The Three Jewels of Taoism: Shen
Heaven abides so that we have virtue. Earth abides so that we have Qi. When virtue flows and Qi is blended there is life. — Huangdi Neijing
The third of The Three Jewels of Taoism (Three Treasures) is known as Shen. Shen often is translated as “Spirit” or “Mind” in the sense of consciousness, mental acuity, emotional health, and presence or charisma. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Shen is Consciousness manifested through our various mental, spiritual, and creative domains. Shen Consciousness is regarded as a central component of our health and well being, thus cultivation of the spirit is considered essential for safeguarding our wellness.
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If we think of Jing as your computer hardware and Qi as the power, then Shen is the data and graphics that are transmitted to the screen. In the Enlightened person, this data will manifest itself as Wisdom and Spiritual Presence.
Using the analogy of a candle, if Jing is the wax, and Chi (Qi) the energy of the candle, then Shen would be the light or radiance given off. In Taoism, it is thought that it is through Shen that we “radiate” ourselves into the external world. This spiritual effulgence creates wisdom, virtue, and inner peace, while generating and preserving balance within ourselves. Just as the light that radiates from a candle is dependent upon wax, wick, and flame, so a healthy, luminous Shen is identified with the cultivation and balancing of both Jing and Qi.
In The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, Huangdi states “…that which cannot be fathomed (in terms of) Yin and Yang is spirit.” This can be construed to suggest that Shen is immaterial and that its nature is therefore transcendent.
Talking about Spirit can be tricky given its non-material and ambiguous character. Is spirit composed of emotions, mind, or something else? Most religions do not define Spirit very well. Taoism attempts a definition, although varying schools of Taoist philosophy have somewhat different views of this. The Five Element school of thought claims that Shen includes:
– Shen – Mind, defined as consciousness and thought, and is said to reside in the Heart.
– Hun – Eternal Soul, akin to some western concepts of spirit, residing in the Liver.
– Po – Corporeal soul, Soul of the body, sometimes said to be akin to the vital force or “animal spirit”, centered in the Lungs.
– Yi – Intellect, memory and intellectual functions, resident in the Spleen.
– Zhi – Will, as in Intention and willpower, dwelling in the Kidneys.
The associated five elements are Wood (Hun), Fire (Shen), Earth (Yi), Metal (Po), and Water (Zhi).
In terms of the ancient Taoist view of embryology, Hun and Po join with Jing (seminal essence), their union catalyzing the emergence of Shen (spirit). Also, notice that these five aspects are associated with somatic structures: the organs of the body. Taoism makes no distinction between mind and body; they are always regarded as two contiguous expressions of one essence. Thus, the metaphysical affects the substantial and the substantial affects the metaphysical.
Shen may be adversely affected if we fail to preserve our vitality through good diet and exercise or if we indulge in excessively violent emotion. When Shen is in disharmony it often manifests itself as:
– Discord between one’s personality and the life one is living.
– Insomnia, forgetfulness, heart palpitations, dullness of the eyes, poor cognition.
– Dearth of inspiration, intuitive awareness; deadness; no joie de vivre.
– Ambivalence, contradiction, the person has no “center”.
– Chaotic activity, anxiety, restlessness, fatigue.
– Little or no sense of your path in life.
– Little internal inquiry, self-reflection, discernment.
– In extreme conditions, neurosis, mental illness, e.g. depression and mania.
Shen can be strengthened and balanced through meditation, acupuncture, and certain herbal courses of treatment. Somatic disciplines such as T’ai Chi and Qigong are particularly effective. Qigong, of course, has become world renown for its health and medical applications, and justly so. It has had much documented success as a therapeutic modality within the secular health care system in China.
Shen is quite naturally empowered as one’s Jing and Chi are reinvigorated through the daily practice of Qigong. However, it does seem to me that in our technological culture, there is much to distract or confuse the mind, emotions, and spirit, and the quantity and pace of these distractions are increasing. There are so many aspects of our modern life that are in direct competition with, and deleterious to, the development of Spirit and Inner Peace.
In addition to the spiritually negative influences of our techno-culture, there is also reluctance on the part of certain groups, e.g. the Chinese government, to acknowledge the part Qigong has to play in the evolution of spirit. So, some Qigong organizations may be persecuted if they have an overt spiritual and political agenda. Combine Eastern authoritarianism with Western materialism and fixation on the external, and one can begin to see that the spiritual aspect of Taoist discipline currently receives short shrift in comparison to the health and medical aspects.
One needs a strong spirit in a strong and emotionally balanced body to persevere on the path of conscious evolution. That is why I have developed this particularly efficient and potent style of Tantric Qigong. The conscientious practitioner receives well-balanced spiritual sustenance as he or she nurtures and rebuilds Jing and Qi.
Presencing: The Art of Being Present