The Relationship between Nei Jing Tu and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Taoism
The book “Selected Cultural Relics” compiled by the Museum of Chinese Medical History contains a color-painted “Nei Jing Tu.” It is part of the collection of the Palace Museum in the Qing Dynasty, and there is a similar one at the White Cloud Temple in Beijing, made of woodcuts in black and white. In Taoism, it is called “finely crafted, with clear annotations of tendons, joints, and meridians. It combines images, poetry, and hidden language on one paper, representing the typical style of health books from the Ming and Qing dynasties.”
From the content of the “Nei Jing Tu,” regarding the physiological and anatomical relationships of the human organs and meridians, it is closely related to TCM’s principles of health, longevity, and self-cultivation, possibly originating from the development of TCM content. However, in terms of the renaming and definition of the physiological functions of human organs and the key points of illustrated cultivation methods, the influence of Taoist theory is more prominent.
In fact, the “Nei Jing Tu” is also known as the “Inner Scene Diagram,” but the images are the same, with different purposes. The “Inner Scene Diagram” is an anatomical illustration of the internal organs of the human body, aiming to provide a visual representation of visceral relationships for study. On the other hand, the “Nei Jing Tu” has the purpose of illustrating Taoist self-cultivation methods, embodying the essence of “internal alchemy” classics from the Ming and Qing periods.
Taoist Self-Cultivation and the Nei Jing Tu
The “Nei Jing Tu” represents the true essence of Taoist quiet cultivation thoughts and techniques. Its sparse language, cryptic words, and hidden meanings are abundant in both illustrations and discussions, showcasing a typical style of Taoist literature since the Song and Ming dynasties.
The creative basis of the “Nei Jing Tu” is derived from the Ming Dynasty’s “Essentials of Life Preservation.” It directly inherits the enigmatic style of fine drawings, such as the “反照图” (reflective diagram), making the illustration of internal alchemy more obscure, vivid, and artistic. The entire human figure is completely concealed within a landscape, combining poetic verses and hidden language to artistically narrate the essence, methods, and techniques of Taoist “internal alchemy.”
“Nei Jing Tu” Terminology
Internal Elixir (内丹): Analogous to the human body as a furnace, using essence and qi as medicinal substances. Those who refine elixirs through mental cultivation, guiding essence and qi with the spirit, are referred to as practitioners of the internal elixir, also known as the sacred fetus.
Microcosmic Orbit (小周天): Full name “Yin-Yang Circulation of a Microcosmic Orbit.” Practitioners close their eyes and meditate, inhaling clear qi. The inhaled qi descends below the navel, passes through the anus, follows the Governor Vessel upward to the tailbone, proceeds through the spinal gate to the jade pillow, reaches the Baihui at the top of the head, enters the Mingmen, continues along the facial area to connect with the Conception Vessel, descends to the Lower Dantian, and returns along the original path, completing one microcosmic orbit.
Upper Dantian (上丹田): Located where Baihui is, also known as the Mud Ball Palace, Ascending Yang Mansion, Kunlun Peak, and Lingtai, among others. The mysterious pass indicated by Xuan Guan is highly regarded by Daoists, considering it as the entrance to the Dao.
Middle Dantian (中丹田): Located at Renzhong, it descends through the twelve layers of the mansion to the Yellow Court, with the representation of the heart by the cowherd as yang. The liver, gallbladder, and spleen each have their respective roles, collectively cultivating the field of the heart.
Lower Dantian (下丹田): Also known as the proper dantian, below the navel, sometimes referred to as the Sea of Qi, the repository of life. Represented by the Weaving Maiden, symbolizing the yin aspect.
In Daoist symbolism, the Weaving Maiden represents the kidneys, true yin, corresponding to the hexagram Kan. The Cowherd represents the heart, true yang, corresponding to the hexagram Li. True husband and wife are formed when yin and yang combine, giving rise to the elixir. Hence, there are metaphors like Kan-Li union, the union of male and female essence, symbolizing the generation of the elixir. Terms such as the union of heart and kidneys, water and fire, dragon and tiger in cultivation practices are also expressions in this context.
