Lao Zi introduced a very important bellows (tuo yue) concept, which has not only provided a fundamental condition for the spiritual and physical practice of inner alchemy, giving such practice the possibility of infinite development, but is also amazingly similar in philosophy with modern-day developments in astrological science. Lao Zi held that Heaven and Earth function like a bellows, in which energy is generated and which is “active, yet with increased magnitude”. Guided by such interrelationship between Heaven and Man (tian ren xiang ying), the human body too actualizes vital energy (zhen qi) in such bellows state, thereby opening up a way for spiritual and physical practice through which the Yang spirit (Yang shen) is able to migrate from “being” (you) to “non-being” (wu). On the other hand, this physical world, including our Earth, or even the cosmic universe, is an organic life entity, and each life entity actualizes the phenomenon of its creation and demise, or its formation and degeneration, as a result of such bellows effect. According to the scientists, life in this cosmic universe is manifested during the expansion of this cosmic universe, which originates from vacuum energy (zhen kong neng). Such vacuum energy emerges and sparkles instantly in a vacuum environment, which amazingly coincides with the image of being “impalpable and elusive”, “distant and indistinct”, and “unceasingly, as if it is everlasting” portrayed by Lao Zi, only that Lao Zi’s bellows (tuo yue) theory emerged 2,500 years earlier than modern-day scientific discoveries.
Key words: Lao Zi, Inner Alchemy, Qi, Bellows, Vacuum Energy.
In Lao Zi’s time, the way in which the Chinese people pursued longevity and immortality was by taking the golden elixir (jin dan). From the culture of alchemy developed the arts of making artificial gold and silver (huang bai shu), which pushed forging chemistry to its peak. One of the forging tools was a bellows or wind box (known as tuo yue in ancient times). Lao Zi used the bellows as a metaphor to explain the greatness of the creation of Heaven and Earth. In physics, the shape and structure of a bellows can create massive energy, which strengthens the fire for forging. Lao Zi used such an example to illustrate the origin of the creation of Heaven and Earth,  which was later being incorporated into the theories for the spiritual and physical practice of inner energy (nei qi) and has become a principal method for the spiritual and physical practice of inner alchemy (nei dan xiu lian).  However, such shape and structure for the creation of natural energy (qi) coincide with the causes for explaining the expansion of the cosmic universe in modern-day astrological science. In this paper, a preliminary introduction will be made from both aspects of the spiritual and physical practice of inner alchemy and of the astrological science: Lao Zi’s bellows (tuo yue) theory is an important integral part of the theories for the spiritual and physical practice of inner alchemy, and the vacuum energy (zhen kong neng) used to explain the expansion of the cosmic universe is also intricately interrelated to such theory. To facilitate the discussion, the first part on the spiritual and physical practice of inner alchemy will be divided into the “assertive method” (you wei gong) and the “non-assertive method” (wu wei gong), whereas the assertive method will be based, as a matter of choice, on the Jade Pendant Inscription of Circulating Qi (行氣玉佩銘, Xing Qi Yu Pei Ming), and the “non-assertive method” is represented by the Numinous Writings in Five Sections (《五篇靈文》, Wu Pian Ling Wen).
I. Elements of Lao Zi Affecting the Spiritual and Physical Practice of Inner Alchemy
Lao Zi  wanted to talk about “dao”, “qi” was discussed only in very few places. A complete overview of the 81 Verses in Lao Zi will demonstrate that natural energy (qi) is mentioned in less than ten places.The conceptual transition from “dao” to “qi”, as well as the maturity of the concept of “qi”, were all accomplished later by Zhuang Zi and the Jixia School of Daoism.
Although “qi” was not discussed much by Lao Zi, there were still quite a few mentions of “dao” by Lao Zi that provide fundamental thinking for the theories of inner alchemy. The discussion on “dao” by Lao Zi included the Way of Heaven (tian dao) and the Way of Man (ren dao), which were based on the interrelationship between Heaven and Man (tian ren xiang ying). From the representation that Heaven and Man obey the same law of nature (tian ren tong dao), we find that Lao Zi presented the “theory of cosmology” (yu zhou lun) and the “theory of ontology” (ben ti lun) of modern-day philosophy. The theory of cosmology is in fact the theory of cosmogony (yu zhou sheng cheng lun), which, as mentioned by Lao Zi, is the origin of life in this cosmic universe and is reluctantly named “dao”.  Such cosmogony originates from the “dao” evolving into “one”, which is the core of Verse 42 of Lao Zi: “The Dao evolved into one; one into two; two into three; three into all beings. All beings bear the Yin and embrace the Yang, the polarization of which maintains them in harmony.” “Dao” is a state which cannot be named and without any physical being or form, we cannot use the language and conceptual thinking of the human race to fully express the truth about “dao”.“One” is the manifestation of “dao” towards the phenomenal realm without any physical trace yet, which may be described as being in an “impalpable and elusive” state, and is generally given the name “tai ji”. “Two” is the expression of a structure, which may include, among others, “Heaven and Earth”, “Qian and Kun”, and “Yin and Yang”. However, this structure will dictate the evolutionary morphology of matters in the phenomenal realm, actualizing the polarity characteristics. “Three” is the state of the polarization and harmonization of “qi”, the origin of all beings, and is the initial phase (chu shi xiang) of the phenomenal realm, which is called “innate energy” (xian tian qi). Such innate energy being in the state of “three” has the basic properties of being formless and shapeless, and is misty and harmonious (yin yun). “One” and “three” are both formless and intangible, impalpable and elusive. The difference being: “one” is closer to “non-being”, whereas “three” is closer to “being”. “One” is “tai ji” before any movement, whereas “three” is “tai ji” after movement, both have the same origin but different names, and can be described as “being” but not so or as “non-being” but not so, i.e., existing in between “being” and “non-being”.
