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is one of the most important classics of Taoism, as well as the highest
authority on traditional Chinese medicine. Its authorship is attributed to the
great Huang Di, the Yellow Emperor, who reigned during the third millennium
BCE. This new translation consists of the eighty-one chapters of the section of
known as the
or "Questions of Organic and Fundamental Nature." (The other section,
is a technical book on acupuncture and is not included here.)
in the form of a discourse between Huang Di and his ministers,
Yellow Emperor's Classic of Medicine
contains a wealth of knowledge, including etiology, physiology, diagnosis,
therapy, and prevention of disease, as well as in-depth investigation of such
diverse subjects as ethics, psychology, and cosmology. All of these subjects
are discussed in a holistic context that says life is not fragmented, as in the
model provided by modern science, but rather that all the pieces make up an
interconnected whole. By revealing the natural laws of this holistic universe,
the book offers much practical advice on how to promote a long, happy, and
original text of the
presents broad concepts and is often brief with details. The translator's
elucidations and interpretations, incorporated into the translation, help not
only to clarify the meaning of the text but also to make it a highly readable
narrative for students—as well as for everyone curious about the underlying
principles of Chinese medicine.
The Neijing is one of the most important classics of Taoism as well as the highest authority on traditional Chinese medicine. Its authorship is attributed to the great Huang Di, the Yellow Emperor. This new translation consists of 81 chapters of the section of the Neijing known as the Suwen.
1: The Universal Truth
ancient times the Yellow Emperor, Huang Di, was known to have been a child
prodigy. As he grew he showed himself to be sincere, wise, honest, and
compassionate. He became very learned and developed keen powers for observing
nature. His people recognized him as a natural leader and chose him as their
his reign, Huang Di discoursed on medicine, health, lifestyle, nutrition, and
Taoist cosmology with his ministers Qi Bo, Lei Gong, and others. Their first
discussion began with Huang Di inquiring, "I've heard that in the days of
old everyone lived one hundred years without showing the usual signs of aging.
In our time, however, people age prematurely, living only fifty years. Is this
due to a change in the environment, or is it because people have lost the
correct way of life?"
Bo replied, "In the past, people practiced the Tao, the Way of Life. They
understood the principle of balance, of yin and yang, as represented by the
transformation of the energies of the universe. Thus, they formulated practices
such as Dao-in, an exercise combining stretching, massaging, and breathing to
promote energy flow, and meditation to help maintain and harmonize themselves
with the universe. They ate a balanced diet at regular times, arose and retired
at regular hours, avoided overstressing their bodies and minds, and refrained
from overindulgence of all kinds. They maintained well-being of body and mind;
thus, it is not surprising that they lived over one hundred years.
days, people have changed their way of life. They drink wine as though it were
water, indulge excessively in destructive activities, drain their jing—the
body's essence that is stored in the kidneys—and deplete their qi. They do not
know the secret of conserving their energy and vitality. Seeking emotional
excitement and momentary pleasures, people disregard the natural rhythm and
order of the universe. They fail to regulate their lifestyle and diet, and
sleep improperly. So it is not surprising that they look old at fifty and die
accomplished ones of ancient times advised people to guard themselves against
zei feng, disease-causing factors. On the mental level, one should remain calm
and avoid excessive desires and fantasies, recognizing and maintaining the
natural purity and clarity of the mind. When internal energies are able to
circulate smoothly and freely, and the energy of the mind is not scattered, but
is focused and concentrated, illness and disease can be avoided.
people led a calm and honest existence, detached from undue desire and
ambition; they lived with an untainted conscience and without fear. They were
active, but never depleted themselves. Because they lived simply, these
individuals knew contentment, as reflected in their diet of basic but
nourishing foods and attire that was appropriate to the season but never
luxurious. Since they were happy with their position in life, they did not feel
jealousy or greed. They had compassion for others and were helpful and honest,
free from destructive habits. They remained unshakable and unswayed by
temptations, and they were able to stay centered even when adversity arose.
They treated others justly, regardless of their level of intelligence or social
Di asked, "When one grows old, one cannot bear children. Is this due to
heredity or to the loss of one's procreative energy?"
Bo answered, "In general, the reproductive physiology of woman is such
that at seven years of age her kidney energy becomes full, her permanent teeth
come in, and her hair grows long. At fourteen years the tian kui, or fertility
essence, matures, the ren/conception and chong/vital channels responsible for
conception open, menstruation begins, and conception is possible. At twenty-one
years the kidney energy is strong and healthy, the wisdom teeth appear, and the
body is vital and flourishing. At twenty-eight years the bones and tendons are
well developed and the hair and secondary sex characteristics are complete.
