Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Tao of Love and Sex: San Bao, Or The Three Treasures


The three treasures, or son bao, form the basis of ancient Taoist energy work. Together they represent-the human being's physical, spiritual, and energy potentials.
Anyone wishing to take the Taoist spiritual path must first purify his or her physical energies and be in reasonably good health. Similarly, to reap the benefits of a healthy and vigorous sexuality, one's physical energies must be strong and pure and one's spirit must be free from the disruptive domination of the five senses and the seven emotions.

Before embarking on the practice of Taoist exercises and methods for sexual strengthening, one needs to understand the human being as an energy structure. The san bao, with its tripartite model of the three treasures, offers the perfect illustration of this structure. When a person keeps his body, breathing, and consciousness in harmony, it is said that he possesses the three treasures: qi (pronounced chi), jing, and shen. These three treasures are nothing other than a new subjective differentiation of cosmic energy. Lu Dong Bing jives this precise and vivid description of them:
Jing is the root of life, the body of flesh and blood ... Qi is vital energy, movement, activity, speech, and perception, the door of life and death. Shen [spiritual awareness] is the mind, the sparkle in the eyes, con-Vicious thought; it is wisdom and intelligence, intuition, and the potential for awakening.

Like any treasures, these three are not easily come by. The key to developing them, and thus to achieving good health, is tranquility and profound peace of mind, not excitement and uncontrolled passions.

When grave or chronic illness occurs, the way to find healing energy is not to deny or reject the illness but to balance and develop the three treasures. Denial often comes from fear or the feeling that the illness is unfair.

People tend to seek the causes of their illness in external factors and prefer not to recognize the extent to which their own lifestyles, habits, mind-sets, behaviors, and emotions are implicated in the state of their health. Nevertheless, all these factors are part of the three treasures: they are the uncut gem that needs to be worked on. This book offers a way of discovering the three treasures that is centered on sexuality; it presents simple practices that make use of all the facets of the Taoist healing tradition. These diverse facets use the different functions of the three treasures; that is why true healing cannot be based on a single point of view but must encompass the many faculties and potentials that all of us have within ourselves.

Acupuncture, herbal therapies, and massage are all good healing methods, but none of these therapies can claim to be a panacea any more than psychotherapy can. All that a holistic view of health such as that of the ancient Taoists can do is try to harness the resources of the three treasures: energy, body, and mind.
The three treasures represented symbolically in the body.

Qi, or breath-energy, is a fundamental concept of Chinese medicine. It is difficult to translate the full meaning of the Chinese character, which signifies energy in the form of steam that has accumulated in a pot of boiling water.
Qi is multiple in nature, and numerous Taoist treatises speak of a qi of nature, a qi of plants, a qi of fire, and a qi of water (hydraulic force). One might even compare it with the prana, or vital breath, of Indian yogic and tantric theories.
Normal human qi is formed from inborn qi (yuanqi), which is transmitted to the child from the parents at the moment of conception. This qi is stored in the kidneys and the mingmen, or Vital Gate, which is associated with the suprarenal area or adrenal glands. The two other types of qi, which together make up acquired qi, are grain, or alimentary, qi (guqi), which comes from the digestion of food, and air qi (gongqi), which is extracted from the air through breathing.

Together, these three forms of qi produce the normal qi that permeates the entire body. According to traditional texts, qi has five main functions. It is the source of all bodily movements. All voluntary physical activities (walking, etc.) and involuntary movements (the heartbeat, etc.) are caused by qi, or vital energy. It circulates along the body's acupuncture channels and in the tissues. Qi protects the body from pathogenic atmospheric influences (cold, wind, humidity, and so on); it opens and closes the pores of the skin. Qi controls the transformation of substances in the body, keeping them in balance; it regulates flows and discharges of blood, urine, sweat, tears, and so on. Qi is responsible for keeping the body's organs and substances where they belong; it thus prevents collapses of organs, or ptoses, and excessive or untimely discharges of vital fluids (including sperm). Lastly, qi warms the body and, through the system known as the Triple Burner, maintains the body's economy of energy.

When a person's qi is sick, various symptoms appear. These symptoms are the kind often seen in today's medical practices. If a person has a deficiency of qi, he experiences lethargy and fatigue and lacks the desire to move. Deficiency of qi can also refer to a deficiency in a single organ (which, in the theory of the Five Evolutive Phases, is related to the five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water) or to the deficiency of a certain type of qi, for example, protective qi. Qi deficiencies of this latter sort result in cold limbs, aversion to cold, and spontaneous sweating. If a person has sinking qi, qi descends and cannot hold the organs in place. Ptosis of the stomach and prolapse of the uterus are two examples of sinking qi. Stagnant qi has to do with obstructions of qi that give rise to aches and pains or paralyzes. Dyspnea—that is, difficult or labored breathing, the feeling of the breath being blocked in the lungs—is an example of stagnant qi. Rebellious qi, a form of stagnant qi, is qi going in the wrong direction. Vomiting and belching are two examples of rebellious qi.

