Cosmic Origins of the Life: The Taoist View of Conception

by James G. Bailey, LAc, Dipl OM, Dipl Ayu, E-RYT

"The Tao is me, it is the Supreme Lord of the Central Summit, the Pole Star which shines on my forehead, between my eyebrows, like the Sun. It is the Great August Emperor of Heaven. It is my energy, I was born of that breath." Lao Tzu, The Book of the Center

The Chinese image of the human body owes much to the contributions of Taoism and Chinese medicine alike, the roots of which lay in pre-Taoist antiquity. Through the use of natural and cosmological imagery, the Taoist "naturopoetic body" takes its form through the rich metaphors of sacred land, heavenly bodies and the cosmic cycles of the great creative force, or Tao. The creation myths of Taoist cosmology and theology have also deeply contributed to the evolution of early Chinese medicine and its exquisite vision of the human body, its physiology, form and origin. In this article we will explore some of the primary Taoist cosmological themes that have particularly influenced the evolution of Chinese medicine, its interpretation of the procreative process, and ultimately, the sacredness of the origins of life. The ancient Taoist perception of the developing body as "sacred and divine in origin" dramatically influenced the writers of the Nei Jing Su Wen and later texts which gave rise to Chinese medicine. References to Pre-heaven and Post-heaven Essences, Ancestral Essence, Yuan Qi or Immortal Heavenly Qi, and Primordial Wombs describe a sacred internal environment of fetal development far and beyond the doings of the human capacity alone. Chinese medical pediatrics has proven to be one of the more illuminating models of the development and treatment of the developing baby and its interdependence with the natural world. The limitation, however, of the purely medical model in todays practice of TCM is that the focus has been fundamentally narrowed to pathology rather than cosmology, and chaos rather than the natural order. In my opinion, it is devastating for contemporary students of Chinese medicine that the "spirit of the Tao" was removed from Chinese medicine and pediatrics during the last century. Though a few of the concepts have survived, the majority are more likely to be encountered in classical religious texts than in medical ones. Ultimately, a greater understanding of the origins and development of the human body would surely enlighten the way we care for children as parents, community leaders and as physicians. Because of this I have focused my lens upon those few tiny spaces remaining where Taoist cosmology and Chinese pediatrics co-exist, in the sacred origins of the child. Conception as Cosmological Recreation The Taoist understanding of human conception and birth is parallel to its own view of the cosmic origins and movements of the greater Universe, or Tao. "Pregnancy is the paradigm for the creation of the universe. In nine stages the passage from the invisible to the visible, between the undifferentiated and differentiated things, from non-being to being is accomplished."(K. Schipper) In the womb we pass through all of our past evolutionary stages. The texts are filled with analogies between the creation myths and the rites of human conception and birth. For the developing child, it is the Tao which provides

