CHAPTER 7: EXPLANATION OF JING, QI AND SHEN, OR FORM, ENERGY AND SPIRIT
All our qigong training is triple-cultivation, i.e. cultivation of jing, qi and shen.
(This chapter is selected from Li Shou Kang, Qigong for Curing Illness and Maintaining Health, Hong Kong De Li Books 1974. It was published in Chinese. There were no headings in the original; they are provided to make reading easier.)
The Three Treasures of Man
Those who nourish life pay much importance to the training of jing, qi and shen (which are essence, energy and spirit). This is because these three factors are the topics in qigong for strengthening body and eliminating illness. Thus, people in the past regarded jing, qi and shen as the three treasures of man. It shows their great importance.
Jing or Essence
Jing has its wide meaning and also its narrow meaning. “Simple Questions: Discussion of Heavenly Reality of the Ancients” (which is an important part of the great medical classic, Inner Classic of Medicine) mentions that “The principle of the kidneys is water. It stores the jing (or essence) of the five storage organs and six transformational organs. When the five storage organs are strong, they can activate the transformation of the six transformational organs.”
(Editorial Note: The five storage organs are heart, liver, spleen, lungs and kidneys. The six transformational organs are intestines, gall bladder, stomach, colon, urinary bladder and triple-warmer. The triple-warmer consists of the upper body from the neck to the solar plexus, the middle body from the solar plexus to the navel, and the lower body from the navel to the anus.)
“Spiritual Platform: Discussion of Original Spirit” (which is another important part of Inner Classic of Medicine) mentions that “If jing is injured, bones are affected. Jing will naturally descend.” This refers specifically to the jing stored in the kidneys, and the meaning is narrow.
(Editorial Note: The meaning of the quotation is as follows. When pre-natal energy stored in the kidneys is weak, bones will be affected. The pre-natal energy will be weakened. Here, jing is used in its narrow sense, because it refers to pre-natal energy in the kidneys.)
“Spiritual Platform: Discussion of Great Emotions” also mentions that “When the jing energy of the five storage organs and six transformational organs is manifested in the eyes and face, it is known as jing.” “Simple Questions: Great Discussion of Symptoms Resulting in Yin-yang Responses” mentions that “Taste injures form. Energy injures jing.”
(Editorial Note: The meaning of the two quotations are as follows. When the nourishment from the vital organs is manifested as sparkling eyes and rosy cheeks, it is known as essence. Different tastes, like feeling sweet, may affect the physical form of the body. Energy flow, like when it is blocked, may affect the essence of the person, like making him sick.)
Jing here, translated in the explanation above as essence, refers to the jing, or essence, of the whole body. Hence the meaning is wide. But it should be known that the jing, or the pre-natal energy, of the kidneys come from the jing, or essence of the whole person, derived from the five storage organs and six transformational organs.
Jing, or essence, is the important nourishment material of the person. It is stored in the five storage organs. The Inner Classic of Medicine mentions that “The five storage organs store essence, and it is not leaked out.”
Six evils and seven emotions harm a person, and its result is that they harm a person’s jing energy or essence.
(Editorial Note: Six evils refer to six external causes of diseases, and are symbolized as heat, cold, dryness, dampness, wind and fire. Seven emotions refer to seven internal causes of diseases, and are symbolized as joy, anger, melancholy, anxiety, sorrow, fear and shock. When a person has a viral infection, which is represented as heat in traditional Chinese medical philosophy, or suffered from high blood pressure, represented as anger, he is sick, described in traditional Chinese medical terms as his essence has been harmed.)
The Inner Classic of Medicine has a disease called “loss of essence”. It also explains that “When essence is stored in the storage organs, he is not sick in any season.” Here is the wide meaning of jing, which refers to the essence of the whole body.
The jing, or essence, stored in the kidneys is a pre-natal foundation.
(Editorial Note: According to traditional Chinese medical philosophy, the energy of the sperm and the egg of a person’s father and mother is stored in the kidneys, and is referred to as pre-natal energy.)
“Spiritual Platform: Discussion on Meridians” mentions that “When a person is first born, initially it is essence. The essence generates bone marrow in his brain. Bones become structure. Meridians provide nourishment. Tendons become powerful. Fresh is like a wall. The skin become strong, and hairs grow long. Grain energy enters the stomach, and energy flows in the meridians. Blood and energy circulate.” This explains that when a person is born as a foetus in his mother’s womb, the first to be formulated is jing, or essence.