In the context of yin-yang theory, qi is, relatively speaking, an active substance and therefore associated with yang. Conversely, deficient qi is a yin-type condition of hypoactivity.

To simplify a little, one might say that within the human body there are several qi or energies at work: the hereditary energy that comes from our parents and is connected to the genital functions and the life capital that we receive at birth; and the acquired energy that we obtain from the combination of the foods we eat and the air we breathe. Acquired energy nourishes the internal organs and protects the body against attacks from its environment. Taoist health exercises work primarily on this energy, their goal being to fortify it. Together, hereditary energy and acquired energy constitute zhengqi, or original vitality.

Chinese health exercises and the sexual Tao are designed to help a person fortify zhengcji in a number of ways: by harmonizing the body and respiration; by concentrating on the dantian (see below) through the practice of conscious abdominal breathing; by mobilizing qi—making it ascend, descend, and open—and closing the energy points (the Doors of Jade) of the dantian in the niwan (head) and the shanzhong (chest); by making qi circulate in the abdominal region through the dantian, mingmen (between the kidneys), and huiyin (perineal region); by concentrating the mind and stimulating qi and sexual jing.

Jing, or original essence, is the underlying basis of life. It is one of the three fundamental substances of Taoist psycho-physiology, the others being qi and shen. Taoist alchemists referred to these three substances as the three treasures and believed that each of them had to be purified through the quest for enlightenment, a process that goes well beyond the bounds of medical practices aimed at balancing the energies. Energy equilibrium, they believed, was at all events a temporary state, because ultimately, when death came, the yin energies would separate from the yang energies, the forces of heaven from those of earth.

Jing is the vehicle for the sexual energy that gives matter its forms. In one sense, it functions as an encoded message, or program. In another, more general sense, jing is like the philosopher's stone: it gives form to emptiness.

Jing has two sources. Innate, or congenital, jing comes from our parents (and is therefore hereditary); postnatal, or acquired, jing is derived from the purification or sublimation of the food that we eat. Disharmonies of jing tend to affect an individual's strength and the expression of his sexuality and are also implicated in male and female infertility.

Jing is situated in the lower cinnabar field or the Palace of the Yellow Court and the Vital Gate (mingmen). The kidneys are the organs that control jing. In relation to blood, which nourishes jing in its postnatal form, jing is yang. According to the Su Wen, one of the two books that constitute the Neijing, jing "is the quintessence, the origin of life."

As noted earlier, this biological substance governs all developmental processes—procreation, growth, maturation, decline, and death. Jing is the primary material substrate that exists before yin and yang and produces life with its subsequent differentiation into yin and yang. Jing is also considered the basic potential energy for producing vital activity, the continual process by which yin and yang are generated in the body's cells, tissues, and organs.

To function normally, the entire body and all its essential organs require jing. The energy necessary for initiating and maintaining the different body functions is concentrated in the kidneys. Thus the activity of each organ's yin and yang depends in the first instance on the yin and yang of the kidneys, because the kidneys are a reservoir of jing. The kidneys are also called "the residence of yin and yang," the origin of the yin and yang organs.

Innate jing

Innate jing is the quintessential substance received from our parents. Ling Shu says that "the beginning of life resides in jing; and because it is hereditary, it is called innate jing." Innate jing thus corresponds to the primordial life principle, the genetic inheritance contained in the egg and the sperm. It is what makes conception possible.

A person begins life with a determinate store of innate jing that diminishes qualitatively and quantitatively over the course of a lifetime because the kidneys are always nourishing the body's vital functions. One's level of jing declines with age. How quickly or slowly jing will be used up depends on one's hygiene and the diseases or accidents one meets with over the course of one's life.

Acquired jing

Acquired jing is accumulated after birth. It comes from the purification of foods into their essences in the course of digestion. Like innate jing, acquired jing is located in the kidneys, and it is just as indispensable to the vital functions: its task is to take over from innate jing, which would otherwise be used up much more quickly, thus diminishing the possibility of a long life. According to the medical classics, "The jing that we acquire over the course of our lives becomes the jing of the five viscera and the six bowels." Jing thus participates actively in the life process.

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