" (translation by M. the root of life and death." or to "people. . the mother that gives rise to [all things] . the land is the reflection of the body as well. Inevitably. happiness. the pure Yang Qi ascends to converge and form heaven [immaterial spirit or souls]." or "to govern. in the Chinese language the same character is used for semen as for Jing (Pre-heaven or Ancestral Essence). The Pre-heaven essence. This Ancestral Essence. And like a mirror image." is quintessential to Taoism and Chinese medicine alike. In the universe. is viewed as an intertwined immersion of Yin potential which gives rise to the physical form of the fetus and Yang activity which provides the immaterial base of fetal movement (action).. thus attaining the greatest of spiritual awakenings. Yin is passive and quiet. Pre-Heaven Essence and Immortal Heavenly Qi If it is the Tao which serves as the cosmological template for the development of the child. The body arises and serves as the microcosm within the macrocosm. while the nature of Yang Qi is active and noisy. or Yuan Qi. The extent to which the individual realizes this will determine the individuals potential for health. the physical development of the fetal body is shaped in the womb out of the Ancestral Essence by the motivating action of the Yuan Qi. fuse and begin the dance of the human life cycle until the final separation of Yin and Yang at death. Tan Tien or womb) from the Original Yang. he translates from the Lao Tzu Chung Ching and introduces us to the "embryo of immortality. it can only do so under the guidance of the Ancestral Essence. the foundation of all things. and soul. however. The famous saying that "the human body is the image of a country. This is called the Yin within Yin (pure Yin). the vital force. or reaction to the forces and experiences of the universal Tao. Once it has [conceived] and appears above ground. the role of the opposing universal forces of Yin and Yang must first be understood from the procreative point of view.while Yin is the substance. In short. is the substrate with which the new fetus is formed. yet it is rich in potential for growth and evolution. Schipper) Conversely. to faithfully reunite with the greater Tao once again. (K. "self". It arises from the ancestral pool of Jing. In fact." a personification of the Ancestral essence as the "True Person Cinnabar of the North. some translations of the Tao-te Ching consider all references to "country." who is born in the Cinnabar Field (ie. spirit. It is Yin in nature. or Pre-heaven Essence. In Kristofer Schipper's new text. and will supply the lifetime reserve of Jing to the new individual and to his or her offspring. the mother of all changes. . At the moment of conception the forces of Yin (ovum) and Yang (sperm) arise. the ancient terms for the internal organs of Chinese medicine correspond to the administrative rulers of the land." as metaphors for the body. the vital energy that we transmit . The Taoist Body. must be empowered by the active or Yang aspect of what is called the Immortal Heavenly Qi. that which is experienced within the body (ie.the template for the development of the body. while the [dense] Yin Qi descends and condenses to form the earth [physical body]. Pre-heaven essence might be the earliest known medical reference to the genetic information hidden within the human sperm and ovum. or lesser Tao). Yang is responsible for expanding and Yin is responsible for contracting. the foundation. including the human body. or Kidney essence of those who came before. Yang is the energy. becoming astringent. Ni) The creation of all things. and consolidating. It is after [conception] or Post-heaven that the Yang Qi enables everything to grow. this phenomenon is called Yang within Yin. long life and eventually.. Interestingly. will be a reflection of. Before the birth of all things and creatures above ground. In the Nei Jing Su Wen it is stated that: "the law of Yin and Yang is the natural order of the universe. Each new human form or fetus becomes the "fertile ground" upon which the Tao recreates itself in miniature. The inner world of the womb and the outer world create one another and are inseparable. Before we can discuss the process of conception. the living potential resides in the place of Yin.

the Kidneys and to the womb. but in a diffuse. From it will grow the umbilicus. It is the considered to be the energetic point of origin (conception) within the body. Void or Emptiness) out of which later develops the "potential for harmony" as an inherent memory of the preexistent state. a sphere or matrix that holds within itself the whole universe. the creation and development of the fetus shares the same creative impulse as that of the early universe as the Primordial Womb. References to the womb as Primordial Chaos might also suggest that the Taoists were aware of a more divine origin to the child. The Cosmological Basis of Sexual Differentiation Another important event which occurs early in the womb. breaks up [Big Bang]. the universe and the mother. To the alchemist it describes the gestation of the immortal embryo. having established the polarities of Heaven and Earth. At a given point. it simply occurs." not yet separated from either the Tao (universal source) or the mother (ancestral source). Neither done nor not done. would serve to provide an abundance of both Pre-heaven and Post-heaven essences (vitality) throughout one's life. to its action of cyclical time. transparent Qi rises and forms Heaven." The Cinnabar Field has several analogies in Chinese medicine. the male and female are but further manifestations of this universal duality of Yin and Yang within the living form. Once initiated. This was the primary inspiration of the followers of the Kidney Schools or Gate of Life Schools of Chinese medicine. following the primal template of the Tao. Here again we see that the dark internal world of the womb has tremendous resemblance to the Taoist cosmological concept of the Universal Womb. What was in a pure and abstract state becomes something distinct and tangible. This primal matrix is subject to the influences of the Tao. the matrix comes to maturity. The Qi. In the same way that Heaven and Earth are created from the light and heavy forms of Qi released from the primordial universe. but few sources explain why. It functions to store the reserves of Ancestral Essence throughout the lifetime of the individual. which then escape and separate. opaque ones sink. the Qi join and unite in the Center. which constitutes the third fundamental modality [life]. the heavy. forming Earth. and which if kept conserved and continually restored via the Post-heaven essence. While in the womb the developing fetus lives in a world of "undifferentiated unity. the result is the end of the Wholeness of Chaos and the birth of things (life). essential state. These mythological stories attempt to make sacred the physiological remnants of the universal creation that exists within the body. The text refers to the Ancestral essence as the immortal seed: "it is my body in its most primitive. it is my true irreducible self. analogous to the Tan Tien. This spontaneous and yet yielding movement of fetal development resounds of the concepts of Wu-wei detachment to the dualities of action and non-action. The point of conception thus serves as the connection of the child to both ends of the fetal matrix. or pure energy-matter has not yet emerged from dark confusion. and frees the Qi contained within. Several theories are proposed as to how sexual differentiation occurs. . Created by the union of my parents' breaths (Qi). a state which existed prior to the breaking of the matrix (ie. or living beings. attaching the child to the mother. These schools firmly believed that the Dan Tien and Kidneys serve as accessible reservoirs of the Ancestral Essence. is that of sexual differentiation.from generation to generation. when Yin and Yang procreate. In other words. undifferentiated and potential state. Thus. The light. the Internal Alchemy schools and western medicine. which the Taoist refer to as the "Primordial Chaos": "At the beginning of Heaven and Earth was the Primordial Chaos (hun-tun)." (Schipper) The womb is a miniature recreation of the original Primordial Chaos for the creation of the third modality..

