Body and Cosmos In China

Last week, I had a chance to go to Philadelphia to attend a Symposium at The University of Pennsylvania. This truly was a unique experience in all parts. My Air B n B was a yurt in the middle of a community garden, made with Tibetan style clouds all around. A truly unique experience. This Symposium was in honor of Historian Nathan Sivin, a profound sinologist and truly a prominent figure in his field. He set a standard for interpretation of Ancient Chinese texts, and has planted a valuable seed in his students who have continued in his field.  What interested me so much was that this was an academic, not a clinical gaze upon Chinese Philosophical and Medical texts. Here the difference lies in the interpretation of texts. I may not be getting this right but, Hilary Smith from the University of Denver, quoted Nathan Sivin, that your work must be a “imaginative disciplined interpretation.” One can never truly get at the heart of the text, history has done its work and carried meaning over generations. It has been transformed, interpreted, and changed. It is the heart of the reader that imagines the meaning behind the text so that “The Work” does its work through the reading of the text. This is discipline, to understand the transformative work that happens over time and in one’s self. I personally fell in love with the Xing Zi Ming Chu. This recently excavated bamboo text has been going through interpretations over the past few decades. It is a warring states text that I feel can bridge a confucian ideal with daoist ones. It was a truly inspirational seminar and it gave me a greater sense of profundity with Ancient Chinese medical and philosophical texts.


Clear Light of Dreams Pt. 1

Currently I am in China, training in Tai ji Quan. I have been practicing various forms of Tai ji for about 15years, and have never really had a sense of satisfaction about my form. I’ve had a variety of teachers each teaching a different thing. Finally decidedly finding Master Chen Zhong Hua, I decided to focus on Chen style Tai Ji Practical Method. Unlike the other forms of Tai ji, it has simple rules that help build a structure where the body can move through lines of power. This lead me away from the popular thinking of “meditation through movement” that many western teachers have and subscribe Tai ji as so.

The program here can be intense, though ultimately you get out what you put in. Though, I’d like this post to be about Tai ji, but I have another blog dedicated to that.


This post is essentially about the blurring of my spiritual searches into one. At one point, earlier in life, I sought out meditation since Tai ji for me was more for exercise and health. Seeing it as that and I turned to Buddhism, particularly Vajrayana, Tibetan Buddhism. I felt at that period in my life there was a thirst for some answers that were still unanswered. Similarly around the same time, I started going to Chinese Medicine School, in a career changing situation. Chinese Medicine became an out growth of my Tai ji studies, and eventually I became an Acupuncturist, and layperson of Vajrayana. As one gets older the paths toward health and spirituality slowly become one and the same. I then started seeing myself as a Buddhist Chinese Medicine Doctor, and now as one that does Chen style Tai ji.

The funny thing is that history leaves its clues for you to grow through your own keen sense of self. In studying the classics of Chinese Medicine, one sees the syncretic work of centuries amassing and blending ideologies into fine workings of truth and rightness. The backdrop of the I Ching, Daoism, Buddhism, and then Science, all combine together through personal self cultivation and the health and wellbeing of others.

I came here to China with some books on Chinese Medicine, Daoism, Confucianism, hoping that I could plough through then and just practice the Tai ji form with ease, reaching a better sense of constancy and continuity in the form. I was then quickly taught that this task would be much more difficult.

The Dreams then became.

Robert Thurman, when describing Yoga Nidra, the Yoga of dreams, the light of consciousness surrenders to the darkness. Knowledge then turns off and all constructs of cognition rests in the darkness of slumber. The body settles. In the darkness of emptiness, there is a subtle clarity that the mind surrenders to. This is the clear light of awareness that always is and has been. He describes it as transparent quality of light, empty, yet subtly illuminating. It is likened to the quality of a diamond. It is the Nature of Mind.

There were many dreams. One after the other and the dreams didn’t end. It was like a complete dumping of my OS. It was like years of my dreams where compressed in another format and then dumped out in the span of a few weeks. A karmic compression of sort. Every sort of knowledge that I had encountered in my studies were becoming melded through my dreams as each new day I awoke in a fear as if there was an upcoming end of things. I was quite shooken and taken aback since, I could not take any more information in, it was all spitting out at once. The only thing I could do was Tai ji quan.

Two things came to my mind as a solace, in my frightening awakenings each morning.

