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Qi Gong: Developing Axial Consciousness

Traditionally, the central focus of qigong practice is to cultivate and balance qi as it affects mind (心), body (身), and spirit (靈). (Liu, JeeLoo. An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy: From Ancient Philosophy to Chinese Buddhism. Wiley-Blackwell./ Frantzis, Bruce Kumar (1995). Opening the Energy Gates of Your Body (The Tao of Energy Enhancement). North Atlantic Books.)

In Chinese philosophy, the concept of qi as a form of pervasive life energy includes original qi that a person has at birth, and qi a person acquires from air, water, food, sunlight, and interaction with the environment. (Liu, JeeLoo. An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy: From Ancient Philosophy to Chinese Buddhism. Wiley-Blackwell./ Li, Chenyang (1999). The Tao encounters the West: explorations in comparative philosophy. Albany: State University of New York Press.) A person is believed to become ill or die when qi becomes diminished or unbalanced. Health is believed to be returned by rebuilding qi, eliminating qi blockages, and correcting qi imbalances.

Traditional Chinese medicine focuses on tracing and correcting underlying disharmony, in terms of deficiency and excess, using the complementary and opposing forces of yin and yang, to create a balanced flow of qi. Qi is believed to be cultivated and stored in three main dantian energy centers and to travel through the body along twelve main meridians, with numerous smaller branches and tributaries. The main meridians correspond to twelve main organs (Zàng fǔ).


Dantian locations


Qi Gong as a physical health practice, presented by the contemporary Chinese and Westerners, is a complex accretion of the ancient Chinese meditative practice xing qi 行氣 or “circulating qi,” and gymnastic exercise daoyin 導引 or “guiding and pulling… The tradition of the meditative practices and gymnastic exercises goes back a long way in Chinese history. The first source, and the earliest evidence of the meditative practice and gymnastic exercise is the discovery of the Neolithic vessel in the early 1980s in Northwest China. The pottery is identified as a Shamanic vessel. The image on the nearly 7000 year old pottery, archaeologists suggest, represents the hermaphroditic unity of wu xi 巫覡, or the priest-shaman… Since the image of the body posture on the pottery is identical to the posture of the essential meditative practice or gymnastic exercise, the Chinese Qi Gong historian Li Zhiyong 李志庸 contends that the priest-shamans were the earliest masters of the Chinese meditative practice and gymnastic exercise. The Harvard anthropology professor K. C. Chang not only agrees with Li, but also suggests that the meditative practice and gymnastic exercise might have been the essential method for the priest-shamans to arrive at the state of trance/ecstasy. (Chang, 145) In addition, the French sinologist Catherine Despeux also traces the meditative practice and gymnastic exercise back to the ancient shamanic techniques of ecstasy. She sums up the studies of the Marcel Granet and Maxime Kaltenmark, which trace the shamanic origins of the legendary immortals Pengzu 彭祖, Chisongzi 赤松子, the masters of the wind and the rain, and the animal-bird dances. Despeux concludes: “the gymnastic exercises are a later development of original shamanic techniques.” (Despeux, 239) (YeYoung, Bing. “Origins of Qi Gong”. YeYoung Culture Studies: Sacramento, CA From:

Picture 137 (2)

Picture 136

Zhuangzi specifies:  “Zhenren 真人, or the True Man’s food is plain, but his breathing is unfathomable and tranquil. While the breathing of mass is through their throats, the breathing of the True Man is through his heels.” (Guo, 228) Zhuangzi conceives such training for the Way by refining and energizing qi in controlling one’s posture and breathing.  (YeYoung, Bing. “Origins of Qi Gong”. YeYoung Culture Studies: Sacramento, CA From:

Taoist and Buddhist teachers often instruct their students to center the mind in the navel or lower dantian. This is believed to aid control of thoughts and emotions. Acting from the dantian is considered to be related to higher states of awareness or samadhi.

Qi is cultivated in the dantian. The energy from other subtle dimensions enters the physical realm at the dantian.

The lower dantian corresponds to the yoga concept of the swadhisthana chakra. In yoga philosophy, it is thought to be the seat of prana that radiates outwards to the entire body. (T’ai Chi Ch’uan and Meditation by Da Liu, pages 91-92 – Routledge and Keegan Paul 1987)


Earth energy and heaven energy meet in the lower dantian.