a fetus is [formed]. To the practitioners. In the I Ching (Classic of Changes) it is said that Qian (heavenly) Tao forms the male. These theories appear to be a pediatric furthuration of the Nei Jing commentaries on the influence of Yin and Yang forces upon the delicate and yet undifferentiated fetus. burners or energy centers. Yin becomes the ruler. In the body also arises the Three Great Ones in the form of the three bodily levels. when the sea of blood [is weak] and essence is overwhelming the blood. The development and cultivation of the energies within the three levels of the body were thought to be the key to our longevity and spiritual enlightenment. and "Lord of the Tao or True Person" in the head (Shen.With the bursting of the matrix. essence is the donor. that: "the Kun and Qian are the natures of Yin and Yang. When Yin and Yang mate. . . Conversely. It relieves Qi from the left branch of the child's palace and a male takes shape. A female is more likely to be formed if the time of sexual differentiation occurs four to five days after termination of the last menses. . 479-502 CE." (Chuang Tzu. and the place where it hides is called the child's palace [uterus]. middle jiao). and still others have the dual form of both male and female. middle and upper." where the internal alchemy takes place. in this process. Thus arose Heaven. If essence overwhelms blood. that a female who cannot become a mother is one who has been obstructed in receiving Yin Qi. when the perception of separateness (duality) is abolished and unified. . one becomes "like dead wood" and returns to the beginning of things. lower jiao). How then can one differentiate these? My answer is that a male that cannot be a father is one who received inadequate Yang Qi. Blood forms the wrapper (of the seed). one reaching the left and the other reaching the right. and a female takes shape. also referred to as jiaos. while Kun (earthly) Tao forms the female. thus are the ten thousand things bred and generated by the Kun (earthly) source. yang becomes the ruler. when the blood vessels are [full] once again and essence is no longer overwhelming the blood. Zhu Dan-xi comments in his Extra Treatises Based on Investigation and Inquiry. and female and male are the bearing and image of Yin and Yang [respectively]. the "child of the Yellow Court" (Spleen. of the Southern Qi Dynasty. the human body is composed of a "furnace. some males cannot be fathers and some females cannot be mothers. It receives Qi from the right branch of the child's palace. The essence [sperm] of the father and the blood [ovum] of the mother react upon one another . Blood contains and develops this into a seed (child). and that one with a dual form is a product of Yin invaded by variegated (mixed and disorderly) Qi. Chuang Tzu says: "That which causes things to be things is in itself not a thing. If essence is unable to overwhelm blood. The child's palace has a branch below [vagina] and two branches above [fallopian tubes]. Some may ask. Man and Earth. . The "self" is also said to consist of three distinct states: the "embryo of the Cinnabar Field" (Tan Tien. About this beginning. the energies are divided and thus we perceive things as separate.11) The first medical mentioning of sex differentiation that I could find occurs in Chu Cheng's book. the Chu Shi Yi Shu (Master Chu's Posthumous Book). Ch. It was Chu Cheng's theory that the fetus becomes a male or a female depending upon whether the essence [yang] or the blood [yin] "came first. The practitioners of the Nei Dan (Internal Elixir) schools of internal alchemy placed much emphasis on these three energy centers." The Alchemy of the Inner Cauldron The Book of Center refers to the Three Great Ones as lower. thus are the ten thousand things bred and inaugurated by the Qian (heavenly) source. upper jiao)." Li-Dong-yuan later elaborated on this theory by stating that a male is more likely to be formed if the time of sexual differentiation occurs one or two days after termination of the last menses." However. "I know how to differentiate male and female." or "Internal Elixir Field.

