Sun Simiao and Preserving Shén and refining Qì

Sūn Sīmiǎo (孫思邈)Sūn Sīmiǎo (孫思邈) is one of the best known of ancient Chinese doctors. According historians Sūn Sīmiǎo lived between 581-682. Legends however tell that he lived more than 140 years and his body did not decay after his death. When he was buried his body was light as plain clothes.  He, like many other great doctors, was also alchemist and scholar of classical Daoist scriptures like Dàodéjīng (道德經) and Yìjīng (易經).

Today every student of Chinese medicine knows his name and at least two of his works – Essential Prescriptions Worth a Thousand in Gold (千金要方 Qiānjīn Yàofāng) and A Supplement to Prescriptions Worth a Thousand in Gold (千金翼方 Qiānjīn Yìfāng). These works are both huge 30 volume writings combining knowledge from many classics. They are still in use today. The influences of Buddhist medicine coming from India during early Tang-dynasty are also visible in these works and his other writings. The knowledge Sūn Sīmiǎo collected was so vast and important that he became known as King of medicines (Yàowáng 藥王) and temples were later built in his honour.

Like many other great scholar doctors he also wrote about alchemy and ways of preserving life. One of these writings is Inscription of Preserving Shén and refining Qì (Cúnshén liànqì míng – 存神錬氣銘) which is found in Daoist Canon (DZ 834). Today many scholars and doctors consider these texts as mere wishful thinking. Regardless the truth studying them give us great deal of information about the philosophy and world view of the most skilled doctors in past and helps us to understand and follow their thinking through the classics.


Note: While reading the following translation please bear in mind that the Heart also means Mind, Shén is usually translated as spirit and Líng is could be roughly translated as the Great Spirit or Numinous.

孫思邈 – 存神錬氣銘

Sūn Sīmiǎo – Cún shén liàn qì míng

Inscription of Preserving Shén and refining Qì

夫身爲神氣之窟宅
神氣若存身康力健
神氣若散身乃死焉
若欲存身先安神氣
即氣爲神母神爲氣子
神氣若倶長生不死

Human embodiment is dwelling place of Shén and Qì
If Shén and Qì are stored the embodiment is tranquil, strong and healthy
If Shén and Qì disperse the embodiment dies
If one desires to support the embodiment [one must] first calm Shén and Qì
The Qì is mother of Shén, Shén is the child of Qì
If Shén and Qì are whole the life is long and there is no death

若欲安神須煉元氣
氣在身内神安氣海
氣海充盈心安神定
定若不散身心凝靜
靜至定倶身存年永
常住道源自然成聖

If one desires to calm Shén one must refine Yuánqì
[When] Qì is within embodiment
The Shén is peacefully in Qìhǎi
[When] Qìhǎi is full and overflowing
The Heart is calm and Shén is settled
If [Shén] is settled and not dispersing
The embodiment and Heart are concentrated and tranquil
Tranquility peaks to being settled completely1
The embodiment is maintained years everlasting
Always dwelling at the source of Dao and one naturally becomes a Saint

1. (定倶 term comes from Buddhist sources and is usually translated as Samadhi)

氣通神境神通慧命
命住身存合於眞性
日月齊齡道成究竟
依銘煉氣欲學此術

Qì is connected to condition of Shén, Shén is connected to wisdom and destiny (Mìng)
Destiny residing within [constantly] maintained embodiment unites with True nature
[Thus one obtains] age equal to Sun and Moon and Dao is obtained
According the inscriptions of refining Qì if one wishes to learn this technique

先須絶粒安心氣海
存神丹田攝心靜慮
氣海若具自然飽矣
專心修者百日小成三年大成
初入五時後通七候

First the cereals must be renounced and Heart must be placed to Qìhǎi
Store Shén in Dāntián and collect the Heart to tranquillize [its] anxieties
When Qìhǎi is whole one is naturally satisfied
In concentrated Heart cultivation 100 days [bring] small accomplishments
Three years [bring] great accomplishments
First one enters five states [of mind] and then one can go through seven stages

