Translation of Chinese into English must be a conversation, not a conclusion.  This is something I learned from my friend Sabine Wilms.  Her book, Humming with Elephants, is a 340-page book on a single, short chapter five of the Huángdì Nèijīng which models this translation-as-conversation.  In this text, she discusses her word choices and the context of her word choices.  She also translates historic commentary on the lines in the chapter.  In this way, the text invites the reader into the contemplation of the text rather than just telling us what it means.  I love this!  A translation is a conversation between readers past and present and the text itself.

In this spirit, soon, Sabine and I will be offering a short, four-part class on Chapter 1 of the Huángdì Nèijīng Sùwèn. This class will be a live discussion between the two of us as well as with participants as a way to, not just translate the chapter, but to bring it alive for practitioners.  If all goes well, we will continue on in the text together.  This way, the text is illuminated through a conversation between the two of us and the text as well as between all of us and the text.  Stay tuned!

It is in the spirit of this conversation I offer this blog series on these six things.  Thank you to Sabine for her help.  I hope you enjoy it!

The Six Channels, the Six Conformations, the Six Patterns, the Six Syndromes, the Six Levels, the Six Stages, the Six Warps?  The Six, Tàiyáng, Yángmíng, Shàoyáng, Tàiyīn, Shàoyīn and Júeyīn have been named with all of these terms.  What are these things?  This question is worth exploring.  At the least, there may be ways of considering them that could broaden our understanding.  Perhaps an exploration may even help purge us of misunderstandings.  I’d like to make sure that we don’t take for granted that we know already or that a certain translation, like Six Levels, is correct or precedented.  At any rate, if you are a geek like me, you may find it interesting!  Maybe even clinically relevant.  I’ll be writing a series of posts in an attempt to get to the bottom of this!

It’s interesting to note that Zhāng Zhòngjǐng himself never used any noun to name or describe them as a group.  The most we can say is that they are used as the Six Chapter Headings of his book, though he never named them as such.  He did refer to them in their diseased state, writing things like “In Shàoyīn disease.”    However, he never once referred to them as a group in his Shānghán zábìng lùn. He did not refer to them as Zhèng 証, conformations/patterns, nor did he refer to them as Jīng 經, channels/warps. So what the heck are these 6 things we talk about so much?

Perhaps we first have to go back in time to see where they were first named in order to understand what Zhāng Zhòngjǐng may have been thinking about in organizing his text around these Six Thing-a-ma-jigs. (Note: when Sabine read this she exclaimed “Six Thing-a-ma-jigs is the best translation of the Six yet!)  We know from his preface as well as through many passages in his text, that Zhāng Zhòngjǐng quoted, was profoundly influenced by and built upon the principles of the Neijing.  So, let’s start there and see what they were called in the Nèijīng.

They are first described in Sùwèn Chapter 6.  Here, Qí Bó describes the Yīn and Yáng of the “myriad things” as follows:

“Hence, they come to life because of spring, develop because of summer, gather because of autumn, and they are stored away because of winter.  Without this constancy, heaven and earth are without four.  These changes of Yīn and Yáng are in human beings and can be calculated as well.” 

Right after this, Huáng Dì requests to “hear about the separation and unity of the Three Yīn and the Three Yáng.”  In fact, Chapter 6 is called The Treatise on the Separation and Unity of Yīn and Yáng.  This is our first introduction to these Six in the Nèijīng.  When he asks this, we can note that he does not call them anything more than simply “Three Yīn and Three Yáng.”   In fact, he has just listened to Qí Bó talk about the great movements of Yīn and Yáng.  Now he is asking about how the great movements Yīn and Yáng are further broken down into three each.  Because of this prelude to the question, we could, and probably should say that they are referring to Six Great Movements.

Qí Bó answers by saying first, “when the sage faces south.”  This is inviting us to position ourselves facing South so that we can understand.  We are here, standing on earth, facing south, and experiencing what is in front of us.  “In front, this is called Guǎngming,  廣明,  Expansive Brilliance.”  “Behind is called Tàichòng 太衝 Great Rushing.”  We can picture ourselves here, standing, arms spread upward, looking upward to the sky and sun in the south, receiving the light.  Behind us, there is a great rushing or thoroughfare.

This is a rushing or thoroughfare between the great brilliance and Shàoyīn.  “The earth of Tàichòng is called Shàoyīn ” says Qí Bó.  “Above the Shàoyīn is the Tàiyáng, which rises up from its root in the Zhìyīn, 至陰 ultimate Yin, tied to the Míngmén, 命門, Gate of Life. This is called Yáng within Yīn

Huángdì and QìbòNow we can see the polarity between Tàiyáng and Shàoyīn, both in heaven and earth and in ourselves.  Shao Yin is the movement from heaven into me, toward the most Yin, the Ultimate Yin.  Tai Yang is the movement from Shao Yin’s ultimate Yin upward.

Qí Bó did not say that this Shàoyīn and Tàiyáng are only in my body, nor are they only in heaven and earth.  He is expressing that “These changes of Yīn and Yáng” in Heaven and on Earth, “are in the human being as well.”  Here we see the macrocosmic within the microcosm of our bodies.  From this context, we can see that Qí Bó is referring to Shàoyīn and Tàiyáng as multi-level great movements.

Qí Bó now brings us right into our own bodies, saying,

“From the center of the body, going upward, this is called Guǎngming,  廣明,  Expansive Brilliance.  Below this expansive brilliance is called Tàiyīn. In front of Tàiyīn is named Yang Ming, whose foundation is the Lìduì 厲兌 Stern Metal of the West. This is called Yin within Yang.  

Here, Qí Bó places Tai Yin in the middle of our bodies, below our expansive brilliance.  Its direction is upward.  Yángmìng is also in the middle but in front of Tàiyīn.  By giving it the name of the hexagram Duì, Qí Bó associates with the downward movement of metal, autumn, and the west.

“The exterior manifestation of Juéyīn is named Shàoyáng, whose foundation is the Qiàoyīn, 竅陰 Yīn Portal.  This is Shàoyáng within Yīn.”

In this way, Qí Bó has introduced us to the Six.  He has let us know that they are the great movements of Yīn and Yáng which give birth to and move in accordance with time and space.  They are the macrocosm of heaven and earth and the microcosm of heaven and earth within us.

Even in our bodies, there is the macrocosm of these great movements and the microcosm of the acupuncture points on our bodies.  Images within images. It must be noted that Expansive Brilliance is the name of GB 37. Ultimate Yin is the name of Bl 67.  Great Rushing is the name of Liv 3.  Ming Men is the name of GV 4.  Stern Metal of the West is St 45.  Yin Portal is the name of GB 44.  Has Qí Bó simply been naming acupuncture points on channels all along?  The context of these namings gives the answer: no.  Though he is naming acupuncture points on channels, it is clear that he is also telling us about macrocosmic images within microcosmic images.  We can go to previous chapters to see how Qí Bó is telling us over and over, in different ways, that the principles and images of heaven are not only at work within us, but are identical to, the principles and images of the body.  Though most commentators of the Nèijīng get stuck on the fact that Qí Bó is naming acupuncture points, concluding that he must be talking about channels of the body when he mentions the Six, this ignores the context in which he is naming them.  He is naming great movements AND acupuncture points, letting us know that these are related to each other.

In this chapter, we begin our explanation of these Six What-Nots.  Un-namable as of now.  Next post, I’ll explore chapter 6 a bit further to see if we can contemplate, consider, and come a bit closer to some understanding.

In the meantime, check out this instructive blog post by my friend and colleague, Sabine Wilms.

Chapter 6