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)’.

Some later commentators suggest that ‘no form’ has more the meaning of no shape – no structure, no containment. Certain modern physicians suggest that the triple heater represents the shapeless tissue found between the organs, the fascia, the endometrium, and various kinds of tissue which acts as wadding and padding within the cavity of the trunk. In fact these tissues are rich with fluids and blood and are often considered to be the location of the conduits of qi.

It is interesting to see that the term gao huang (膏 肓) – generally interpreted as embryologically primitive tissues – is found in the outer bladder line points of the triple heater (Huang men 肓 門 Bladder 51) and pericardium (Gao huang shu 膏 肓 兪 Bladder 43) – and also Huang shu 肓 兪, Kidney 16, close to the navel.

Maybe there is a link to be found between the ‘no form’ of the origins of life at ming men, and this primitive tissue, which is seen embryologically to begin around the area of the navel and migrate towards the heart. Gao huang shu and Huang men are used to treat life threatening disorders, severe depletion and exhaustion – when a reboot of the fire of ming men and a transmission of original qi is necessary to reset the qi patterning.

According to Sun Simiao:

The three heaters through their connectivity make a unity. They govern the way of the spirits (shen dao 神 道), which come and go in the five zang and six fu. They know how to distribute life in the form of qi, they are connected to the origin, they make the blood and maintain life through the spirits.

(Textual quotes from Heart Master Triple Heater, Claude Larre and Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallée)

Sandra will be teaching on the Triple Heater and Minister Fire at the

College of Integrated Chinese medicine on December 7th 2017.

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


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

表 裏 biao li

The terms biao li may be translated as outer and inner, exterior and interior, and they must be differentiated from the similar terms nei (內) and wai (外). In medicine biao/li is often used to indicate a movement of qi, which is either yin (towards the interior) or yang (towards the exterior).

The etymology of the characters can be seen in the radical they both share – that for cloth or clothing (衣). The biao (表) of a garment is its external outer appearance, the li (裏) its lining, or hidden aspect. The biao faces towards the exterior and can be seen, the li faces towards the inner and cannot be seen. Biao can also mean to be manifest, and the interesting interplay of these two characters expresses the way in which inner qualities and conditions can manifest themselves at the exterior – a very important aspect of diagnosis. Read more

a study of qi

Qi-1The following is an extract from the beginning of the book ‘A Study of Qi’, in which Elisabeth Rochat gives a short introduction to the development of the concept of qi from its early appearance as ‘wind’ in the oracle bones, to through to its key position in Han dynasty cosmology:

In order to understand the origin of qi, we must first look at the concept of wind. A character for qi itself does not appear in the early oracular and bronze inscriptions, or in the most ancient Chinese texts, such as The Book of Documents, Shujing, or The Book of Odes, Shijing. What we do find in the very ancient oracular inscriptions of the twelfth, thirteenth and even fourteenth centuries BC is the character for wind, and these early descriptions of wind have some of the qualities which will be later attributed to qi.

Read more