神靈變化出沒自在
峭壁千里去住無礙
氣若不散即氣海充盈
神靜丹田身心永固
自然迴顏駐色變體成仙
隱顯自由通靈百變
名曰度世號曰眞人

Shén and Líng transform and change exiting and submerging freely
Steep cliffs or thousands miles, leave or staying without hindrances
If Qì does not disperse Qìhǎi fills to overflowing
[When] Shén is still in Dāntián, the embodiment and Heart are always constant
Naturally returns the [youthfulness of] colors to facial features and stature
The embodiment changes to immortal
The hidden and obvious [reveal their] natural origins
One understands hundreds of transformations of Líng
This is called Passing through the world
[One is then] entitled as True person (Zhēnrén)

天地齊年日月同壽
此法不服氣不嚥津不辛苦
要吃但吃須休即休
自在自由無阻無礙
五時七候入胎定觀
夫學道之人入有五時

Heaven and Earth are like his years, sun and moon like his lifespan
With this way one does not [need to] swallowing Qì or saliva nor is it exhausting or painful
[When] needs to eat one just eats, [when] requires rest one sets to rest
Naturally and spontaneously without blocking and without obstacles
Five states and seven stages [all happen by] entering the womb and fixing the contemplation
Student of Dao starts with five states

第一時心動多靜少
思綠萬境
取捨無常
忌慮度量
猶如野馬
常人心也

1. State: Heart has lots of movement and peace is minimal
[In mind] thoughts, green colours and 10 000 things
Conditions come and go without continuity
Jealous, anxious, considering and measuring like a wild horse is the usual human Heart

第二時心靜少動多
攝動入靜
心多散逸
難可制伏
攝之勤策
追道之始

2. State: Heart has very little peacefulness but lot of movement
[When] regulating movement one enters to peace but Heart disperses and escapes often
[Mind] is difficult to control or suppress and direct it to [this] method
Here the pursuit for Dao begins

第三時心動靜相半
心靜似攝
心常靜散相半
用心勤策
漸見調熟

3. State: The Heart moves and is still equally
Heart is peaceful and seem directed
Heart in general is peaceful and scattered in equal amounts
[One is able to ] use Heart for the method
Gradually consciousness adjusts and becomes skilled [using the method]

第四時 心靜多動少
攝心漸熟
動即攝之
專注一境
失而遽得

4. State: Heart has lots of peace and little movement
The Heart is collected and more and more skilled in [technique]
The movement is right away directed with it
One is truly focused to the present
If [concentration is momentarily] lost then [focus is] immediately obtained

第五時心一向純靜
有事無事
觸亦不動
田攝心熟
堅散准定
從此已後處顯而入七候
任運自得非關作矣

5. State: The Heart has unified direction and is pure and calm
Then doing is not doing and [even] emotional blows don’t move
[Dān]tián has gathered Heart deeply and steadfastly the scattered has made to set
This already completed ones place is clear and one enters to the seven stages
Making use of [method] one naturally obtains [Dao] without obstructions!

第一候宿疾並銷
身輕心暢
停心人内
神靜氣安
四大適然
六情沉寂
心安懸境
抱一守中
喜悅日新
名爲得道

1. Stage: Old diseases dissolve
The embodiment becomes light and the Heart joyful
[When] Inside man the Heart is meditative Shén is tranquil and Qì is peacful
Four big (elements) are married and six passions are in profound peace
The Heart is peacefully suspended [over] circumstances and embraces unity and protects the center
Joyfully happy about every new day
This is called “Obtaining Dao”

第二候超過常限
色返童顏
形悅心安
通靈徹視
移居別郡
揀地而安
鄰里知人
勿令舊識

2. Stage: Crossing over normal limits
One’s appearance returns to younger outlook, form is joyous and Heart is in peace
One opens to Líng and has [all] penetrating vision
Change [your] residence, leave [your] country, select place and settle down
Associates and relative who [once] had known one, no longer recognize him

第三候延年千載
名曰仙人
遊諸名山
飛行自在
青童侍衛
玉女歌揚
騰躡煙霞
綠雲捧足

3. Stage: Prolonging life years to thousand
This is called immortality
Traveling all famous mountains, flying and moving freely
Azure servants follow as guardians, jade women are singing praises
Rising and walking vaporous rosy clouds, green mists offer its support

