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Translator’s Note: I am grateful to Master Yan Tianfang for sharing this work with me, particularly as this text was originally intended
for a small audience of Chinese people with a special interest in Wu Liu Daoist history and comparative Daoist practice. Master Yan
Tianfang is a contemporary teacher and practitioner of the Wu Liu School in Mainland China. This English translation is of a historical
text, exploring the early origins and methodology of the Wu Liu School, as well as how modern Wu Liu teaching is applied in
contemporary China. Prior to the Wu Liu School developing its own version of neidan practice, historical documents suggest that in the
time of the school’s original founder - Wu Shouyang (1574-1644) [also known as Wu Chongxu] - the practises were more akin to those
found in the branch termed ‘spiritual’ or ‘religious’ Daoism ( – Dao Jiao), involving various arts and rituals, etc, but not specifically
seated meditation practice. The association of neidan practice with the Wu Liu School only appears in the work of this tradition’s second
founding teacher - Liu Huayang (b. 1736 - ?). As neidan became the central practice of the Wu Liu School after this date, it may be
observed that the Wu Liu tradition transitioned from a ‘spiritual’ Daoist tradition, to that of a ‘philosophical’ Daoist ( – Dao Jia)
tradition, although, of course, it retained many of those other practises as a supplement to the neidan cultivation. This is an interesting
insight into the Wu Liu School of China, particularly its distinctive terminology and initially different understanding of the neidan
practice. Master Yan Tianfang explains that contemporary Wu Liu is not dogmatic or attached to a snap-shot of its own historical
development, but rather whilst recognising an underlying core of solid developmental wisdom, its outer structure adjusts to meet new
circumstances and changing times. Master Yan Tianfang uses logic and reason to explain the old Wu Liu practises, and to develop a clear
academically reliable history of the school that is not sullied by unwarranted mysticism or religiosity. As far as Master Yan Tianfang is
concerned, all the Wu Liu teachings should be open and directly accessible to the general public, with nothing hidden or obscured.
Finally, like the modern Qianfeng School in Beijing (a descendent of the Wu Liu lineage), Master Yan Tianfang teaches that seated neidan
practice should be supplemented by somekind of moving art – such as Taijiquan, or something similar. Master Yan Tianfang states that
what follows are only his viewpoints and experiences, and that all other paths and interpretations are all equally valid.
​ACW 18.7.2016

Early Wu Liu

What is the ‘small medicine’ ( – Xiao Yao) circulation, and how does its ‘smelting’ ( – Peng) self-cultivation process operate? Wu
Chongxu ( ) said: ‘From confusion emerges insight. This is achieved through a careful, step by step method of gathering and
accumulation. By pursuing a path of careful gathering and accumulation, ignorance is gradually eradicated and understanding
takes its place… Gathering and accumulating takes a long time and cannot be rushed. Correctly heating the furnace ( – Huo
Hou) produces the right result. Essential nature ( – Jing) and qi ( ) energy are gathered, transformed and become abundant.
This is referred to as ‘outside the energy centre’ ( – Wai Dan) self-cultivation.’ Liu Huayang, when commenting upon this ‘small
medicine’ that prolongs life, stated: ‘The correct prescription leads to the attainment of enlightenment ( – Jue), but initially there
is no clarity in the mind, as it lacks the all-embracing light ( – Tai Ming) of enlightenment. If the mind is correctly trained, then
the divine-sky qi energy ( – Tian Qi) will manifest. This has two aspects of attainment; 1) earlier divine-sky qi energy ( – Xian
Tian Qi), and 2) later divine-sky qi energy ( - Hou Tian Qi), both of which must be carefully developed and realised. Without
this achievement, essential nature ( – Jing), cannot be gathered or refined.’ Both the patriarchs of the Wu Liu School did not rely
solely upon concentrated medicinal self-cultivation techniques (such as seated meditation) to attain immortality, but rather made
use of a number of other practises associated with self-cultivation. Instead their developed technique advocates correct Daoist
self-cultivation training which unfolds in a systematic manner, under the guidance of a qualified master whose mind (and body)
is pure and free from any and all ulterior motives. A great and bright illumination is not achieved through taking short-cuts when
practising Daoist self-cultivation. Healing the body and mind using Daoist self-cultivation medicine should not be a haphazard
affair. There must be expert knowledge of how the developmental process effects the qi energy channels running through the
torso and down the arms and legs. How is a ‘grand bright enlightenment’ ( – Tai Ming Jue) to be realised if there is no
profound developmental activity that permanently transforms the mind and body? Many are of the opinion that the most
effective training method is that of ‘neidan’ ( ), or ‘internal energy centre’ self-cultivation, as within this body of knowledge the
correct Daoist ‘law’ ( - Fa) is preserved and transmitted. This is because such training utilises the torso and limbs, and circulates
qi energy and essential nature (jing) through the ‘Huiyin’ ( ) acupuncture point (situated between the anus and the genitalia).
When the correct training is pursued ( – Gong Fa), then the appropriate foundation is constructed. Zhang Boduan ( ) said:
‘In the beginning no one comprehends reality, but eventually all is perceived as ‘non-action’ ( – Wu Wei).’ The Wu Liu School
neidan practice (in both its early and contemporary form), can be used effectively alongside other Daoist practises, providing the
correct guidance is present. However, without good instruction, even neidan practice may have an incomplete developmental
effect, and it is doubtful whether full enlightened immortality can be achieved through it. Wu Chongxu said: ‘The dwelling place
of the immortals is the essence of all effective Daoist self-cultivation.’ The true underlying essence ( – Xiang) is perceived not
through its superficial physical form ( – Xing), but rather through that which underlies all physical form. This underlying true
essence is the basis of all physical form, but for Daoist developmental purposes, it is distinguished from form in the initial
stages. This is because attachment to physical form obscures the underlying essence. Therefore, the Wu Liu method trains the
mind and body to see through to the essence, and does not remain at the superficial (surface) level of reality. Of course, these
words only describe the method of the Wu Liu School ( – Wu Liu Pai), which must be personally experienced through practice
– other schools have their own, equally effective methods and at no time is it a matter of one system being better or more
authentic than any other.

