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  • The Practice of Body, Qi, and Spiritin the Huainan honglie and in Holo-Cosmic Qigong
  • Abraham S. Y. Poon (bio)

The Huainan honglie 淮南鴻烈 (Illustrious Compendium of Huainan), commonly called Huainanzi 淮南子 (Book of the Master of Huainan; trl. Major et al. 2010), goes back to the Prince of Huainan, Liu An 劉安 (79-122 BCE) and his think-tank. A comprehensive volume in twenty-one chapters, it aims at "establishing morality and identifying the relationship of human affairs," and presents materials that show "the universal law being investigated, human affairs being connected, the way of the emperor being prepared" (ch. 21). Its goal is to outline the principles of Dao in conjunction with morality, society, and cosmic harmony.

In its first chapter, it speaks about physical cultivation. "The body is the living place of life. Qi is the original motive energy of life. Spirit is the controlling agent of the function of life. The malfunction of any one is detrimental to all three." That is to say, the living place of life is the physical body, manifest potently in vital essence (jing 精), while its original motive power is vital energy or qi 氣, which can ignite power in any part of the body. Beyond these two, spirit (shen 神) is the controlling function of life, which commands the flow of qi and enables the all the various body activities. Body, qi and spirit are different, but depend on one another and in real life work together closely, forming a unified system in a holistic manner so that, if one is out of alignment or malfunctions, all three are compromised. [End Page 184]

Body, qi, and spirit are inseparable and cannot be worked individually, which is an important insight in qigong theory today. Spirit manages the bodily instincts, and the various expressions of the physical form and personal body follow. On the other hand, if bodily instincts supersede the spirit and are determined entirely by sensory desires, the spirit will be depleted and no longer able to manage the body properly.

In nurturing life, the highest form is to enhance spirit, while the secondary way is to purify the physical form. In self-cultivation, the highest form is to harmonize body and mind by accommodating seasonal, monthly, and daily changes of nature, while the secondary way is to train the body with specific techniques. When the spirit is crystal clear and the mind is steady, all parts of the body are comfortably relaxed. This then forms the foundation of nurturing the mind. This overall system is at the root of personal refinement both in the ancient Huainan honglie and in holo-cosmic qigong today.

The Traditional System

The first chapter of the Huainan honglie on "Original Dao" (Yuandao 元道) says, "The sages focus on the fundamentals internally without worrying about trivial external decorations. To maintain a high quality of spirit, they reduce the function of the mind. By taking no unnecessary action, they reach a state where nothing is not accomplished. By remaining calm and executing no unnecessary governance, they reach a point where nothing is not well governed."

What the text means when it speaks of the "foundations internally" is the power of spirit. If spirit is kept silent without sound and calm without agitation, the physical form flows along smoothly and naturally. As it does so, it takes no unnecessary action and does not deplete spirit, leading to a state where everything is just right. This is the first principle of internal cultivation. Silence and serenity empower the body, qi, and spirit, while nervousness and agitation deplete them—the ultimate cause of aging and decline. Remaining free from excessive labor in the body and agitation in the mind is the best condition for nurturing the spirit.

Similarly, the medical classic, Huangdi neijing 黃帝內經 (Inner Classic of the Yellow Emperor) has, "If the relative dynamic equilibrium of yin and yang is achieved, the violation of vital essence and qi, that is the [End Page 185] fundamental cause of sickness, will be resolved. If the equilibrium is destroyed, the inter-dependence of essence and qi will be broken so as to endanger life." The Jin'gui yaolu 金櫃要錄 (Essential Record [Contained] in a Chest of Gold) says...


Additional Information

pp. 184-198
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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