Although Lao Zi did not elaborate on “qi”, the expression “the polarization of which maintains them in harmony” alone has affirmed that the primitive power existed in the very beginning of the phenomenal realm was in the state of “qi”, only that such “qi” was intangible. From such introduction of the “polarization and harmonization of qi” and choice of words, it is evident that, the so-called “innate energy” (xian tian qi) if described in a physical way will be superficially harmonized but inherently contradictory. “Polarization” (chong) is the condition in which two opposing forces, i.e., the two forces of Yin and Yang, checking and balancing each other while being attracted to each other during intense friction. “Harmony” (he) means “gentleness”, representing external harmony and complaisance, and is a necessary condition for nurturing infinite matters and beings. The coexistence of “polarization” and “harmony” illustrates the basic properties of this innate energy existing in the cosmic universe, latent in which is the potential influence of the polarity structure. When this innate energy enters the phenomenal realm, it is bound to follow the law of the polarity structure, i.e., the formula for the evolution of Yin and Yang. To illustrate this evolutionary formula, Lao Zi started with the dynamic movement of “bearing the Yin and embracing the Yang”. This polarity structure and tension were inherent in the very beginning of this cosmic universe when “all beings” were created, as well as in the creation and demise or the formation and degeneration of all matters and beings, and the subsequent infinite evolution of all matters and beings too inevitably follows such law, which also applies to the creation of internal organs inside the human body.
The process during which life is created in this cosmic universe, i.e., from “three” to “all beings”, embodies the operation of “qi”. Such operation has its established law and limitation; to put it more accurately, it is not possible for the “dao” in the phenomenal realm not to be subject to limitation and law. The “polarization and harmonization of qi” when being manifested in this cosmic universe or in Heaven and Earth may turn into a human being or a being; when being manifested in the human body, it also actualizes in the same way all internal organs and tissues. Our lives, especially when we are in the primitive qi form of a fetus, too display such special properties of innate energy (xian tian qi) during the “polarization and harmonization of qi”. Although Lao Zi’s theory of “dao” is clearly and fundamentally about “dao”, it still requires the use of “qi” to explain the creation of all things.
In Lao Zi’s way of thinking, there has to be a basic condition and structure for the formation of the “polarization and harmonization of qi”, and that is a bellows (tuo yue). He considered that “in between Heaven and Earth, it is much like a bellows”, and the phenomenon of the transportation of “qi” is only possible with the shape and structure of a bellows, which is a wind box, i.e., a concealed vacuum. This concealed vacuum has a double-acting piston. When such piston is pushed, the air pressure inside the wind box changes, causing the air to move. According to Lao Zi, this instrument has the special phenomenon of being “hollow, yet with fortitude; active, yet with increased magnitude”, which means the more it is moved, the more air it generates, and there is the possibility of infinite generation of energy. From this, it evident that energy is the effect of the movement of “qi”, and the movement of primitive “qi” is the “polarization and harmonization of qi”, an innate state in which no form is being created yet but is “impalpable and elusive” and “misty and harmonious”. Lao Zi described this state as “unceasingly, as if it is everlasting; inexhaustible, if applied without exertion”  and “though impalpable and elusive, manifesting therefrom are forms”; of course, this kind of “form” means the nebulous state in which “form” is going to be created but not created yet.
It may be better to say that a bellows is a concealed hollow than a concealed vacuum. The difference between “hollow” and “vacuum” lies in being “hollow, yet with fortitude”. “Hollow” has the implication of “not being empty”, and “with fortitude” implies the possibility of infinite power. This is a very important concept in Lao Zi’s theories. The Earth has life, age and energy all because of the shape and structure of a concealed hollow in between Heaven and Earth. More importantly, all living things must have this shape and structure of a concealed hollow. A living thing does not necessarily have to be an animal. The Earth is also a living thing. According to the scientists, the universe in which we live has been in existence for almost 5 billion years. 
