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chi / vapour / hun / shen / qi / ch’i / ji / meridano / meridianos / acupuntura / nadi / nadis


Xianglong Zhang

The literal meaning of “ch’i” is “air”, “gas”, and “breathing”. In Taoism, this term, while still keeping these meanings, signifies what is between and beyond being and non-being, and thus serves as the purest expression of the ontological horizon. Every image of Tao discussed above may be interpreted as a manifestation of ch’i. So, ch’i can be considered as the “Greatest image of Tao without object”. It is too primordial to be distinguished as either the material or the spiritual, either object or subject; it ek-sists “before” all these dichotomies and is essentially the hermeneutic hu huang, the ecstatic-horizontal. The chapter 21 of Lao Tzu can be regarded as a characterization of ch’i as “the thing that Tao becomes” (Tao chih wei wu):

The all-embracing quality of the great virtue (te) follows alone from Tao. / The thing that is called Tao [Tao chih wei wu] is eluding and vague [hu huang, ecstatic]. / Vague and eluding, there is in it the form [hsiang, image]. / Eluding and vague, in it are things. / Deep and obscure, in it is the essence [ching]. / The essence is very real [chen, true]; in it are evidences [hsin, responsibility or faithfulness]. / From the time of old until now, its name (manifestation) ever remains. / By which we may see the beginnings of all things are so? / Through this (Tao as ch’i). [ZhangHT  ]

Arthur Waley

Another word that often comes near to meaning ‘soul’ is ch‘i, the word that I have translated ‘life-breath’ in the passage just quoted. Originally it means a vapour that rises out of anything. As written to-day it means literally ‘the vapour that rises from cooked ‘grain’. The weather is heaven’s ch‘i; the essences (or ‘spirits’ as we often say) of herbs and drugs are their ch‘i. Ch’i is the air. Man receives a portion of it at birth, and this is his life-breath, the source of energy, the motive-power of the senses. Another word often translated soul is hun, the ‘cloud’ that comes out of the mouth on frosty mornings. When the dualist theory became dominant in China and everything had to be classified in pairs of male and female, the hun became the male soul, mounting to heaven when a man died; while p’o, which originally meant the semen, [This meaning was retained by the word, in non-philosophic parlance, till modern times. See the story about hanged men in Pen Ts’ao Kang Mu LII (16th century).] becomes the female soul, which lodges in the tomb. The word which however in the end won the day, and may be said to be, from the beginning of the Christian era onwards, the most ordinary word for soul, is shen. It comes from a root meaning ‘to stretch’. The spirits of the dead were called ‘stretchers’ because they had the power to cause easy parturition, to stretch the womb. The word for thunder was written in early times with the same character as shen; for thunder was, in early times, as our own language attests, [‘Thunder’ is akin to Latin tonitrus, which, in turn, is cognate to tonos, ‘stretched string’, and teinein, ‘to stretch’.] considered to be the stretcher par excellence. [I feel now (1948) some doubt about these etymologies.]

The spirits of the dead, then, honourably called [28] ‘stretchers’ (shen), are ‘nourished’ by sacrifices and offerings, and at the time of the sacrifice they enter into the medium, but only as guests. The idea that a shen could be a permanent part of a living person’s inner equipment does not occur, I think, till the 3rd century B.C. [Legge   once gives shen a subjective sense in the Tso Chuan (p. 382), but this is clearly a mistranslation. There is no example in Mencius.] Even so, we are still far from the complete conception of the soul as a kind of twin to the body. To begin with, the word in its subjective sense is used almost exclusively in connection with sages and rulers, and it is not at all clear that ordinary people were supposed to possess a shen. [In Han Fei, P ten 20, an ordinary philosopher is spoken of as ‘wearing out his soul’. But there are reasons for supposing that this section is late. cf. Appendix VI.] ‘If the monarch loses his shin , says Han Fei Tzu, ‘the tigers [i.e. his political opponents.] will soon be on his tracks.’ [Han Fei, P’ien 8.]

‘The Sages of old’, says the Lii Shih Ch’un Ch‘iu [P‘ien 119], meaning of course legendary ancient rulers like Yao and Shun, ‘did not injure their souls by petty feelings about private matters; they sat quietly and waited.’ [WaleyWP  ]

René Guénon

En lo que concierne a las nadis o arterias de la forma sutil, no deben confundirse con las arterias corporales por las que se efectúa la circulación sanguínea, y corresponden más bien fisiológicamente, a las ramificaciones del sistema nervioso, ya que se describen expresamente como luminosas; ahora bien, como el fuego se polariza en cierto modo en calor y luz, el estado sutil está ligado al estado corporal de dos maneras diferentes y complementarias, por la sangre en cuanto a la cualidad calórica, y por el sistema nervioso en cuanto a la cualidad luminosa [v. kosha]. No obstante, debe entenderse bien que, entre las nadis y los nervios, no hay todavía más que una simple correspondencia, y no una identificación, puesto que los primeros no son corporales, y puesto que se trata en realidad de dos dominios diferentes en la individualidad integral. Del mismo modo, cuando se establece una relación entre las funciones de estas nadis y la respiración [v. Yoga], porque ésta es esencial para el mantenimiento de la vida y corresponde verdaderamente al acto vital principal, es menester no concluir de ello que se les pueda representar como una suerte de canales en los que circularía el aire; eso sería confundir el "soplo vital" ( prana ), que pertenece propiamente al orden de la manifestación sutil [Esta confusión ha sido cometida efectivamente por algunos orientalistas, cuya comprehensión es sin duda incapaz de rebasar los límites del mundo corporal.], con un elemento corporal. Se dice que el número de nadis es de setenta y dos mil; no obstante, según otros textos, sería de setecientos veinte millones; pero la diferencia es aquí más aparente que real, ya que, así como ocurre siempre en parecido caso, estos números deben tomarse simbólicamente, y no literalmente; y es fácil darse cuenta de ello si se observa que están en relación evidente con los números cíclicos [v. números]. Más adelante, tendremos todavía la ocasión de dar otros desarrollos sobre esta cuestión de las arterias sutiles, así como sobre el proceso de los diversos grados de reabsorción de las facultades individuales, reabsorción que, como lo hemos dicho, se efectúa en sentido inverso del desarrollo de estas mismas facultades. [GuenonHDV  ]