From this foundation, brain, marrow, bones, tendons, meridians, skin, muscles, and hairs grow and develop. This is the foundation of life. After being born, the person depends on post-natal essence from grain energy (that is energy derived from food and drinks) to continue life.
According to “Simple Questions: Discussion of Heavenly Reality of the Ancients”, when a male has reached 8 years old, his kidney energy becomes strong, his birth teeth have changed, and his hair has become long and plentiful. When he has reached about 16 years old, his kidney energy has become more powerful, his maturity has developed, and he starts to have sperm. If there is harmony of male and female, they can produce children.
But when he has reached about 56 years old, because his development has started to age, his internal organs start to weaken, his lung energy and kidney energy become insufficient, and the bones of his whole body are no long agile. The source of his sperm is reduced, and all symptoms of aging appear.
The reason for his aging is that his kidneys are organs for managing “water”, can receive and store the essence produced from the five storage organs and the six transformational organs. So while he is a young man, his essence is plentiful, and the source of his essence in his kidneys is plentiful, as his person has the functions of maturing. When he reaches the time of aging, his organs deteriorate, the source of essence in his kidney is insufficient, symptoms of aging appear, his hair turns white, and his functions of reproduction decrease.
When he reaches about 64 years old, the source-seed has been used up, he no longer has the ability to reproduce. This description shows the abundance of essence in the organs is closely related to a person’s maturity and growth, as well as his reproductive functions.
Qi, or Energy
Qi, or energy, is the original force that maintains all movements of life. Thus, people in the past said, “When energy is plentiful, there is life. When energy is lost, there is death.” Before a person is born, he is formed in his mother’s womb. He depends on his umbilical cord to link with his mother and receive pre-natal energy. After birth, he depends for nourishment on post-natal energy, which is derived from the air he breaths and the food he takes. These two types of energy – pre-natal energy and post-natal energy – cannot be missing.
The following reasons explain why energy has the ability to maintain the movements of life of a person.
Because energy can transform all things, maintain and nourish all organs of a person, it harmonizes organic functions.
Because energy has the ability of movement, it circulates all materials over the whole body.
Wei qi, or protection energy, has the ability to protect the body and harmonize internal and external environments.
According to what people in the past have said, all the myriad things in the Cosmos can grow, develop, circulate and transform are due to the functions of energy. People can have life movements are also because of the ability of energy. Zhang Jing Ye said, “All transformations are because of energy as the basis. Everything in heaven and earth is due to this reason. Hence, when energy is outside heaven and earth, it envelops heaven and earth. When energy is inside heaven and earth, it circulates heaven and earth. The brightness of stars and moons, the formation of thunders, rains, winds and clouds, the growth and storage of myriad things of four seasons, aren’t they the behaviour of energy? There is life in man, it is all because of energy.”
Different Types of Energy
According to what is mentioned above, it is known that all actions of man are dependent on the functions of energy. For example, blood can circulate round the body endlessly, bodily liquids can be spread all over the skin and muscles, and distributed to bones and joints, the smooth passageway of water, the disposal of sweet and urine, all are because of energy. Hence, harmonizing energy, circulating energy and nourishing energy are the methods of healing.
As the harmony and functions of vital organs are dependent on energy flow in meridians, it is necessary to have nourishment of energy before the meridian energy is produced. Hence, in acupuncture treatment, it is necessary to have a response from the meridian energy, known as arresting energy.
For example, when lung energy flows to the nose, a person can appreciate fragrance. When liver energy flows to the eyes, a person can appreciate five colours. When heart energy flows to the tongue, a person can appreciate different tastes. When spleen energy flows to the mouth, a person can know the difference of food. These are the effects of energy flowing from the internal organs, resulting in the interior knowing the conditions of the exterior. The functions of the internal organs and their harmony with the outside environment are all dependent on the movement of energy.
“Simple Questions: Great Discussion of Heavenly Origin” says that “When it remains in heaven, it is called energy. When energy is on earth, it develops into form. Energy and form mutual interact, and transform into myriad things.”
The quotation describes that energy is the basis of myriad things. Because of movement, myriad things undergo transformation. The movement is endless, the transformation is endless. People in the past referred to it as the “way of transformation”.
Transformation of Energy
Because of the way of transformation, we have myriad things. Because of myriad things, we have continuous symptoms of development in birth, growth, reception, storage, youth, strength, age and death. The reason of these transformation can be concluded as a function of energy. Thus, people in the later world have referred to it as “function of transformation”.
