Chinese-Taoist Soul Structures

Chinese philosophy did not have a dichotomy between spirit or matter, or soul and body as we witnessed in our Greek-thought portions of our series. They are perfectly merged in the Principle of the Yin-Yang constructions.

Soul=灵魂 líng hún

Ling is a spiritual force, hence Ling is often joined with the word shen, which is commonly rendered as “spirit.” Hun is “breath soul,” spirit soul; one of two souls said to reside in each human being, the other being the so-called body soul (–+ p ‘o). The life and health of a person depend on the harmonious interplay of these two souls, or energies. When hun and p ‘o separate, death ensues. Each human being has, in fact, three hun, which are considered to be higher souls that form at birth, after the seven p’o souls. The hun represent the yang energy (- yin-yang), the active force, and regulate the higher physical functions. At death, they leave the body and return to Heaven. They are also capable of manifesting in another form or shape, because they may leave the body of a person, without that person dying, e.g., when someone loses consciousness or faints. This view is also reflected by the old custom of “recalling the hun” (chao-hun), in which the souls of people who have drowned, lost consciousness, or been hanged are beckoned to return and thereby revive their former bodies. (ref: The Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion: Buddhism, Taoism, Zen, Hinduism)

From the perspective of qi, or life-force energy, the uniqueness of being human lies in the fact that we are endowed with the finest of the vital forces in the cosmos. Human beings are therefore the embodiments of soul. As such, there is a soul force that enables one to be in conjunction with the souls of the dead in the highest spiritual Realm, Heaven, or tiān tang 天堂. Chuang Tzu conceived of the soul as an emanation from the Tao, a vital force passing to and from this earth through the portals of birth and death, as represented by Yang and Yin energies.

The Yin was the principle of darkness, cold, moisture, quiescence, femininity; the Yang was the principle of light, warmth, dryness, activity, masculinity. By the interaction of these two principles all the phenomena in the universe were thought to be produced, including man. Thus man himself came into being and continued to exist as a result of the mutual interaction of these two primary forces. He thus possessed two soul elements, the one partaking of the nature of the Yin, the other partaking of the nature of the Yang. These two soul elements went by different names, the most common being the p’o ( a), an earthly soul related to the Yin, and the hun ( a), an ethereal soul related to the Yang. The hun is the yang spiritual element. The character has affiliation with characters for fragrant rue, misty vapour and clouds, with what comes out of the mouth, breath or vapour. Together the hun and the p’o make up the soul. At death the hun departs first, so that to die is to ‘sever or cut off the hun’; to lose one’s wits is to ‘lose the hun’; to return to life is to ‘receive back the hun’. At death the hun becomes a ‘shen’, a divine being akin to the shen of heaven, which is the mysterious producer and transformer of all things so that words cannot explain it (D. Howard Smith, Chinese Soul Concepts)

For the full interaction between the Yang and Yin principles, our Unborn I Ching series is an excellent resource. Generally within Unborn Mind Zen the Yin principle takes precedence. This feminine-yin principle is like a black thread of dark-spiritual energy that runs parallel and provides the striking fertile element that completes all the manifestations. When the Primordial Light is allowed to turn-about freely, all the powers of the Cosmos, of Light and Dark, are crystallized. This is known as the Yang and Yin congealing into unrestricted Pure Qi. Yin in the sense of wei wu wei, or effortless action; this was portrayed in the primordial symbol of Dao, which reflected a pure and unadulterated balance between spirit and mind within the deathless. It is Primordial Dark Energy that actually sustains the entire cosmos. Without the Yin to support and nurture it, the outer mechanism of the fiery Yang element eventually burns itself out. This is referred to as the inner Yin-Dragon factor providing that necessary balance.

There is another term, Nei-tan., lit. “inner cinnabar”; the inner elixir, the inner alchemy. In the language of the Taoist School of the Inner Elixir nei-tan refers to the development of an immortal soul from the three life-preserving energies: the essence (- ching), the vital energy (- ch ‘i) and the spirit (- shen ). By various  meditative breathing techniques the practitioner causes a new being-the so-called sacred embryo-to develop within him. This sacred embryo is synonymous with our idea of an immortal soul and-like the soul leaves the dying body at the moment of death to ascend to Heaven. Taoists frequently refer to the sacred embryo as the golden flower. Expounding upon this notion, another term, Sheng-t’ai Ii ., lit. “sacred embryo”; an embryo or fetus that, according to Taoist beliefs, comes into being by the fusion of the inner ch ‘I (- nei-ch ‘i, – ch ‘i) and the essence (- ching) in the lower cinnabar field (tan-t’ien), where it is nourished by the breath and slowly develops into a new purified body within the physical body. This embryo is the immortal soul of Taoists. When the physical body dies, this pure body departs from its mortal sheath and the practitioner becomes an immortal (- hsien). Sometimes the embryo is also compared to a grain of corn or a drop of water. Syncretist movements combining Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism compare the Taoist sheng-t’ai to the Buddhist tathagatagarbha or the dharmakaya. (ibid)

Unborn Mind Zen teaches that when the Garbha-child blossoms in Its Womb of Deathless-Suchness, transcendence from the samsaric-spin of life and death is assured. The soul itself is a type of twin of the Bodhichild. Although when the metamorphosis is complete, the soul is jettisoned in favor of the Child of Light whose essence is Pure Spirit.

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