An excerpt from Essence Spirit Blood and Qi, published by Monkey Press in 1999. The book is an edited transcript of a seminar by Claude Larre and Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallée. This excerpt covers Jing Essence, and examines the character of Jing as well as the different aspects of Jing essence.
Elisabeth Rochat: The character jing is made with two parts. On the left is the image of a grain of cereal or rice which is bursting or exploding. This represents the decomposition of the grain, possibly bursting within the earth for germination or inside the stomach for assimilation. The right hand part of the character is the colour of life. This may be green, or any colour giving the impression that life is circulating well. If you look at vegetation during the spring when the sap is rising, you have this impression, not only of green but of a vivid green. If you look at a man in perfect health with a good complexion, you are able to see not only the colour of the face, but also behind that very harmonious composition there is the impression of a strong and good vitality. This is also jing. It is important to know that colours are not lifeless, but also to be aware of what is behind the composition making up the colour. The impression given by the appearance to a practised eye is very important for diagnosis.
Claude Larre: You see photographs, and they are either on matt or glossy paper. When it is glossy you see not only the colour but also the effect of the colour. But that is totally external. You know that the quality of the paper means that the effect was artificially made by the printer. Here, on the contrary, when you see the radiance of the colour, because you are a human being and you are concerned with health, you are able to see that the inner condition of health is so powerful that it shines outside. We can see that everybody has a direct feeling of good health which is so powerful that it is possible to see it on the face, especially for those trained in Chinese medicine. The important point about this explanation of jing is that the Chinese in their classical books used words which speak of joy and life and the shining of things. It is natural in Chinese civilization not to dim the effects, on the contrary, they let them be felt by other people and that is the reason why Chinese faces are always full of life. This noisy aspect of Chinese life, especially these days, is just additional testimony of their feeling of life.
This feeling of life is transferred to everything. If it is a plant it will be in this green colour which is no longer just green but the colour of life in nature where plants are concerned. In the case of an animal, you would just press your foot on to the body of a pig or any other cattle, to see how much fat was there. This is the sign that they have been nourished with care. For man, all the places on the body where the flesh is round are the places where the blood has been active and is able to shine through the skin. That can be seen in all the range of the Chinese perception of health in facial diagnosis. They would also insist on the blue-black quality of the hair for men and women as another aspect of jing.
Elisabeth Rochat: So etymologically speaking, essences are these materials which are able to rebuild life, for instance food and grains, in order to give real animation and sustaining support for animation, and to restore all the aspects of life which can then be seen on the exterior of the body. But more specifically, what are essences, and what is the meaning of this character jing in the Chinese texts?
The Subtlety of Essences We have seen elsewhere that jing, even in the couple jingshen, can also be translated as light and subtle. This is because if it is an element of my life, that I am able to take from another source, then it must be reduced to a very subtle state in order to be able to pass from one pattern of life to another. There is a name for that in Chinese medicine, jingwei (). The meaning of wei is subtle, microscopic, very tiny, very fine. In modern Chinese this character is often used like our ‘micro’. Jingwei is therefore the intermediate state between the essences composing food, for instance, and those essences which are then attracted into my body by my five zang in order to impregnate them. There must be these very subtle stages, for example in transformation in the breaking down of the proper structure of the food. It is no longer food, it is the vitality of the rice, or all the essences which formerly made up the rice, but no longer with any form. It is through the stomach, which has the ability to make a new form, that these free essences are now able to compose and to be seized by the power and nature of your own structure, and to make flesh, liquids, cells, hair, thoughts and even the support, basis and manifestation of the emotions.
This is quite important because through that we can have an idea of what essences are. They are elements or components of life, and life is inside these components, and the composition of these essences is the special model for a living being. They are the inseparable elements of life, and if you do separate them then there is no more life. Within these essences the power of life is different depending on the natural structure of the food itself. There is not the same exterior aspect or power of life in rice as there is in meat or fruit. This is all a consideration for how to eat in order to restore the various aspects of life.
Essence and Pattern There is also another point which is that essences seize one another, embrace and join. This is the distinctive movement of essences, but they need patterns in order to do that. Patterns with rules and norms for life are given at the moment of the conception of a being, because when the being first appears it is by the conjunction of two kinds of essences. The essences of the mother and the father mix and offer each other what is essential. But through them there is also all the lineage and all the circumstance of life, and all the exchanges between heaven and earth. This is clearly stated in the ancient texts, that I am the child of my parents, and through them I am the child of water and fire, heaven and earth.
