“If people can cultivate the spirit (I.e The One), they can not die” – Ho-Shang Kung, during the Han dynasty.
, Taoism has been on my list of topics for further research. From personally training in eastern martial arts and researching eastern philosophies to hints of it’s presence in mindfulness. Reading Eva Wong’s Essential Guide has given me a foundation providing a concise timeline of it’s history and teachers, it’s transformation across dynasties and what it has become in the modern age.
Of the many sects, there is one, so far, who’s ethos and practises have resonated with me which provides a spiritual view of one’s health and the maintenance of, Shang Ch’ing Taoism of the Chin Dynasty (265-420CE). The philosophy is centred around cultivating health, longevity and immortality through various means and practises. In the early centuries (BCE – 10th Century CE) it was common belief that through alchemy one could discover immortality, a school of thought that was heavily invested in by the ruling dynasties in what we know now as being China. After this period of evolving practices, poisoning, and even deaths the dream was dead. So this essay focuses on the other key learnings of the philosophy, health and longevity and an area that interests me a lot – Cultivating The One.
Note: There is a summary at the bottom for those who wish, but I do recommend reading on for extra fuel for the positive mindset.
Cultivating The One – The Internal Universe.
Note: This is work in progress so, for both the new and the knowledgeable, please do feel free to comment.
The One in Shang Ch’ing Taoism is the internal universe, the Tao inside each of us. It is filled with Deities, Spirits, and Monsters, the balancing of which channels us in to cultivating not only good health but also a positive lifestyle. Of these internal entities, the most important are three guardians (Deities) known as The Three Ones. They reside in the 3 tan-t’iens (located in your head, just below your heart and just below your belly button) they protect you from illness and, should they leave you, you will weaken and eventually die. Next are the Spirits of the viscera, The Five. These spirits are said to protect 5 vital organs and, should any one of these become injured, weak or fail the others won’t be efficient and your functions will begin to fail and thus affecting The Three Ones. Finally, we have the Monsters. These are located along the spine near close to each of The Three Ones and act like gates controlling the flow of energy to each of the tan-t’iens. If you feed them with negativity, cravings and even grains they grow stronger and reduce the energy flow to the guardian Deities forcing them to weaken and leave you. Shang Ch’ing Taoist in addition to living a positive and harmonious lifestyle, meditation and performing regular practices, they often practice fasting and abstinence from grain – I find this very interesting as it aligns with what we know as the negative effects of carbs on the mind, internal and external health despite the huge amounts of it that, as a race, consume.
Recommended further reading: ‘The Grain Brain’ by David Perlmutter on Blinkist.
So, my understanding so far as to the main goal of Shang Ch’ing Taoism is the cultivation of The One by balancing positive nutrition, a positive lifestyle, and positive practices.
The Three Ones (San-Yüan) – Deities.
- Spiritual Energy – The highest manifestation of The One. This guardian is located in the upper tan-t’ien (The Celestial Realm) between you eyes and controls all the activity of the mind.
- Vital Energy – Associated with breath, this guardian is located in the middle tan-t’ien (The Terrestrial Realm) just below your heart
- Generative Energy – responsible for procreation, and located in the lower tan-tien (The Water Realm) just below your navel.
The Five – The Spirits
- Heart – The heart is the seed of the immortal spirit
- Liver – The liver is the human spirit
- Spleen – The Spleen is the intention
- Lungs – The lungs are the Soul
- Kidneys – The Kidneys are the generative energy
#There are various practices and meditations that help to feed these deities and spirits with positive energy to keep their colours vibrant and saturated.
When we don’t know that the monsters are harmful, unethical behaviour and negative cravings and desires appear attractive but, when you know them to shorten life, they appear ugly and undesirable – cultivating positive presence, behaviour and influence on your surroundings. Shang Ch’ing Taoist refer to “seeing the True Form” referring to visualising the attractive of the Deities and Spirits vs the ugliness of the Monsters.
In summary, the take away for me so far is that in the 2nd/3rd century The Shang Ch’ing Taoists practice of cultivating health and longevity is focused on maintaining the viscera through means of positive lifestyle, ritual practices, meditation and diet. Drawing from this, we can adopt their mindset to influence our objectives of choices we make on a daily basis that affect our well-being.
Have we learnt much more since the 3rd Century?
On one hand, we’ve known for a long time what we should be doing to maintain good energy, health and longevity, however our education, circumstance and choice steer us to the modern lifestyle and convenience. On the other hand, science has given us more information to the actual long and short term effects of foods and negative habits on our well-being.
Ultimately, the choice is yours – Life is for living after all…