Three Treasures (traditional Chinese medicine)

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The Three Treasures or Three Jewels (Chinese : ; pinyin :sānbǎo; Wade–Giles :san-pao) are theoretical cornerstones in traditional Chinese medicine and practices such as neidan , qigong , and tai chi . They are also known as jing, qi, and shen (Chinese :精氣神; pinyin :jīng-qì-shén; Wade–Giles :ching ch'i shen; "essence, breath, and spirit").


Despeux summarizes:

Jing, qi, and shen are three of the main notions shared by Taoism and Chinese culture alike. They are often referred to as the Three Treasures (sanbao三寶), an expression that immediately reveals their importance and the close connection among them. The ideas and practices associated with each term, and with the three terms as a whole, are complex and vary considerably in different contexts and historical periods.

Despeux 2008, p. 562

Etymology and meaning

This Chinese name sanbao originally referred to the Daoist "Three Treasures" from the Daodejing , chapter 67: "pity", "frugality", and "refusal to be 'foremost of all things under heaven'". [1] It has subsequently also been used to refer to the jing, qi, and shen and to the Buddhist Three Jewels (Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha). This latter use is misleading, however, as the Three Jewels in Buddhism is a completely different philosophy. The Buddha is the teacher, the Dharma is the teaching, and the Sangha is the community. The Three Jewels of Buddhism are the external supports for achieving realization, while the Three Treasures of Daoism are interior qualities or attitudes to be cultivated.

In long-established Chinese traditions, the "Three Treasures" are the essential energies sustaining human life:

This jing-qi-shen ordering is more commonly used than the variants qi-jing-shen and shen-qi-jing.


Woodcut illustration of the 'Great and Small Cauldron and Furnance' from Pointers on Spiritual Nature and Bodily Life (Xingming guizhi
) by Yi Zhenren, a Daoist text on internal alchemy published 1615. In the figurative language of neidan
, the 'cauldron' (ding
) refers to the head and the 'furnace' (lu
) to the abdomen; the 'great cauldron' is the place of the refinement of jin, qi,
and shen Chinese woodcut; Daoist internal alchemy (3) Wellcome L0038973.jpg
Woodcut illustration of the 'Great and Small Cauldron and Furnance' from Pointers on Spiritual Nature and Bodily Life (Xingming guizhi) by Yi Zhenren, a Daoist text on internal alchemy published 1615. In the figurative language of neidan , the 'cauldron' (ding) refers to the head and the 'furnace' (lu) to the abdomen; the 'great cauldron' is the place of the refinement of jin, qi, and shen
Woodcut illustration of the practice known as 'Refining form in the True Void' (zhenkong lianxing
) from Pointers on Spiritual Nature and Bodily Life (Xingming guizhi
) by Yi Zhenren, a Daoist text on internal alchemy published 1615 Chinese woodcut; Daoist internal alchemy (13) Wellcome L0038983.jpg
Woodcut illustration of the practice known as 'Refining form in the True Void' (zhenkong lianxing) from Pointers on Spiritual Nature and Bodily Life (Xingming guizhi) by Yi Zhenren, a Daoist text on internal alchemy published 1615

The Daoist "Mind-Seal Scripture of the Exalted Jade Sovereign" (Gaoshang yuhuang xinyin jing (高上玉皇心印經), or the "Imprint of the Heart" (Xinyin jing), is a valuable early source about the Three Treasures. [2] [3]

Probably dating from the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279), this anonymous text presents a simple and concise discussion of internal alchemy ( neidan 內丹). In particular, it emphasizes the so-called Three Treasures (sanbao三寶), namely, vital essence (jing), subtle breath (qi), and spirit (shen).

Komjathy 2004, p. 29

Frederic H. Balfour's brief essay about the "Imprint of the Heart" (Xinyin jing) contains the earliest known Western reference to the Three Treasures: [4]

"There are three degrees of Supreme Elixir – the Spirit, the Breath, and the Essential Vigour."