This is the height of female development. At thirty-five years the
yangming/stomach and large intestine channels that govern the major facial
muscles begin to deplete, the muscles begin to atrophy, facial wrinkles appear,
and the hair begins to thin. At forty-two all three yang channels—taiyang,
shaoyang, and yangming—are exhausted, the entire face is wrinkled, and the
hair begins to turn gray. At forty-nine years the ren and chong channels are
completely empty, and the tien kui has dried up. Hence, the flow of the menses
ceases and the woman is no longer able to conceive.
the male, at eight years of age the kidney energy becomes full, the permanent
teeth appear, and the hair becomes long. At sixteen years of age the kidney
energy is ample, the tien kui is mature, and the jing is ripe, so procreation
is possible. At twenty-four years the kidney qi is abundant, the bones and
tendons grow strong, and the wisdom teeth come in. At the thirty-second year
the body is at the peak of strength, and functions of the male are at their
height. By forty the kidney qi begins to wane, teeth become loose, and the hair
starts to fall. At forty-eight the yang energy of the head begins to deplete,
the face becomes sallow, the hair grays, and the teeth deteriorate. By
fifty-six years the liver energy weakens, causing the tendons to stiffen. At
sixty-four the tian kui dries up and the jing is drained, resulting in kidney
exhaustion, fatigue, and weakness. When the energy of all the organs is full,
the excess energy stored in the kidney is excreted for the purpose of
conception. But now, the organs have aged and their energies have become
depleted, the bones and tendons have become frail and stiff and movements are
hampered. The kidney reservoir becomes empty, marking the end of the power of
Di remarked, "I notice, however, that some people, even though they are
quite elderly, can still conceive."
Bo replied, "This is because these individuals inherited an unusual
abundance of jing and also realized how to lead their lives properly and
protect their vitality. At sixty-four and forty-nine, for males and females
respectively, these individuals still have excess kidney energy as well as qi
and blood, so they still have the capacity to procreate. However, men past the
age of sixty-four and women past forty-nine have normally lost this
Di asked, "If a wise one who follows the Tao is over one hundred years of
age, can he or she still retain the ability to procreate?"
Bo answered, "Yes, it is possible. If one knows how to live a correct way
of life, conserve one's energy, and follow the Tao, yes, it is possible. One
could procreate at the age of one hundred years."
Di inquired, "I've heard of people in ancient times, spoken of as the
immortals, who knew the secrets of the universe and held yin and yang, the
world, in the palms of their hands. They extracted essence from nature and
practiced various disciplines such as Dao-in and Qi Gong, and breathing and
visualization exercises, to integrate the body, mind, and spirit. They remained
undisturbed and thus attained extraordinary levels of accomplishment. Can you
tell me about them?"
Bo responded, "The immortals kept their mental energies focused and
refined, and harmonized their bodies with the environment. Thus, they did not
show conventional signs of aging and were able to live beyond biological
so long ago there were people known as achieved beings who had true virtue,
understood the way of life, and were able to adapt to and harmonize with the
universe and the seasons. They too were able to keep their mental energy
through proper concentration.
achieved beings did not live like ordinary humans, who tended to abuse
themselves. They were able to travel freely to different times and places since
they were not governed by conventional views of time and space. Their sense
perceptions were supernormal, going far beyond the sight and hearing of
ordinary humans. They were also able to preserve their life spans and live in
full health, much as the immortals did.
was a third type of person, known as the sage. The sages lived peacefully under
heaven on earth, following the rhythms of the planet and the universe. They
adapted to society without being swayed by cultural trends. They were free from
emotional extremes and lived a balanced, contented existence. Their outward
appearance, behavior, and thinking did not reflect the conflicting norms of
society. The sages appeared busy but were never depleted. Internally they did
not overburden themselves. They abided in calmness, recognizing the empty
nature of phenomenological existence. The sages lived over one hundred years
because they did not scatter and disperse their energies.
fourth type were natural people who followed the Tao and were called
naturalists. They lived in accordance with the rhythmic patterns of the
seasons: heaven and earth, moon, sun, and stars. They aspired to follow the
ways of ancient times, choosing not to lead excessive lifestyles. They, too,
lived plainly and enjoyed long life."