Classic Taoists texts are notoriously difficult to decipher, even for scholars of classical Chinese. A notable example being most famous Confucius Scholar in Sung Dynasty Zhu Xi (朱熹). It is interesting to note that Zhu officially condemned Taoist meditation (Neidan) but studied it in private and even wrote a commentary on the famous Neidan text Can Tong Qi under a Taoist pen-name (朱熹《周易參同契考異》化名空同道士鄒訢）! Though it turned out that Zhu's commentary is more difficult to decipher than the original Can Tong Qi, it shows the mesmerizing attractiveness of Taoist meditation or Neidan.
The fact that Neidan texts are difficult to understand is due their complex signification systems and concepts. I shall use one example here to explain my contention: the concept of Nature (先天) versus Nurture (后天).
For a modern man, Nature refers to anything coming from genetics and Nurture refers to anything coming from learning. Not so in Neidan texts. There Nurture refers to anything related to our being after conception, and Nature refers to the elements that breeds a sentient being and after his death the elements will go back to their original place.
Under this Taoist Neidan concept, anything that can improve our well-being and longevity belongs to the arena of Nurture (后天). And according to the Taoists, the training of one's Nature (先天) is the most important goal and actually THE goal of the whole Neidan practice. The interesting point is that in the practice of Neidan, a practitioner has to go through perfecting his Nurture elements before he can completely purify or transform his Nature elements. And honestly speaking, most people, now and then, are more interested in perfecting their own Nurture and would prefer leaving Nature to take its own course, including common people who take Taoism as a religion (words as defined in the Taoist way). Understanding this human "weakness", the Taoist masters always intermixed "Nurture" and "Nature" aspects of their practice together, with the good intention of convincing us "shallow mortals" to pay more attention to our "Nature" (or spirituality, as a modern man will like to put it this way; though spirituality is merely a slightly closer rather than an equivalent concept to "Nature"), which is the most important goal to achieve in life.
Good health, both physical and mental, and longevity are things most people would love to have, now and in the past!
And the fact is that people can (and could) see that those who practice Taoist Neidan (and its related practices like chi-kung and Tai-chi) do look healthier and live longer! No wonder famous Confucius scholar Zhu studied Can Tong Qi secretly and tried to decipher its complex signification system!
Who doesn't want to live longer and healthier?
PS: I shall discuss the ambitious Neidan goal of "Transforming Nature" in some future posts.