The Five Vital Breaths Oriented to the Origin
“The Five Vital Breaths Oriented to the Origin ( 五氣朝元 Wuqi Chaoyuan )” is a term used in Inner Alchemy ( 內丹 Neidan ). The “Five Vital Breaths” refer to the Vital Breaths in the five viscera, namely the heart, liver, kidneys, lungs, and spleen. For a mortal, they scatter in the locations of the Five Agents ( 五行 Wuxing ) and cannot engender integrated energy. In order to break this limitation, Daoist Inner Alchemists sought techniques of refining the Vital Breaths, and through their long-term practice and experience, advanced the theory of “the Five Vital Breaths Oriented to the Origin”. There already existed a hazy awareness of the “Five Vital Breaths” as early as in The Three Ways Unified and Normalized of the Book of Changes ( 周易參同契 Zhouyi Cantongqi ) of the Han dynasty, which says, “earth predominates throughout the four seasons; the green, the red, the white and the black occupy one direction respectively and all share the merits of the middle palace of Wuji.” The term “Five Vital Breaths” did not appear, but here the relationship between the Five Agents was represented by the five colors. In Daoism, the five colors also symbolize the five viscera. Viewing from this angle, we can confirm that The Three Ways Unified and Normalized of the Book of Changes embodies cognitions of the Vital Breaths in the five viscera. However, it does not make explicit mention of “the Five Vital Breaths Oriented to the Origin”. It is the Transmission of Dao by Zhongli Chuan and Lü Dongbin ( 鍾呂傳道集 Zhonglü Chuandaoji ) that directly uses this concept. The chapter “On Being Oriented to the Origin” puts forward the idea that the way of the Vital Breaths in the five viscera being oriented to the origin varies with changes in Yin and Yang. According to this chapter, while the sun and the moon circulate, just when the primary Yang comes into being, the Vital Breaths in the five viscera are oriented to the “middle origin”, i.e., the middle Elixir Field ( 丹田 Dantian ) in the middle of breasts; just when the primary Yin comes into being, the liquids in the five viscera are oriented to the “lower origin”, the lower Elixir Field, which lies 1.3 cun below the navel. When an Inner Alchemist inspects and illuminates his body with divine gaze, guided by the Ren Vital Breath of water, the Bing Vital Breath of fire and the Geng Vital Breath of gold, the three Yang (Ren, Bing and Geng) breaths are oriented to the inner court of the “heavenly palace” (forehead), and accordingly, the mind returns to the “heavenly palace” and the five Vital Breaths are oriented to the upper origin. Daoist Inner Alchemists have offered various explanations to the theory of “The Five Vital Breaths Oriented to the Origin” ever since the end of the Tang and the Five Dynasties. Discussions lasted from the Song (Zhang Boduan) to the Jin and Yuan dynasties (Qiu Chuji and Xiao Tingzhi). Summing up a good many previous argumentations, Pointers on Spiritual Nature and Bodily Life ( 性命圭旨 Xingming Guizhi ) makes a systematic exposition of the theory of “The Five Vital Breaths Oriented to the Origin”, and even contains an illustration for readers’ comprehension. Starting with the problem of the origin of life, this book first points out that for a mortal, the Five Eternal Virtues (the Five Agents) scatter in different places and the five directions hold different Vital Breaths, and goes further to explain the feasibility and methods of a practitioner refining the five Vital Breaths to make them all oriented to the origin. According to the author of this book, the five viscera are originally guarded by the Five (green, red, yellow, white, black) Emperors ( 五帝 Wudi ), whose functions are represented by the Celestial Trunks ( 天干 Tiangan ), the Five Agents, numerals, and their correlation. The green emperor corresponds to the Jia-Yi three-Vital Breath of the virtue of wood; the red emperor corresponds to the Bing-Ding two-Vital Breath of the virtue of fire; the white emperor corresponds to the Geng-Xin four-Vital Breath of the virtue of gold; the black emperor corresponds to the Ren-Gui one-Vital Breath of the virtue of water; the yellow emperor corresponds to the Wu-Ji five-Vital Breath of the virtue of earth. A practitioner should assemble the dispersed Vital Breaths. The expression “collecting or combining the five, the four, the three and the two to make the one” describes the process of converging and orienting the Vital Breaths. The four-Vital Breath of the virtue of gold and the one-Vital Breath of the virtue of water make the five, the three-Vital Breath of the virtue of wood and the two-Vital Breath of the virtue of fire make the five, and the center holds its own five-Vital Breath. So the three “five” gather, the four elements harmonize, and the five Vital Breaths are oriented to the origin and assemble at the top of the head. An advanced state of Inner Alchemical cultivation is thus attained.