The human body is in the shape and structure of a bellows. Our mortal flesh (chou pi nang) is “tuo” and our mouth and nostrils are “yue”. Our life has to be maintained through breathing, and the breathing tools are our mouth and nostrils. The spiritual and physical practice of inner alchemy is to actualize intangible vital energy (zhen qi) from the air that we breathe in physically. The definition of vital energy can be a kind of living energy. Our basic life form is structured from inborn primal energy (yuan qi). When this primal energy is exhausted, our life will come to an end. Through basic revitalization, we can exhaust our natural years. However, the spiritual and physical practice of inner alchemy will be able to extend our lives. With the aid of adaptive practice (hou tian gong fu), we can actualize the Yang spirit (Yang shen) and live as long as Heaven and Earth, and if keep on practicing, we may even be able to synchronize and merge with cosmic energy, into a spiritual union with nature.  From the most fundamental practice of meditation, the object of which is the air we breathe in, we have already activated the bellows effect. The double-acting piston of the wind box is being pushed, the inner energy (nei qi) is being moved to germinate vital energy (zhen qi). This will develop according to the laws of “the more output, the more input” and “the more input, the greater generation of energy”.
The application of the bellows effect in the spiritual and physical practice of inner alchemy is evident in the practice based on the inscription of the historical relic Jade Pendant Inscription of Circulating Qi (《行氣玉佩銘》, Xing Qi Yu Pei Ming) and the practice of the “spirit mutating into qi” (shen ru qi zhong). The former is an assertive method, whereas the latter is a non-assertive method. In simple terms, the practice based on the Jade Pendant Inscription of Circulating Qi (《行氣玉佩銘》, Xing Qi Yu Pei Ming) is to: breathe in and expand your diaphragm, raise your anus and hold, continue for a while, breathe out and relax. The characteristic of this method is “sealing the top, closing the bottom” (shang feng xia bi). By “sealing the top”, it means to stop breathing through your mouth and nostrils for a while. By “closing the bottom”, it means to raise your anus. The mortal flesh is “tuo”, while the mouth and nostrils are “yue”, creating an activated wind box by “sealing the top, closing the bottom”. The movement of inner energy (nei qi) will germinate vital energy (zhen qi), and there will be a warm current rising from the lower abdomen (xia dan tian) upwards along the spine. This is one of the common assertive methods used to actualize vital energy (zhen qi).
When in a sophisticated state of such practice, all assertive methods can only be regarded as a transition to the non-assertive method, which is the only way for actualizing the Yang spirit (Yang shen). A non-assertive method is aimed at having the “spirit mutating into qi”. The characteristic of this practice is that breathing should be “unceasingly, as if it is everlasting”, in a state of seemingly “being” yet “non-being”. This state, after going through the breathing exercise for a while, i.e., from coarse breathing to soft and prolonged breathing, will finally come very close to holding one’s breath. The basic pursuit of the Hinayana (xiao cheng) spiritual and physical practice of inner alchemy is to exhaust the natural years so that life is maintained and extended. From the extension of such concept, the imitation of long-life animals has developed. The breathing patterns of long-life animals, such as turtles, cranes and snakes, are often being adopted as part of the spiritual and physical practice. These animals have a common characteristic and that is their breathing is gentle and soft, or even not breathing in or out, and not drinking or eating. Therefore, the spiritual and physical practice of inner alchemy is inclined towards the breathing patterns of a turtle or a fetus, or even holding one’s breath, and the more sophisticated way is holding one’s breath or almost close to holding one’s breath.
During practice using a non-assertive method (wu wei gong), when in the state of almost close to holding one’s breath, and one’s mental and spiritual activities are also completely inactive, in such moment of no thoughts nor desires, being “solitary and desolate” and “elusive and impalpable”, the phenomenon of light may emerge in inner vision (nei jing). We may make reference to the Numinous Writings in Five Sections (《五篇靈文》, Wu Pian Ling Wen) regarding how breathing should be handled: “The spirit (shen) is inseparable from natural energy (qi), and natural energy (qi) is inseparable from the spirit (shen), breathing in and out can be attributed to the same origin. It should never be attached to a physical being nor be applied, but be determined to enter and abide in voidness (xu wu), and solitarily, the illumination will be for ever”, and “after sustained practice, stillness will give rise to tranquility. The spirit (shen) will mutate into natural energy (qi), and the two will copulate”. In Wang Chongyang’s annotations, it is mentioned that the so-called breathing “can be attributed to the same origin” means breathing “moves up and down, returning to its origin; actualized to form the elixir (dan), which can be regarded as the embryo (tai)”.  This origin should mean returning to the breathing patterns of a fetus or even in the embryo state inside a mother’s womb, and hence it “can be regarded as the embryo”. From this, it can be derived that the prerequisite for forming the elixir is almost close to “embryo breathing” (tai xi). The specific method for regulating the breath of physically breathing in and out to such embryo breathing is to “breathe out with the spirit (shen) and breathe in with natural energy (qi)” as mentioned by Wang Chongyang. Obviously, this is a specific practice for moving into the “spirit mutating into qi”, which, in modern-day terminology, is called “internal breathing” (nei hu xi).