Tailgate Guan (尾闾关): Located at the end of the sacrum or at the Long Strong Point, serving as the transition point from the Ren Meridian to the Du Meridian, representing the meeting place of the yin of the Ren Meridian and the yang of the Du Meridian.
Spinal Gate Guan (夹脊关): Also known as the Pulley Gate, it is the middle gate in the practice, the second gate in the ascent of yin and yang in cultivation.
Jade Pillow Guan (玉京关): The upper gate, synonymous with the jade pillow, located at the upper edge of the occipital bone.
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“Nei Jing Tu” Poetic Interpretation
Apart from the illustrations, the “Nei Jing Tu” contains many poetic verses that explain the processes depicted within the diagram.
- Iron Ox Plows the Field, Planting Gold Coins: Refers to transporting kidney qi, using carts differentiated as ox, sheep, and deer carts. Initially, ox carts are used. The planted gold coins metaphorically symbolize the precious harvest, signifying the golden elixir.
Carving stones, children thread through: Implies threading gold coins; celestial mechanisms are involved, emphasizing their value. Carving stones metaphorically suggests the engraver. Children threading through form the Big Dipper, as mentioned in the song “Breaking the Confusion and Following the Right Path,” stating, “If you encounter a deity guiding the technique, seize the Big Dipper’s circumpolar rotation.”
Within a grain of millet hides the world: The small universe is equivalent to the large universe; the elixir seed is the source of the entire life.
In a half-pint cauldron, mountains and rivers are brewed: Mountains and rivers represent the grand universe; the profound mechanism is akin to the brewing process within the cauldron. The essence lies in the right heat.
With white-headed old man, brows droop towards the ground: The white head signifies qi. It indicates that qi descends from the Governor Vessel and guides yin fluids along the head and face.
With jade-eyed Hu monk, hands support the heavens: Supporting the heavens with hands refers to building the magpie bridge; the Ren and Du meridians allow qi to flow smoothly through the tongue, upper palate, and beyond.
If you inquire about this profound truth: It is the clear mechanism of nature; this practice is the ultimate.
There is no mystery beyond this mystery: Beyond this profound truth, there is no other.
- In My Family, I Cultivate My Own Field: Within the human body lies cultivable land, eliminating the need for external search.
Nurturing spiritual seed for eternal life: The cultivated land within can sustain life, ensuring longevity.
Flowers like golden buds, not large: The blossoming flowers represent golden blossoms, not overly large. Golden flowers signify true vitality. The initial bud represents the elixir seed, young and delicate.
Offspring like jade grains, all round: Offspring resembling jade grains, uniformly small.
Cultivation relies entirely on the central palace: Signifying the central focus of the practice.
Irrigation depends on the Upper Valley Spring: Qi ascends; there is fluid flowing down from the Upper Dantian.
Someday when the practice is complete: With sufficient refinement and accomplishment over time.
That will be the immortal of Penglai and the Great Luo: Referring to the supreme realm of immortals, the highest in the celestial realm.
- Where to Seek the Marvelous Gate, Turning Mechanisms Reverse the Water’s Flow: Water flows backward; due to the ascent of kidney water, hence the reverse flow. Kidney qi, being a postnatal function, relies entirely on the initial kidney water’s production through the activity depicted as “Iron Ox Plows the Field,” symbolized by the cart carrying up the mountain ridge. The mountain top refers to the head. When kidney qi reaches the top, it generates fluid from the mouth, described as the sweet spring gushing forth. This is the appearance of abundant fluid and mutual connection of the Conception and Governing Vessels.
- Kidney Spirit named Xuanming, styled Yuying: Reference to “The Yellow Court Classic, Chapter Eight.”
- Heart Spirit named Danyuan, styled Shouling: Reference to “The Yellow Court Classic, Chapter Eight.”
- Liver Spirit named Longyan, styled Hanming: Reference to “The Yellow Court Classic, Chapter Eight.”
- Lung Spirit named Haohua, styled Xucheng: Reference to “The Yellow Court Classic, Chapter Eight.”
