’t just mean doing some formal Daoist practice.  Perhaps it means staying closely attuned to the clay when spinning a potter’s wheel.  Perhaps it means fully expressing each note when playing a flute.  Perhaps it’s the way a deer steps through the forest, or the way a poem rises out of an inspired moment*.  Is this a method or a non-method?

Step with care.


*Shout out to Heath Thompson.

Immortal Dragon Investiture (仙龍資)


Playing with the PearlSomething that has unexpectedly grown out of the wuweidao cultivation group is a more comprehensive apprenticeship that I am referring to as the Immortal Dragon Investiture.  This more extensive training consists of 1000 days of “Lingering in the Bamboo Grove” – referring to sitting in Zuowang in the atmosphere of Laozi’s teaching.  It also includes various elements of academics, philosophy, hygiene, meditation, & ritual.  I am currently working with a close cohort of apprentices and may open up another cohort next year if there is interest.  If you are interested in this program, please feel free to contact me.  I’ve created a separate website for this group:

Xing Qi (行氣) Jade Inscription

Xing Qi Jade Inscription

Xing Qi Jade Inscription - flattened


深則蓄 蓄則伸 伸則下 下則定 定則固 固則萌 萌則長 長則退 則天

天機舂在上 地機舂在下 順則生 逆則死



Circulate qi


Deepen then store

Store then expand

Expand then descend

Descend then stabilize

Stabilize then densify

Densify then sprout

Sprout then grow

Grow then withdraw

Then Heaven


Heaven pivots up

Earth pivots down

Comply then live

Oppose then die





Check out this old piece of jade inscribed with a pithy guide to qi-cultivation from the Warring States period, around the time of Laozi.  It seems to have been some kind of pendant or a knob on a staff.  The inscription describes the process of internal qi-cultivation and warns of the peril of improper practice.  Chances are this piece was transmitted along with detailed oral guidance.  This inscription is considered one of the oldest artifacts evidencing qi-cultivation, and I would also say it pretty clearly addresses the process later known as Neidan (internal alchemy), as it succinctly describes the alchemical process.  Many of the characters are also used by Laozi and later Neidan texts.  While it could be that this guidance was written specific to a particular practitioner, it appears general enough to apply to all practitioners.

As per traditional writing, the characters start at the upper right and go downward, the columns then proceeding to the left.  The two short horizontal lines (meaning “two”) at the lower right of many of the characters are doubling marks, used in Zhou-era script to indicate repeating the character.  The stone is cut into twelve sides, with three characters on each side – so there’s a total of 36 written characters, however including repeated characters there are 44 (yikes! an inauspicious number, perhaps this is why doubling marks are used).  I have rendered the characters horizontally from left to right, have inserted the repeated characters, have inserted spaces between phrases, and have broken it into three sections.  Let’s look at each phrase in detail as it relates to our practice of Zuowang & Neidan.


Circulate qi (xíng qì, 行氣)


This first phrase serves as both the title of the script and its first line.  Xing (行) means to move or circulate – this is the character used for the Five Elements or Phases.  Qi (氣) here may apply to moving or sitting practices alike.  Whether moving or still, qi circulates.  While we may interpret this and each subsequent phrase as instruction for what we “ought to do”, in our tradition of wuweidao we view this inscription – as well as most Neidan instruction – as describing what happens effortlessly of itself when we just “sit & forget” regularly over a period of time.  Correct circulation of qi is the natural function of Dao, we don’t need to make happen through effort or intention.  Yet guidelines for correct circulation are invaluable, given human beings’ tendency to mismanage our qi.


Deepen then store (shēn zé xù, 深則蓄)


Regular qi-circulation deepens (深) the qi, just as water flowing in the same place over time cuts a channel in the earth.  In both Zuowang & Neidan, the qi turns inward, going deep into the dantian.  While this inward shift isn’t about strenuous effort, we do need to give it the chance to happen – this is the whole purpose of formal practice.  Otherwise the “deep channels” manifest as karmic entanglements thieving away the qi.  Such thieving and qi-mismanagement is addressed in important Daoist texts such as the Yinfu Jing & Qingjing Jing.

“Ze” (則) refers to sequencing – this, then that.  While we could approach these sequences by deliberately shifting gears in practice, our tradition reads these transitions as natural progressions of a single practice, not instigated by intention.

So, just like water flowing into a pool, as we let the qi flow deep inside, we naturally store (蓄) it up.


