In discussing the nature of the psyche in Chinese medicine, the author proposes the translation of shen as ‘mind’ and the complex of the five mental-spiritual aspects as ‘spirit.’ The nature and function of each aspect is discussed in detail, as is their inter-relationship and interaction.
Keywords Spirit, mind, ethereal and corporeal souls, intellect, willpower, memory.
The treatment of mental-emotional problems with Chinese medicine must imply a knowledge of the structure of the psyche in Chinese medicine. It is only by understanding the concept of mind and spirit in Chinese culture that we can truly grasp how to treat psychological and emotional problems with acupuncture and Chinese herbs. All too often Chinese concepts of ‘mind’ and spirit’ are mistakenly interpreted in terms of Western (and often Christian) concepts of ‘mind’ and ‘spirit.'
The mind, shen, is one of the vital substances of the body. It is the most subtle and non-material type of qi. The word shen, is often translated as ‘spirit’ in Western acupuncture books and schools; for reasons which will be clearer as the discussion progresses, I believe ‘mind’ is a more accurate translation, while what we would call ‘spirit’ in the West is the complex of all five mental-spiritual aspects of a human being, ie. ethereal soul, hun, corporeal soul, po, intellect, yi, willpower, zhi, and the mind, shen, itself.
What is then the Chinese view of the mind? The mind, like other vital substances, is a form of qi; in fact, the most subtle and non-material type of qi. One of the most important characteristics of Chinese medicine is the close integration of body and mind which is highlighted by the integration of essence, jing, qi and mind, called 'the three treasures.’
The essence is the origin and biological basis of the mind. The Spiritual Axis in chapter 8 says: “Life comes about through the essence; when the two essences (of mother and father) unite, they form the mind." Zhang Jiebin says: “The two essences, one yin, one yang, unite…to form life; the essences of mother and father unite to form the mind..
Therefore the mind of a newly-conceived being comes from the prenatal essences of its mother and father. After birth, its prenatal essence is stored in the kidneys and it provides the biological foundation for the mind. The life and mind of a newly-born baby, however, also depend on the nourishment from its own postnatal essence. The Spiritual Axis in chapter 30 says: “When the stomach and intestines are coordinated the 5 yin organs are peaceful, blood is harmonized and mental activity is stable. The mind derives from the refined essence of water and food.” Thus the mind draws its basis and nourishment from the prenatal essence stored in the kidneys and the postnatal essence produced by lungs, stomach and spleen. Hence the three treasures: mind: heart; qi: lungs, stomach, spleen; essence: kidneys.
These three treasures represent three different states of condensation of qi, the essence being the densest, qi the more rarefied, and the mind the most subtle and non-material. The activity of the mind relies on the essence and qi as its fundamental basis. Hence the essence is said to be the “foundation of the body and the root of the mind." Thus if essence and qi are strong and flourishing the mind will be happy, balanced and alert. If essence and qi are depleted, the mind will suffer and may become unhappy, depressed, anxious, or clouded. Zhang Jiebin says: “If the essence is strong, qi flourishes; if qi flourishes, the mind is whole.”
However, the state of the mind also affects qi and essence. If the mind is disturbed by emotional stress, becoming unhappy, depressed, anxious, or unstable, it will definitely affect qi and/or the essence. In most cases it will affect qi first, since all emotional stress upsets the normal functioning of qi. Emotional stress will tend to weaken the essence either when it is combined with overwork and/or excessive sexual activity, or when the fire generated by long-term emotional tensions injures yin and essence.
Of all the organs, the mind is most closely related to the heart, which is said to be the ‘residence’ of the mind. The Simple Questions in chapter 8 says: “The heart is the monarch and it governs the mind….” The Spiritual Axis in chapter 71 says: "The heart is the monarch of the 5 yin organs and 6 yang organs and it is the residence of the mind."
The mind, shen, residing in the heart or heart-mind is responsible for many different mental activities including: • Thinking • Memory • Consciousness • Insight • Cognition • Sleep • Intelligence • Wisdom • Ideas.
In addition to these, the heart-mind is also responsible for hearing, sight, touch, taste and smell. Of course many of the above activities are also carried out by other organs and there often is an overlap between the functions of various organs. For example, although the heart-mind is mainly responsible for memory, the spleen and kidneys also play a role.