第四候煉身成氣
氣繞身光
名曰眞人
存亡自在
光明自照
晝夜常明
遊諸洞宮
諸仙侍立

4. Stage: Refining the embodiment to Qì
Qì revolves [ones] embodiment with light [and one] is called True Human (Zhēnrén)
Appearing and disappearing (living and dying) freely
Brightness and light naturally shines and day and night are constantly illuminated
One can travel all caves and palaces or attend all immortals immediately

第五候煉氣爲神
名日神人
變通自在
作用無窮
力動乾坤
移山竭海

5. Stage: Refining Qì to become Shén
One is called Spirit-human (Shénrén)
Transforming and going freely and doing and using without exhaustion
One has power to move Qián and Kūn (Heaven and Earth)
Move mountains or empty the seas

第六候煉神合色
名曰至人
神既通靈
色形不定
對機施化
應物現形

6. Stage: Refine Shén and uniting it with color (substances creating the body)
[One] is called Perfected man (Zhìrén)
[Being] Shén already one connects to Líng
Color and form are not fixed
They respond to moment by changing
And [one] reflects other beings with his shape and form

第七候身超物外
迥出常倫
大道玉皇
共居靈境
聖賢集會
弘演至眞
造化通靈
物無不達
修行至此
方到道源
萬行休停
名日究竟

7. Stage: Embodiment transcends outside material
One distances oneself outside all normal order [of the world]
Together with Jade Emperor of Great Dao reside in Líng-realm
Saints and wise assemble spreading the greatest truth of Mother Nature and universal Líng
There is nothing that could not be reached
Cultivation culminates at the root of Dao
10 000 ways all end here and this is called The Ultimate

今時之人
學道日淺
曾無一候
何得通靈
理守愚情
保持穢質
四時遷運
形妄色衰
體謝歸空
稱爲得道謬矣

People of this age study Dao less [each] day and cannot [obtain even] the first stage
How could they obtain universal Líng?
Ruled with maintaining their stupidity and sentimentality
Only preserving and holding on to their filth and material [wealth]
Four seasons turn and change, their shapes distort and color (body) grows weak
Their substance declines and [they] return to the emptiness
To call this obtaining Dao is absurd!

此胎息定觀是留神駐形之道術
在口訣不書於文
有徳至人方遇此法
細詳留意 必獲無疑
賢達之人 逢斯聖矣

These Daoist techniques of embryo-breathing and fixed contemplation keep Shén and halt form
[These] were transmitted orally and not written in language
Having the virtue to meet the Perfected man and this teaching
[One must] be very precise and throughout to keep the idea
These must be learnt without doubts.
Man worthy of attainment will meet this Saint

Acupuncture and Diaphragm

Short notes on Acupuncture and Diaphragm

Diaphragm

The ancient character for 鬲

The ancient character for 鬲

The diaphragm and its constriction caught my attention some years ago as I noticed that most of the patients coming to the “infertility” treatments had their diaphragm constricted, coldness of abdomen, cold womb and many of them had acid reflux.

Physically the diaphragm is a sheet of muscle separating thoracic cavity and abdominal cavity. The diaphragm plays important role in respiration, and is also involved in vomiting, expelling feces and urine. The pressure from diaphragm helps esophageal hiatus to preventing acid reflux. The muscular structure is also connected to ligaments of vertebral column.  The diaphragm is innervated by phrenic nerve formed from nerves coming from C3-C5.

In Chinese medicine

In classic medical texts the problems of diaphragm are usually seen more as symptoms of disease than the source of the problem. Most of the classics speaks of heated, cold, full or distended diaphragm. The symptoms mentioned in connection are mostly of vomiting, constipation/diarrhea, food retention, qì rebellion and breathing difficulties.

However the problem is much deeper. For example physician named Yùchāng (喻昌) wrote in 1645 in Yùyìcǎo (寓意草) how the dàlùo of Stomach and the qì of Lung go through the diaphragm. Because of moving and transformations of jīng, blood and qì the constricted diaphragm is seen to cause serious problems as it is “Not only the womens disease but also the child [in womb and while breatfeeding] loses it nourishment”.

