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.

Yuan (原) is a source of pure water (泉 quan) flowing from a rocky escarpment (⼚). Quan is made with the water character (水) beneath and white or pure (白) above. Quan is usually translated as spring, and suggests the purity of something which is close to the origin of things. This character is found in the point names of Kidney 1 (gushing spring, yong quan 湧 泉) and Heart 1 (highest or ultimate spring, ji quan 極 泉), and as the initial points on the shao yin meridians, they are closest to the inner origins of life, where qi must be clear and pure.

Our yuan qi provides a link to the origins of life and to our ancestry through inherited information patterning. In a daoist context, we aim to return to our origin – to become pure and clear and transparent, and at one with the movement of life. The Dao is often compared to water – it follows what is natural, it is without preferences, it takes the shape of its container; it always gravitates towards the lowest place, while retaining the ability to wear away mountain ranges…

While yuan (元) evokes our connection to our ancestral patterning and biological inheritance, yuan (原) suggests our source in the movement of life, our continual origination in the Dao.

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