By Ban Gu
fl. 1st Century CE
Translated by Heiner Fruehauf
National University of Natural Medicine, College of Classical Chinese Medicine
What is the nature of our emotional disposition (qingxing)? Our moral values (xing) represent an expression of yang, while our emotional urges (qing) are a transformation of yin. Human beings are born into this world as an amalgam of yin and yang, and thus contain within us five core virtues (wuxing) and six basic emotional urges (liuqing). The word for emotion, qing (情), contains within it the meaning of jing (静)—that which is supposed to remain tranquil and kept under wraps. The character for virtue, xing (性), on the other hand, contains the attribute sheng (生)—that which is meant to grow and reveal itself. Thus the Goumingjue (Secrets for Unifying the Forces of Life) states:
All emotional turmoil is born from yin, and it is from here that obsessive impulses arise in waves; all sense of virtue is born from yang, and it is here where the drive toward a life of cultivation hails from. The momentum of yang is by nature compassionate, while the energy of yin is suffused with greed. That is why the emotions are at their core selfish and agenda-ridden, while the virtues are by nature selfless and full of compassion.
What are the so-called five virtues (wuxing)? They are compassion (ren), selflessness (yi), propriety (li), wisdom (zhi), and integrity (xin). Compassion (ren 仁) is the opposite of indifference and cruelty (ren 忍) , it manifests as kindness toward all creatures and acts of loving and helping others. Selflessness (yi 義) is humanity’s sense of justice (yi 宜), our internal compass to do the right thing. Propriety (li 禮) is the fulfillment of our destiny through action (lü 履), the daily walking on the path of life that over time evolves into a pattern of goodness. Wisdom (zhi 智) is knowledge (zhi 知), the unique ability to draw from past experiences and read subtle clues while remaining impartial to the chatter of worldly opinion. Integrity (xin 信) is sincerity (cheng 誠), unwavering focus and conviction. Human existence, therefore, resonates with the basic nature of the cosmos as described by the eight trigrams. We live in a universe where we are surrounded, shaped and nourished by a spectrum of five positive qualities, namely compassion, selflessness, propriety, wisdom and integrity.
And what are the so-called six emotions (liuqing)? These are excitement (xi 喜), anger (nu 怒), sorrow (ai 哀), pleasure (le 樂), love (ai 愛), and hate (wu 惡), and they are inextricably intertwined with the five higher virtues.
How come that there are five virtues and six emotions? Humanity is engendered by the energetic spectrum of the five phase influences (wuxing 五行) and the six pitch patterns (liulü 六律) in our cosmic environment, and in correspondence to these the microcosm of our bodies is replete with five storage (zang) organs and six eliminatory (fu) organs. These are the functional entities that are charged with receiving [the virtues] and excreting [the emotions]. The Yuedong shengyi (Musical Motion and the Principle of Sound) states, moreover: “ There are six ministries in the sphere of government and five storage organs in the microcosm of the human body.”
What, now, are the five zang organs and their respective storage functions? They are the Liver, the Heart, the Lung, the Kidney, and the Spleen. The name of the Liver (gan 肝) has military connotations, underscoring its assertive nature and forward momentum (gan 干). The name of the Lung (fei 肺) refers to the purpose of letting go (fei 費), characterizing its moderating role in moments of emotional agitation. The name of the Heart (xin 心) is associated with the qualities of nobility and merit (ren 任), reflecting our innate desire to be loving and kind. The name of the Kidney (shen 腎) encompasses the quality of downward momentum (xie 寫), particularly the function of discharging through the urinary passage. The name of the Spleen (pi 脾) is associated with the art of prudent selection (bian 辯), alluding to its ability to gather and concentrate the vital essences of jing and qi. The five zang organs and their respective storage functions are therefore as follows: The Liver stores compassion, the Lung stores selflessness, the Heart stores propriety, the Kidney stores wisdom, and the Spleen stores integrity.
What is it that makes the Liver a vessel for the virtue of compassion? The Liver represents the quintessence of the phase element Wood. “Compassion” means to love and care for every living creature. The East [direction associated with Wood] is aligned with the functional energy of yang and the sun; this is the place where all living things are kindled into existence. Therefore, the anatomical liver manifests some of the characteristics of the plant world: its color has a greenish sheen and it exhibits “leaves.” By the same token, what makes the eyes an officer of the Liver? The eyes can excrete tears but are not able to absorb external substances, just like tree trunks shoot out branches but cannot envelop external objects.