The body’s vitality is called jing centered in the lower dantian. The power that makes mental activity possible is called Qi. The energy of the heart is called shen. All three spread throughout the whole body. The relationship between them can be compared to a candle. Jing is the candlestick, Qi is the flame, and Shen is the light that emanates from the flame. The flame becomes greater when the candlestick is bigger. The light is brighter when the flame is greater. (

One must cultivate their jing(vitality) in the lower dantian(below navel) in order to attain more qi. The more qi one accumulates, the greater their heart will radiate. This is the unification of qi(breath/spirit) with jing(vitality/earth) to create shen(love/heart).


The three dantian are also known as the “Cinnabar Fields”.”

In Yin Xi’s biography in the Lishi zhenxian tidao tong jian, j. 8, “yin Xi zhuan” we find the following passage: Yin Xi asked Laozi: “Purifying gold and absorbing breath, can the Tao be dichotomous in the way?” Laozi replied: “The floreate essence of Heaven and Earth, the root of Yin and Yang, is what is known as the two qi (breath, pneuma). The Yang dragon and Yin tiger, the liquid of wood and the essence of metal, take their two qi and unite them; the product obtained upon purification is what is called the outer elixir (waidan). Keep it within and purify the viscera, expel the old [breath] and introduce the new, conduct it up to the Nihuan (upper field of cinnabar), make it descend and concentrate in the lower cinnabar field, circulate it non-stop until it goes to audience in the scarlet palace (heart, middle field of cinnabar). (Baldrian Hussein, Farzeen. “Inner Alchemy: Notes on the Origin and Use of the Term neidan.” Cahiers d’Extreme-Asie 5.1 (1989): 172).

The three places in the human body where neurons are most concentrated are the brain, the heart, and the gut. When all three work in unison the result is axial consciousness.

“Our true consciousness, the consciousness into which humanity is evolving, does not lie in either the pole of the head or the pole of the belly. Our true consciousness is a field sustained by the axis that runs between those poles – as the poles of a bar magnet sustain a magnetic field around it. Before we can grow into an axial consciousness, though, we have to reclaim what we abandoned so long ago: the female genius of being, which resides in the belly.” (Shepherd, Philip New Self, New World: Recovering Our Senses in the Twenty-First Century North Atlantic Books 2010)

Gut Brain & Axial Consciousness


The following is from the article “Coming Home to the Body” by Philip Shepherd, whose book New Self, New World: Recovering Our Senses in the Twenty-First Century is one of my favorite all time works:

“One of the primary messages of our culture’s story is that it is normal and even unavoidable to live in our heads. Neurology (and who can doubt such an advanced science?) assures us that the self is pretty much contained in the brain – and I’m sure, incidentally, that most neurologists do clearly feel their self contained in their craniums. What neurologists rarely mention, and tacitly dismiss, is that there is a second, independent, self-sufficient brain in the belly that perceives, remembers, decides and acts. We have known about that second brain for over a hundred years, but our culture’s headstrong story has no place for that aspect of our physiology – so although it is accepted by medical science, it is pretty much ignored by everyone.


Other cultures recognize and celebrate the thinking in the belly as the seat of our profoundest truths – cultures as diverse as the Japanese, the Incas, North American Aboriginals and the Chinese. In fact, the belly is where European cultures experienced their thinking some 10,000 years ago – but as those ancient cultures moved from female-centered values that celebrated the Goddess to male-centered values that celebrated the God, the center of our thinking began to drift up from the belly, so that by the time Homer was writing, our thinking was experienced in the chest (the word Homer used for ‘mind’ was phren, and it also meant ‘diaphragm’), and it had arrived in the head by Plato’s day

Living in the head enables us to withdraw from all the messy sensations of the world around us and gain clear perspectives on it so that we can make good choices, or ‘decisions’ – decisions that are, ipso facto, largely uninformed by the messy sensations of the world. Furthermore, from the sensation-deprived prospect of the head, the world appears to be largely dead and controllable, reducible to subatomic particles obeying the laws of physics…