Although the Wu Liu School is known for its neidan practice today (in fact it is its distinguishing feature), there is evidence that
the original Daoist teachings that influenced the early Wu Liu formulation were not necessarily neidan based. Therefore, it is
probably the case that various physical exercise regimes (involving the co-ordinated movement of the limbs), the use of
acupuncture, the taking of herbal medicine, and energy centre focus and manipulation, were the early practises of the Wu Liu
School, and that its neidan technique developed later. This speculation is supported by Nan Huaijin ( ) of Taiwan, who in his
book entitled ‘Seated Meditation Stills the Mind to Attain Immortality’ ( – Jing Zuo Xiu Dao Yu Chang Sheng Bu Lao)
stated that: ‘During the Ming and Qing Dynasties period, it is clear that seated meditation was the basis of the Daoist law for
cultivating the energy centre, and of achieving longevity for the majority of practitioners. From this practice, developed the
awareness of essential nature (jing) and qi flow throughout the energy channels, and the ability to transform these substances.
However, at this time the Wu Liu School seems to have deviated from this practice, and instead emphasised a number of
different methods which included ‘divination by straw’ ( – le), ‘doing good deeds’ ( – Kou), and other practises such as
‘acupuncture’ ( – Dian Xue) and ‘massage’ ( – Tui Na). The true and correct Daoist neidan method involves the cultivation of
essential nature (jing) and empty spirit ( – Shen) as a means to thoroughly ‘cut-off’ the root of desire (to realise immortality). It is
odd that such practises should have become popular and taken the place of the authentic teachings.’ Having said this, it is
important to remember that Nan Huaijin practised the Buddhist methods and so had a certain bias against Daoist methods, but
nevertheless, his comments about Daoist practice during the Ming and Qing Dynasties being predominantly premised upon the
practice of seated meditation, are worth considering.