“Live each day as if it were a reincarnation.” a quote by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. This was a pith of constant vigilance, knowing that there are small deaths, and large deaths, yet death is one and the same. Sleep may be the smallest death, but certainly it is a preparation for the larger one.  It reminds me to be fearless, that I can continue on knowing that there will be another day/life, and then another and another, and it doesn’t matter since, there is a clarity guiding my way to a greater continuation.

The third noble truth of the Buddha, also spoke to me during this time. “Know Paths.”

In knowing these paths out of suffering, and these paths of healing, I am well in the know as a child of the Buddha. These paths converge all within me, and the searching should end.

The dreams were a confirmation of my knowledge on my Path.

The dream detox woke me up to my past and the possible futures that were in front of me but yet it would only be just another day unlike any other day. A present now full of delight, wonder, and awe.


The Stirring of Virtue

I remember reading the spin of the Simplicity of Pooh, and the cowardly bravery of Piglet, oh no to far long ago. How author Benjamin Hoff, used the children’s tale of A.A Milne to explain Taoism in simple terms where everything could be relatable. Pooh’s adventures likened to those of a Wandering Daoist, or that of a Dharma bum, was a peek into applied Taoism, that stepped out of the poetry and the complicated aphorisms, piths, and koans. Even though quite profound in simplicity but dense in meaning, the were nothing to Pooh’s bumbling that one could relate to on a daily basis.
Venturing away from Macrocosmic to Microcosmic thinking of previous post, this one will center more on Confucius, and his main thread of the Golden mean. As one begins the path of self cultivation, through awareness of their own nature, one starts to notice a difference in previous attitudes, and how one relates to others in this difference. Awareness creates new ways of relation, and this creates new opportunities for practice of the path, and/or obstacles to break old habits.
In his maxim “Liken to oneself is to use one’s own measure. What you do not desire for yourself do not do to others, what you dislike in others, reject yourself, what you desire in others seek in yourself…”

This reflexive negation and affirmation of the golden mean was central to his teaching, and is what is called, 恕, shu. It is a heartfelt likening, as the character displays a heart, a woman and a mouth. Xun zi, one of his students, broke down shu on three levels of relation, that between Lord and Servant, between Parents and Sons, and then between Elder brothers and Younger. When one corrects these relations, then one is able to correct the self, he explains.
From this weaves the central theme of morality in Confucius.

In this frame of moralistic thinking that could be seen in Christianity through the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus’s word’s “Do onto others as onto yourself.” strikes very clear the similarity. It is in this stirring out of thought and into action, that virtue begins to develop. This is when Piglet, harnesses his courage, breaks out of his nervousness, and stands up and decides to act, instead of wishy washing around. This is 徳, De- Virtue.

Virtue takes on many forms as it develops, but most of all it begins in 仁, Ren. Benevolence. This is the major Confucian virtue, Benevolence. Ren, is the impulse to act for the betterment of others, this is what separates the Noble man, the Jun zi, from the common man. It is from Benevolence, that then all the other virtues come from, ie Faithfulness, Righteousness, and Chastity.

However, in order to use Ren, and to keep Shu in mind, one must be centered and authentic, which is 忠, Zhong. “Concern issues right from the center of your being, this is called Zhong.” This whole hearted devotion to practice, and maintaining self truth is what keeps everything together, in any situation.

Xing 性 and Ming 命

Of the greatest questions one has on life is that of where did I come from and what am I doing here. Xing, is that of Human Nature, it is the essence of man, his birth, growth, and fruition. Ming, is that of Destiny, or better put directionality of life, purpose, and impulse of living. Unlike the sense of the Hun and Po which were mentioned in the previous article, libidinal drive and automatic selfhood, Xing and Ming have a greater connotation. Nor is it like the Shen and Gui, this is more of a refined sense of being outside of the relation of the external circumstance, and more of an internal knowing. Xing and Ming are of a more primordial sense and of direct continuity of living. For Xing, is greater than that of  the impulse of drives but of a greater sense of mind, and like Shen it is a greater composite sense of personhood that can relate to just the individual, or to the extent of humanity. Human nature with its own intrinsic sense has its multilayered sense of being that can slowly be aware of itself. This is where Ming sets in, it is the individuals path of knowing that leads him/her to cultivate their sense of knowing to go to a larger sense of self and knowing. Ming and Xing feed off of each other and build a greater sense of knowing, in essence a self consciousness that can eventually step out of itself to become a greater good.

A harmonious balance between the two create, a joyful purposeful life.

