Understanding the Dao

The Dao should not be viewed as a deity or creator of the universe. Nor does it share the newtonian view of a mechanistic universe consisting of independent parts. Daoists view reality as a fundamentally self-regulating system or self-governing organism. The Dao is the underlying order according to which all of reality unfolds.

INTRO FROM: “Dao and the Internal Arts (recommended read before moving on)

A healthy body as the ground

The body is the vehicle in which we travel on the path. Unless it is balanced, it cannot take us toward unification with the Dao. This is why Traditional Chinese Medicine puts a lot of emphasis on good health and longevity through various lifestyle improvements (such as medicine, acupuncture, martial arts, postures and breath work).

Once the body is fit, we shift from the outer vehicle (cultivating the physical body) to more subtle forms of practice. Just as there are practices for reorganising the posture and alignment of the physical body, there are practices that open up the energy system within the subtle body. This internal practice is known as 內功 (nèigōng; “inner work”, “internal arts”)

Breathwork as a portal

A key aspect in this inner work is the cultivation of the breath because it serves as a bridge between our physical body and our energy body (Outer breath, inner breath). 气 (qì; “breath”; “energy”; “vitality”; “life force”) refers to the breath in its more subtle forms. 气功 (qìgōng; “energy work”; “breath work”) can therefore be seen as a system of practice designed to cultivate the subtle energy of the body for physical health, mental peace and spiritual freedom.

This type of breath work typically focus on identifying and nurturing specific energy centers (丹田; dāntián; “elixir field”) in the body in order for the qi to flow more naturally. The lower dantian (located in front of the spine below the navel) can be likened to a battery with the capacity to store energy and make it available for the promotion of health and various bodily functions. The cultivation of the lower dantian is the foundation in most neigong systems. This process not only balances the physical and energetic bodies – it also lays the groundwork for spiritual development.

Meditating on the inner cosmos

When the right conditions are in place (in terms of practice as well as mental quality)(1) the circulation of 丹 (dān; “elixir”) occurs naturally within the body. This is known as the 小周天 (xiaozhoutian; “microcosmic orbit”), which is a sign that the inner flow (microcosm) is aligning with the outer (macrocosm). The circulation of the microcosmic orbit is taken as the object of meditation in order to enter into absorption into the state of 无极 (wújí) that is prior to tai ji and the birth of duality ☯.

Becoming immortal

Once the physical body and the subtle energy body are balanced, we turn to the development of the spiritual body. This is enabled by circulation of 丹 (dān; “elixir”) through the major energy centers of the body (lower, middle and upper dantian) and the unification of the so called 三寶 (sānbǎo; “three treasures”)(2). This is supported through the alchemical practice of 內丹 (nèidān; “internal alchemy”), where the essential energy (精; jīng; “essence”) is transmuted into subtle energy (气; qì; “breath”; “energy”) and further into spiritual energy 神 (shén; “spirit”). The spiritual body is nurtured until it begins to animate independent from the physical body. Ultimately, this esoteric practice is aimed at forming a carrier for the spirit so that it can elevate out of the physical body and escape the cycle of birth and death. The culmination of the practice is the unification of all three bodies(3), enabling the incarnation of the spirit and the embodiment of the causal body that is beyond time and space. Daoists that achieve this are referred to as 仙 (xiān, “immortals”).

A practical path

Whether we practice to develop an immortal spirit or to address some aspect of our physical health, the path is the same. Daoism does not require us to adopt high-minded, spiritual beliefs in order to benefit from the practice. If we are interested in the scientific aspects of the practice, research findings point to measurable effects taking place in the physiology of the body (e.g. within the nerves, glands and endocrine systems). Rather than clinging to beliefs or striving for spiritual goals, we stick to practical methods that allow us to experience tangible results firsthand. Once we feel the effects of the practice our trust in the process naturally deepens, which enables us to progress further.


(1) The practice typically involves allowing the yin qi  to build a container (lower dantian) for the accumulation and circulation yang qi. The mental quality refers to wu wei, attentive listening dropping of personal intention.

(2) 精 (jīng) is our inner essence which is central to the replenishment of the cells, organs and reproductive functions (sometimes called “sexual essence”). We are born with this essence (nature), and we also acquire it through our environment (nurture). An unhealthy lifestyle depletes jing at a faster rate, leading to physical deterioration. Through neidan, we learn to anchor the breath to the kidneys so that the jing settles in the lower part of the body. Once the essence is settled, 气 (qì; “breath”; “energy”) can be extracted. The extracted yang qi  is stored in the lower dantian and circulated through specific meridians (energy pathways/channels) in the body. This circulation nourishes the body and balances the three dantian centers, enabling the transmutation of qi into 神 (shén; “spirit”).

(3) This is the idea is that the cosmos and the human body are composed of three levels or dimensions that are united by the union of the three bodies, which results in liberation/immortality/moksha. In Daoism these are known as 三寳 sānbǎo; “the three treasures”. This is the Philosopher’s Stone, the union of the corpus, anima, spiritus (western alchemy) the union of three bodies of the Buddha in tantric Buddhism (Nirmanakaya, Sambhogakaya, Dharmakaya), or the union of the physical/gross, subtle and causal/super subtle. Tantric Buddhahood or immortality can also be defined as the rediscovery of the Hermetic Androgyne or Rebis. https://www.integralworld.net/powers3.html