… The head is where we can consciously think. So highly do we value our faculty of reason that we overlook its fundamental impotence: wondrous as that faculty is, you cannot reason your way into the present. If you are not present, you will not be informed by the present – and then your ‘decisions’ will be made according to your second-hand ideas about the present, oblivious of its song and blind to its deeper harmony. The division of the self, then – which our culture’s story presents as normal and inevitable – means our actions will be divided from and deaf to the world’s harmony. There is an enduring principle at work here: as we relate to the body, so we relate to the world. It cannot be otherwise…

If the brain in the head is where we can consciously think, the brain in the belly – which is associated with the female aspect of our consciousness – is where we can consciously ‘be’. Its genius brings us into relationship with all things, and integrates the many into a felt whole. As a culture, we have pretty much lost the ability to just ‘be’ – we are devotedly addicted to doing, doing, doing. Birthing a new self doesn’t ask us to abandon the male and return to the female – it asks us to honor both and unite their strengths, recognizing at the same time that ‘home’ for the new-born self will not be in the head, but in the belly: awake to the mindful present, guided by its subtle whisperings, working in harmony with it.

Our true consciousness, the consciousness into which humanity is evolving, does not lie in either the pole of the head or the pole of the belly. Our true consciousness is a field sustained by the axis that runs between those poles – as the poles of a bar magnet sustain a magnetic field around it. Before we can grow into an axial consciousness, though, we have to reclaim what we abandoned so long ago: the female genius of being, which resides in the belly.”

brain-gut_axis (2)


Indigenous Astrology

California Indians knew, unequivocally, that their lifelines as humans lay in the cycles of the land. Events were timed with the coming and going of animals and the ripening of culturally important plants. This synchrony was a constant reminder that human destiny and nonhuman life were intimately intertwined. Even the conception of a baby might be planned around specific seasons marked by animal births and the sprouting of plants.  The most favorable time for Miwok woman to have a child was between the months of March and June because, as a Southern Sierra Miwok man explained to a Belgium Argonaut, “[i]t is when the Spirit gives existence to everything, that the ‘Ohha (woman) should give existence.”  He further commented that during these months, “he [the sun] is superior in his turn, makes every-thing  grow, the birds in the air, terrestrial animals, and plants.” (Anderson, M. Kat Tending the Wild University of California Press 2005: 60)


Living Mountains and Human Spirit

santa ynez mts2

Sacred mountains, symbolizing the exaltation of divine providence, are to be found in all parts of the world. Moreover, the fusion of man and mountain into a living embodiment of truth and light as the way to knowledge of self and the universe is a fundamental belief of many extant traditions. Equally, mountains are metaphors for transcendent states of being; they are also living repositories of sacred energies and conduits of power and revelation.

Mountains occupy a prominent position in the spiritual life of prominent position in the spiritual life of innumerable cultures across the planet… For example, the thirteenth-century Japanese Zen Master and teacher Dogen tells us that “from time immemorial the mountains have been the dwelling place of the great sages; wise men and sages have all made the mountains their own chambers, their own body and mind.’ In much the same spirit, Masanobu Fukuoka believes that “Those who make use of discriminating knowledge cannot grasp the truth of [Mount Fuji]. Without the whole, the parts are lost, and without the parts, there is no whole. Both lie within the same plane… To know the real Fuji one must look at the self in relation to Fuji rather than at the mountain itself… When one’s eyes are opened by forgetting the self and becoming one with Fuji, then one will know the true form of the mountain.

The Kogi of Colombia make their home on a mountaintop and have instructions about the sacredness of the mountain world: “The Mother told us to look after all mountains. They are ceremonial houses. We know that all the mountains we see are alive. So we make offerings to them.” The Kikuyu, with more than two million members the largest tribe in Kenya, revere Mount Kenya, Africa’s second highest peak and the heavenly abode of their Supreme Being, Ngai…

… Alfonso Ortiz,, a Native American poet and writer, turns to a Tewa expression Pin pe obi, “look to the mountaintop,” for a guiding vision of life… He conveys the potential of the summits when he recites a Tewa prayer, “Within and around the mountains, your authority returns to you.”