Let us briefly look at the above functions in more detail.
THINKING depends on the mind. If the mind is strong, thinking will be clear. If the mind is weak or disturbed, thinking will be slow and dull. The Chinese characters for ‘thought,’ yi, ‘to think’, xiang, and ‘pensiveness’, si, all have the character for ‘heart’ as their radical.
MEMORY has two different meanings. On the one hand it indicates the capacity of memorizing data when one is studying or working. On the other hand, it refers to the ability to remember past events. Both of these depend on the mind and therefore the heart, although also on the spleen and kidneys.
CONSCIOUSNESS indicates the totality of thoughts and perceptions as well as the state of being conscious. In the first sense, the mind is responsible for the recognition of thoughts, perceptions and feelings. In the latter sense, when the mind is clear, we are conscious;’ if the mind is obfuscated or suddenly depleted, we lose consciousness.
INSIGHT indicates our capacity of self-knowledge and self-recognition. We are subjected to many different emotional stimuli, perceptions, feelings and sensations and all of these are perceived and recognised by the mind. With regard to emotions, in particular, only the mind (and therefore the heart) can ‘feel’ them. Of course emotions definitely affect all the other organs too, but it is only the mind that actually recognizes and feels them. For example, anger affects the liver, but the liver cannot feel it because it does not house the mind. Only the heart can feel it because it stores the mind, which is responsible for insight. It is for this reason that all emotions eventually affect the heart (in addition to other specific organs), and it is in this sense that the heart is the ‘emperor’ of all the other organs.
COGNITION indicates the activity of the mind in perceiving and conceiving in reaction to stimuli.
SLEEP is dependent on the state of the mind. If the mind is calm and balanced, a person sleeps well. If the mind is restless, the person sleeps badly.
INTELLIGENCE also depends on the heart and the mind. A strong heart and mind will make a person intelligent and bright. A weak heart and mind will render a person slow and dull. It should be remembered, however, that the essence, and therefore heredity, plays a role in determining a person’s intelligence.
WISDOM derives from a strong heart and a healthy mind. As the mind is responsible for knowing and perceiving, it also gives us the sagacity to apply this knowledge critically and wisely.
IDEAS are another function of the mind. The heart and mind are responsible for our ideas, oru projects and the dreams, which give our lives purpose.
Thus if the heart is strong and the mind healthy, a person can think clearly, memory is good, the state of consciousness and insight are sharp, the cognition is clear, sleep is sound, intelligence is bright, ideas flow easily and he or she acts wisely. If the heart is affected and the mind weak or disturbed, a person is unable to think clearly, memory is poor, the consciousness is clouded, insight is poor, sleep is restless, intelligence is lacking, ideas are muddled and he or she acts unwisely.
As we have just seen, the mind, and therefore the heart, plays a pivotal and leading role in all mental activities. Yu Chang in Principles of Medical Practice (1658) says: “The mind of the heart gathers and unites the ethereal soul and the corporeal soul and it combines the intellect and the willpower.” However, all other organs also play roles in mental activities, very often overlapping with that of the heart. In particular, the yin organs are more directly responsible for mental activities. Each yin organ ‘houses’ a particular mental-spiritual aspect of a human being. These are:
• Mind, shen – heart • Ethereal soul, hun – liver • Corporeal soul, po – lungs • Intellect, yi – spleen • Willpower zhi – kidneys
The Simple Questions in chapter 23 says: “The heart houses the mind, the lungs house the corporeal soul, the liver houses the ethereal soul, the spleen houses the intellect and the kidneys house the willpower.” In chapter 9 it says: “The heart is the root of life and the origin of the mind…the lungs are the root of qi and the dwelling of the corporeal soul…the kidneys are the root of sealed storage (essence) and the dwelling of willpower…the liver is the root of harmonization and the residence of the ethereal soul." The commentary to chapter 23 of the Simple Questions, also based on passages from the Spiritual Axis, says: “The mind is a transformation of essence and qi: both essences (ie. the prenatal and postnatal essences) contribute to forming the mind. The corporeal soul is the assistant of the essence and qi: it is close to essence but it moves in and out. The ethereal soul complements the mind and qi: it is close to the mind but it comes and goes. The intellect corresponds to memory: it is the memory which depends on the heart. The willpower is like a purposeful and focused mind: the kidneys store essence ... and through the willpower they can fulfil our destiny."