Store then expand (xù zé shēn, 蓄則伸)


As we store up the qi, of itself it expands (伸), just as water in a pool rises higher & higher.  This expansion exerts a positive pressure in every direction.


Expand then descend (shēn zé xià, 伸則下)


As the qi expands, it naturally becomes both heavier & lighter at the same time, exerting more pressure downward (下) at the base of the channel even while feeling freer to roam.  One thing we want to watch for here is that the expanding qi doesn’t just float away.  Keep it down.


Descend then stabilize (xià zé ding, 下則定)


As we let the qi sink – and let it keep sinking & keep sinking – it becomes stable (定).  Ding is the term used to translate the Buddhist word “Samadhi”.  But for Daoists it’s more about stabilizing qi rather than fixing the mind.  The Tang Dynasty scriptures Dingguan Jing & Zuowang Lun go into more detail about the process of stabilization.  Ding is also a homophone for cauldron, a Neidan reference to the lower dantian.


Stabilize then densify (dìng zé gù, 定則固)


As we continue to abide sunken and stable, the qi of itself becomes very, very dense (固).  As though the entire universe is being compressed into a single point.  But this is not about strenuous focus!  The body remains limber and at ease, the mind remains calm and open.  At this point not only do we feel the lower dantian densifying, we may also feel it in the bone marrow throughout the entire body.  Deep, stable, dense.


Densify then sprout (gù zé méng, 固則萌)


This densification causes a kind of grinding feeling that excites an internal movement like a pressure cooker – referred to here as sprouting (萌).  Sprouting might manifest as subtle internal thunder or jerking spasms in the torso or limbs, as we are talking about a lot of power here.  These spasms may have a blissful quality as this is an internal stirring of jing (embodiment-essence).  This is where keeping our practice effortless and natural is really important.  It’s also important that we not actively try to sprout the qi – the emergence of young yang happens of its own, inevitably, if our densifying practice is correct.  Zhang Boduan, in his seminal Song Dynasty Neidan work, Wuzhen Pian, referred to this stage as the emergence of the Mysterious Pearl.  Precious.


Sprout then grow (méng zé zhǎng, 萌則長)


If we stay with this cultivation as described above – and don’t let the sprouted qi spill outward too much – the sprout grows & grows (長).  This character has a homograph that means constancy, but I think grow is meant here as it follows sprouting.  But this is not an external expansion – it is growing in an internal direction.  And rising upward from a stable base.


Grow then withdraw (zhǎng zé tuì, 長則退)


As the sprout grows inward & upward, eventually it reaches the mountain peak.  This means withdrawing (退) from manifestation.  This character includes the radical for movement (辶) as well as the 7th trigram (艮, ☶) – so we can literally translate it as the qi “goes to the mountain”.  Mountain refers to the baiwei at the top of the head.  The character for mountain shows an eye gazing inward – suggesting the practice of neiguan (inner observation).  “Going to the mountain” is also a term used for going on retreat or becoming a monk.


Then Heaven (tiān, 則天)


I’m not sure why the character for withdraw isn’t repeated here – it may be due to a rhyming pattern.  Most translators add it in.  As the qi withdraws to the mountain, it reaches the sky.  Heaven (天) doesn’t really mean the manifest sky but rather the pure yang creative force referenced in the Yijing.  This ascension is not like strenuously climbing a steep staircase – it is rather like rising mists that float effortlessly upward when conditions are correct.


Heaven pivots up (tiān jī chōng zài shàng, 天機舂在上)

Earth pivots down (dì jī chōng zài xià, 地機舂在下)


These lines are tricky to translate.  It’s not just “Heaven is above, Earth is below.”  機 is a mechanism or pivot (the character suggests a sharp wooden tool and is an important term in the Yinfu Jing); 舂 means to grind in a mortar.  So we can say Heaven processes things upward (上), Earth processes things downward (下).  I think the meaning here is that returning to Heaven “hinges” on the process outlined above.


Comply then live (shùn zé sheng, 順則生)

Oppose then die (nì zé sǐ, 逆則死)


Following (順) the process outlined above leads from Earth (pure yin) to Heaven (pure yang).  Returning to Heaven means eternal life (長生) – but it’s important to understand that we are not talking about enabling our emergent identity to last forever.  As Liu Ming says: “an immortal self would be like eternal pollution.”  Immortality (仙) refers to a person who has withdrawn to the mountain – the character shows a person (亻) and a mountain (山).

