(Originally published November 2008)


I’m trying to understand what the character De 德 connotes in the “Inner Workings” (Neiye 內業) chapter of the Works of Guan Zhong (Guanzi 管子). The text dates to mid-fourth century B.C.E. Here’s a passage:






Therefore this Qi,
Cannot be restrained by force (*rək),
Yet can be steadied/calmed by De (*tək).
Cannot be summoned by speech,
Yet can be welcomed by conscious awareness (*ʔəkh).
Respectfully preserve it and do not lose it,
This is called ‘maturing one’s De (*tək),’
One’s De maturing, wisdom emerges,
The myriad things will be fully grasped (*tək).

– The translation is mine, based on translators W. Allyn Rickett and Harold Roth. The words in parentheses are the ancient phonetic reconstructions to show that rhyme is being use. It’s in these cases, I believe, that we should careful about reading characters too literally. They may not be intended that way. Or they just might.

– One’s inner power (De) is said to “welcome/secure/calm/stabilize” the inflow of Qi. (An 安 here is probably best understood as “steady” [Schuessler p. 150] and could be read as An 按 “to cause to be settled, calmed.” Roth translates it as “to secure”; Rickett: “to bring to rest”) De here could mean “calm disposition” as it apparently does in the Zhuangzi. (For Zhuangzi, a calm atmosphere or situation was perceived to exist when a person with De was present.) Therefore, the text states, when a person is in a peaceful state (a state of De), Qi can be inhaled/imbibed/absorbed. Li 力 and De 德 are contrasted: Li is brute strength or force whereas De is inner strength or the capacity to pacify (incoming vitalizing vapour: Qi 氣, and probably other people too). Both De and Li may have a common origin in the sense of strength, power, force: one inner, one external. Although, William Baxter says they aren’t cognate.

– I am tempted to interpret the second instance of De as “character”: when Qi is preserved within, we build/mature/complete our character (Cheng De 成德) and when this occurs, wisdom also develops (智出). Qi 氣 can be lost (Shi 失), but if it is not, then we will “mature,” “completely realize,” “develop” or “build” (Cheng 成 *gieŋ) our De, our “calm disposition” and have a thriving inner power, or, build (Cheng 成) “character.” But I’m, not sure. On the surface, it looks strange to say that Qi 氣 can be calmed by De (可安以德) and then say that this whole process can be called 成德. It seems that the two De’s might not be referring to the exact same thing, (despite being in the same “sentence”). Thoughts anyone?

– Cheng may imply its cognate Sheng 盛 “abundant, flourishing, great” ala Zhuangzi 27 “the fullest De appears deficient” (盛德若不足), spoken by Laozi; the Hanfeizi 20 “being empty/open, De is abundant/flourishing” (虛,則德盛); Mengzi (盛德), Yijing Xici (盛德, 德之盛), Liji (盛德), Huainanzi (盛德), Heguanzi (德之盛), the Xinshu (盛德). Cheng De 成德 appears in the Chunqiu Fanlu 55, Guoyu, Zuozhuan, Zhuangzi, Shangshu, Guanyinzi
– Whether 成 or 盛 the idea is of De maturing, flourishing, developing, reaching abundance. This could refer to one’s character or one’s inner strength/power, which is dependent upon an inner calm. Put another way, Qi-energy enhances and/or matures one’s innate inner strength, the same innate inner strength needed to “calm it.” Zhuangzi made a related claim: “De is the (the result of) cultivation of complete/flourishing harmony/peace.” (德者,成和之脩也.)

The text goes on to mention: “Daily we make use of our/it’s De” (日用其德)
– Might refer to the Dao’s De (道之德); thus, meaning Inherent power, vitality, potency, or “stock of credit”?
– And daily we need to renew it (日新其德), as the text says later on. Then:

形不正,德不來,中不靜,心不治。正形攝(var. 飾/飭)德,則淫然而自來。

“If one’s mind and body are not correct or upright, De will not arrive, one will not be calm in one’s centre, and one’s heart and mind will be out of control. If one’s mind and body are correct and upright and one gathers up De, it [De? an orderly mind?] will “soak in” and arrive naturally.”