Breathing is the primitive power for the creation of all beings, different breathing patterns will create different beings. The practice of inner alchemy is very particular about how breathing should be handled. The main reason being, only in the state of the “spirit mutating into qi” by almost holding one’s breath, will there be manifestation of light images from inner vision. Let’s take a look at such inner vision as described in the Numinous Writings in Five Sections (《五篇靈文》, Wu Pian Ling Wen):
“Initially, the spirit (shen) should concentrate on Kun...and then concentrate on Qian, actualizing and concentrating gradually, focusing and condensing gradually, a mysterious pearl (xuan zhu) will be formed, in the size of a corn, suspended in front of the eyes, once attained, it will be for ever. The innate vital energy (zhen qi) from voidness (xu wu) will naturally return. Wait until it sparkles with light from the Lead, in the image of the Moon. The vapor from the Mercury will be lifted, in the image of the Sun. The Sun and the Moon will intermittently copulate at one point, creating a spot of spiritual light, round and shiny, bright and sparkling, shining up and down, with the inner truth responding to such image externally. Innate energy (xian tian qi) originates from voidness, with innate energy (mu qi) prostrating human energy (zi qi), naturally yielding and copulating, which is the wonder of all creations. Such medicinal ingredient originates externally, and not a false imagination.”
What’s worth noting are: 1. The emergence of innate energy (xian tian qi) is synchronized with the image of sparkling light. 2. Innate energy must emerge after the practice of concentration of the spirit (ying shen). 3. Innate energy originates from voidness. The emergence of light is at that moment when the “mysterious pearl” (xuan zhu) becomes an image, which is called “spiritual light” (xing guang). If spiritual light is actualized, the “primal spirit” (yuan shen) will emerge. This kind of practice through a non-assertive method has always been the core subject of the spiritual and physical practice of inner alchemy. In between the Ming and Qing Dynasties, there were even scriptures that exclusively discussed “spiritual light”, and a more popular one is the Secret of the Golden Flowers (《太乙金華宗旨》, Tai Yue Jing Hua Zong Zhi).
II. Alchemists’ Misconception of the Spiritual and Physical Practice of Microcosmic Circulation
From the above analysis of the assertive method and non-assertive method, it is evident that breathing and the application of a bellows (tuo yue) are two prerequisites for the spiritual and physical practice of inner alchemy. Of the two prerequisites, breathing is the natural product under the conditions of a bellows, only that we have to make use of the environment provided by a bellows to change our breathing patterns so that vital energy (zhen qi) will germinate. Therefore, a bellows is in fact the most fundamental source for all creations. Since the Ming and Qing Dynasties, the practice of “microcosmic circulation” (xiao zhou tian) has emerged in inner alchemy, in which the importance of having the “tongue pressed against the palate” (she ding shang e) is highly stressed, and which is being used as the only method for connecting the conception meridian (ren mai) with the governing meridian (du mai).  Such practice cannot be said to be wrong but can neither be said to be correct. The main reasons are as follows: Firstly, the germination of vital energy (zhen qi) does not depend on whether or not certain channel for natural energy (qi) inside the body is blocked, but on the shape and structure of a bellows. Secondly, the channels for natural energy (qi) inside the body are different from the meridian-collateral diagram (jing luo tu). When such natural energy (qi) travels along the governing meridian (du mai) to the occipital bone (zhen gu), it has to detour in order to reach the “palace of nirvāna” (ni wan gong) inside the brain. Thirdly, natural energy (qi) may rise or sink, and a disease may be at its early or advance stage. The conception meridian and the governing meridian are originally connected, but if the natural energy (qi) being circulated is weak, it may become an illness. It is not because that natural energy (qi) is being blocked nor has it got anything to do with having the “tongue pressed against the palate”. Fourthly, the activation of the mechanism for natural energy (qi) inside the body, from the lower abdomen (xia dan tian), where the fire is ignited, along the spine straight through the “three passes” (san guan), does not represent the truth about how inner energy (nei qi) travels.
The sensing of natural energy (qi) along our spine is via the spinal cord, and the paravertebral nerves are the major sensing tools. However, the anterior sensory nerves are not as sensitive as the paravertebral nerves, and naturally, their sensing of natural energy (qi) is not as strong. This condition misleads us to think that the germination and movement of inner energy (nei qi) is only along the governing meridian (du mai). Some people even think that the spinal governing meridian is the only channel for the circulation of inner energy (nei qi). Stemmed from such misconception is the thinking that natural energy (qi) travels along the linear governing meridian (du mai) before joining the traditional meridian-collateral (jing luo) distribution, and the governing meridian (du mai) joins the conception meridian (ren mai) at the philtrum (ren zhong) and the frenum labii superioris (yin jiao) then travels downwards to the lower abdomen (xia dan tian), and in the end, a wrong conclusion is derived: having the “tongue pressed against the palate” is the key to commission the microcosmic circulation (xiao zhou tian). 