that of fetal education.physical. Through Nei Dan breathing exercises and tonifying herbs. Better knowledge of this stage of growth could shed incredible light upon our understanding of meridians." Though he is referring directly to the cultivation of the Post-heaven essences of the Tan Tien. Within this cauldron all of the elements of nature are collected to form the new baby. fascia and the most subtle." becoming what we call today the dermatones. From one or two "seed" cells in the young fetus arise an entire branch of the spine. All elements .) we find common enervations. It can also include mental and emotional experiences. psychological and spiritual are synergistically involved in the development and maintenance of all the others. This can include such things as the mothers food as well as her health and disease. which shared the same primary cell group. The Qi of the earth and the Qi of heaven combine to form new life. Within each dermatone (ie. Zhu Dan-xi discusses this briefly in his text Dan Xi Zhi Fa Xin Yao (The Heart & Essence of Dan-xi's Method of Treatment). the child in [utero] is influenced by everything their mother experiences. and feels. Here in the womb an alchemical process of the most extraordinary kind takes place under the guidance of the Tao. and the underlying mechanisms of the body's healing energy and of Chinese medicine. In James Ramholz' "Shaolin & Taoist Herbal Training Formulas" he explains that in physiological alchemy the body is the alchemical cauldron where: "the 'three herbs' [San Biao: Jing. our template. Before leaving the womb to discuss the energetics of birth. hears. There are contributions from heaven in the form of Pre-heaven essence (genetic influences) and atmospheric oxygen (Ta Qi or Zhong Qi of the mother). Yang-ming. Qi and Shen] are blended and fixed into an Elixir. vasculature. one can see the obvious analogies to the womb where all of the elements mix synergistically to create the complex form of the growing baby. a substance whose property is said to be able to spiritually transform an individual. Shao-yang. the practitioners are similarly attempting to nourish (develop) the waning reserves of Preheaven essence in an alchemical womb-like cauldron known as the Tan Tien. Whatever the truth may be. in the form of Post-heaven essence (Gu Qi/ food nutrients) from the mother. Here fertility and longevity are inseparable. or arm. The manner in which the earliest undifferentiated cells of the fetus evolve and unfold through space into more complex organs and extremities would surely effect the development of the energy pathways (meridians) of the fetus. Qi meridians. Because each dermatone develops from a common cell group. There are contributions from the earth. Thus the child's character and temperament are believed to be influenced or educated in the womb by what the mother sees. carrying with it as it grows and extends through space a "common sphere of energetic influence. This might also explain the development of trigger points and the relationship between the Front Mu/Back Shu points to their related internal organs. we must recognize that it is within the alchemical cauldron of the developing fetus that the bio energetic pathways are formed. This theory belongs to the author who takes complete scientific and literary ownership of its genuine logic or complete idiocy. Tai-yang. the entire region would share a "mutual sensitivity" of other cells or organs in the common sphere of energetic influence. He states that: "according to the doctrine. energetic. and the practitioner aspires to be "fertilized" with the life-giving vitality of Post-heaven essence.The womb is likewise viewed as such an alchemical cauldron. dermatones. we should not overlook another rarely mentioned ancient doctrine in Chinese pediatrics. etc." . thinks.