Microcosmic Orbit Circulation

The teachings of traditional Chinese medicine record and explain the qi energy channels ( – Jing Luo). The Governing Vessel (
– Du Mai) begins at the ‘Huiyin’ ( ) point (located at the mid-point between the genitalia and the anus) and travels up the
spine to the top of the centre of the skull – or ‘Baihai’ ( ) point, and down to the upper lip. The Conception Vessel ( – Ren Mai)
travels from the lower lip area down the front of the body (down the centre line of the chest and abdomen) and back to the
‘Huiyin’ area. These two qi energy vessel routes are the foundation of neidan practice, but many do not understand this. Liu
Huayang, in his book entitled ‘Golden Immortality Confirmation Treatise’ ( – Jin Xian Zheng Lun) is the first specific mention
of the neidan practice of the Wu Liu School. This explains the two energy channels, the direction of energy flow, and provides a
diagram of explanation (see top of article). This is referred to as the ‘Conception Governing Double Circulation Diagram’ ( –
Ren Du Er Mai Tu). Liu Huayang said: ‘The governing Vessel runs up (external) to the spine, whilst the Conception vessel starts at
the lower lip area descends down the front of the body. These two energy channels are well known within Chinese medical
knowledge for their great efficacy.’ However, the above diagram positions the Governing Vessel as running along the ‘inside’ of
the spinal column, deviating from the generally accepted traditional depiction of running along the outer surface of the spine. As
Liu Huayang is believed to be the author of this diagram, it seems that in his understanding of neidan self-cultivation, the
Governing Vessel is in a slightly different place to the received teaching of Daoism. Furthermore, the diagram appears to be
suggesting a direct circulatory (upward) link between the lower energy centre ( – Dan Tian) and the brain area. The
Conception Vessel runs through the inside of the abdomen and travels up towards the brain and does not travel through the
lower lip, whilst both energy channels meet under the lower energy centre (dantian) as opposed to under the spinal column
between the anus and genitalia.

After the generation of the ‘small medicine’ ( – Xiao Yao) circulation focused through the concentration upon the lower energy
centre (dantian), by using the correct purpose of intention ( – Yong Yi), the ethereal substance comprising of essential nature
(jing) and qi energy can be transitioned (slowly but surely) out from this area. This process includes the cultivated energy as part
of the sealing of the stove ( – Lu) and involves two steps. Using ‘intention’ the unsullied essential nature ‘jing’ is correctly guided.
This ethereal substance travels through the ‘Wei Chang’ ( ) point, (situated between the coccyx and the anus) – but does not
travel through the perineum. The ethereal substance slowly rises up the Governing Vessel, assisted by a deep and slow inward
breath. Halfway there is a slight pause, for consolidation and purification of the process (as if ‘bathing’ in vital energy), and then
is continued on its journey through the use of intention and the inward breath. The ethereal substance of original essential
nature (jing) is then directed up to the brain. Through the slow and deliberate outward breath, the substance begins its journey
downward (through the Conception Vessel). Again, there is a slight pause, and then the substance travels down with the exhaled
breath, into the lower energy centre (dantian) – without travelling through the lower lip. This demonstrates how the ‘small
medicine’ circulation (found within early Wu Liu methodology) differs from the more conventional ‘small divine-sky circulation’ (
– Xiao Zhou Tian) – found in contemporary Wu Liu practice. It is probably the case that overtime, the Wu Liu practitioners
adopted the more conventional Daoist neidan definition, (the qi energy of which traverses the received Governing and
Conception Vessels, positioned differently to that drawn above by Liu Hua yang), as a means to enhance an already effective
practice, or perhaps facilitate understanding for those encountering the school for the first time. This development, however,
did not mean that Liu Huayang’s method disappeared entirely, far from it, as it continues today within the Wu Liu School to
represent a ‘refined’ aspect of the conventional microcosmic orbit found within traditional Chinese medicine.

However, it is clear that the early Wu Liu daily practice of circulating the ‘small medicine’ three hundred times per meditation
session, three meditation sessions per day, for one hundred days (to generate a strong ‘great medicine’ [ – Da Yao] or
‘macrocosmic’ orbit) compares favourably with contemporary Wu Liu practice. Obviously this information means that the Wu Liu
School has had two different ways of viewing the same neidan practice (i.e. the historical and the contemporary). This suggests
that in the early Wu Liu School the ‘great medicine’ (macrocosmic) route is obviously distinct from the ‘small medicine’
(microcosmic) route, but the qi energy did not seem to flow through the recognised Governing and Conception Vessels, or the
other established energy channels – but this is a topic for another research paper. Suffice to say that a theoretical model does
not ‘stop’ or ‘hinder’ the established qi energy flow through the body, but is designed to facilitate ‘clarity’ in the mind for effective
training in the body.