These five aspects together form the ‘spirit’ which is also called ‘shen’ or sometimes the ‘five shen' in the old classics. The five yin organs are the residences of shen i.e. the spirit, and they are sometimes also called the ‘five shen residences’ as in chapter 9 of the Simple Questions.
The 5 yin organs are the physiological basis of the spirit. The indissoluble relationship between them is well known to any acupuncturist. The state of qi and blood of each organ can influence the mind or spirit and, conversely, alterations of the mind or spirit will affect one or more of the internal organs.
We can now discuss the five mental-spiritual aspects one by one.
The Ethereal Soul, Hun The ethereal soul broadly corresponds to our Western concept of ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’. According to ancient Chinese beliefs it enters the body shortly after birth. Ethereal in nature, after death it survives the body and flows back to ‘heaven’, tian; this is the ancient Chinese concept of ‘heaven’ i.e. a state of subtle and non-material energies and beings, and has therefore nothing to do with the Western and Christian concept of ‘heaven’. The ethereal soul can be described as “that part of the soul (as opposed to corporeal soul) which at death leaves the body, carrying with it an appearance of physical form.”
The Chinese character for ethereal soul is composed of two parts: clouds on the left and spirits or ghost on the right. The ancient form of this last radical is itself composed of two parts; the top is a head without body, the bottom a swirling movement. This ancient radical therefore depicts the bodiless head of a dead person flowing to heaven in a swirling movement or swimming in the realm of spirits and ghosts. The combination of the two characters for ‘cloud’ and ‘spirit’ in the character for ethereal soul conveys the idea of its nature: it is like a spirit but it is yang and ethereal in and essentially harmless, ie. it is not one of the evil spirits (hence the presence of the ‘cloud' radical).
Zhang Jiebin in the Classic of Categories says: “The mind and ethereal soul are yang…the ethereal soul follows the mind; if the mind is unconscious the ethereal soul is swept away.” It also says: “The mind corresponds to yang within yang, the ethereal soul corresponds to yin within yang.” The Spiritual Axis in chapter 8 says: “The ethereal soul is the coming and going of the mind.”
What is the ethereal soul then and what does it do? It is basically another level of consciousness, different from the mind but closely related to it. The ethereal soul is rooted in the liver and in particular liver yin (which includes liver blood). If liver yin is depleted, the ethereal soul is deprived of its residence and becomes rootless. This can result in insomnia, timidity, fear and a lack of a sense of direction in life. The ethereal soul, deprived of its residence, wanders without aim.
The nature and functions of the ethereal soul can be summarized under seven headings.
1) Sleep and dreaming The ethereal soul influences sleep and dreaming, including daydreaming. Zhang Jiebin says in the Classic of Categories: “Absent-mindedness as if in a trance is due to the ethereal soul wandering outside its residence.” Thus if liver blood or liver yin is deficient, the ethereal soul wanders off in a daydream and the person has no sense of purpose or direction in life. On the other hand the ethereal soul is also responsible for ‘dreaming’ in a positive sense, i.e. having a sense of purpose in life and ‘dreams’ in the sense of goals. One of the main features of depression is precisely the lack of direction, purpose and the absence of dreams and goals in one’s life.
The length and quality of sleep are also related to the state of the ethereal soul. If this is well rooted in the liver (liver blood or liver yin), sleep is normal and sound and without too many dreams. If liver yin or liver blood is deficient, the ethereal soul is deprived of its residence and wanders off at night, causing a restless sleep with many tiring dreams. Tang Zonghai says: “At night during sleep the ethereal soul returns to the liver; if the ethereal soul is not peaceful there are a lot a dreams."
Of course, the length and quality of sleep also depend on the state of heart blood and there is an overlap between the influence of heart blood and liver blood on sleep.