When we look at the channel pathways we can see something very interesting:

  1. The Stomach channel coming downwards from the throat goes downwards and goes through the diaphragm area. The dàlùo of stomach goes from stomach to lungs passing the through the diaphragm as it goes.
  2. The Spleen channel likewise go through the diaphragm as it ascends. One branch that enters the spleen and stomach rise from stomach through the diaphragm and enters the Heart.
  3. The Lung channel beginning from the middle burner descends to the lower burner and ascends again passing the diaphragm before entering the lungs.
  4. The Large intestine channel after ascending the arm goes from Li15 to Du14 and goes to qūepén area where it branches. The descending branch enters the lungs and penetrates the diaphragm before entering the colon.
  5. The Heart Channel starts from the Heart and descends through the diaphragm to small intestine. The Heart also has network of connection to every Zàng-organs and most of these connections has to go through the diaphragm.
  6. The Small intestine channel after rising the arm branches at the qūepén area. The descending branch goes to Heart and descends further through the diaphragm to small intestine.
  7. The Kidney channel goes through diaphragm area while ascending before it dives to the Lungs and Heart.
  8. The liver channel after ascending from toes to abdomen enters the liver and gallbladder and continues to ascend through the diaphragm to costal region and finally to throat.
  9. The Gallbladder channel descends from qūepén area down the chest passing the diaphragm and enters the gallbladder and liver.
  10. The Sānjiāo channel branches after reaching qūepén area and the one part of it goes down to chest connecting Xīnbāo and descending trough the diaphragm to connect all the three burners.
  11. The Xīnbāolùo Channel starts from the chest and descends through the diaphragm to join the three burners.
  12. The Rènmài  pass through the diaphragm and the rènmài 15 is seen as a lùo-point of Rèn as from there the channel branches and the branch disperses to diaphragm.
  13. Chòngmài as it rises from womb it passes through the diaphragm. Chòngmài is responsible of red blood transforming to white milk during the breastfeeding.

There are also numerous other connections from different branches of the main channels. And as the diaphragm is a muscle it is very important to note that the Stomach, Spleen, Heart and Xīnbāo muscle channels all connect to the diaphragm.

From this it becomes clearly understandable why the diaphragm plays such important role upon all the ascending and descending within the energy system.

In alchemy

The diaphragm in Chinese language is 膈 (gě). Today the character for diaphragm is written with flesh radical (月 + 鬲) and the whole character is translated as diaphragm. The older form of character omits the flesh radical and the simple 鬲 translates as iron cauldron or earthen pot. This older name reveals much clearly the function of the whole diaphragm.

All the six fǔ-organs and three of the five zàng-organs reside below the diaphragm. Only the Heart and Lungs reside above it. The diaphragm stands between the upper and lower, separating them. The qì and jīng are below and the source of blood (Heart) is above. Water (Kǎn) below and Fire (Lí) above. In cultivation practices the diaphragm is very important as it controls the rising and descending of fire and water. It mixes the yuan qì and post heaven qì. The earthen pot is the whole abdominal area where the cooking of alchemical herbs is done.

In inner alchemy the diaphragm is connected to following “parts of the body”:

  1. Squeeze the spine pass (夾脊關 – Jiājǐguān) in the back
  2. Doves tail (鳩尾 – Jiūwěi) and Crimson palace (Jiànggōng) in the front
  3. The Great gate tower (巨闕 – Jùquè) within.

In emotional level the diaphragm works as an emotional shield and bridge between the unconscious and conscious emotions. It can block the emotions stored in the lower abdomen from over-flooding the Heart and consciousness. Its functioning can be easily observed in children. When the emotions are too hard to deal with the diaphragm becomes tense and whole upper stomach get tense. The sobbing, crying or vomiting are biological ways of relieving the formed tensions. Quite common result of diaphragmatic tension is digestion problems or diminished appetite. One very common manifestation of this blockage is that there is cold and possibly qì masses or even blood stagnation masses below while there are heat and fullness above manifesting as symptoms like feeling of stuffiness at the chest and throat, nausea and acid reflux.

