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Original Tao: Inward Training (Nei-yeh) and the Foundations of Taoist Mysticism (Translations from the Asian Classics) Paperback – 7 Dec 2004
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In his rigorous scholarship of textual archaeology and mystical hermeneutics, Harold Roth has given us invaluable insights, the analytical tools and a perspective to examine the religious traditions of not only China, but of the rest of the world as well.--Franklin J. Woo "China Review International "
Searching for the origins of things remains a perennial favorite of Western scholars. For millennia, this quest has been at the core of innumerable scholarly projects.... Harold Roth'sOriginal Tao: Inward Training and the Foundations of Taoist Mysticism continues this time-honored investigation, applying it to Taoist mystical writings, in a search for what Roth calls 'the original tao.'--John A. Tucker "Philosophy East & West "
Here is a work that does justice to the beauty of this long poem, for so long neglected to the virtually exclusive benefit of Zhuangzi and Laozi.... The reader will find in the quality of the textual edition, in the numerous translation discoveries, and in the willingness to provide maximum coherence to this text, a profound and original effort.--Romain Graziani "T'oung Pao "
An estimable achievement by one of the foremost scholars of early Taoism in North America... powerful and original.--Paul Rakita Goldin "Sino-Platonic Papers "
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However, his desire to find in the text a description of some original Daoist seated breathing exercise seems to have led him to project such an exercise INTO the text, rather than extract one from it. Frankly, I don't see it there. He adds in the word 'breathing' in several places where the text simply doesn't have it and preferentially translates 'Qi' as 'breath.' He jumps from the general concept of 'aligned forms/bodies/liimbs' to assuming a highly specific description of sitting cross-legged, knees on the floor, with cushion support. These requirements are never specified in the text.
As a result, he actually underplays the overwhelmingly important instructions of the text; those of stilling the body and calming the mind in order to 'create space,' as it were, in the heart-mind (conventionally located in the chest) for the 'shen' to stabilize.
Yes, he is qualified, I am not, but firstly I am judging by close reading of the text itself. Secondly, he shows no sign of having practiced Daoist arts such as Qigong, which I have. Perhaps such would have informed his understanding of the text. Instead, his insistence on a seated breathing meditation suggests he is unduly influenced by Buddhist practice, of which his CV does suggest experience.
Okay, a major caveat, but don't let that stop you getting this book and doing the practice. Just be guided by close reading of the text itself rather than by the unsupported elements of interpretation mentioned above. All in all, a remarkable contribution to the study of early Daoism and a great service.
If Professor Roth is right (and he makes a very convincing argument that he is) then the Nei Ye (inner training) text/manual is even older than the classic Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) or the Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu) and contains some of the earliest and most profound articulations concerning the Dao (Tao- the Way).
The text (so beautifully translated) really helps to contextualise and clarify other texts and teachings on Daoist cultivation; specifically Neidan (Inner Alchemy) and Zuowang (sitting in oblivion meditation).
The discussions concerning the numinous, 'the mind within a mind' were particulary illuminating. The chapter on comparative mysticism was also brilliant; skilfully steering between the extremes of constructivism and perennialism.
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In terms of its content, it paints a very concise picture of the meaning of the Tao (though, like most Taoist writings, through circumlocutions, since the “real” Tao defies language), one that is more concrete, more physical even, than that of the Lao Tzu (Tao Te Ching) – ‘Inward Training’ sees ch’i as the physical expression of the Tao, something that can be fostered within the body & mind through particular techniques. It is devoid of the (now ancient) Chinese political concerns of the Lao Tzu, and thus, for me anyway, more pertinent to a contemporary mystical practice. It is also worthwhile for its more direct treatment of meditation practice, without all the intricate metaphors of alchemy that later took over Taoist thought. The method is simple, a shutting off of the conscious mind in meditation, and thereby allowing the Tao, which is latent, to come of its own accord. The metaphor of ‘Inward Training’ is simply to “clean out the lodging place” of the Tao – i.e. to clear the mind, to be still and calm, and to let the Tao manifest itself. There’s nothing here about lead and mercury; it’s not necessary.
Roth makes it clear that Lao Tzu is a fictional creation, that these early texts were collectively composed over time, and sees it as part of a continuum of early Taoist thought. The reasons for its eclipse by the now more well-known texts are political and historical, but Roth does a great service in bringing the ‘Inward Training’ back to its rightful position as an important part of the development of Taoism. For me, it’s in fact probably more important than any other. Why it hasn’t been universally embraced I’m not sure – vested interests, I suspect. But if you’re serious about understanding Taoism and its meditation techniques, no one can ignore ‘Inward Training’ or Roth’s important book. First there was ‘Inward Training’ – only then, as Roth demonstrates, could the Tao Te Ching even come about, as an elaboration on the former. ‘Inward Training’ is indeed the “original Tao.”
The depth of Roth’s scholarship is clear, and all in all I think he makes a good case for the provenance of Inner Training as representative of the earliest advocacy for “Daoist” meditative practice. I do, however, think he gets carried away in his desire to sum up all of Daoism under the rubric of those who practiced breathing mediation rather than as defined by their philosophies. This stands if all who were of Daoist temperament made strong advocacy for this practice. Sometimes he must make a very long stretch in his attempts to demonstrate that they do. Sometimes his own advocacy seems to exceed his scholarship.
My real concern is that I understand Zhuangzi as making a radically different statement than that enunciated in Inner Training. The latter declares its belief in a metaphysical Dao that is real enough to “unite” with, and a ch’i that one can “accumulate”. All this leads to “understanding” the nature of Reality. Its Daoism is a very serious project of spiritual attainment. It is steeped in belief. Zhuangzi would have had none of it. His entire philosophy turns on believing in no such things. His call for radical non-dependence includes both the eschewal of all metaphysics and any dogmatic advocacy for a technique.
Yes, Zhuangzi speaks of meditation and ch’i. He also makes use of Confucius without being a Confucian, of Mozi without being a Mohist, and of Logicians without being a Logician. When it comes to understanding Zhuangzi, it’s best to first get a sense of his spirit of intellectual anarchy lest one become entrapped by literalism.
Perhaps Zhuangzi cannot be taken as a proper “Daoist”. It doesn’t matter. In any case, I offer an alternative take on Zhuangzi in my blog [...].
Roth begins with a deep digging into the history of this text. Though it doesn't have the heart of the text itself, it is definitely worth a read to find out the critical background of the text.
Next Roth offers his translation, which I found on point and beautiful. The final chapters offers his thematic review, which works also as sort of a commentary to the text.
I would highly recommend every practicing western Taoist to take a look. Though much of what is understood of the Tao has been written in the LaoTzu and Hua Hu Ching, this text gets to the heart of practice, and that is the development of inward training, and the supremacy of breathing meditation to align oneself with the "vital essence", as Roth put it.