The germination and movement of inner energy (nei qi) are not only along the governing meridian (du mai), and to put it more correctly, inner energy should be in a three-dimensional shape and structure, a cylindrical shape and structure for upward and downward transportation and distribution. When the mechanism for the germination of natural energy (qi) in the lower abdomen (xia dan tian) is activated, natural energy (qi) is distributed to the anterior and posterior as well as to the right and to the left, and not solely gathered at a specific acupoint nor travels along the meridian-collateral (jing luo) routes. The moving patterns of the natural energy (qi) generated from a bellows should be three-dimensional and not linear. What is being presented in a traditional meridian-collateral diagram is only for the sake of explanation and has simplified its truth; that is to say, the meridians and collaterals are also three-dimensional and not linear. The theory about microcosmic circulation (xiao zhou tian) is not accurate. The theory about microcosmic circulation stemmed from the fire phases (huo hou) of the macrocosmic orbit (zhou tian) advocated by Zhong-Lu inner alchemy (Zhong Lu dan dao) during the Five Dynasties (Wu Dai) period. The “fire phases” in the “fire phases of the macrocosmic orbit” (zhou tian huo hou) refers to the strength of fire; however, the microcosmic circulation is about the routes for circulating natural energy (qi), the meanings of the two are extremely different. It can be said that the alchemists in the Ming and Qing Dynasties were wrong to use the theory of microcosmic circulation to explain the fire phases of the macrocosmic orbit.
III. The Bellows Theory Coincides with Modern-day Astrological Viewpoints
The bellows effect apart from being manifested in human bodies is also manifested in other animals, or even in organic life entities. The starting point for the conception of Lao Zi’s bellows theory is the discourse about Heaven and Earth, hence it goes without saying that the Earth that we live in is a bellows. On such basis, from the Earth, it can be extended to the solar system or even to the cosmic universe, provided that the stars and the cosmic universe themselves have the shape and structure of a “concealed hollow”. The lives created by such bellows and their life endurance depend on their breathing patterns. The cats, dogs, tigers, turtles, etc. all have the shape and structure of a bellows, they all have their own breathing patterns. The breathing of a tiger is robust in order to provide instant energy for chasing after its preys, but its life endurance is short and does not live a long life. A turtle is different, its breathing patterns are soft and prolonged, its life endurance relatively lasts longer and it lives a relatively long life. Regarding such life formula, Lao Zi said at the very onset: “Promoting life can be said to be auspicious, using the mind to control 'qi' can be said to be strong, any being that is beyond its prime is old, which can be said to be against 'dao' and is destined for an early end.” A tiger needs instant strong power to capture and kill its preys, its heart and lung functions are exuberant, yet using the mind to strengthen “qi” will result in a short life. That is to say, when a life form is over oxygenated, it tends to result in a short life. Hence, today, we have all kinds of anti-oxidants to satisfy the market psychology of slowing down the aging process. The result of using the mind to strengthen “qi” is that excess free radicals are produced inside the body. Such free radicals cause the cells of a body to rapidly oxidate, which gives rise to a death crisis. Relatively speaking, a turtle moves slowly, breathes softly, and its oxidation process is hence slow and its life endurance hence lasts longer. Oxidation and life endurance depend on whether the breathing is coarse or soft. If a man wants to actualize stronger life endurance, he has to imitate the breathing patterns of a long-life animal.
The softer the breathing, the stronger the life endurance. Intangible breathing can produce stronger and more enduring life patterns than tangible breathing. Therefore, a turtle lives longer than a tiger, Heaven and Earth last longer than a turtle, and the cosmic universe lasts even longer than the Earth. But, how do Heaven and Earth and the cosmic universe breathe? In Yi Xi Ci Zhuan (《易繫辭傳》), it says: “closing and opening produce change” (he bi cheng bian), and in Sun Zi (荀子), it says: “Yin and Yang change significantly, wind and rain are abundant, all beings live in such harmony and grow from such nourishment, such process is invisible but the achievements are visible”. They were all saying that the breathing of the Earth relied on the two invisible “qi” of Yin and Yang, which is exactly the “three” and the “polarization and harmonization of qi” referred to by Lao Zi. We cannot see the breathing of Heaven and Earth, yet Heaven and Earth last much longer than the lives created by the clearly visible breathing of animals.