When the two essences which constitute the life of two different people, a complementary male and female, seize one another, they make a new composition, and this new composition determines a kind of rule by heavenly effect. This is a rule of development which belongs to the human species and is always the rule for development of the human being as described in the essences of the mother and father. All kinds of details and precision are given by the unique qualities of the essences of this specific man and woman. This is the Chinese understanding. There is a mixing in the original composition of these ‘essences of anterior heaven’, and this composition must then obey the great law of organisation, like heaven and earth, yinyang and so on.
Because these essences are inseparable from the rule of organisation there is a development of the structure of life. There is development of the body, through the embryo and the foetus making the flesh and blood vessels and organs and so forth. All this is due to the organisation coming from the essences. This is the way to use what comes first from the mother and father and afterwards from the exterior world. The latter are the ‘essences of posterior heaven’, resulting from your own particular transformation of essences from the exterior.
The image of the loom and weaving was always present in the mind of the ancient Chinese. The meaning of the character for meridians, jing (), is the norm or the celestial rule of life. It is also the warp of a loom. When you have a loom, before starting to weave you have fixed vertical threads, and this is the first meaning of this character. It is exactly the same in the human being. This is something which is within us at the very beginning of life; we have a lot of threads, but also we have a pattern to follow. The treads are like essences and we always need more and more thread in order to weave the fabric. There will also be some kind of motif on the tapestry. This is a life creating its destiny by drawing its individual motif. The shining of the colours and their beauty will be an effect of the jingshen and the shenming, which are mysteriously behind the warp, and which give meaning to the weaving with the threads of each of the five colours or five tastes.
Movement and Transformation Within this image there is always movement. The essences, qi and blood are always in a process of transformation, as with any kind of expression of essences in the body. Transformation is the condition of the cooperation of the elements. If there is no transformation there is stagnation and separation within the living body. This is very obvious in the example of the pathology of body fluids. If there is a lack or a weakness in the transformation of body fluids, little by little there is a kind of condensation of the liquids which are no longer impregnating the tissues and the flesh, but which are separated not only from the flesh and the tissue but also from all the currents of animation and circulation. This leads to pain or to an accumulation of liquids, or to a tumour or to any other kind of disease according to the specific circumstances. For instance, where there is phlegm, the intention of treatment is to restore the transformative process which is able to eliminate or deal correctly with those liquids which are no longer part of your living body, and that may be the cause of disease.
There is the same process in the mind. The void of the heart is really the ability to take responsibility for all things, and to do that indefinitely. It is also the way to adapt all one’s vitality to the rhythm of the universe, to the four seasons and to the exchanges in the environment and surroundings. It is not enough to have efficient transformation, you also have to be able to adapt all that according to the circumstances. You do not have the same defensive qi during the winter as during the summer. This is true not only for the defensive qi but also for thinking and the will and so on. This is just what is said in Chapter 2 of Su wen, ‘How to Harmonize the qi according to the Four Seasons’. The four seasons are the four qi, following the inspiration of the spirit, or allowing the spirits to guide life.
Essences Tastes and Bodyform ‘The tastes (wei ) support (gui ) the body (xing ); the body supports the qi, the qi supports the essences; the essences support transformation (hua ). The essences are nourished (shi ) by qi and the body is nourished by the tastes. The transformations produce (sheng ) the essences and the qi produces the body. The tastes injure (shang ) the body and the qi injures the essences. The essences, through transformation, make the qi, and the qi is injured by the tastes.’ Su wen chapter 5.
Elisabeth Rochat: There is more in this dense text than first appears, but what is important is to see all the interplay of essences, qi, body form and tastes. All that is under the control and animation of the special activity of the qi, which is transformative, and which is always the necessary condition of a good maintenance of any member of a couple or of vitality. We always need to restore the exchanges and the transformations and processes of life needed to maintain the essences. This is the reason why the anatomy and physiopathology of Chinese medicine are rather different from occidental medicine, because everything is always in process.
Here with the essences there is a kind of earthly aspect, a density, even if it is very subtle. Essences are very dense because they are full of life and full of the desire for living. The desire is just this movement towards each other. Essences are constantly led by this movement to bind together and to perpetuate and produce life. The movement of life is nothing other than the perpetual desire to remain alive and to create life. This is the bonding of the essences and it is always present at each level, with a particular inner penetration present in the creation of a living being. Each person is a new composition of essences.
Now we can see that essences and qi are absolutely inseparable. There is no use for essences without transformation, and transformation is one of the effects of qi. There is no qi if there are no essences to give birth to and to fix and to sustain it. We can also see that there is no separation possible between the essences of anterior heaven and posterior heaven. The essences of anterior heaven are just the model for the other and for the continuation of the life of my own nature which is a condition of what is called my destiny.