(McLuhan, T.C. The Way of the Earth: Encounters with Nature in Ancient and Contemporary Thought SIMON & SHUSTER 1996: 28-29)

santa ynez mts3


Agricultural/Industrial societies are afraid of Wilderness

Hunter/Gatherer and Plant Tending societies are sustained by Wilderness

Notes from “The cosmos as intersubjective: Native American other-than human persons”

… when the power concept manitou is understood as knowledge and influence, the term embodies (that is to say is given presence, rather than abstract representation) an awareness of the social interdependence of all persons. Far from being impersonal, then, manitou describes a world emerging from the intersubjectivity of various beings’ self-oriented and other-oriented purposes… (Morrison, Kenneth M. “The cosmos as intersubjective: Native American other-than human persons” Indigenous religions: a companion. Harvey, Graham, ed. Continuum, 2000. pp. 26-27)

… As one would expect in a cosmos constituted by persons, the Ojibwa think precisely in relational, rather than objective, terms. For them, as for other Native American peoples, causality and personal intentionality are synonymous, particularly since they invariably locate power – here understood as the ability to influence other beings – in the interplay of all sorts of persons. Such a relational view shapes the ways in which the Ojibwa conceive of a wide range of interpersonal phenomena. They understood prominent features of the land as having emerged from the intentional acts of Nanabozho, their culture hero. They think of the course of the seasons, and of day and night, as related to the purposes of Winter and Summer, the Sun, the Moon, and the stars. Bird and animal behavior reveal a similar purposefulness as these persons interact with each other, and with Ojibwa individuals… Hallowell writes that the Ojibwa are not at all interested in dominant non-Indian modes of thinking. They do not ask: What causes? They ask instead: Who causes? (p. 31)

… Native American ways of life have a relational character whose power cannot be understood either in objective or supernaturalistic ways. Native American religious sensibilities focus on the ways in which reality is interactive, rather than substantial, fixed, mechanical, or magical. (p. 33)

Native American languages encode the insight that speech is a power all persons share. As Gary Witherspoon (1977) has shown, the Navajo think of language as generative rather than, as in European convention, representative. Navajo speech does not encode realities which might exist independently, objectively apart from itself. In Witherspoon’s interpretation, Navajo words do not mirror reality. Words do not stand for or, as is often said, symbolize any reality apart from themselves. On the contrary, Navajo speech embodies the speaker’s intentionality, and extends the self beyond the body, to shape a reality coming into being in the field of interpersonal dialogue. Speech influences and motivates a cosmos of relationships and social processes (Witherspoon 1977). (pp. 34-35)

Taoist Body/Cosmic Power

“In one sense… the mystical aspect of the Daoist religion may be considered as comprising ways to realize “the whole glory” of the unity of humans, heaven, and earth.  The organic metaphors employed in Daoist writing suggest that this unity is to be conceived as an ontogenetic unity, that is, a root from which the diversity of things flowers. The genetic metaphor of root and branch (ben-mo) is a powerful way of conceiving our relation to the primordial source (yuandao) from which all life flows. Human beings experience a unity with this transformative, multifarious vitality within their bodies. For the Daoist, then, it is the body, not just the heart-mind (xin), that must be cultivated and imaged in order to realize the unity of humans and the cosmos. It is this point that most clearly distinguishes Daoist cultivation practices from Confucian intellectual discourse. This does not mean that Daoism and Confucianism are in any sense opposed to each other intellectually or practically. Rather, they operate on different terrains. Confucians seek primarily the transformation of the self through the cultivation of the heart-mind by means of devoted attention to the classics. Daoists seek primarily to realize a sort of transparency or porosity between their bodily identity and the economy of cosmic power in which it is embedded

… In the practice of Daoist cultivation, then, the human body forms the preeminent landscape or terrain for the Daoist imagination. To use an analogy from the Chinese, the character xing means “form” primarily in the concrete sense of the bodily form and secondarily in the abstract sense of the form of things. The body, in Daoist thought, informs—is the preeminent form of—human understanding and may serve as a vital metaphor for understanding our relationship with the world and for managing the practical complexities of social organization…

… The Daoist religious system known as Highest Clarity (Shangqing) employed this theory of microcosm/macrocosm correspondence in its practice of invoking the presence of celestial divinities in the energy systems of the body, naming them, and describing how they configure the energy in each physiological system of the body.”  (Miller, James “Envisioning the Daoist Body in the Economy of Cosmic Power” Daedalus: Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences)

“Human beings have 360 joints, nine bodily openings, and five yin and six yang systems of function. In the flesh tightness is desirable; in the blood vessels free flow is desirable; in the sinews and bones solidity is desirable; in the operations of the heart and mind harmony is desirable; in the essential Qi regular motion is desirable. When [these desiderata] are realized, illness has nowhere to abide, and there is nothing from which pathology can develop. When illness lasts and pathology develops, it is because the essential Qi has become static.” (Lüshi chunqiu 20, trans. Nathan Sivin, Medicine, Philosophy and Religion in Ancient China (Aldershot, England: Variorum, 1995), 6.)