When this principle is applied to humanity, man takes in a great variety of food. This great variety of food is transformed inside a person’s body as nourishing energy, protection energy, vital energy, blood, essence, and bodily liquids to nourish the whole body. These ingredients must undergo transformation of energy so that they can enable the physiology and psychology of the person to function.
But it must be understood that this transformation of energy is not limited to specific part of the body. Tang Yong Chuan said, “Meridians are the passageways of energy transformation of various organs.” There is no place where meridians do not reach. Thus, wherever there is energy, there is transformation of energy. Only when there is transformation of energy, there are organic movements and metabolism.
For example, the digestive function of intestines and stomach, the absorption of essence, and the movements of limbs, are manifestat ions of the transformation of energy. The movements of the whole body are also the main purpose of the progress of energy transformation. Energy is so important and closely related to a person’s growth and development. Thus, practitioners who nourish life pay special attention to the training of energy.
Shen, or Spirit
Shen, or spirit, is the sum of thought and consciousness, as well as the totality of all life’s movements. “Spiritual Platform: Discussion of Original Spirit” says that “Since the time of birth the form of the body is called essence. Two aspects of essence complementary to and opposing each other is called spirit.” “Simple Questions: Discussion on Six Stages of Organ Manifestations” also mentions that “Five tastes enter the mouth, stored in intestines and stomach. Tastes when stored nourish five types of energy. When energy is in harmony, there is life. Bodily liquids are created. Spirit is spontaneously born.” According to the above explanation, spirit is not born from nothing. It has material basis.
The functions of spirit in a person may be explained from two dimensions.
People in the past have said that the spirit and the form of a person cannot be separated. This means as long as there is life, there is the presence of spirit. “Spiritual Platform: Chapter on Heavenly Years” says, “When a person dies after reaching his life span, his organs are empty, spirit and energy are gone, but the form remains.”
“Simple Questions: Discussion on Changing Essence into Energy” says that “When spirit is available it is propitious. When spirit is lost, it is death.” This shows that when “spirit and form unit”, it is an essential aspect of life. Thus, we can say that when eyes can see, ears can hear, mouth can speak, limbs can move, all physical and mental functions are possible, none of these is not the effect of spirit manifesting functions in the physical body.
Spirit and energy blossom in healthy people. When they are sick, their spirit and energy manifest subnormal conditions, like there is no shine in their eyes, they become mentally tired, their speech may not be normal, they are being depressed and lost, they see ghosts in their imagination, and they are dazed and unconsciousness. When illness has reached this stage, their condition is dangerous. Hence, by observing the spiritual nature of patients, we can know whether they are light or serious in their illness.
The Interaction of Jing, Qi and Shen
Jing, qi and shen, or essence, energy and spirit, were regarded by people in the past as three treasures. Their relation is very close together. Jing or essence is the product of pre-natal energy in the kidneys and post-natal grain energy from food and drinks. It is the material foundation of various movements of a person. Energy is the product of grain energy from food and drinks, and the air breathed in from the Cosmos, that generates the life movements of a person. Spirit is the total sum of life movements, including the functions of consciousness, and is the commander of life.
Hence, the relationship between essence, energy and spirit is very intimate. Energy is born of essence, and essence is dependent on the transformation of energy. The birth of energy is the mark of spirit. Thus, a person with abundant essence and energy, is certainly full of spirit.
On the other hand, if a person is low in spirit, it is due to his lack of essence and energy. Because of their close relationship, when a person is lacking in essence, he will also be lacking in energy. When he lacks energy, the transformation of essence will be reduced. This will also result in his lacking in spirit.
Although spirit is the product of essence and energy, excessive activity of essence and energy will harm his spirit, which will in turn affect his essence and energy, resulting in his body becoming weak. “Spiritual Platform: Discussion of Basic Spirit” says that “When the heart thinks or worries excessively, it harms the spirit. When spirit is harmed, the person will become easily afraid.”
Essence, energy and spirit are inseparable. These three treasures influence one another, and their functions affect one another. Their relationship is very intimate. Essence is the foundation, spirit is the master-mind, energy is its moving force. The interaction of the three treasures is realized through the transformation of energy of a person.
Hence, those expert in nourishing life pay particular importance to the nourishment and training of essence, energy and spirit. They are particularly concerned with nourishing essence, regulating energy, and enhancing spirit, which involves moderation in sex, practicing qigong and nourishing the heart and spirit. They believe that when essence is firm, energy is plentiful; when energy is plentiful, spirit is full. Being firm in essence, plentiful in energy, and full in spirit means that one is full of vitality, physically and mentally healthy, overcomes illness and enhances longevity.
Shen training is spiritual cultivation