It also seems that many common anti depression medicines block the diaphragm. This also might explain some of the most common side effects like nausea and heart-burn. Sometimes you can see how medicated bodies express strange division where rest of the body still show the emotional strain while the facial expressions seem tranquil and rationally distant. In these cases the certain caution is in place while treating the area.

Acupuncture and diaphragm

One commonly used acupuncture point is called 膈俞 (Bl 17 – gěshū).  In Nánjīng reads “血會鬲俞”, meaning that the Blood meets or collects in Gěshū. The point is seen as “master of blood” as the Heart above produces the blood and the liver below stores it. This point is commonly used in many Blood related diseases and it is great for moving blood and qì. Shū point are places from where channel branches to fill places/organs with qì. The great meaning of point is revealed while applying moxa here as it results in warming the whole abdomen or the cauldron for alchemical cookings.

The point lateral to Gěshū is much less used point called 膈關 (Bl 46 – Gěguān). It is a great point to open the diaphragm and open the lid upon the cauldron. This point is better for opening the diaphragm than the Gěshū.

In front we have Ren 14 Jùquè (巨闕). The name means the great gate tower. It is the mù (募) point of the Heart. It is the watchtower to protect the imperial city. At the back there is also hidden points called 巨闕俞, the shū point for this watchtower.

In emotional problems with constricted cauldron one of my favorite ways of opening the diaphragm is to first needle Gěshū and Gěguān in intention of first stirring the cauldron and opening the lid. Then using qìgōng at Jùquè to very genty open the gates to the Crimson palace of Heart.

One good point for very prolonged blockage is Ren 15 – Jiūwěi (鳩尾). Jiūwěi means Doves tail. It is also called  Shéns treasury (Shénfǔ 神府). The point is yuán point for gāo (膏) and the point has a great effect to all the Zàng-organs. This point is also the lùo-point of Rènmài. The lùo merges to the diaphragm. It is said that when one descends from here he/she becomes tangled in emotions and thoughts of later heaven and when one ascends from here one returns to the Palace of Shén.

These are just a few points affecting the diaphragm. Other common points include other local points (mostly stomach and kidney channel points). Also because the fact that diaphragm is a muscle and the courses of muscle channel pathways the distal points of Spleen, Stomach, Heart and Xīnbāo channels are also effective.

It is very important to be very gentle while trying to open the diaphragm. Any tension or forcing will easily prevent the opening from happening. The opening is sometimes accompanied with involuntary laughter, crying, sobbing and/or shaking. Care must be taken that the emotions have time to settle down before leaving the patient.

Over-simplified bodies

Medical Chinese medicine regard the human body as an physical object and the qì or meridians are seen as internal functioning of this physical object. The conscious self within it is seen more or less as a byproduct of bodily functions. Traditional Chinese medicine usually speaks of this self as Shén. Shén could be translated as a spirit. The most used medical classics speak about five shéns and describe various emotions associated with each of them. The shén residing in heart and named Shén and is said to be above others and representing human spirit and in a way the Self. In the Western world many acupuncturist refer this Shén as spirit and other shéns as emotions.

In the past however there were not only one or five Shén in the body but numerous different shéns forming the whole. These shéns were not seen as spiritual counterparts of material human body but the very essence of this material being. The concept that human body is “without an empty spot that is not shén” formed the basis of spirtual cultivation and medical  practices.

The following translations are from 太上老君內觀經 (Tàishàng Lǎojūn Nèiguānjīng) or Classic of inner contemplation. This Táng Dynasty (618-907) text first describes the formation of body and continues explaining that how the formation of body gives us understanding and the way of using contemplation of ones being and mind to trace it back to the source.  Very beautiful Taoist text also defines clearly some terms used in many medical classics. Pieces of the text are quoted in later medical classics.