According to the scientists, we live in a cosmic universe, one of the many cosmic universes. We used to think that there was no air in the space of such universe or it is a vacuum state that has nothing in it. In fact, that is not the case. When a spacecraft orbits round the Earth at an altitude of 400 kilometers, the air pressure detected is one-billionth of the atmospheric pressure. In the microscopic world, a vacuum is not a vacuum, there are many “basic particles” in it, and such particles appear suddenly and disappear instantly. There has never been a complete vacuum in nature. Even as tiny as an atom, inherent in such atom are the nucleus and electrons, and in the space in which such electrons flow round the nucleus, apart from such electrons, it seems to be vastly empty; but in fact, as discovered by the scientists, such space is filled with basic particles. Surrounding the nucleus and inside such nucleus, in a zone which was originally thought to be an absolute vacuum emerges an extraordinary and wonderful phenomenon, and that is, some basic particles are ejected suddenly from there. They are created at extreme speed and disappear at extreme speed.
According to quantum dynamics, another phase of a basic particle is wave. Basic particles can be converted into energy, and energy too can be converted into particles. The movement of basic particles is energy, and wave is the superficial phase of energy. In quantum dynamics, “field” is used for illustration. When a field is in vigorous oscillation, it is in the existence state of basic particles, which is also the energy phase. When a field becomes still, there is no oscillation, and energy disappears. The scientists define a vacuum as the state of the non-oscillation of a field. With respect to the tension created by such field oscillation and non-oscillation, we can use Lao Zi’s language of being “elusive and impalpable”, “unceasingly, as if it is everlasting” to describe it. As for the potential energy from the non-oscillation as well as the oscillation of a field, it is obviously the bellows function described as “hollow, yet with fortitude”. The “hollow” used by Lao Zi has the possibility of infinite energy and not an empty voidness, which is also the reality of cosmic vacuum. The breathing of the cosmic universe is exactly this invisible and visible patterns of non-oscillation as well as oscillation of a field, which is even more “intangible” than the intangible breathing brought about by the “change produced by closing and opening” of the Earth, and hence the cosmic energy is even more massive.
According to the scientists, the “big bang” of the cosmic universe originates from a vacuum. Such vacuum is filled with super high energy, and when such vacuum undergoes “phase change”, releasing a vast amount of energy, the “big bang” takes place. This super high energy cosmic universe first gives birth to all kinds of basic particles, which then gradually form the different galaxies. As discovered by the scientists, the cosmic universe after its birth is expanding at an accelerated speed, and the power for actualizing such cosmic expansion comes from a vacuum, which is referred to as “dark energy” (an neng liang) or “vacuum energy” (zhen kong neng). This theory about vacuum energy is exactly the bellows (tuo yue) and the “hollow, yet with fortitude; active, yet with increased magnitude” of a bellows referred to by Lao Zi. The emergence of basic particles, and even the different kinds of matters created by the basic particles, may be said to be the evolutionary process of “three” and from “three” to “all beings”. The “three” referred to by Lao Zi is the “polarization and harmonization of qi”, it is innate energy (xian tian qi) and the origin of all beings, but this natural energy (qi) is intangible, like basic particles, it is manifested instantly, sparkling and being elusive and impalpable, and disappears instantly, the process of which is invisible but the achievements of which are visible in a cosmic vacuum. Subsequent matters are created from the “polarization and harmonization of qi”, whereas subsequent galaxies are created from the vacuum energy generated from the field oscillation of basic particles. In a human being, its “tuo” is a concealed hollow, whereas its “yue” are the mouth and nostrils, the breathing through which give rise to the bellows effect; in the cosmic universe, its “tuo” is also a concealed hollow, and its breathing patterns are from the vacuum energy generated by the instantly sparkling basic particles, which is also referred to as field oscillation. Since the basic particles are hidden in an intangible vacuum state, generating “dark energy” or “vacuum energy”, we can say that is the “voidness” (xu wu) with latent power. The possibility of “being from non-being” referred to by Lao Zi is built on field oscillation, which is “unceasingly, as if it is everlasting”.
We all know the immense impact of Lao Zi’s philosophy. Lao Zi’s intelligence is so superior that it is beyond our imagination. The conventional Chinese way of thinking is built on metaphysical philosophy, it is just natural for the culture of the spiritual and physical practice of inner alchemy to absorb Lao Zi’s bellows (tuo yue) concept, restructure such concept and then develop from such concept; however, such bellows theory actually coincides with the theories of modern-day astrological science is something that is unexpected.
The natural energy (qi) generated from a bellows (tuo yue) can nourish all beings, actualizing all kinds of life forms. A human body can also benefit from the bellows effect by following the corresponding practice to generate vital energy (zhen qi), adding value to one’s life. A bellows (tuo yue) is the fundamental of inner alchemy; without a bellows, all spiritual and physical practices are going to be meaningless. The practice of microcosmic circulation is only one of the channels through which inner energy (nei qi) circulates, and it is not practical to use such linear “qi” channel in pursuit of vital energy (zhen qi). The development of the practice of microcosmic circulation in preference to the fire phases of the macrocosmic orbit (zhou tian huo hou) is a serious mistake for inner alchemy.
