Three Treasures (traditional Chinese medicine)

Last updated

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 T'ai chi. They are also known as Jing Qi Shen (Chinese :精氣神; pinyin :jīng-qì-shén; Wade–Giles :ching ch'i shen; "essence, qi, and spirit").

Contents

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. (2008:562)

Etymology and meaning

This Chinese name sanbao originally referred to the Taoist "Three Treasures" from the Tao Te Ching (67, tr. Waley 1958:225): "pity", "frugality", and "refusal to be 'foremost of all things under heaven'". It has subsequently also been used to refer to the Jing Qi 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 Taoism 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.

Neidan

In Neidan "internal alchemy" practice (Despeux 2008:563), transmuting the Three Treasures is expressed through the sequence:

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

Both Neidan and Neo-Confucianism (Despeux 2008:564-5) distinguish the three between xiantian (先天) "prior to heaven", referring to what is innate or natural, and houtian (後天) "posterior to heaven", referring to what is acquired in the course of life. The former are described as Yuanjing (元精) "original essence", Yuanqi (元氣) "original breath", and yuanshen (元神) "original spirit".

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

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. (1, tr. Englehart 2000:99)

The Taoist text Gaoshang yuhuang xinyin jing (高上玉皇心印經, "Mind-Seal Scripture of the Exalted Jade Sovereign", or Xinyin jing "Mind-Seal Scripture") is a valuable early source about the Three Treasures (tr. Olson 1993).

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 2004:29)

The (late 16th century) Journey to the West novel provides a more recent example when an enlightened Taoist 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! (tr. Yu 1977:88)

Recognition in the West

Frederic H. Balfour's (1880:380-381) brief essay about the Xinyin jing ("The Imprint of the Heart") contains the earliest known Western reference to the Three Treasures:

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

Related Research Articles

Taoism Religious/philosophical tradition of Chinese origin

Taoism, or Daoism, is a philosophical and spiritual tradition of Chinese origin which emphasizes living in harmony with the Tao. In Taoism, the Tao is the source, pattern and substance of everything that exists. Taoism teaches about the various disciplines for achieving "perfection" by becoming one with the unplanned rhythms of the all, called "the way" or "Tao". Taoist ethics vary depending on the particular school, but in general tend to emphasize wu wei, "naturalness", simplicity, spontaneity and the Three Treasures: 慈, "compassion", 儉, "frugality" and 不敢爲天下先, "humility".

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.

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.

Taoist sexual practices

Taoist sexual practices are the ways Taoists may practice sexual activity. These practices are also known as "joining energy" or "the joining of the essences". Practitioners believe that by performing these sexual arts, one can stay in good health, and attain longevity or spiritual advancement.

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.

<i>Zuowanglun</i>

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.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to Taoism:

<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.

References

    Bibliography