Wish you all a Happy New Year full of Happiness and Peace.
When reading Taijiquan texts we often encounter the character Shen (神) and it is one of the most
important components of Taiji practice. As it is said in Yang Family Taijiquan Ten Principles
What one trains in Taijiquan is the spirit.
(8th Principle, as translated by Louis Swaim)
Shen (神) actually comes in three meanings:
1- An undefinable and subtle quality of "Life" or "glitter" which can be observed. Also that glitter shows the degree of being present in the moment, in the Now. Not being dull, but to be consciously aware of the Now.
2- Spirit (Almost in all translation)
3- Mind (According to Giovanni Maciocia)
Therefore I think, it is important to know what is meant by Shen in Taijiquan so that we can be aware of this element in our practice.
Now, I begin to interpret each item according to my limited understanding and then we can have the opinion of other friends and masters here in order to get a better understanding.
1- The first meaning of Shen seems more clear. For sure one of the important achievements due to Taijiquan practice (in my opinion) is that it enables one to shift his/her awareness from the automatic flow of thoughts (the auto-pilot) to the present moment. This begins with body awareness in Taijiquan as the first stage. Doing the form movements slowly, paying close attentions to details within the movements ( such as body alignment, shifting weight, empty and full, relaxing the body, intention of the movement and its supposed application...), and many other important elements all contribute to this shift of consciousness in favor of the awareness of the Now. This has both Martial and Spiritual implications. This Presence is manifested through the eyes, a light and glitter through the eye, which is emphasized by Taiji Masters to Taiji practitioners.
Also in Chinese Medicine, they use the character shen 神 to express this glitter and subtle reflection of liveliness. So they use expressions like eye with/without shen and use it as a diagnosis. Also they have face with/without shen, tongue with/without shen.
2 and 3- In Chinese philosophy and medicine Shen 神 has a broad meaning. Shen as Spirit is usually referring to a collection of five components and it is usually called (五神) Five Shens or Just Shen 神. So Shen as Spirit includes:
(I) Shen 神 of the Heart.
(II) Hun 魂 of the Liver.
(III) Yi 意 of the Spleen.
(IV) Po 魄 of the Lungs.
(V) Zhi 志 of the Kidneys.
For example the Shen (of the Heart) is responsible for: Consciousness, Sense of Self, Cognition, Thinking, Insight, Wisdom, Ideas, Feelings (According to Giovanni Maciocia's "Psyche in Chinese Medicine"). This Shen 神 is what Giovanni Maciocia is referring to as Mind, and the collection of all five is called Shen 神 as well and is regarded as Spirit.
So as you see Shen has a broad range of meanings. In "The Mental Elucidation of the Thirteen Postures" (by Wu Yuxiang, translated by Louis Swaim) we have this paragraph:
"Throughout the whole body the Intent (Yi) is on the spirit of vitality (Jing Shen 精神) not on the qi (气). If it is on the qi, then there will be stagnation. One who has it on the qi will have no strength. One who does not have it on the qi will attain pure hardness."
Also in the first principle from the Yang Family Ten Essentials they speak of raising the spirit of vitality.
Now the point is whether they are referring to Shen of the Heart or Shen as Wu Shen, I would appreciate if my friends and masters here would contribute to our understanding. Thanks in advance.
In the end I would like to emphasize the special characteristic of Chinese Language which creates such ambiguities. I also think it is better not to translate these key characters and leave them in pinyin. However it is very important I think to have a clear sense about them.
Happy New Year all,