The concept of natural energy (qi) has never been able to depart from its metaphysical interpretation; notwithstanding that Chinese medicine and the meridian-collateral philosophy have, during the past few decades, incessantly been in pursuit of physical, scientific explanations, so far there is no actual data nor affirmative research report which can clearly explain what kind of thing is this “qi” inside our body.  The so-called “Yang spirit” (Yang shen) in the ultimate realm of the spiritual and physical practice of inner alchemy, despite that it is able to migrate from “being” to “non-being”, still lacks rational and scientific verification for explaining clearly the truth about divine immortals (shen xian); of course, relative to this world or the cosmic universe, the truth about divine immortals may still be that metaphysical part which remains a mystery. The new developments in modern-day quantum dynamics seem to be gradually closing up the gap between physical recognition and the metaphysical puzzle. Many originally unknown or metaphysical parts may only be grey areas awaiting for scientific discovery and may still be unraveled in the near future. The discovery of vacuum energy (zhen kong neng) in physics, and the wonderful operations of basic particles and the field theory in fact are almost identical to the bellows (tuo yue) theory advocated by Lao Zi more than 2,500 years ago. Regarding such subject, there is still much room for development in science. No matter what our recognition is in future with respect to the truth about this cosmic universe, the intricate interrelationship between scientific research findings and the bellows (tuo yue) theory that is evident today already commands our salutation to Lao Zi.
Author: Dr. Hong-chau Yuen (Hong Kong), 2011
Translated by: Joanna S. Y. Yau, MCIL (U.K., H.K.), NAATI accredited (Australia), HKTS (Life Member)
See Verse 5 of Lao Zi: “In between Heaven and Earth, it is much like a bellows (tuo yue)”.
Although Lao Zi did not directly state that the bellows (tuo yue) was the origin of the creation of Heaven and Earth, but according to other sections, it has such implication, for instance, in Verse 6, which reads: “The divine power of voidness never dies, which can be called mysterious femininity (xuan pin), and the opening of which can be called the root of Heaven and Earth.” The “divine power of voidness” (gu shen) can also be interpreted as a concealed bellows (tuo yue) state.
For instance, the “contraction of the anus” (shu le yang guan) often adopted in the practice of inner alchemy, as well as “internal breathing” (nei hu xi) or the “spirit mutating into qi” (shen ru qi zhong) used during the Ming and Qing Dynasties may create the bellows (tuo yue) effect for the evolutionary generation of vital energy (zhen qi).
“Lao Zi” refers to the author of Lao Zi (the book). ibid.
Natural energy (qi) is directly mentioned in Lao Zi in, among other sections, Verse 42 “all beings bear the Yin and embrace the Yang, the polarization of which maintains them in harmony”, Verse 10 “concentrating one’s breathing until it is soft, as if one were a baby”, and Verse 55 “promoting life can be said to be auspicious, using the mind to control 'qi' can be said to be strong”. The character “qi” (氣) appears in less than ten places in the whole scripture.
See Verse 25 of Lao Zi: “Something nebulous existed before Heaven and Earth: solitary and desolate, isolated yet immutable, revolving without fail, which may be regarded as the mother of universe. I do not know its name, literally it can be named ‘dao’, and reluctantly it can be named ‘greatness’.”
See Verse 1 of Lao Zi: “The dao that can be described is not the eternal dao, the name that can be named is not the eternal name.”
All intangible natural energy (qi) should be written as “炁”in Chinese. In this paper, the Chinese characters for “innate energy” (xian tian qi) have adopted the common form of “先天氣”. The same applies to the Chinese characters for “vital energy”(zhen qi), “primal energy” (yuan qi), “polarization and harmonization of qi” (chong he qi), “shen mutating into qi” (shen ru qi zhong).
See Verse 6 of Lao Zi: “The divine power of voidness (gu shen) never dies, which can be called mysterious femininity (xuan pin), and the opening of which can be called the root of Heaven and Earth. Unceasingly, as if it is everlasting; inexhaustible, if applied without exertion.”
See Verse 21 of Lao Zi.
According to the research of the scientists, the evolution from the creation of the cosmic universe to life on Earth took 15 billion years, and the solar system was formed 4.6 billion years ago.
The spiritual and physical practice of inner alchemy is aimed at “fully actualizing the Yang spirit” (yang shen chu qiao) as the ultimate experience, and that is the realm for divine immortals, which may transcend time and space and have the same wave as the cosmic universe.