So where are the spirits? They are just here, and nobody knows exactly why they are here or not. If I build something like a welcoming structure then it is just to welcome the spirits. The spirits, like birds, come to this tree or structure, or they do not. If they come a human being develops, they combine with the essences to create the jingshen. It is this which gives the very precise quality to each individual human being, it enables them to reach towards heaven and to have a way of returning to heaven. If not there is just a natural abortion. If the spirits are present, they have to remain and not only remain but remain giving the orientation of life. They give direction to all circulation and transformation. Thus the spirits are right in the very centre of the person’s vitality. The jingshen are the highest level of the expression of human destiny. All the other things, such as all the yinyang couples of defence and nutrition or blood and qi are just an expression of this first condition of life where essences are inseparable from qi and act together to build this welcoming structure for the spirits. And they have to continue to maintain the welcoming aspect of the structure. The welcoming is done by all the circulation and communication, going to and coming from the inspiration of the spirits. And we will see that the xueqi is indispensable for the spirits to be present everywhere in a mankind.
Essences and the Kidneys All that exists can only exist because there is qi; movement, animation and transformation. In the human being essences are the faithful reproduction of one’s own proper nature. This is the original gift of anterior heaven, and the essences are particularly linked to the kidneys. The kidneys represent the origin of life and the ability of life to reproduce exactly from the original model of life. They are the guarantee and the keeper of the pattern of life, in the same way that there must be a pattern for the weaving of a fabric. At the level of the kidneys, essences are most faithful to themselves and to oneself. They are used to make another life with their richness and power. These are the essences for the reproduction of life, essences of sexuality, and in a man more precisely sperm. We can see that in the form of a liquid it is nothing other than a very rich and dense possibility of making life. This understanding is also the origin of all the different kinds of exercises which use this richness to invigorate an individual life, for instance in certain Daoist practices. But there are also Daoist exercises with saliva, which is another very rich liquid.
The essences of the kidneys are also the model for the essences of the five zang. This allows the five zang to produce their own quality of qi, in order to invigorate the specific movement of life which they represent inside the body. For instance, the essences of the liver release qi which is able to give the springing up of life and to invigorate the circulation towards the exterior. The acid taste is nothing other than essences, incorporated into my body by the jingwei, with the specific quality of life and animation inside them which is able to invigorate the movement of life represented in the universe by the wood and in a human body by the liver.
Of course essences are not only the beginning of the process of releasing all the qi inside the body, they are also, through transformation and the activity of qi, an element of the rebuilding of all the form of my life. They rebuild all the shape that I have. This is done particularly through the liquids and the blood which are transported everywhere to support elements of this rebuilding of the form. The cohesion, the strength to remain together, is given not only by this ability of the essences to join one with another, but also to join with the qi and the free circulation which is able to guard and restore these forces. There is a kind of strength in the ability to do that. The strength from the free circulation allows the cohesion. This is the reason why there are always spaces and passages in the muscles and the flesh, as well as in the smallest mass that you can imagine. For example, a cell is a mass, and to remain a cell it must remain open to free circulation. If not there is no more transformation, no more incorporation, and there will be disequilibrium.
Question: Can there be a pathology of essences? Elisabeth Rochat: It depends what you call essences. If you take essences at the highest level of their character’s meaning there is just this kind of element of life ready to be seized by the movement of life itself, and there is no possible pathology. This is the reason why there is no pattern of superabundance as far as this aspect of the kidneys is concerned. There is no pathology of the brain, as the sea of marrow, in Chapter 33 of Ling shu, just a pattern of insufficiency. But a superabundance is just long life with good strength of the bones and accuracy of ears and eyes.
I think we can have pathology of essences if something is wrong in a particular form or shape which is produced inside the body. For instance if there are not enough elements given by posterior heaven, for example during childhood, then there would be an insufficiency in growth and development. You can also have weakness in the spirits as well as in the body. But it is not an insufficiency of essences as such, it is just an insufficiency in the ability to renew the essences. You can have pathology linked with essences when they are in the special form of liquids, for instance in the pathology of jin ye (), or the pathology linked to rebuilding by the essences. But it is not a pathology of essences as such.
What is the difference? It is that essences have no form and no shape. They are the condition of any shape, they are able to make any and every form or part of our body or mind. It is perhaps because they are so subtle that they have no definite form and that they are able to fully impregnate the zang. They are able to match the ability of the spirits and express all the forms taken by the body, and also by knowledge, perception and emotion, under the movement and animation given by the qi. Pathology can appear only when a shape is delineated or a form is taken. Of course, this depends on the rebuilding and the firmness and strength of the defence. The qi, which is responsible for defence, is also responsible for the condition of nutrition. It is always their breakdown which is the beginning of some kind of trouble or pathology.
Transcribed and edited from tapes of the original seminar by Caroline Root. Selected and edited from Essence Spirit Blood and Qi by Sandra Hill.