I want to try to flesh out what I touched on in my earlier post about a significant interplay of imagery in Yang Chengfu’s item number six in his “Ten Essentials” document. Recall that in that item, headed “use conciousness, not strength,” Yang Chengfu draws an analogy between the body’s meridians and the watercourses of the earth. He remarks: “Now, the human body has meridians—as with the Earth’s watercourses, when the watercourses are unblocked, the water flows. When the meridians are unblocked, then the qi passes through.” Further, he states that “If the qi and the blood flow fully, daily threading and flowing through the entire body, there will be no time when there are blockages. After long practice, one then attains genuine internal strength (jin).” It seems to me in these lines, Yang Chengfu exposes and summarizes some of the very issues we have been discussing in this “jin thread.”
Yang Chengfu makes reference to blood vessels and to meridians in item six. The term he uses for blood vessels is xuemai, and the term he uses for meridians is jinluo, which Jerry neatly translates as the “net of acupuncture meridians and channels.” The character luo in fact means a net or network. Both of the characters in the jingluo compound have the silk radical, the jing character being the same “warp” character discussed earlier, so this technical term from traditional Chinese medicine refers to the network of energy conduits in the body. The “mai” character used for blood vessels is also used in another traditional term for meridians: jingmai. It’s this mai character I want to highlight now.
In his important book, -_Early Chinese Medical Literature: The Mawangdui Medical Manuscripts_(Kegan Paul, 1998), Donald Harper discusses in depth the term mai, which he says originally referred specifically to blood vessels, but later was generalized to include the theoretical meridians or energy conduits within the body “connecting” the accupunture points (which were ascertained by empirical methods). Harper details the early definition and etymology of mai, translating the Han dynasty Shuowen dictionary gloss: “The distribution network for blood which angles through the body.” (p. 83) Etymologically, the signific/phonetic is “pai4,” which is identified “as the reverse image of the pictograph yong: the gloss of the former is ‘water angling and flowing separately’; the latter is ‘water which is long; it depicts the long extension of the network of subterranean water-channels [jing*]. The SW gloss of jing (subterranean channel) is necessary to round out the etymological evidence: “Water vessels [shui mai). (The graph) is composed of [chuan] (stream) underneath [yi, one], and [yi] signifies earth. . . .” (p. 83)
Harper remarks, “Evidence from the SW must be weighed carefully—its etymologies do not invariably yield the original meaning of a word. However, even cautious evaluation of the evidence for mai would lead one to surmise that when the word was first adopted there already existed a conceptual correlation between the body and earth, and between blood vessels and streams.” (p. 83)
Others have noted this correlation in the early text, the Guanzi. Edward Slingerland quotes this line from Book 39 of the Guanzi: “Water is the blood and qi of the earth, like the stuff that penetrates and flows [tongliu] through the muscles and vessels of the body.” (Slingerland, _Effortless Action: Wu-Wei as Conceptual Metaphor and Spiritual Ideal in Early China_, p. 124)
So you see, when Yang Chengfu made this analogy between the the body’s meridians and the earth’s watercourses, he was expressing an enduring conception. Moreover, the notion that the meridians should be free of blockage so as to enable a beneficial flow of energy endures from the physiological insights at least as early as the Warring States period. The Mencius passage I quoted in the post above, with its referrence to water flowing from an “ample spring” (yuanquan), refers as much to psycho-physiological processes as to moral or ethical disposition. The same term for a spring, yuanquan, appears in the “Nei Ye” (Inner Training) chapter of the Guanzi, with what could be called a much more explicit reference to psycho-physiological processes, where qi is said to accumulate in the adept “floodlike” (haoran, another term shared by Mengzi). Interestingly, Manfred Porkert, in describing the conception of the accupuncture points in traditional medicine, says that “Their detection by connecting the points is analogous to the way a subterranean watercourse reveals itself by springs sent up through ‘punctures’ in the earth’s crust. The sensitive points provide the positive empirical and historically primary data on which the theory is based; the conduits, on the other hand, are the result of systematic speculations.” (Porkert, _The Theoretical Foundations of Chinese Medicine: Systems of Correspondence_, pp. 197-198)
While these materials may seem obscure and arcane, I bring them to this discussion in the hope of showing how powerful these early images of water flowing can be, and how they endure in practices like taijiquan.