What is it that makes the Lung a vessel for the virtue of selflessness? The Lung represents the quintessence of the phase element Metal. Selflessness, at its core, is solid self-restraint. The West is characterized by Metal, because it is here that the material world achieves maturity and becomes firm. That is why the anatomical lung manifests some of the characteristics of the mineral realm: its color has a whitish glint. By the same token, what makes the nose an officer of the Lung? The nose is located in a high position and exhibits holes through which air moves in and out. Mountains, in turn, are the repository of minerals and metals in nature. They also have apertures in the form of caves, and it is from here that the breath of nature emerges in the form of clouds and rain. In the dimension of earth, everything is moistened from this lofty place. Once it rains, the clouds disburse. Inhaling and exhaling through the nose is similar to this process in nature.
What is it that makes the Heart a vessel for propriety and our innate recognition of the sacred? The Heart represents the quintessence of the phase element Fire. The South [direction associated with Fire] is characterized by a dominance of solar yang forces that have decisively eclipsed the cold and dark forces of yin. Propriety, in turn, is defined by a clear delimitation of higher and lower states of existence. Therefore, the anatomical heart manifests some of the characteristics of fire: its color is reddish and its movements are dynamic. It is a distinctly human quality to revere what is sacred. Heaven is by its very nature exalted, and the Heart resonates in the form of spirited movement below. By the same token, what makes the ears officers of the Heart? The ears connect inside and outside, and they can differentiate subtle nuances in sound and language. The illuminating function of Fire, furthermore, is similar to the power of propriety and its respect for the sacred: both clearly delineate what is high and sublime, and what is low and insignificant.
What is it that makes the Kidney a vessel for wisdom? The Kidney represents the quintessence of the phase element Water. Wisdom is characterized by a flow of action unhampered by doubt or confusion. Similar to this virtue, water also flows forward without any sense of disorientation. Water is associated with the direction of North [which, in turn, is correlated with the color black]. Therefore, the anatomical kidneys glisten blackishly. Water also stands for the [reflective and dualistic] forces of yin, reflected in the pair form of the kidneys. By the same token, what makes the urinary orifice an officer of the Kidney? The urinary passage can discharge Water essences and excrete urine.
What is it that makes the Spleen a vessel for integrity? The Spleen represents the quintessence of the phase element Earth. Its function is symbolically expressed by the image of an ever giving and all-nourishing earth that generates and supports every single living thing without desiring anything in return—the essence of ultimate integrity. Therefore, the anatomical spleen manifests some of the characteristics of the earth: its color is yellowish. By the same token, what makes the mouth an officer of the Spleen? The mouth has the ability to savor a multitude of foods and the tongue can distinguish all flavors. Furthermore, the mouth produces sounds and voices and excretes nutritive saliva.
Therefore, the Yuanming bao (Astrological Synthesis) states: “The eyes are deputies of the Liver, and the Liver represents the quintessential manifestation of the phase element Wood; the macrocosmic position is that of the [Eastern] Blue Green Dragon constellation. The nose is the deputy of the Lung, and the Lung represents the quintessential manifestation of the phase element Metal; it cuts down, curtails and adjudicates. The ears are officers of the Heart, and the Heart represents the quintessence of the phase element Fire; above, this principle is represented by the Zhang constellation [in the Southern Red Phoenix]. The genitals are the drain of the Kidney, and the Kidney represents the quintessential manifestation of the phase element Water; above, this principle is represented by the Xu and Wei constellations [in the Northern Black Turtle]. The Mouth is the gateway of the Spleen, and the Spleen represents the quintessential manifestation of the phase element Earth; above, this principle is represented by the Big Dipper [at the center of the sky]. It rules the cycle of transformation, all the way from birth to death.” Other sources say that the mouth is the officer of the heart, and the ears are the officers of the Kidney. Or, yet another source states: “The Liver is linked with the eyes, the Lung is linked with the nose, the Heart is linked with the mouth, the Spleen is linked with the tongue, and the Kidney is linked with the ears.”