The Many Names of Light and Dark

In an ever continuing duality of nature, Yin and Yang finally develops into its large embracing category out of the light and shadow of Heaven and Earth. As the tendencies of form continue to evolve from hard and soft to big and small, to great and humble, The Yi Jing continues to place the oppositions of poles into their qualitative environments. The best way to arrange them was to put them with the natural forces that were ever present in the naturalist reality. Thunder and Wind, Fire and Water, Lake and Mountain, each had their active or passive roles in carrying out the forces of nature. However, there were still forces unaccounted for that were visible to man, and these were the psychological, physical, and supernatural unknowns that he hadn’t quite put together. These were the occurrences of the moon’s phases, its effects on man and woman, Man’s emotions and its effects on others, death and the continuity of life. These grand themes created separate dramas that some how became enmeshed in the history of Chinese Medicine and that of Taoism.

Ancestor worship was prominent ritual for the Ancient Chinese. They dedicated days of relation to Grandfather and Grandmother spirits that looked them over and gave advice when needed. They had actors perform their roles on their part, so that they may be accompanied on great feasts. Eventually, their greatness may have been carried on with next of kin through naming and rites. The Ancestor eventually became the source of all previous knowledge that the family may have had in the past, this was to be used to help out in present situations. One became a host to an Ancestor guest so to be imbued with the historical sense of progress not just for themselves, but for their family, clan, and people.

This historical light of guidance became to be known as Shen.

Opposed to the brightness of Knowing and Understanding, was Gui. The wandering ghost. The Gui is the dark side of the moon. It makes itself known through its unquestionable appearance. What is that thing? It is a headless ghost, meandering, unknown in the world. It is the shadow of the unknown so present in the world.

Shen 神 like Yang is rising, Gui 鬼 is like yin is descending. Shen is like finding the three corners of a puzzle, gui is like searching for the fourth corner.

I like to see the two as knowing and unknowing, a process of memory, a continual creation of moments strung together by life’s choices. Conscious and unconscious, an examination of one’s drives, emotions, and who they are in the greater scheme.

Shen is of heaven, and Gui is of earth. Shen leads us to seek more of Heaven, to complete Ming 命 – Destiny, our Authentic self. Gui is more of the unconscious duality that arises through the natural display of life.

Shen further is comprised two cycles, a vertical and a horizontal one. The horizontal cycle was mentioned before in the previous blog

Yi 意 and Xiang 像

This is the cycle of thought, Yi 意,  where inspiration becomes thought, consideration, ambition, fruition, and then wisdom.

The Shen as it manifests vertically is that through the body’s desires, emotions, feelings, and expressions. This is the cycle of the “Bright” spirits, the Hun 魂 and Po 魄. The Hun, are the cloud spirits, aptly named because they are like nebulous mist that arrises out of the earth. It is the vacillating drives and desires that arise out of the mind to become. The Hun liken with Shao yang and the Blue green dragon, as discussed briefly in the last blog entry. The Hun is the moving drive toward expansion, it is libidinous energy, a driving life force to arise and be carried away with the wind. It is Zhen and Xun. Arousal and dispersion. It is the desiring mind to create, embrace, grow, and inseminate.

The “White” spirits, the Po, is that of a reflective nature. It is likened to the bright moon waning from fullness. It is the White tiger, Dui and Qian, Reflection and Contemplation instilling itself so that another cycle can complete and begin a new. It is Shao yin, as fire immerses itself in water to be released at a later time. The Po spirits are the resulting emotions that one experiences after one’s libido, urges, and actions are already expressed. It is the response one has from the other. It is the resting body’s reply as it processes after activity. It is the body reflecting on itself and its resulting display. As it reflects on itself, and processes its activity it then begins to recreate itself as itself with its new knowledge.

After it begins to excrete the unnecessary, the drive for the future begins again, and the wheels are spun again.




The Four Images



“[When] yin and yang not yet differentiated, the one qi is mixed and indistinct. [Since this] qi contains yin and yang, then it has clear and turbid [portion], the clear then floats and rises, the turbid then sinks and descends, this is their spontaneous nature.