Opposing (逆) this process leads to certain death (死) – ever disconnected from Heaven.  The Yinfu Jing & Qingjing Jing further address these perils.

These lines resonate with Laozi’s saying “the sage leaves that and takes this” from Dao De Jing Chapter 12.  This is the basis of precepts in Daoism – parameters for correct practice and qi-management.  By correct, we mean  natural alignment with the Dao of Heaven.

This twelve-sided stone includes pithy, simple guidelines – yet quite a bit more complex than our instruction in Zuowang.  We don’t need to remember all this.  But we do need to make sure our practice is correct.  It’s not really enough just to sit without some sense of what happens when the qi is cultivating properly.  This is where some engagement in Neidan teaching & practice can be really helpful for Zuowang practitioners.  It’s also a good idea to engage in discussion with experienced practitioners about what is happening with our practice.  I hope this work helps to illuminate what is happening with the qi in your practice.

Three Kinds of Internal Cultivation

In our school, as is common in Daoist traditions, we take three distinct approaches to internal cultivation: neigong, neidan, & neiguan.  The term for internal cultivation is neixiu (內修) – nei (內) means internal; xiu (修) means to study, repair, or cultivate.

The notion of internal cultivation holds prominence in Chinese traditions, particularly Daoism.  But exactly what “internal” means isn’t always clear, and different traditions often define it differently.  Distinguishing internal from external requires that we establish some threshold, some barrier between inside & outside.  As far as I can tell, there is no absolute barrier; it just depends on where we define the threshold.  I have heard people define internal to mean anything from arts that emerged within the borders of Han China, to esoteric traditions that maintain secret teachings reserved for insiders, to martial arts that cultivate the use of qi instead of li (brute strength).  All of these have relevance within Daoism, but the one we’re most concerned with here is the cultivation of jing-qi-shen.

Each approach to internal cultivation has its own distinct view, method, & fruition.  They don’t all necessarily lead to the same result.  It’s a good idea to be clear about what our view is, and what approach we are taking in our various practices.

Neigong (內功) means internal work, practice, or skill.  It means to practice with an inward focus, with the intention to develop some improved state.  Gongfu is a special skill developed by arduous practice.  The purpose of neigong is to improve or maintain our internal condition – nourishing jing-qi-shen to support our health and vitality, and to promote longevity.  It’s like the idea of yangsheng (養生) – nourishing life, which we often refer to as qi-hygiene.  Qigong, Taijiquan, & Yoga are all forms of neigong, but we can also practice natural walking or any other moving or still activities as effective neigong once we are familiar with its principles.  The best neigong is that which is appropriate for our condition right now, and this changes with time and is not the same for everyone.

Neidan (內丹) means internal elixir or alchemy.  Neidan is not only about improving our internal condition, and it’s not merely about well-being or longevity, but returning our experience to the state before birth.  This transformation is similar to the idea of transforming delusion into enlightenment or sin into holiness.  It is a gradual, progressive process with clear concepts and distinct stages, and a precious, exalted goal.

Neiguan (內觀) means internal observation.  To look inside.  The character for guan shows a heron’s gaze, suggesting keen observation.  Guan also means “view” and is the word used for Daoist temple.  It is the word my teacher chose as the title for his Dao De Jing translation, as our tradition considers Laozi’s text to be the central view-teaching manual for the practice of neiguan, which we refer to as Zuowang.  Neiguan differs from the other two in that it isn’t fundamentally goal-oriented.  It’s not about improvement or transformation.  We can make it about these things, but that “making” is extra baggage from the perspective of our practice.

How do these approaches relate to each other?  Generally, a beginner or someone recovering from illness or injury is well-advised to cultivate neigong to build up their internal health and vitality.  When jing-qi-shen is smooth and abundant, then practicing neidan is possible.  We are well-advised to continue practicing neigong as long as we have a body, as it provides a base for life and neidan.  Neiguan is not part of this progressive spectrum.  Neiguan is relevant for the beginner – it is probably a good idea to introduce neiguan from the very beginning, as it sets the stage for proper neigong.  Neiguan also helps us to perceive our internal state to understand our needs.  Then when we start working with neidan, neiguan is there as a neutral source of support and stabilization.  As our practice of neidan comes to fruition, there we are in neiguan just as we were at the beginning.  Our tradition says proper neiguan brings about neidan effortlessly, and neidan simply culminates in an empowered state of neiguan.

I invite you to consider your practice methods and make sure you are clear about which of these you are practicing and why.