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YANG SHENG    養 生  NOURISHING LIFE

Yang sheng (養 生) is term that has become familiar to us in the context of various ‘nourishing life’ practices. It is an ancient term, and specific yang sheng texts have been found which date back to the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE. Some of these texts specifically stress diet, exercise and sexual practices which are considered to enhance the vitality and possibly even lengthen life. But the early chapters of the Neijing suggest that it is in the ability to observe what is appropriate at a particular time and for a particular individual that the real art of nourishing life resides.

Yang (養) is to nourish, and includes the most common character for eating food shi (食), but it has a wider meaning than simple nourishment for the body – it is to nurture, to care for, to maintain, not only physically. It is commonly used to describe the way parents take care of their children, and it includes the idea of education, a nourishment of the mind. It is found in early Daoist texts, such as the Neiye, for nourishing the heart/mind, and in Confucian texts for building character.

Sheng (生) can literally be translated as life, but it is more the process of life coming into being – the way that life is generated and maintained. We are familiar with this term from the sheng or generation cycle of the five elements/phases. A great modern translator of classical Chinese, Roger Ames, suggests that Chinese is a language of verbs and processes, whereas most western languages are languages of nouns and things. And at a time when Greek philosophers were looking at the nature of things, trying to find the building blocks of life, the Chinese were more interested in the way that life proceeds, the way things change, the movement of one phase into another. So yang sheng has this idea of the nourishment and development of the continual generation of life – from one moment to the next.

Neijing Suwen chapter 2 suggests that paying attention to the rhythm of the four seasons is one of the ways that we can ‘follow what is natural’ – because in order to nourish life it is suggested that we follow the order of heaven – which is nothing other than the natural order of things. Going against what is natural dissipates the qi and wears us out. Lingshu chapter 8, which introduces what we often call the ‘spiritual aspects’ and goes on to discuss the effects of the emotions on the various organ systems, summarises this knowledge as ‘nothing other than the ability to nourish life (yang sheng)’.

(First published in ACU Spring 2018)

heaven earth, yin yang

yin and yang in huainanzi chapter 3

‘When Heaven and Earth were yet unformed, all was ascending and flying, diving and delving. Thus it is called the primal beginning. The dao begins in the nebulous void. The nebulous void produces space-time; space-time produces the primordial qi.

A shoreline (divides) the primordial qi. That which is pure and bright spreads out to form heaven; the heavy and turbid congeals to form earth. It is easy for that which is pure and subtle to disperse, but difficult for the heavy and turbid to congeal. Therefore, first  heaven is completed, and then earth fixed.

The combined essences of heaven and earth produce yin and yang. The successive essences of yin and yang cause the four seasons. The scattered essences of the four seasons create the ten thousand things.’ Read more

the triple heater and ‘no form’


The Nanjing (Difficulty 25) states that the triple heater (san jiao 三 焦) and master heart (xin zhu 心 主) have a ‘name but no form (you ming wu xing 有 名 無 形)’. This statement has been debated throughout the centuries, earlier commentaries, including Sun Simiao, suggesting that the use of ‘no form’ (wu xing 無 形) within the Nanjing is close to the meaning found in early Daoist texts – referring to that which is un-manifest, coming before physical manifestation – and maybe holding the qi patterning for future manifestation. They imply that the triple heater and heart master have no physical substance but are functions of qi. Nanjing 8 and 66 make a connection between the triple heater and ming men (life gate, or the gate of the unfolding of life), Difficulty 66 suggesting that the three heaters are ‘the agents for the distribution of original qi (yuan qi 原 氣)’.

Read more

Communication and circulation 通

There are many characters used for the vital function of free-flow of blood and qi throughout the body, but the most important and commonly used is tong (通).

The character tong (通) describes any kind of communication which is free from obstruction; it is particularly used for the spreading and free movement of qi, but can describe communication between people as much as free-flow within the organism. In classical Chinese it is to open the way, to open dialogue, to allow the mingling of different things, ideas, people. It is to give free access to something; to penetrate and to permeate. Read more

apologies

Recently our server crashed and we lost the last two blogs. They have now been re-instated. I was particularly concerned that the tribute to our great friend Tim Gordon disappeared.

Tim’s memorial service will take place this Friday (July 7th) at 2pm at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London WC1

Tim’s Preface to Jing Shen

On the translation of Jing Shen – chapter 7 of the Huainanzi

Our group has been meeting for more than twenty years. The thrust of our work has been the joy of learning about translation from Chinese helped by our illustrious guides, and the insights we gain from the process of producing a translation paying scrupulous attention to the original Chinese characters and text. Read more

Tim Gordon


Tim Gordon has been a great supporter of Monkey Press and was involved in the earliest seminars of Claude Larre and Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallée in the UK. His years as a medical doctor and researcher made him sharp inquisitor into the meanings of the Chinese medical texts, and Father Larre would often call upon him to clarity certain concepts in the light of modern science. His voice is occasionally heard in the early Monkey Press transcripts of the seminars. Read more

yuan – source 原/元

Two characters are found with the meaning of source or origin, and both have the pronunciation of yuan – though with a different toning. Both characters can be found within the expression yuan qi, and most sinologists suggest that they are interchangeable in this context. Others suggest that yuan (元) should be translated as origin – yuan (原) as source.

Etymologically, yuan (元) is to be above everything else, the most important, the highest principle. It is found in ancient oracular inscriptions, where it is often used in relation to the original ancestry. It is metaphysical and obscure, reflecting the mysterious, deep origins of life, the universe and everything. Read more

the northern quarter

The following is an extract from the Monkey Press book The Kidneys which has recently been re-edited and reprinted. This section is on the text of Suwen Chapter 5, which deals with the resonances of the five elements/phases. Here, at the beginning of the description of the resonances of the kidneys, Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallée discusses the nature of the north, water and their relationship to the origins of life.

suwen chapter 5:

‘The northern quarter gives rise to cold, cold produces water, water produces the salty, the salty produces the kidneys, the kidneys produce bones and marrow, marrow produces the liver; the kidneys master the ear.

‘In heaven it is cold, on earth it is water, among the parts of the body it is the bones, among the zang it is the kidneys, among colours it is black, among notes it is yu, among sounds it is to sigh, among movements which react to change it is to shiver, …among the expressions of will-power it is fear.

‘In the north there are always two animals – the snake and the tortoise.’ Read more

Change and Transformation

Bian hua 變 化

Bian hua is a phrase commonly found in the medical texts for all kinds of change and transformation that occur within the body.

The fu are involved with chuan hua (傳 化) – they move food through the digestive tract, chuan (傳), extracting nutrients and consolidating waste in a process of transformation hua (化). The large intestine ‘changes and transforms’ – bian hua (變 化). The spleen, working with the purer aspects of food, has the function of ‘yun hua’ (運 化) – a term which describes the transmutation, transformation and diffusion of subtle essences. Chuan moves things from one place to another, yun distributes and permeates like a shower of rain. Bian hua (變 化) is the process within the body which constantly recreates our being. Read more