Contemporary Daily Neidan Practice

As a practitioner wakes up, the neidan training day begins early in the morning, and should be rigorously pursued throughout
the day, providing conditions are suitable. It is advisable to practice once in the morning and once in the evening. However, if it
is only possible to practice once a day, it is important to bear in mind that the Wu Liu School historically places an emphasis on
evening training. When the daily practice routine is firmly established, a night-time neidan session can be either temporarily or
permanently added as required. During each training period (usually of one hundred days), sexual activity must be completely
stopped. Activating and building the lower energy centre (dantian) requires sexual abstinence, but this is a difficult undertaking
for most ordinary people, as it runs counter to the natural instinct of humanity, and can produce negative psychological and
physical effects. However, within the context of Daoist neidan, sexual control can be achieved by correctly following the Wu Liu
instructions carefully, as the discipline lifts up and empowers each practitioner to fulfil the required task. As Wu Liu neidan is a
‘static’ exercise involving seated meditation as the primary means of self-cultivation, it is advisable to supplement this training
with various ‘dynamic’ exercise regimes suitable for Daoist practice (such as Taijiquan [ ], robust massage [ ], or Daoyin [ ],
etc). Generally speaking, a combination of ‘static’ and ‘dynamic’ Daoist neidan self-cultivation practises, ensures a more efficient
and all-round developmental experience.

Young People and Neidan Practice

Can young people practice neidan self-cultivation? As far as the theory of neidan self-cultivation is concerned, people aged
around fifteen to sixteen years of age, have not diminished their essential qi energy ( – Yuan Qi), and so do not need to build a
firm qi energy foundation over a hundred-day time period. Instead, such young people can immediately progress to the ‘great
medicine’ (macrocosmic) circulation with ease. When this happens, this type of young person often achieves better results than
an adult practitioner. On the other hand, neidan self-cultivation requires hours of seated meditation designed to ‘still’ the mind.
This can be difficult for young people, as their natural inclination is one of dynamic movement. In this situation, often young
people are not as good as older people who are engaged in meditation practice. Of course, having said this, it is also equally
true that some people can ‘still’ their mind in seated meditation, and equal the attainments of adults. This is because meditation
practice is not just for the older adults.

Weak Body and Worried Mind

If the body is extremely weak, (i.e. suffering from dizziness, vertigo, or spermatorrhea, etc), can neidan be practised? This kind of
person must first lay down whatever is bothering them psychologically, as this adversely effects them physically. In this situation
it is better to calm the mind and engage in a relaxing but dynamic exercise regime, before starting neidan self-cultivation. As
previously mentioned, the combination of ‘static’ (i.e. ‘meditation’) practice, and dynamic practice, enhances the self-cultivation
experience. It is important to develop a positive psychological attitude towards life, and from this, good training results will

Neidan for Women

Can women practice neidan self-cultivation? Yes. Neidan practice for women is referred to as ‘Nu Dan Gong’ ( ), or ‘Female
Energy Centre Self-cultivation’. This is designed specifically to cater to female biology (and is not relevant for males). Essentially,
female neidan aims to sublimate and stop altogether the menstrual cycle, this is termed ‘Zhan Chi Long’ ( ), or ‘Cut the Red
Dragon’. Therefore, all the techniques contained within female neidan, are designed to prevent the loss of essential nature (jing)
and qi energy through the menstruation process. If menstruation is naturally coming to an end (i.e. during menopause), then
this neidan self-cultivation can be practised, but obviously if menstruation is required (as in the case of having children), then do
not practice this neidan – the choice is yours. From a historical perspective, it has to be acknowledged that it has been men who
invented this system (and not women) and passed it down from generation to generation. As a consequence, it is not clear
whether this method works or not for women, and it is better to keep an open and questioning mind. My view is that women
can practice Wu Liu neidan (similar to a man) whereby all desire for worldly existence is banished from the mind, and the ‘small
medicine’ (i.e. microcosmic) circulation is perfected. The essential nature (jing) and qi energy are circulated through the female
genital area and directed through the circulatory channels, without the need to stop the menstrual cycle. However, female
neidan is a specialist subject and more research into its theory and practice needs to be carried-out.


Daoist neidan practice is a good method for ensuring health providing individuals are willing to commit themselves to a long
term, disciplined regime. However, if general fitness and health is required, then perhaps a re-balancing of inner energy can be
obtained through neidan training, although many would probably lack self-determination and instead choose to seek a
conventional, medicinal path (such as seeing a doctor, etc). If this the case, it is better not to mix neidan practice with
conventional medicine. Neidan practice only works if the individual is psychologically and physically committed to the practice,
whilst receiving good instruction from a qualified master. Wanting to train is an important ingredient in the self-developmental
process, as is broadly appreciating the Wu Liu School’s theoretical and philosophical approach. Contemporary Wu Liu practice is
adaptable to the modern conditions of living and is not attached to dogma.
Author: Yan Tianfang ( ) – 2013.6.5

©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2016.

Original Chinese Language Article: http://www.artx.cn/artx/wushu/176464_2.html

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