And what are the six fu organs, and how are they defined? They are the Large Intestine, the Small Intestine, the Stomach, the Bladder, the Triple Warmer, and the Gallbladder. Fu literally means that these are the respective administrative branches of the five storage organs. Along the same lines, the Liyun (The Conveyance of Rites; chapter nine of the Liji, Book of Rites) declares: “The six emotions are assisting the development of the five virtues.”
The Stomach is the administrative branch of the Spleen, which is in charge of the gathering of qi. The Stomach is the collector of grain, and the Spleen’s ability to gather qi is assisted by this function.
The Bladder is the administrative branch of the Kidney. The Kidney is in charge of draining excess. Since the Bladder tends to run hot, it naturally is a priority to resolve issues of difficult water flow.
The Triple Warmer is the administrative branch of the Pericardium. It is the passageway of grain and water, and the place where the circulation of qi begins and comes to an end. Therefore, the Upper Warmer is like the [heavenly] void, the Middle Warmer is like a mesh [connecting higher and lower realms], and the Lower Burner is like a [earthly] gutter.
The Gallbladder is the administrative branch of the Liver. The Liver is the quintessential manifestation of the phase element Wood, and thus governs the virtue of compassion. Compassion is the opposite of cruelty, and the Gallbladder is thus charged with putting a stop to vicious impulses. For these respective tasks, the Liver and Gallbladder both require a certain degree of intensity. However, since the Liver and the Gallbladder appear to be pursuing divergent tasks, how do we know that they truly are partner officers within the same ministry? As stated before, the Liver is the quintessence of the phase element Wood, and one of the meanings of Wood (mu 木) is to take charge (mu 牧). When a person is in a state of impetuous fervor, s/he will invariably turn green in the face, the eyes will widen and the arms flail outward—all of these are aspects of the same assertive energy.
The Small Intestine and the Large Intestine are the administrative branches of the Heart and the Lung. As such, they are managing the virtues of propriety and selflessness. Both of these virtues are characterized by the qualities of precision and clarity, just like the Small and Large Intestines hand off their respective tasks from one to the other in clearly delineated steps. The Intestines are the government of the internal core organs Heart and Lung, yet the Heart also rules all surface parts of the body–this is why there are two administrative branches. The eyes see for the Heart, the mouth speaks for the Heart, the ears listen for the Heart, the nose smells for the Heart—it is the master of everything, however far removed.
How is it that appreciation is associated with the West, anger is associated with the East, like is associated with the North, dislike is associated with the South, sorrow is located at the bottom, and pleasure is located on top? Appreciation is associated with the West because this is the direction where all living things become fully developed. Anger, in contrast, is associated with the East because this is the direction where all living things burst onto the plane of creation. Like is associated with the North because this is the direction where the warming and bright forces of yang qi emerge. Dislike is associated with the South because this is the direction from where the cold and dark influences of yin qi arise. Pleasure, naturally, is situated at the top, and sorrow at the bottom.
What, now, are the Hun and the Po spirits? The word for Hun (魂) contains the quality of drifting like clouds (伝), referring to those aspects of our soul that can float away and operate outside the limitations of the physical body; this aspect is subject to the movements of the emotions. The word for Po (魄), in contrast, alludes to the part of our soul that remains “instinctively and closely attached” (迫) to our humanity; it is subject to the permanent presence of the higher virtues. The character Hun (魂), moreover, references the rue plant (芸, an aromatic herb known for its cleansing and insect repellant properties), thereby pointing out the ability of the Hun spirits to purify and discharge emotions. The character Po (魄), on the other hand, contains the word perfection (白), underscoring the fact that our innermost being is defined by the power of virtue.
And what, finally, is meant by the terms jing and shen? Jing (essence 精) means “that which is dense and still” (jing 靜), a manifest transformation of taiyin; it represents a condensation of the Fire of life, and is in charge of birth and fertility. Shen (spirit 神), on the other hand, is amorphous and invisible; it represents the etherial aspects of taiyin, and is inherent in everything—pine trees, clouds, and the outer reaches of the body; it is the deep source behind all surface phenomena.
© 2015 Heiner Fruehauf