The secret Nei Kung (pronounced nei gung in Chinese and nai kan in Japanese) is a comparatively simple meditation that has great healing properties. It is little known because it is generally considered part of an oral tradition; that is, it is usually taught by teacher directly to disciple and not written about. Nei Kung literally means inner efficiency, and it has almost disappeared in Japan, though one of the greatest Japanese Zen masters, Hakuin Ekaku, wrote about it very explicitly and used it to great advantage in the 18th century.
Hakuin attributed his recovery from illness (when he was a young man) to the instruction in the Nei Kung given him by a fascinating teacher who lived in a cave in the mountains near Shirakawa (White River Junction) in one of the coldest parts of Japan.
This mountain hermit (known as sennin in Japan) was said to be over two hundred years old, and he would often go without food for considerable lengths of time, as indeed he was doing when Hakuin arrived at his mountain cave after a long and difficult journey.
The sennin taught Hakuin how to circulate and balance the Chi, Vital Force, and how to bring the heart-fire down (the heart being the great yang, or positive force, corresponding to the heat of the sun) rather than letting the yin (negative force) of the kidney region rise. This is pure Chinese Taoism and the origin of acupuncture, but Zen admittedly owes much to Taoism.
Not only did this practice enable Zen master Hakuin to regain his health, which had broken down due to too much intensive concentration on Truth (according to the mountain master), but it also enabled him to make his breakthrough in Zen practice years later, leading to the many Satori (sudden enlightenment) experiences he was to enjoy.
Under the circumstances, since Hakuin revitalized all Japanese Zen in modern times, it seems strange that the Nei Kung has practically disappeared in Japan. The author found none – layman, monk or master – who practice it in the present day.
The Nei Kung can be performed sitting in cross-legged meditative pose (as the sennin, the mountain master, was doing, seemingly making him impervious to hunger and to the extreme cold of the mountain winter). But, for healing purposes, the best way is to do it at night, in bed, before going to sleep. The practice will put you to sleep! If it could be bottled, it would make a great substitute for sleeping pills.
Often one who practices the Nei Kung before falling asleep will awaken in the middle of the night with a strange heat surging through him. This heat is very healing. At other times, when walking or sitting quietly, one may feel the heat at the base of the skull, as a flush in the cheeks or in the various limbs. Wherever it is strongly felt, there is usually blockage. The energy is flowing freely through the meridian channels, then comes to a blockage or injury and manifests as a healing heat. This is the Chi at work. This is much the same as the energy of electricity that flows until it is blocked, then becomes the electric light.
This bodily heat is not only healing, it is energizing as well. One may wake the next morning after practice with great amounts of energy.
To practice the Nei Kung we simply have to memorize the four affirmations below, which is not a very difficult task. If terms such as Pure Land or Amida Buddha are upsetting, it is possible to substitute any names that appeal to the reader. Otherwise, it is best to do the practice as given, without any thought of the results – then be surprised by the effects that develop. The Buddha is supposed to have said “He who can keep his concentration in the soles of his feet will heal 1000 illnesses.” The meaning of this will become clear in practice, as the energy builds up and surges from below the navel to the soles of the feet (the bubbling spring). The spot below the navel is known as tan t’ien in Chinese and tanden in Japanese; we will use the Japanese word because it seems easier.
Lying on your back in bed, with eyes closed and the room light turned off, press your legs together and begin to mentally repeat the following four affirmations, over and over, until sleep intervenes:
1.) This Energy Sea, this tanden, from below the navel to the soles of the feet, full of my Original Face; where are the nostrils on that face?
2.) This Energy Sea, this tanden, from below the navel to the soles of the feet, full of my True Home; what need of a message from that home?
3.) This Energy Sea, this tanden, from below the navel to the soles of the feet, full of the Pure Land of Consciousness only; what need of outer pomp for this Pure Land?
4.) This Energy Sea, this tanden, from below the navel to the soles of the feet, full of the Amida Buddha of heart and body; what sermon would this Amida be preaching?
When this formula is repeated over and over, the effect should take place automatically. Any deliberate effort to make it happen, however, will prevent it from doing so. That effect, in the author’s opinion, is as healing as any practice that can be performed. All that is needed is regularity. The practitioner will note that as time goes by, he becomes oblivious to the cold around him and develops an inner heat that somewhat corresponds to the Dumo heat of Tibet. If only medical doctors would have their patients use the healing potential of the Nei Kung!
A few words of explanation about the terms used above seem in order: Energy Sea refers to the area just below the navel, where the Chi energy is stored. It is the seat of intuition, and the Chinese credit it with greatly influencing creativity. Healing practice is usually based on the flow of the Chi and this will flow from the Energy Sea or tanden (same place) down to the Bubbling Spring at the soles of the feet. It is interesting that the Tantrics of India worship this energy as the Shakti, having personalized this energy as the goddess who is the active, female side of the unchanging Reality, Shiva. There is no more useful practice than developing the ability to actively circulate this Life Force, whether it is by the Nei Kung through mental practice, or by T’ai Chi Chih and T’ai Chi Ch’uan through physical movement.
Original Face is a term that occurs in Zen Buddhism, particularly where there is practice with the koan (a case, or insoluble problem used in Rinzai Zen). “Show me your ‘Original Face’ before you were born!” is a famous admonition that Zen teachers have used, and it has become a favorite beginner’s koan in Zen practice, both in China and Japan. Of course, it means your True Self or Buddha Nature.
The Pure Land refers to the Western Paradise in the Chinese Amitabha sect of Buddhism (known as Shin in Japan). Amitabha, whose name is Amida in Japanese, is the non-historic Buddha of Infinite Light. Gautama Buddha, the historic Buddha from India [born 563 B.C.], is supposed to have told his followers that, eons ago, before recorded history, there was a great Bodhisattva (an enlightened being, one on his way to becoming a Buddha) who took a vow that if he should succeed in becoming a Buddha, he would save all beings and, if they remembered his name just ten times, he would take them, no matter how sinful they were, to the Western Paradise, the Pure Land, when they died. There they would enjoy ideal conditions to continue their practice of Buddhism and eventually attain Nirvana.
Recently in Taiwan a master of about ninety years died. Some years ago the author spent an interesting time with him and believed him to be the last master of T’ai Chi Gik, a self-defense form of T’ai Chi in which he could paralyze an opponent by touching him in a particular spot relative to the time of day and the season of the year. This would stop the flow of the Vital Force and leave the opponent helpless; if he struggled too much, he could endanger his own life, and it is believed that, for this reason, the practice was abolished.
This master, whose name was Liu, suggested lying nude on the earth, facing up to the sun, so as to take in the yang (positive) of the sun and absorb the yin (negative) of the earth at the same time. This is an excellent way to practice the Nei Kung, for those who have the privacy to do so. The author treasures the Chinese writings he received from Master Liu.
This article is published in Meditation for Healing.