Four stages

In neidan ("internal alchemy") practice, transmuting the Three Treasures is expressed through the sequence: [5] [6]

  1. zhuji (築基)
    "laying the foundations"
  2. lianjing huaqi (鍊精化氣)
    "refining essence into breath"
  3. lianqi huashen (鍊氣化神)
    "refining breath into spirit"
  4. lianshen huanxu (鍊神還虛)
    "refining spirit and reverting to emptiness"


Both Neidan and Neo-Confucianism distinguish the between "prior to heaven" (xiantian先天), referring to what is innate or natural, and "posterior to heaven" (houtian後天), referring to what is acquired in the course of life. [7]

The former are the "three origins" (Sanyuan三元): [6]

  1. "Original essence" (yuanjing元精)
  2. "Original breath" ( yuanqi 元氣)
  3. "Original spirit" (yuanshen元神)


The Huainanzi (c.2nd century BCE) relates qi and shen to xing ("form; shape; body"): [8]

The bodily form [xing] is the residence of life; the qi fills this life while shen controls it. If either of them loses their proper position, they will all come to harm.

Huainanzi 1, translated by Engelhardt 2000, p. 99

Chinese culture

The Journey to the West (late 16th century CE) novel refers to the Three Treasures when an enlightened Daoist patriarch instructs Sun Wukong ("Monkey") with a poem that begins:

Know well this secret formula wondrous and true:
Spare and nurse the vital forces, this and nothing else.
All power resides in the semen [jing], the breath [qi], and the spirit [shen];
Guard these with care, securely, lest there be a leak.
Lest there be a leak!
Keep within the body!

Journey to the West, translated by Yu 1977, p. 88

Related Research Articles

Jīng is the Chinese word for "essence", specifically kidney essence. Along with qì and shén, it is considered one of the Three Treasures of traditional Chinese medicine or TCM.


Liuhebafaquan is an internal Chinese martial art. It has been called "Xinyi Liuhebafa" 心意六合八法拳 and is also referred to as "water boxing" due to its principles.

Dantian, dan t'ian, dan tien or tan t'ien is loosely translated as "elixir field", "sea of qi", or simply "energy center". Dantian are the "qi focus flow centers", important focal points for meditative and exercise techniques such as qigong, martial arts such as t'ai chi ch'uan, and in traditional Chinese medicine.

The Three Treasures or Three Jewels are basic virtues in Taoism. Although the Tao Te Ching originally used sanbao to mean "compassion", "frugality", and "humility", the term was later used to translate the Three Jewels in Chinese Buddhism, and to mean the Three Treasures in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Chinese alchemy

Chinese alchemy is an ancient Chinese scientific and technological approach to alchemy, a part of the larger tradition of Taoist / Daoist body-spirit cultivation developed from the traditional Chinese understanding of medicine and the body. According to original texts such as the Cantong qi, the body is understood as the focus of cosmological processes summarized in the five agents of change, or Wuxing, the observation and cultivation of which leads the practitioner into alignment and harmony with the Tao. Therefore, the traditional view in China is that alchemy focuses mainly on longevity and the purification of one's spirit, mind and body, providing, health, longevity and wisdom, through the practice of Qigong, wuxingheqidao. The consumption and use of various concoctions known as alchemical medicines or elixirs, each of which having different purposes but largely were concerned with immortality.

Neigong, also spelled nei kung, neigung, or nae gong, refers to any of a set of Chinese breathing, meditation and spiritual practice disciplines associated with Daoism and especially the Chinese martial arts. Neigong practice is normally associated with the so-called "soft style", "internal" or neijia 內家 Chinese martial arts, as opposed to the category known as waigong 外功 or "external skill" which is historically associated with shaolinquan or the so-called "hard style", "external" or wàijiā 外家 Chinese martial arts. Both have many different schools, disciplines and practices and historically there has been mutual influence between the two and distinguishing precisely between them differs from school to school.

Neidan Esoteric doctrines and physical, mental, and spiritual practices in Taoism

Neidan, or internal alchemy, is an array of esoteric doctrines and physical, mental, and spiritual practices that Taoist initiates use to prolong life and create an immortal spiritual body that would survive after death. Also known as Jindan, inner alchemy combines theories derived from external alchemy, correlative cosmology, the emblems of the Yijing, and medical theory, with techniques of Daoist meditation, daoyin gymnastics, and sexual hygiene.

The Cantong qi is deemed to be the earliest book on alchemy in China. The title has been variously translated as Kinship of the Three, Akinness of the Three, Triplex Unity, The Seal of the Unity of the Three, and in several other ways. The full title of the text is Zhouyi cantong qi, which can be translated as, for example, The Kinship of the Three, in Accordance with the Book of Changes.

Three Treasures or Three Jewels may refer to:

The Huangdi Yinfujing, or Yinfujing, is a circa 8th century CE Daoist scripture associated with Chinese astrology and Neidan-style Internal alchemy. In addition, Huangdi Yinfujing is also the name of a Chinese Fengshui text on military strategy.