2) Mental Activities The ethereal soul assists the mind in its mental activities. The Five Channel Righteousness, a text from the Tang dynasty, says: “Knowledge is dependent on the sharpness of the ethereal soul." The ethereal soul provides the mind, which is responsible for rational thinking, with intuition and inspiration. It also gives the mind ‘movement’ in the sense that it allows the mind the capacity of self-insight and introspection as well as the ability to project outwards and relate to other people. This capacity for movement and outward projection is closely related to the liver qi quality of quick and free movement.
It will be remembered that the words ‘movement’, ‘coming and going’, ‘swimming’ are often used in connection with the ethereal soul. For example, as mentioned above, the ethereal soul is the “coming and going of the mind,” or “when the ethereal soul swims to the eyes, they can see.” It is interesting to compare this quality of the ethereal soul, on an ethereal level, with the swirling movement of a spirit depicted in its old character and, on a physical level, with the smooth flow of liver qi.
3) Balance of emotions The ethereal soul is responsible for maintaining a normal balance between excitation and restraint of the emotional life, under the leadership of the heart and the mind. Emotions are a normal part of our mental life: we all experience anger, sadness, worry or fear on occasion in the course of our life and these do not normally lead to disease.
The ethereal soul, being responsible for the more intuitive and subconscious part of the mind, plays a role in keeping an emotional balance and, most of all, prevents the emotions from becoming excessive and therefore turning into causes of disease. This regulatory function of the ethereal soul is closely related to the balance between liver blood (the yin part of the liver) and liver qi (the yang part of the liver). Liver blood and liver qi need to be harmonised and liver blood must root liver qi to prevent it from becoming stagnant or rebelling upwards. On a mental-emotional level, liver blood needs to root the ethereal soul thus allowing a balanced and happy emotional life. This is one of the meanings, on a mental level, of the liver being a ‘regulating and harmonizing’ organ. Chapter 9 of the Simple Questions says: “The liver has a regulating function (lit. is the root of stopping extremes), it houses the ethereal soul….” If liver blood is deficient there will be fear and anxiety; if liver yang is in excess there will be anger. The Spiritual Axis in chapter 8 says: “If the liver is deficient there will be fear; if it is in excess there will be anger.”
4) Eyes and sight The ethereal soul is in relation with the eyes and sight. Tang Zonghai says: “When the ethereal soul wanders to the eyes, they can see.” This connection with the eyes can be easily related to the rooting of the ethereal soul in liver blood. On a mental level, the ethereal soul gives us ‘vision’ and insight.
5) Courage The ethereal soul is related to courage or cowardice and for this reason the liver is sometimes called the “resolute organ”. Tang Zonghai says: “When the ethereal soul is not strong, the person is timid.” The ‘strength’ of the ethereal soul in this connection derives mainly from liver blood. If liver blood is abundant, the person is fearless and is able to face up to life’s difficulties with an indomitable spirit. Just as in disease liver yang easily flares upwards causing anger, in health the same type of mental energy deriving from liver blood can give a person great creative drive and resoluteness. If liver blood is deficient and the ethereal soul is dithering, the person lacks courage and resolve, cannot face up to difficulties or making decisions, and is easily discouraged. A vague feeling of fear at night before falling asleep is also due to a lack of rooting of the ethereal soul.
6) Planning The ethereal soul influences our capacity for planning our life and giving it a sense of direction. A lack of direction in life and a sense of spiritual confusion may be compared to the wandering of the ethereal soul alone in space and time.
If the liver is flourishing the ethereal soul is firmly rooted and can help us to plan our life with vision, wisdom and creativity. If liver blood (or liver yin) is deficient, the ethereal soul is not rooted and we lack a sense of direction and vision in life. If liver yin is very depleted, at times the ethereal soul may even leave the body temporarily at night during or just before sleep. Those who suffer from severe deficiency of yin may experience a floating sensation in the few moments just before falling asleep: this is said to be due to the ‘floating' of the ethereal soul not rooted in yin.