The rising then becomes yang, the descending then becomes yin; yin and yang have separate positions; the two yi divide. [That which resides] in the space between the clear and the turbid, this is called center qi; the center qi is the pivoting axis of the ascent and descent of yin and yang, it is that which is called earth.”- Huang Yuan Hua- 1705BCE


Well known throughout Daoism, the unamable Dao goes through its multiplicity. Out of nothing, a unity of oneness occurs, Wu ji is formed. Out of Wu ji, the great ultimate, Tai ji arises from. Tai Ji, the great embrace is the union and separation of duality, from the passage above in the Si Xian Xin Yuan, The Four Sage’s Heart initiation, the creation of Yin and Yang becomes very clear. A process of differentiation occurs through the spontaneity of nature, where Yin and Yang become qualified into the Clear and the Turbid. The clear has the quality of rising, and the turbid has the quality of descending. This is of their nature.

The Shou gua describes Yin and Yang before it was called yin and yang, as the way of Shadow and Light, and the way of Soft and Firm. Duality takes it shape in the spontaneous arising nature of phenomena. In between the two, is a pivoting axis of rising and falling where Qi is formed. Qi can be seen as the force between the two, a middle ground of communication between the two extremes. Here there is a Trinity of creation, where the One becomes the Two, and then the Three. We then see out of states of transition four images arising from Yin and Yang. Shao yang, Tai Yang, Shao yin, and Tai yin. These are the four positions of Yin and Yang in its arising and descent.

“[In this] pivoting axis’s movement, the clear qi spins to the left, rising and transforming into fire; turbid qi is revolves to the right, descending and transforming into water, [that which] transforms into fire is then hot, [that which] transforms into water is then cold. Wood’s warm qi rises and does not stop, accumulating warmth becoming hot and transforms becoming fire.  Wood’s qi is warm, not fully hot as fire, but as it accumulates it becomes hot and results in fire. Metal’s cool qi descends and does not stop, accumulating cool becoming cold, and transforming into water. Water, fire, metal, wood, these are the names of the four images.”


From this passage we see that Yang at its height is called fire, and Yin in its depth is called water. Fire has the quality of heat, and water has the quality of cold. Growing and arising in between Yin and Yang is Wood, and contracting and condensing in between Yang and Yin is Metal.

The beauty of this explanation is the malleability of understanding. There is a simplicity to the Four “images”. These are natural relatable images that have a strong verisimilitude.

These Four images later on become through explanation and further examination over the centuries as the Four great Animals, The 4 seasons, The five phases, and a prominent part of the I Ching and Chinese Medicine.



Four Step Growth

There is evolving cycle to the Yi Ching, as observed through nature. It is the continual cycle of transformation and transmutation, 變 and 化. It is the change over time of hard and soft and that of dark and light. It becomes the cycle of yin and yang. As the ancients monitored the seasonal changes according to the circum-polar sky, four clear positions of transitional change became apparent. These were seen as the four seasons. Observing that they occurred at certain changes in the celestial skys, they were marked with the four cardinal directions. The stages of growth were then noted and put together in the the first Trigram of the Yi Ching, Qian.

Trigram 1, is called Qian, not Tian for a particular reason. Tian is the over head sky, but Qian is more than just the sky over head, it is the yearly sky. It is heaven over heaven. Heaven mirroring itself within and through out. It is translated as the creative impulse behind all. There are four parts to the pictogram of Qian according to Alfred Huang. The first upper left corner is the sun’s rising with a green sprout breaking the ground. The upper right is the Sun’s rays spreading out across the sky, then the lower right is the Sun’s rays falling on the ground, and then finally the lower left is that of a root sinking down into the ground. The light of Heaven penetrates all. Others hold that the left side of the pictogram is that of heaven’s banner, the big dipper, pointing out the directions of time with the right being that bound to earth. The four parts in the Huang description go with the description line of the Trigram.


Alfred Huang interprets it as

Initiating, Sublime and initiative, Prosperous and Smooth, Favourable and beneficial, Steadfast and upright.

Legge translates it as

Qian (represents) what is great and originating, penetrating, advantageous, correct and firm.

The characters of the line are called, Yuan, Heng, Li, and Zhen.

Each one has an expression of heaven. Yuan is the original, it is the starting point, it is initiation. Heng, is the growth and completion, it is the best ripe fruits given up for sacrifice. Li is the harvest, the gathering, and the preservation. Finally, Zhen is consultation, it is asking for advice, and finding the best outcome. It becomes determination as the next cycle will then continue.

It is funny how these four, experience permutations through out Chinese History in different forms. The permutations take on correspondences in the cyclical dynamism in Chinese thought and medicine. The Four directions become the Four Seasons, the Four seasons become the four animals, the four animals become the four images.

Next The Four Images