The formation of body

父母和合人受其生始
一月為胞精血凝也
二月成胎形兆胚也
三月陽神為三魂動而生也
四月陰靈為七魄靜鎮形也
五月五行分藏以安神也
六月六律定腑用滋靈也
七月七精開竅通光明也
八月八景神具降真靈也
九月宮室羅布以定精也
十月炁足萬象成也

When father and mother have intercourse the human being has its begining
During the first month in womb the essence and blood concentrate
During the second month the fetus-form will develop from the embryo
During the third month the Yángshén forms three Húns and begins to move and live
During the fourth month Yīnlíng form seven Pòs to slow and cooldown the form
During the fifth month five phases divide to [their] Zàngs calming their Shéns
During the sixth month six laws fix fǔ-organs to nourish the Líng
During the seventh month seven essences open [their corresponding] orifices to Bright light
During the eighth month the eight luminous Shén can descend true Líng
During the ninth month from the Palace room the threads extend to manage the essence
During the tenth month Qì is sufficient and 10 000 forms are ready

The above quote explain how the body forms during pregnancy. From this follows the fact that this body is seen in ancient texts as concentration of spirit itself. The 7 pòs are sometimes refered as Earth spirits that provides a being instincts and animal qualities. Sometimes these pò spirits are seen in a negative light but their functioning is essential for survival and nourishment of ones being. They represent the animistic life force in body. The 3 húns are seen as heavenly spirit that compose a threefold soul of human. The eight luminous spirits appear in form of the Original spirit (Yuánshén 元神) in later versions of this passage quoted in medical classics.

The “layers” of human embodiment

老君曰從道受分謂之命自一稟形謂之性所以任物謂之心心有所憶謂之意意之所出謂之志事無不知謂之智智周萬物謂之慧動而營身謂之魂靜而鎮形謂之魄流行骨肉謂之血保神養炁謂之精炁清而駛謂之榮炁濁而遲謂之衛總括百神謂之身萬象備見謂之形塊然有閡謂之質狀貌可則謂之體大小有分謂之軀眾思不測謂之神邈然應化謂之靈炁來入身謂之生神去於身謂之死所以通生謂之道

Lǎojūn said:
Dao provides our role and it is known as fate (命 mìng)
[From this] naturally [follow] our qualities and form (形 xíng)
[And that] we call nature (性 xìng)
This [nature] assign beings [their proper places]
We call this heart
In heart resides the memory ( 憶 yì)
We call it intention (意 yì)
When intention manifests we call it will (志 zhì)
Will used without ignorance is called wisdom (智 zhì)
Wisdom about 10 000 beings is called intelligence (慧 huì)
[The spirits/influences that] move and direct are called Húns (魂)
[The spirits/influences that] still and cool are called Pòs (魄)
[That which] flows and moves in bones and flesh we call blood
[That which] protects shén and nourish qì is called essence (精 jīng)
Qì [that is] fast and quick, is known as [nourishing] róngqì (榮炁)
Qì [that is] turbid and slow is known as (defensive) wèi[qì] (衛)
[That which] collects and binds together 100 shén is known as embodiment (身 shēn)
10 000 images becoming whole visible [body] known as form (形 xíng)
Mass that itself blocks [everything] is called matter (質 zhí)
Look and manners that can be imitated is substance/style (體 tǐ)
[The whole composed of] big and small parts is called body (軀 qū)
The whole that can be thought but not measured is called Shén
The distant that is echoed through these transformations is called Líng
Qì coming and entering the embodiment is called life
Shén leaving from embodiment is called death
Therefore opening to life is called to Tao (道 dào)

This description of layers of embodiment give us many keys to deeper understanding of the classics.

The problem is that the terms of  身, 體, 軀 and 形 are usually translated simply as a body. As one can see this is clearly an over simplification or Westernization. Shēn (身) might be better translated as being or embodiment as it contains all these layers. The tǐ (體) is composed of bone or frame(骨) and container (豆) for something unknown (曲). It might be translated as way of being, style or spiritual substance. A strong tǐ refers to (moral) integrity and purity of a man and not just a strong body. Qū (軀) in the other hand is composed of being (身) that works as a box(匸) for small things (品) refers to the physical body.

The knowledge and understanding of exact terms is crucial while reading many taoist and medical classics. It is hard to understand contemplation practices without first understanding what is being contemplated. In study of medical classics the understanding the human is the most important. Only then the rest of the theory can understood correctly.