The Wuzhen pian is a 1075 Taoist classic on Neidan-style internal alchemy. Its author Zhang Boduan was a Song dynasty scholar of the Three teachings.

The Xiuzhen tu is a Daoist diagram of the human body illustrating principles of Neidan 內丹 "Internal alchemy", Chinese astrology, and cosmology.

Neijing Tu Diagram in Daoism

The Neijing Tu is a Daoist "inner landscape" diagram of the human body illustrating Neidan "Internal alchemy", Wu Xing, Yin and Yang, and Chinese mythology.

The Qingjing Jing is an anonymous Tang Dynasty Taoist classic that combines philosophical themes from the Tao Te Ching with the logical presentation of Buddhist texts and a literary form reminiscent of the Heart Sutra. It instructs students of the Tao to practice the elimination of desire in order to cultivate spiritual purity and stillness.


The Zuowanglun or Zuowang lun is a Taoist meditation text that was written by the Shangqing School patriarch Sima Chengzhen (647–735). Taoism incorporated many Buddhist practices during the Tang Dynasty (618–907), and the Zuowanglun combined meditation techniques from Taoism and Buddhism.

Taoist meditation Meditative practice

Taoist meditation, known in Chinese as "Xiu Dao", refers to the traditional meditative practices associated with the Chinese philosophy and religion of Taoism, including concentration, mindfulness, contemplation, and visualization. The earliest Chinese references to meditation date from the Warring States period.

Liu Yiming

Liu Yiming (1734–1821) was a Chinese ophthalmologist, philosopher, and writer. He was one of the main representatives of Taoist Internal Alchemy, or Neidan. He was an 11th-generation master of one of the northern branches of the Longmen 龍門 lineage, and the author of a large number of works that illustrate his views on both Taoism and Neidan.

Three Corpses

The sanshi 三尸 "Three Corpses" or sanchong 三蟲 "Three Worms" are a Daoist physiological belief that demonic creatures live inside the human body, and they seek to hasten the death of their host. These three supernatural parasites allegedly enter the person at birth, and reside in the three dantian "energy centers", respectively located within the head, chest, and abdomen. After their human host dies, they are freed from the body and become malevolent ghosts.

<i>Neiye</i> Oldest Chinese received text

The c. 350 BCE Neiye 內業 or Inward Training is the oldest Chinese received text describing Daoist breath meditation techniques and qi circulation. After the Guanzi, a political and philosophical compendium, included the Neiye around the 2nd century BCE, it was seldom mentioned by Chinese scholars until the 20th century, when it was reevaluated as a "proto-Daoist" text that clearly influenced the Daode jing, Zhuangzi, and other classics. Neiye traditions also influenced Chinese thought and culture. For instance, it had the first references to cultivating the life forces jing "essence", qi "vital energy", and shen "spirit", which later became a fundamental concept in Daoist Neidan "internal alchemy", as well as the Three Treasures in traditional Chinese medicine.

Women in Taoism

The roles of women in Taoism have differed from the traditional patriarchy over women in ancient and imperial China. Chinese women had special importance in some Taoist schools that recognized their transcendental abilities to communicate with deities, who frequently granted women with revealed texts and scriptures. Women first came to prominence in the Highest Clarity School, which was founded in the 4th century by a woman, Wei Huacun. The Tang dynasty (618-907) was a highpoint for the importance of Daoist women, when one-third of the Shangqing clergy were women, including many aristocratic Daoist nuns. The number of Daoist women decreased until the 12th century when the Complete Perfection School, which ordained Sun Bu'er as the only woman among its original disciples, put women in positions of power. In the 18th and 19th centuries, women Daoists practiced and discussed nüdan, involving gender-specific practices of breath meditation and visualization. Furthermore, Daoist divinities and cults have long traditions in China, for example, the Queen Mother of the West, the patron of xian immortality, He Xiangu, one of the Eight Immortals, and Mazu, the protectress of sailors and fishermen.


  1. Waley (1958), p. 225.
  2. Olson (1993).
  3. Komjathy (2004), p. 29.
  4. Balfour (1880), p. 380-381.
  5. Despeux (2008), p. 563.
  6. 1 2 Wang (2011), p. 13.
  7. Despeux (2008), pp. 564–565.
  8. Engelhardt (2000), p. 99.