– The first part: Zheng means “to correct, to rectify” and “upright, correct” – Rickett adopts this meaning because he believes this text is about the mind (not the body), whereas Roth, “to square up, or to align” (p. 4, 109), believes it is about sitting correctly or aligned (in meditation). Roth takes (德不來) to be caused by (形不正) and (心不治) to be caused by (中不靜), thus making a correlation between one’s physical form and one’s De (and between 靜 and 治).
She 攝 means : to assist, to collect, to absorb, to gather up, to attract, to regulate, “to conserve (life, energy)” (Lindict) – Shesheng 攝生 is “the art of conserving life energy.”
Roth (p. 66) translates it as “assists” and Rickett (p. 45) “hold on to.”

De is portrayed as something which can arrive (from where?). It is also something which can be “gathered up” or assisted by being Zheng 正. Elsewhere in the Neiye and related chapters, it is Dao (道), Shen (神) or Jing (精) that arrives (來).

De is the power or inner strength that manifests from a calm centre or “inner peace.” Here De is also spoken of as a synonym for Dao, which itself seems to be a synonym of Jing 精 or Qi 氣 or even Shen 神 and He 和. This is because all five of the above are considered to be external to us in a sense, necessitating some sort of self-cultivation practice to prepare ourselves to be “filled with” Dao, De, Jing, Qi, or Shen. These are treated as substances. This “self-cultivation” is primarily the practice of remaining calm inside and acutely perceptive (allowing the “myriad things to be fully grasped” 萬物畢得 and 遍知天下,窮於四極). In this way, the adept will notice the manifestation or “filling with” a power that allows him or her to perceive with absolute clarity and his or her actions will be completely effective and appropriate, backed by an extraordinary inner strength or power. This is a Quietist approach to living, which most of the ancient Daoist texts affirm. This shows the shamanic/mediumistic roots (i.e., what enters one’s body is like a spirit 神 entering a medium), the mystical development (i.e., sharing in the same energy as the entire universe in a profound union), and the practical manifestations of Daoism (i.e., one will find that everything that one does is always effective and appropriate).


“Respectful and mindful (*t’ək), daily renewing one’s De (*tək), fully knowing the four corners of the world (*gək), respectful and expressive of one’s full capacity: this is called ‘Inner Achievement/De (*tək).”
— “Inner obtainment” (Nei De 內得) could point to “Inner Power (Nei De 內德),” which occurs in the Xinshu Xia … the Xinshu Shang below says that De is De (德者得也).
– Russel Kirkland observes: “the Nei-ye – unlike the more familiar ‘Lao-Chuang’ texts – states that one’s De is something that one must work on, each and every day.”

“… not letting things confuse the senses, not letting the senses confuse the mind; this is called ‘Inner achievement.”
The Xinshu Xia, a sort of commentary on the Neiye, (also in the Guanzi 管子)  has:
“Hence, it is said: ‘Do not let thing confuse the senses; do not let the senses confuse the mind.’ This is called inner Power.” (Rickett p. 59)
– Being confused/disordered (Luan 亂) is not conducive to having De. Being ordered (Zheng 正) and calm (Jing 靜) fosters De.
Inner Peace = Inner Power, Inner Strength (i.e., De 德). (Nei De 內德 appears once in Shiji 49 and twice in the Hanshu.)

The Xinshu Xia also has:
“Since good judgment [rectification] and quiescence are never lost, he daily renews his De. He is brilliant in knowing the entire world and penetrates its four extremities.” Rickett p. 62

De is something which needs daily replenishing – just like Qi or Jing – by means of inner calm and an aligned body. And results in perceptual clarity. De 德 = Inner Strength Inner Power Potency.

The notion of daily renewing our De is also found in the Shangshu 尚書: “Zhong Hui Zhi Gao 仲虺之誥” – The Announcements of Zhong Hui:
“When his De is renewed daily, the myriad states harbour affection for him alone. When he is self-satisfied and conceited, the nine clans/generations will abandon him.”
De is the opposite of self-satisfaction (Ziman 自滿); thus, it connotes selflessness and/or the continual practice of generosity and humility. Perhaps De is here “goodwill, kindly attitude and behaviour.” This may be unrelated to the Neiye’s reference to renewing De.