ch. This alteration between creation and . Lao Tzu was the "Old Child" of the primordial womb. but from the beginning of gestation. and the world of the four changes: birth. The gestational cycle is. Here the child enters the world of the Post Heaven (Hou Tien) or phenomenal world. As I exhale I become diffuse Qi. I contemplated the Chaos before its differentiation. present." The term has a double meaning: first. its length determines a person's life span in the world. and eventually. great sages for eighteen. Lao Tzu is thought to have been able to do this through his body vis-a-vis a technique of rebirthing. if not mystical. it is said that his body was transformed into the four directions. the immortal child in his mothers breast. conception is the portal. that is eighty-one years"." Ancient adepts would frequently meditate upon "the body of Lao Tzu" as the cosmic body. The normal gestation is of course ten lunarations. and secondly. ability of Lao Tzu to enter into "the realm where all things had their beginning" and to "the Ancestor. In a sense he represents the divine aspect of our creation: "I was born before things received their form. his body was transformed back into a landscape. a human being. moreover. Thus he represents the primordial Oneness of all things before taking form. had an inner life (in his mothers's womb) that lasted nine times nine. or gate. Inner life in the womb is taken to be proportionately equivalent to subsequent outside experience. while in form. the term reflects an attitude taken by the proponents of Chinese pediatrics regarding the difficulty of caring for the unborn child. a point confirmed by the Chinese custom of determining a child's age not from the date of parturition. According to the mystical view of Chuang-tzu "the cosmic body of the Old Master is the image and the model of the entire universe." the gate through which the microcosm reemerges back into the macrocosm. also referred to as the world of the three times: past. and future. growth. creating the physical manifestations of the universe and of the Earth. and death." the hidden and unknowable dimensions of the rhythmical rite of the universe. (Chuang-tzu. For all living beings. With the first breath the Three Great Ones of the San Jiao begin to function in its creation of Postnatal Qi." Lao Tzu was and still remains non other than "the body of the Tao. maturity. At birth the connection to the mother is severed and the supply of Ancestral Essence is complete. the same landscape we find within ourselves as the domain of the infant. 21) From the Lao-tzu Pien Hua Ching(Book of Transformation of Lao Tzu) Lao Tzu is further regarded as the original child of the Primordial Chaos. His spiritual illumination is rooted in the deep awareness of his own sacred origins. Pregnancy lasts ten moons." After his death. source of life as well as fruit of the union of the elements that make up the landscape. adepts could gain insight into the great mysteries. considered to be a perfect model of time. and these ten lunarations are considered equivalent to one complete year cycle. To the Taoist. as I inhale. the Old Child. the final journey back into the Primordial Chaos from where all things have their beginnings: "When Lao Tzu died. The former state of "undifferentiated unity" is now over and the journey of physical separateness now begins. Divine heroes are carried for twelve months. and through meditations upon his body. He is considered to be "one with the energy of the Primordial Chaos.The Birth of the Sacred The life of the fetus is commonly referred to in the medical classics as "in the dark. The classic Taoist texts of Chuang-tzu mention the extraordinary. a child at birth is said to be one year old. Hence. the transparent and opaque before their separation. The child is again Lao Tzu himself. or the gate through which the universe manifests into the "self." (K. Schipper) Through him. Lao Tzu. but exceptional beings have a longer inner existence. Kristopher Schipper says about birth: "A person's conception is considered his birth. the internal environment of the fetus is literally quite dark.

1986. 1993. When the fragmented perception is abolished and unified. Boston & London: Shambhala Publications.chaos. References Book of the Center of Lao Tzu (Lao Tzu chung-ching). Shaolin & Taoist Herbal Training Formulas for Ch'i Kung. Only this can explain why the practice to this day continues to rely upon the Taoist literature for answers to the most difficult questions regarding our origins. between life and death. Also called the Jade Calendar. what I discovered was a persistent reference to Taoist cosmology and theology. 1968. Berkeley and Los Angeles. The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Medicine: A New Translation of the Neijing Su Wen with Commentary). Ramholz. Chicago: Silk Road Books. one returns to the beginning of all things. Essentials of Traditional Chinese Pediatrics.C. I hoped to further my understanding of the field and come to know the founding practitioners. Boulder. Great Britain: MacKays of Chatham. may we all look deeply into our own creation and come to know our very own moment. the differentiation of energies out of the original Chaos and the birth of our universe are somehow tied to death. 1985. J. is only a rhythmic beat which rouses its own echoes. That very moment is the inspiration of this paper. 1972 & 1990. 1992. As did Lao Tzu and the innumerable adepts that followed him. Thomas Cleary (translator). Kristofer. It is there that we might discover our personal sacred origins and the body of the Tao within us. Meditation. Schipper. 1990. . . the Internal Martial Arts & Longevity. James. Inc. Schipper) Epiphany When I began this paper it was my intention to write on the history and classical texts of traditional Chinese pediatrics. Su Xinming. The Inner Teachings of Taoism. Instead." (K. Cooper. 1995. Ni. Cao Junqi. Beijing: Foriegn Language Press Chang Po-Yuan. It seemed as if the practitioners had all peered deeply into the great mystery of life and creation. Kent. Flaws. California: University of California Press. Cao Jiming. Turtle Tail and Other Tender Mercies: Traditional Chinese Pediatrics. just phases in the work of the Tao. in other words. Book of Changes (I-ching) Zhu Dan-xi. Boston and London: Shambhala Publications. Taoism: The Way of the Mystic. The Taoist Body. In one moment we exist in the undifferentiated Primordial Chaos and in the next we are in the world. Bob. Maoshing (translator). and could no longer express the experience in simple medical terms. Extra Treatises Based on Investigation and Inquiry Zhu Dan-xi. Co: Blue Poppy Press. Wilhelm (translator). The Heart & Essence of Dan-xi's Method of Treatment (Dan Xi Zhi Fa Xin Yao) . Inc. Translated by Jin Huide.

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