- Gallbladder Spirit named Longyao, styled Weiming: Reference to “The Yellow Court Classic, Chapter Eight.”
Note: The diagram lacks the spleen among the five viscera, and only mentions the gallbladder among the six bowels. The spleen, as the central earth, is metaphorically described and deemed essential as a mediator between water and fire. The cultivation practice inherently encompasses this, making it indispensable. Regarding the gallbladder, it is one of the six bowels. Originally, all five viscera store essence without leakage, while the six bowels are responsible for the transformation and transmission of substances without storage. However, functionally, the gallbladder stores the essence of the five viscera, emphasizing its significance. In later times, the “Triple Burner” replaced the gallbladder as the representative role among the six bowels, as seen in the “Six Character Formula.”
- Last Three Gates: Tailgate Guan below, Spinal Gate Guan in the middle, Jade Pillow Guan above, collectively known as the Three Gates: The positions of these three gates, developed up to Zhong Lv, have different descriptions. According to “The Lingbao Bifa, the Fifth Chapter of Flying Golden Crystal Behind the Elbow,” Zhong Lv believes that Tianzhu is the Upper Gate, equivalent to the third segment below the cervical vertebrae; Shen Dao is the Middle Gate, corresponding to the fifth segment below the thoracic vertebrae; and Mingmen is the Lower Gate, corresponding to the second segment below the lumbar vertebrae.
- First Three Elixirs: Lower Dantian is the Sea of Qi, Middle Dantian is the Vermilion Palace, Upper Dantian is the Mud Pill: Refers to the three energy centers in the lower abdomen, chest, and head, respectively.
- Twelve Towers Hide Secrets: The twelve towers refer to the laryngeal cartilage. The secret lies in the intersection of fluids and energy. Swallowing saliva or breath in the opposite direction seeks the elixir seed.
- Yin-Yang Mysterious Female Vehicle: Using “mysterious female” as a metaphor for the origin of life, Chen Tuan employs this in preparation for “refining essence and transforming qi.” This metaphorical use of the mysterious female vehicle signifies the appearance of the elixir seed, emerging from the chaos of yin and yang within the cauldron, with true vitality emerging from this. As mentioned in “Laozi, Chapter 6”: “The valley spirit never dies; it is called the mysterious female. The gate of the mysterious female is the root of heaven and earth. Continuous, seeming to exist, it can be put to use without effort.”
- Water and Fire Converge at the Earth: This place is marked in the lower Dantian, indicating that true vitality sprouts from here. As mentioned in “Understanding the True Scriptures”: “To know where the source of medicine is produced, look to the southwest, which is the home village.” Also, “Depending on the Kun position to generate the body, planting it in the Qian house for mutual interaction,” both express this idea.
- Double Gates along the Spine to the Crown, the Root of the Path in the Practice: Qi must ascend along the spine; this is the fundamental method of refining qi. When the qi reaches the crown, there is the Mud Pill Palace, representing the ultimate goal of cultivation.
“Nei Jing Tu” Usage Secrets
The secret revealed by the “Nei Jing Tu” involves the activation of key points called “guan” and “qiao.” Passing through the three guan and reaching the nine qiao is the concealed gateway. Once qi reaches these points, special attention is required.
The three guan are Tailgate Guan, Spinal Gate Guan, and Jade Pillow Guan. Tailgate Guan is at the end of the spine, consisting of seven vertebrae and seven acupoints. Practitioners focus on the channels of these seven acupoints, connecting the internal kidney. Once qi reaches the midpoint between the two kidneys, known as Spinal Gate Guan, intense heat is applied. Timing, breath control, and abdominal movement are crucial at this stage.
Moving further up from Spinal Gate Guan, reaching the back of the head at the Lingfeng acupoint, signifies Jade Pillow Guan. Mastering these three guan is the initial step in alchemical practice. Only after grasping these can one pass through the three guan to reach the ninth qiao, descending further to transform jade fluid into golden elixir.
Translated & Edited by Fan Xin Rui
Original article by Bai Yun Guan