上古天真論篇第一 Su Wen Chapter 1
Updated: Jul 28, 2020
Note： ”上古“ refers to the oldest ancient civilizations. “天真” is the true essence that one is born with, similar to what is referred in the texts below as “腎氣“ Kidney qi, ”精氣“ essence (jing) qi. The author postulates that the ancient immortals “真人” emphasized the way of nourishing life “養生之道”, disease prevention and longevity. The immortals‘ way of nourishing life mainly is about preserving the true essence -- to not let it leak improperly so as to let the stages of life: birth, growth, deteriorate and age and changes of life develop according to the patterns of true essence as it flourishes, fades, fulfills and diminishes. Therefore, self-care and securing the essence has an important role in human body's overall health. This chapter mainly discusses this issue, and therefore is titled "Discussion of the ancient's view on true essence, Chapter 1"
Once upon a time, 軒轅黃帝 Xuan Yuan Yellow Emperor was born smart and clever. He was eloquent as a child and was very good at understanding various subjects. As he grew older, his personality was honest and sincere, and possessed exceptional analytical skills and comprehension. When he turned of age, he became the emperor and so he asked 岐伯 Chi-bo: "I heard that most of the ancient humans can live to be 100 years old without showing signs of aging in their activity. But the humans today start showing signs of aging when they are around 50 years old, is this because our environment is different? or is it because we have lost the way of nourishing life? "
岐伯 answered: "Most of the ancients knew of the way of nourishing life, and modeled themselves after the patterns of natural change, adjusting to harmony with celestial numbers, having discipline with diet and regular habits, do not overtax themselves with work and their physical body and mental shen are robust and healthy, so they can live to full potential as endowed by heaven, surpassing 100 years old before passing away. But people today are not like that, they drink liquor like water; live to excesses like it's normal; have drunk sex and damage and waste their true essence. All the while not maintaining their reserve of their essence qi(jing qi精氣); not good at using their shen appropriately; seek short-term gain/happiness; have no routine work and rest; and so they start aging when they reach their 50s."
The ancients who cultivate their life often educate people thus: be careful to avoid evil wind and pathogens in a timely manner and try to cultivate a calm and clear mind with no delusions or greed as this will secure true essence and prevent its leakage and exhaustion and thus ward off disease.
Keep the thoughts simple and without excessive desires; the heart calm and not fearful; the body active without overexertion; and the true qi (zhen qi真氣) then courses smoothly. The person is then content and happy, enjoying whatever he eats, dressing comfortably and casually, being fond of common convention, with no envy toward status differentials and is simple and grounded. As such, inappropriate activities cannot distract senses, sex and lustful talk cannot sway hearts. No matter stupid, smart, virtuous or wicked, they will not be afraid of anything for they all follow the way of nourishing life. They can live over 100 years old and not show signs of aging, this is because they have grasped fully the essence of way of nourishing life, and are not easily endangered by disease.
黃帝 asks: "When a person grows old, they can no longer have children, is this because their essence is deficient? or is it because of limitations of heaven?"
岐伯 answered: "Regarding the biological cycle of male and female:
When a female reaches 7 years old, her Kidney qi starts to fill, the teeth change, and hair grows long; at14, her Kidney water Tian Kui become mature; the Ren Mai courses clearly, the Tai Chong Mai exuberant, and the menses flow regularly on time and she is fertile; at 21, the Kidney qi is fulfilled, her wisdom molars grow, her body reaches her full height; at 28, her sinews and bones are strong, hair is longest, and the body the strongest; at 35, the Yang Ming channels start to decline, the face starts to wither, hair starts to fall; at 42, all the 3 yang channels (Tai Yang, Yang Ming and Shao Yang) have deteriorated, so the whole face is withered, and the hair begins to grey; at 49, the Ren Mai is empty and deficient, the Tai Chong Mai depleted and weak, the Tian Kui dry, the menses stop, and so the body shows its age and becomes infertile.
When a male reaches 8, the Kidney qi starts to fill, the hair grows and teeth change; at 16, Kidney qi is exuberant, Tian Kui is mature, essence qi is fulfilled, and can ejaculate, so when yin and yang (a male and female) join, they can produce offspring; at 24, the Kidney qi is evenly spread, the sinews and bones are strong, wisdom molars grow and the body reaches its full height; at 32, the sinews and bones are the largest, and body is muscular and strongest; at 40, the Kidney qi starts to decline, the hair starts to fall and the teeth start to weaken; at 48, the yang qi starts to be deficient at the top, leading face to wither and the hairs grey; at 56, the Liver qi deteriorate, the sinews channels move more difficultly; Tian Kui dries up, there is a little essence qi left, the Kidneys weaken, the form is at its polarity; at 64, the teeth start to fall, the Kidneys govern water, and rely on the essence of the 5 zang (yin organs) and 6 fu (yang organs) to provide storage, so when the 5 zang is exuberant the Kidney can excrete, now that the 5 zang is weak, the sinews and bones release and decline, Tian Kui fully exhausted, so the hair becomes white, the body heavy, walking unsteady and he becomes impotent. "
黃帝 asks: "For some people when they grow old they are still fertile, what is the reason? "
岐伯 answered: "This is because their heavenly endowment is greater than most people, the qi and blood and the channels and collaterals are normally coursing, and Kidney qi is abundant with excess. Although these types of people are fertile, the typical situation is that for males it doesn't happen after 64 years old, and for females not after 49 years old because by then their essence qi are all depleted.
黃帝 asks: "If someone knows the way of nourishing life, could they still be fertile when they reach over 100 years old?"
岐伯 answered: "For someone who knows the way of nourishing life, they can delay aging and maintain the body form. And so despite their old age, they are still fertile."
黃帝 mentions: "I heard in far ancient period there are those known as true humans (zhen0 ren真人, aka immortals) who can marshal celestial machinations, master the rules of change between yin and yang, breath in and out essence qi, individualistically abide by the heavens, becomes one with the earthly body, can live as long as the heavens and earth, without an end time. They live the life of the Dao.
In the middle ancient period, there are those known as perfected humans (zhi4 ren 至人) who possess profound Dao and virtue, and know the complete practice of the way to nourishing life, is harmonious with yin and yang, in tune with the four seasons, unconcerned with the worldly affairs and hermitical, fully dedicated to accumulating essence, can travel between heaven and earth, can see and hear past the edges of the world. Their continued beneficial practice can extend life and strengthen body, and so they are similar to immortals.
Next there are those known as saintly humans (shen4 ren 聖人) who reside where the heavens and earth meet, follows the winds from the 8 directions, appropriately prefers to reside amongst the worldly customs and habits, is without errant thoughts and emotions, doesn't desire travel too far removed from the world, wears plain simple garb as habit, doesn't desire to pattern behavior after common customs, externally doesn't overwork, internally doesn't overthink, positively and peacefully approaching everything as their project, attaining the virtuous self as their work, and so the body doesn't age easily and the mind doesn't wear out; these people can live beyond 100 years old.
Lastly, there are those known as virtuous humans (xian2 ren 賢人), who command lawful order of heaven and earth, similarly manifest signs of sun and moon, analyze celestial patterns and make calculations, acting in contrary to yin and yang and separate from the four seasons, research ancient knowledge, and integrate with the way of nourishing life. They can also have extended life, but with limitations."