You mentioned Joseph Alder’s writings and the light they shed on “xuling,” and I think this may be key to understanding the intended meaning of the phrase “xu ling ding jin” in the Taijiquan Lun. Alder’s explanations of “xuling,” and “xuling zhijue” point to their usage in the writings and commentaries of Zhu Xi (1130-1200). Once again, a good deal of the language and phrases in the Taijiquan Lun draw upon identifiable sources including Zhou Dunyi’s “Theory of the Taiji Diagram,” the Analects, Mengzi, Intrigues of the Warring States, etc. (See Douglas Wile’s chart on pages 158-59 in his _Lost T’ai-chi Classics from the Late Ch’ing Dynasty_.) I think by far the most obvious influence or conduit evidenced in these phrases is Zhu Xi. Whoever wrote the Taijiquan Lun, whether Wang Zongue or someone else, was apparently quite familiar with Zhu Xi’s commentaries on the Four Books, which he helped to make the core curriculum for scholars studying to attain official status in late imperial China: the Analects, the Mengzi, the Greater Learning (Da Xue), and the Doctrine of the Mean (Zhong Yong). In fact, the greater portion of quotes and allusions in the Taijiquan Lun—including “wuguo byji” (without excess or insufficiency), “yongli zhi jiu/huoran guantong” (exertion of effort over time/sudden penetrating comprehension), “bu pian buyi” (no leaning or inclining)— come directly from Zhu Xi’s commentary to the Da Xue. This being the case, I think there is a strong case to be made that the author of the Taijiquan Lun was influenced by Zhu Xi’s use of “xuling” in his commentary to the Da Xue. The Da Xue opens with the statement that the way of greater learning lies in keeping clear one’s “luminous virtue” (ming de). Here is Daniel Gardner’s translation of Zhu Xi’s commentary on the meaning of “ming de”:
“[ming de] is what man acquires from heaven; it is unprejudiced, spiritual, and completely unmuddled [xuling bumei], and therefore embodies the multitudinous manifestations of principle and responds to the myriad affairs.” —Gardner, _Chu Hsi and the Ta-hsueh: Neo-Confucian Reflection on the Confucian Canon_1968, pp. 89, 136.
Further evidence of the xuling phrase appears in the Yang Forty Chapters. For example, in text 22, “An Explanation of Lightness and Heaviness, Floating and Sinking, in Taiji,” the exact “xuling bumei” phrase from Zhu Xi appears in the line that Wile translates: “When one’s internal lightness is not clouded (xuling bumei), then it will express itself as clarity in the external ch’i as it flows into the limbs.” (Lost, pp. 76-77, 153-144) The xuling phrase also appears in text 38, in a line that Wile translates: “Spiritual cultivation brings great virtue [xuling neng de ming]. Here, it may be a stretch to translate xuling as ‘spiritual cultivation,’ but accepting that xuling is a process or a prerequisite, I would interpret it to mean that xuling “enables the brightening of virtue.” Again, the resonance with Zhu Xi’s Da Xue commentary is unmistakable. In fact, I would argue that the earlier lines in the Lun—“From careful investigation and experience, one may gradually realize how to comprehend energy. From comprehending energy you will attain by degrees intuitive clarity.”—closely follow the sense of the Da Xue itself, which emphasizes self-cultivation (xiu shen: cultivation of one’s person/body), and asserts that “the investigation of things” (gewu) is a prerequisite component of self-cultivation. I see a resonance of the Lun’s “careful investigation” with the Da Xue’s “investigation of things,” and its “shenming” (intutitive clarity) with the Da Xue’s “ming de.” Even the argumentative structure of the Lun line echoes the classic Chinese use of syllogisms: the conclusion of one phrase forming the premise of the next—“From X comes Y, and from Y being established comes Z.” The entire Da Xue is a great example of the use of sorites, or chains of syllogisms. A careful look at the Da Xue itself will reveal what I mean:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Da_Xue
So, what is “xuling” doing in this document about taijiquan? As I stated earlier, I view the document as a whole as taking the cosmological theme of taiji as a model for an ultimate psycho-physical stance involving the cultivation and maintenance of equilibrium. The line “xuling dingjin; qi chen dantian” can with some certainty be seen as primarily a physical prescription about, as Jerry put it, “stretching one end of the spine upward and the other downward.” But if “xuling” is in fact an allusion to Zhu Xi’s use of the term, it would appear that in addition to the physical alignment of the crown of the head reaching upward and the pulling down through the dantian, the Lun prescription is at once physical and mental, or psychological.
There are well-established Chinese practices of self-cultivation that involve the physical alignment of the body, whether sitting or standing. One of the earliest can be found in the Nei Ye text in the Guanzi, where the prescription for alignment (zheng) of the body and of the four limbs is linked to the alignment and stilling of the mind. During the Ming, Lin Zhao-en, the leader of the syncretic movement drawing upon Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism, taught a practice he called “stilling the back” for which he drew upon imagery in hexagram 52 (gen, mountain/stillness). Throughout the Confucian tradition, self-cultivation uses imagery of “taking one’s stand” or fixing your stance as would an archer as a physical manifestation of a psychological uprightness and clarity.
Making a hard and fast case for this interpretation of “xuling dingjin” is of course complicated by the fact that some versions of the Lun use the alternate character “ling” meaning “neck, collar, to lead, to guide, etc.” Easier to conclude, I think, is the idea that the phrase is, as Jerry aptly put it, a “coded expression” which requires personal instruction and individual investigation to clearly grasp. Yang Chengfu’s elaboration in the first of his Ten Essentials is very helpful in that regard.
[This message has been edited by Louis Swaim (edited 10-05-2008).]