7) Relationship with the mind It is important to consider the relationship between the mind and the ethereal soul. They are closely connected and both partake in all the mental activities of a human being. We have already seen that the ethereal soul is described as the “coming and going” of the mind. This means that, through the ethereal soul, the mind can project outwards to the external world and to other people and can also turn inwards to receive the intuition, inspiration, dreams and images deriving from the unconscious. Thus if liver blood is abundant and the ethereal soul firm, there will be a healthy flow from it to the mind providing it with inspiration. If, however, the ethereal soul is not rooted in the liver, it may lack movement and inspiration and the person may be depressed, without aim or dreams.
The mind is also said to 'gather' the ethereal soul. Thus, on the one hand, the ethereal soul brings movement to the mind, and on the other hand, the mind provides some stillness and holds the ethereal soul together. If the mind is strong and the ethereal soul properly 'gathered,' there will be harmony between the two and the person has calm vision, insight and wisdom. If the mind is weak and fails to restrain the ethereal soul, this may be too restless and only bring confusion and chaos to the mind, making the person scattered and unsettled. This can be observed in some people who are always full of ideas, dreams and projects none of which ever comes to fruition because of the chaotic state of the mind which is therefore unable to restrain the ethereal soul.
While the mind and ethereal soul are closely connected, there are some differences between the two. The main difference is that the ethereal soul pertains to the world of image, ie. non-material existence, to which it returns after death, whilst the mind is the individual mind of a human being which dies with person. The role of the ethereal soul can be observed in the phenomena of guided day-dreams, coma and sleep-walking.
Guided day-dreams are a technique used in psychotherapy whereby the therapist sets a certain scene for the client who is asked to imagine himself or herself in that scene and to proceed as if in a dream. The aim of this exercise is to by-pass the critical analysis of the mind and bring forth psychological material from the ethereal soul as happens in dreams.
In coma, the mind is completely devoid of residence and it therefore cannot function at all, and yet the person is not dead. This means that there are other mental aspects at play, and these are the ethereal soul and the corporeal soul. Thus, for death to occur, not only must the mind die, but the ethereal soul must leave the body and the corporeal soul return to earth.
Sleep-walking, during which the mind is inactive but the ethereal soul is active, is due to the ethereal soul wandering at night as happens in dreams. In fact, the point Bl 47 hun men, Door of the Ethereal Soul, was used for sleep-walking.
Finally, drawing from Buddhist and Jungian ideas, the mind could be said to be the individual mind, and the ethereal soul the link between the individual and universal mind.
The universal mind is the repository of images, archetypes, symbols and ideas belonging to the collective unconscious. These often manifest to our mind as myths, symbols and dreams. They come into our consciousness (individual mind) via the ethereal soul since this belongs to the world of image and ideas. Thus the ethereal soul is the vehicle through which images, ideas and symbols from the universal mind (or collective unconscious) emerge into our individual mind (conscious). This shows the vital importance of the ethereal soul for our mental and spiritual life. Without the ethereal soul, our mental and spiritual life would be quite sterile and deprived of images, ideas and dreams. If the liver is strong and the ethereal soul firm and flowing harmoniously, ideas and images from the universal mind will flow freely and the mental and spiritual state will be happy, creative and fruitful. If the ethereal soul is unsettled, the individual mind will be cut off from the universal mind and will be unhappy, confused, isolated, aimless, sterile and without dreams. On the other hand, if the mind is disabled, contents breaking through from the ethereal soul cannot be integrated by it. It is important for the mind to assume an integrating position towards the ethereal soul so that images, symbols and dreams coming from it can be assimilated. If not, the mind may be flooded by the contents of the ethereal soul with risk of obstruction of the mind and, in serious cases, psychosis.
According to Jung the unconscious is compensatory to consciousness. He said: “The psyche is a self-regulating system that maintains itself in equilibrium. Every process that goes too far immediately and inevitably calls forth a compensatory activity." This compensatory relationship between the unconscious and consciousness resembles the balancing relationship between the ethereal soul and the mind,
The Corporeal Soul, Po The corporeal soul resides in the lungs and is the physical counterpart of the ethereal soul. Its Chinese character is based on the same radical gui, which means spirit or ghost and the character for ‘white’ (on the left).