“It is important to remember that yin and yang are not forces or substances but modes or aspects of the transpiration of vital energy. This energy is the stuff of the universe as well as the vitality of our bodies. The last sentence of the quotation is particularly instructive. The nature of yang-Qi (expiration) is to transform, whereas the nature of yin-Qi (inspiration) is to receive and store form. The transformation of things, that is, the process of life itself, takes place by means of the continuous dynamic of the projection (yang) and reception (yin) of energy. Moreover, this dynamic, at its root, informs the cosmic diversity of the “ten thousand things.” The binary dynamic that models the energetic transpiration of human physiological systems is the same dynamic that models the phases of the moon and the orbits of the stars. The basic binary character of the universe is a function of the dynamic nature of energy: Qi is never static; it is either expanding or contracting, activating or storing. There is no such thing as a steady  state…

… Within the bodily “ecosystem,” each physiological subsystem, then, is constructed for the purpose of the free circulation of vital energy and fluids throughout the body. In traditional Chinese medicine, the diagnosis of pathologies consists of analyzing the network of relations between energy systems in order to detect disturbances to the homeostasis. This means taking into account the causal relationships within the systems, and also the synchronic correlation between the bodily systems and the macrocosmic environment

… When a change takes place in the global environment, therefore, it is inevitable that this will produce a synchronous reaction on other processes. For this reason different forms of ritual “astro-geomantic” practice are prescribed by Daoist priests, in accordance with the rotations of the stars and the contours of the earth.”  (Miller, James “Envisioning the Daoist Body in the Economy of Cosmic Power” Daedalus: Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences)

Primal Naturalists

“The intellectual achievements of Amazonian Indians suggest that the ultimate challenge of ethnobotany will lie not merely in the identification and extraction of natural products, but rather in the discovery and elaboration of a profoundly different way of living with the forest. Consider the Waorani of eastern Ecuador. Like many Amazonian groups, the Waorani identify both psychologically and cosmologically with the rain forest. Since they depend on that environment for a large part of their diet, it is not surprising that they are exceptionally skilled naturalists. It is the sophistication of their interpretation of biological relationships that is astounding. Not only do they recognize such conceptually complex phenomena as pollination and fruit dispersal, they understand and accurately predict animal behavior. They anticipate flowering and fruiting cycles of all edible forest plants, know the preferred food of most forest animals, and may even explain where any particular animal prefers to pass the night. Waorani hunters can detect the scent of animal urine at forty paces in the forest and can accurately identify the species of animal from which it came.”

-(Davis, Wade 1995 “Shamans as Botanical Researchers” Shamans Through Time Tarcher/Penguin 2001)

Taoist Diet: Bigu – “Avoiding Grains”

“The Daoist Immortals are often described as “abstaining from grain” (bigu) as part of their training and progression in the Dao… Likewise, the “abstention from grain” of Saints must be seen to be a fundamental technique of achieving immortality, perhaps only inferior to a magical plant or elixir that would instantly fulfill the same function as the practice of bigu.” (Dannaway, Frederick R. (2009)Yoked to Earth: A Treatise on Corpse-Demons and Bigu)

The “cutting off” of grains, which were the basic staple food for the peasants, was a rejection of the sedentary life and the peasant condition as such. This refusal should not solely be interpreted in the light of the miseries endured by farmers, but also in a much more fundamental way. Agriculture has occasioned, since Neolithic times, a radical break with the way of life that prevailed for almost the entire prehistory of humankind. Agriculture has also been the main culprit of the imbalances of human civilization over the last ten thousand years or so: the systematic destruction of the natural environment, overpopulation, capitalization, and other evils that result from sedentariness. (Schipper, Kristofer (1993), The Taoist Body, translated by Karen C. Duval, University of California Press. p. 170)