See Section 1: Divine Nectar (yu ye) of the Numinous Writings in Five Sections (《五篇靈文‧玉液章第一》, Wu Pian Ling Wen-Yu Ye Zhang Di Yi). Lu Guangrong (呂光榮): Classical Readings on Chinese Qigong, Jing and Yuan Dynasties Section (Part 1) (《中國氣功經典‧金元朝部分上》, Zhongguo Qigong Jingdian-Jing Yuan Chao Bufeng Shang) (Beijing: People’s Sports Press, 1993) pp 130.
“Internal breathing” (nei hu xi) is a kind of breathing that is close to intangible breathing, which is the breathing pattern adopted after the spirit (shen) has mutated into natural energy (qi). Zhang Sanfeng (張三丰) stated in his Explaining Dao in Plain Language (《道言淺近說》, Dao Yan Qian Jin Shuo): “Beginners must start from internal breathing which is the place for leaving one’s parents and re-establishing the embryo.” See Xu Zhaoren’s (徐兆仁) Keys to Taiji Dao (《太極道訣》, Tai Ji Dao Jue) (Beijing: China People’s University Press, 1990) pp 20-21.
See Section 3: Harvesting (cai yao) of the Numinous Writings in Five Sections (《五篇靈文．採藥章第三》, Wu Pian Ling Wen-Cai Yao Zhang Di San), Classical Readings on Chinese Qigong, Jing and Yuan Dynasties Section (Part 1) (《中國氣功經典‧金元朝部分上》, Zhongguo Qigong Jingdian-Jing Yuan Chao Bufeng Shang) pp 134.
The Secret of the Golden Flowers (《太乙金華宗旨》, Tai Yue Jing Hua Zong Zhi) is a piece of work based on the planchette writings (fu ji) from Lu Zu (呂祖), in which the practice of “light reflection” (hui guang) was mentioned, and such practice has been adopted as the practice for actualizing the primal spirit (yuan shen).
For instance, in Liu Huayang’s (柳華陽) Deliberation on Golden Immortals-Preamble: Elixir Alchemy Chapter 1 (All About Microcosmic Circulation) (《金仙証論‧序煉丹第一（盡言小周天）》, Jin Xian Lun Zheng-Xu Lian Dan Di Yi (Jin Yan Xiao Zhou Tian)), it was stressed that the connection of the governing meridian (du mai) with the conception meridian (ren mai) is the key to actualizing the golden elixir (jin dan): “Yu Yuwu (俞玉吾) said: The governing meridian and the conception meridian are the zodiac channels for breathing in and out. The conception meridian (任脈) starts from below the middle pole (中極) and travels upwards from the pubic hair, circulating inside the abdomen, to the “guan yuan” (關元) acupoint, then to the throat. The governing meridian (督脈) starts from the “yu” (腧) acupoint at the perineum (下極) and spirals inside the spinal cord to the “feng fu” (風府) acupoint, then to the brain. If the two meridians are connected, then all meridians will be connected. The “harvesting” (採取) operates from there and the cosmic circulation (周天) starts to revolve from there. If one knows such “path of the furnace and cauldron” (爐鼎道路), then the golden elixir (金丹) will be formed without fail.” Such explanation has obviously misinterpreted the use of “fire phases” (火候), thinking that if the “qi” is circulated along the conception meridian and the governing meridian, then the golden elixir will be formed. See Xu Zhaoren’s (徐兆仁) Proper Way of the Immortals (《仙道正傳》, Xian Dao Zheng Zhuan) (Beijing: China People’s University Press, 1992) pp 139.
For example, in the “Inner Path Diagram”( 《內景圖》, Nei Jing Tu) that emerged during the Qing Dynasty, there is a saying: “An old man with grey hair whose eye brows are touching the ground, a foreign monk with green eyes pushing his arms towards the sky”, which points out that the key for the “qi” to circulate through both the conception meridian and the governing meridian is to have the “tongue pressed against the palate” (舌抵上齶), i.e., bridging the “magpie bridge”(鵲橋).
See Verse 55 of Lao Zi.
In Yi Xi Ci Zhuan Part 1 (《易繫辭傳上》, Yi Xi Ci Zhuan Shang): “The shutting of a door can be referred to as 'Kun', and the opening of the door can be referred to as 'Qian', such shutting and opening can be referred to as change.” It also says: “In its stillness, it is also shut; in its movement, it is also open.”
See Sun Zi-Theory of Heaven Section 17 (《荀子‧天論篇第十七》, Sun Zi-Tian Lun Pian De Shi Qi) .
In 2011, a scientific research report published by the University of Hong Kong pointed out that, the pain-killing mechanism of acupuncture derives from the “cross-section sound waves” generated after the needles have been placed, and such sound waves travel along the muscular issues upwards to the brain, thereby triggering off the brain to release endorphin, a pain-killing hormone. This can be regarded as the latest research on “qi” and acupuncture, but still fails to explain precisely what inner energy (nei qi) is.