The corporeal soul can be defined as "that part of the soul (as opposed to the ethereal soul) which is indissolubly attached to the body and goes down to earth with it as death.” It is closely linked to the body and could be described as the somatic expression of the soul, or, conversely, the organizational principle of the body. Zhang Jiebin says: “In the beginning of an individual’s life the body is formed; the spirit of the body is the corporeal soul. When the corporeal soul is in the interior there is (enough) yang qi.”
1) Corporeal Soul and Essence The corporeal soul is closely linked to the essence and is described in the Spiritual Axis chapter 8 as the “exiting and entering of essence.” It derives from the mother and arises soon after the prenatal essence of a newly-conceived being is formed. It could be described as the manifestation of the essence in the sphere of sensations and feelings. Just as the ethereal soul provides movement to the mind (“coming and going of the mind”), the corporeal soul provides movement to the essence, i.e. it brings the essence into play in all physiological processes of the body. Without the corporeal soul the essence would be an inert, albeit precious, vital substance. The corporeal soul is the closest to the essence and is the intermediary between it and the other vital substances of the body. In fact Zhang Jiebin in the Classic of Categories says: “If the essence is exhausted the corporeal soul declines, qi is scattered and the ethereal soul swims without a residence.”
2) Infancy The corporeal soul, being the closest to the essence, is responsible for the first physiological processes after birth. Zhang Jiebin says: “In the beginning of life ears, eyes and heart perceive, hands and feet move and breathing starts: all this is due to the sharpness of the corporeal soul.”
3) Senses Later in life, the corporeal soul gives us the capacity of sensation, feeling, hearing and sight. When the corporeal soul is flourishing ears and eyes are keen and can register. The decline of hearing and sight in old people is due to a weakening of the corporeal soul.
Zhang Jiebin says: “The corporeal soul can move and do things and (when it is active) pain and itching can be felt.” This shows that the corporeal soul is responsible for sensations and itching and is therefore closely related to the skin through which such sensations are experienced. This explains the somatic expression on the skin of emotional tensions, which affect the corporeal soul via the mind and the connection between corporeal soul, lungs and skin. In fact, the corporeal soul, being closely related to the body, is the first to be affected when needles are inserted: the almost immediate feeling of relaxation following the insertion of needles is due to the unwinding of the corporeal soul. Through it, the mind, ethereal soul, intellect and willpower are all affected.
4) Emotions The corporeal soul is also related to weeping and crying. Just as the corporeal soul makes us feel pain on a physical level, it also makes us cry and weep when subject to grief and sadness.
5) Physiological activities Some modern doctors consider the corporeal soul the “basic regulatory activity of all physiological functions of the body.” In this sense it is the manifestation of the lung function of regulating all physiological activities.
6) Breathing Residing in the lungs, the corporeal soul is closely linked to breathing. Breathing can be seen as the pulsating of the corporeal soul. Meditation makes use of the link between breathing and the corporeal soul. By concentrating on the breathing, someone who is meditating quietens the corporeal soul, the mind becomes still and empty, and through this the ethereal soul becomes open and gets in touch with the universal mind.
7) Corporeal Soul and individual life The corporeal soul is related to our life as individuals, which the ethereal soul is responsible for our relations with other people. Just as the lung’s defensive qi protects the body from external pathogenic factors on a physical level, on a mental level the corporeal soul protects the individual from external psychic influences. Some people are very easily affected by negative influences: this is due to a weakness of the corporeal soul.
8) Relationship between Corporeal and Ethereal Souls Since the ethereal soul and corporeal soul are two aspects of the soul, it is interesting to compare and contrast their various characteristics and functions (Table 1). Most of these are derived from Zhang Jiebin’s Classic of Categories. The ethereal soul is involved in problems occurring at night (although not exclusively), and the corporeal soul in problems occurring in daytime. The Discussion of Blood Diseases (1884) by Tang Zonghai says: “Restlessness at night with excessive dreaming is due to an unsettled ethereal soul; this is yang and if at night it has no resting place the person is restless and dreams a lot. Restlessness in the daytime and a clouded mind are due to an unsettled corporeal soul; this is yin and if yin is deficient in daytime restlessness and mental confusion result.”
9) Anus Because of the relationship between corporeal soul and lungs and between these and the large intestine, the anus is sometimes called po men, the "door of the corporeal soul” as in chapter 11 of the Simple Questions: “The door of the corporeal soul (i.e. anus) is the messenger for the five viscera and it drains off water and food without storing them for too long.” In fact, the point Bl 42 po hu, Window of the Corporeal Soul, was indicated for incontinence of both urine and faeces from fright.
The Intellect, Yi The intellect resides in the spleen and is responsible for applied thinking, studying, memorizing, focusing, concentrating and generating ideas. The postnatal qi and blood are the physiological basis for the intellect. Thus if the spleen is strong, thinking will be clear, memory good and the capacity for concentrating, studying and generating ideas will also be good. If the spleen is weak, the intellect will be dull and thinking will be slow, memory poor and the capacity for studying, concentrating and focusing will al be weak.
In the sphere of thinking, remembering and memorizing there is considerable overlap between the intellect (spleen), the mind (heart) and the willpower (kidneys). The main differentiating factor is that the spleen is specifically responsible for memorizing data in the course of one’s work or study. For example, it is not uncommon for someone to have a brilliant memory in his or her field of study or research, and yet be quite forgetful in daily life. The heart and kidneys also naturally contribute to this function, but they are also responsible for the memory of past events, whither recent or long-past. In particular, the overlap between the intellect and the mind in thinking activity is very close, so much so that the Spiritual Axis says in chapter 8: “The heart function of recollecting is called intellect.” In turn, the memorizing function of the intellect is so closely related to the willpower that the same chapter continues: “The storing (of data) of the intellect is called willpower (zhi).”
It should be noted here that I translate the mental aspect of the kidneys' zhi as willpower although it also has the meanding of 'memory' or 'mind.'
The Willpower, Zhi The word zhi has at least three meanings: 1) It indicates ‘memory’ 2) It means willpower 3) It is sometimes used to indicate the ‘five zhi’, i.e. the five mental aspects mind, ethereal soul, corporeal soul, intellect and willpower itself.
So as to avoid confusion between ‘mind’ (of the heart), ‘intellect’ (of the spleen) and ‘memory’ (of the kidneys), I translate zhi as willpower, bearing in mind that it also includes the meaning of ‘memory’ and capacity of memorizing and recollecting.
In this sense, the kidneys influence our capacity for memorizing and storing data. Some of the ancient doctors even said the intellect (of the spleen) and the memory (of the kidneys), are almost the same thing, except that the intellect is responsible for memorizing and the memory of the kidneys is responsible for the storing of data over the long term. Tang Zonghai says: “Memory (zhi) indicates intellect with a capacity for storing (data).”
In the second sense, the kidneys house willpower, which indicates drive, determination, single-mindedness in the pursuit of goals and motivation. Zhang Jiebin says in the Classic of Categories: “When one thinks of something, decides on it and then acts on it, this is called willpower (zhi)."
This if the kidneys are strong, the willpower is strong and the person will have drive and determination in the pursuit of goals. If the kidneys are depleted and the willpower weakened, the person will lack drive and initiative, will be easily discouraged and swayed from his or her aims. A deficiency of the kidneys and willpower is an important aspect of chronic depression.
The willpower must be coordinated with the mind, just as, on a physiological level, the kidneys and heart must communicate. The willpower is the basis for the mind and the mind directs the willpower. If the mind is clear in its aims and plans, and the willpower is strong, then the person will have the drive to pursue goals. Thus it is necessary for both willpower and mind to be strong. The mind may be clear in its objectives, but if the willpower is weak, the person will have no drive to realize such objectives. Conversely, the willpower may be strong, but if the mind is confused, the force of willpower will only become destructive.
(Full references for this article are printed in the hard copy of The European Journal of Oriental Medicine Vol. 1 No. 1; Spring 1993.)
Giovanni Maciocia Giovanni Maciocia ClinAc (Nanjing), acupuncturist and medical herbalist, has been a pioneering influence in the development of acupuncture in the West and is well-known for his textbooks on traditional Chinese medicine, He has been a contributing editor of the Journal of Chinese Medicine since 1979, and is a frequent lecturer in the field of Oriental medicne at schools and before professional associations in Europe, the United States and Australia.