“What becomes evident in the study of the tensions between Confucians and Daoists is a fundamental difference in their assessments of the prehistorical period of China. The Confucian’s viewed primordial times as period of starvation, of violence and wilderness, to loosely paraphrase and translate Levi (1982), contrasted to the Daoist view of a golden-age of uncontrived Eden-like bliss. “Zhuangzi praises that idyllic age with these words: ‘Spirits and gods show their good will and nobody dies before his time’” (Levi 1982). This is anathema to the Confucian view that it took a civilizing divine-potentate to rescue humanity from it’s own ignorance and helplessness in a brutal wilderness. This expresses a fundamental cosmological orientation that is the foundation for much of the social movements in China, perhaps even into modern times.“ Ancient man imbibed dew” and “fed on primordial breath and drink harmony” and ate not the toilsome, vulgar crops of the red dust that are exemplified in the Five Sacred Grains (wuku).”  (Dannaway, Frederick R. (2009)Yoked to Earth: A Treatise on Corpse-Demons and Bigu)

Ge Hong

Ge Hong(c. 320 CE), author of the Baopuzi, literally “[Book of the] Master Who Embraces Simplicity”, chronicles the effects of grain avoidance:

I have personally observed for two or three years men, who were foregoing starches, and in general their bodies were slight and their complexions good. They could withstand wind, cold, heat, or dampness, but there was not a fat one among them. I admit that I have not yet met any who had not eaten starches in several decades, but if some people cut off from starches for only a couple of weeks die while these others look as well as they do after years, why should we doubt that the (deliberate) fasting could be prolonged still further? If those cut off from starches grow progressively weaker to death, one would normally fear that such a diet simply cannot be prolonged, but inquiry of those pursuing this practice reveals that at first all of them notice a lessening of strength, but that later they gradually get stronger month by month and year by year. Thus, there is no impediment to the possibility of prolongation. All those who have found the divine process for attaining Fullness of Life succeeded by taking medicines and swallowing breath; on this they are all in perfect agreement. A moment of crisis, however, generally occurs at an early stage when medicines are being taken and starches abandoned and it is only after forty days of progressive weakening, as one uses only holy water and feeds solely on breath, that one regains strength. (15, tr. Ware 1966:246-7)

Baopuzi “The Master Embracing Simplicity”

Chapter 6, “The Meaning of ‘Subtle'” (微旨), equates grain avoidance with the supernatural abilities of a xian transcendent.

Therefore, by giving up starches one can become immune to weapons, exorcize demons, neutralize poisons, and cure illnesses. On entering a mountain, he can render savage beasts harmless. When he crosses streams, no harm will be done to him by dragons. There will be no fear when plague strikes; and when a crisis or difficulty suddenly arises, you will know how to cope with it. (6, tr. Ware 1966:114-5)

While traditional Chinese mythology depicted cooking and agriculture as key elements of civilization, the Daoists created a “counter-narrative” to justify the idea of grain avoidance. (Campany,Robert Ford. Hong Ge. 2002. To live as long as heaven and earth: a translation and study of Ge Hong’s traditions of divine transcendents. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 16)

For example, the Confucianist Xunzi and Legalist Hanfeizi describe Suiren as cultural folk hero:

In the earliest times … the people lived on fruit, berries, mussels, and clams – things that sometimes became so rank and fetid that they hurt people’s stomachs, and many became sick. Then a sage appeared who created the boring of wood to produce fire so as to transform the rank and putrid foods. The people were so delighted by this that they made him ruler of the world and called him the Fire-Drill Man (Suiren 燧人). (Hanfeizi 49, tr. Campany 2005:15)


In contrast, the Zhuangzi “Mending Nature” chapter mentions Suiren first in a list of mythic sage-rulers – Fu Xi, Shennong, Yellow Emperor, Tang of Shang, and Yu the Great traditionally credited with advancing civilization – but depicts them as villains who began the destruction of the primal harmony of the Dao. Campany (2005:16) calls this “the decline of Power and the ever-farther departure from the natural Dao into systems of social constraint and what passes for culture.”

The ancients, in the midst of chaos, were tranquil together with the whole world. At that time, yin and yang were harmoniously still, ghosts and spirits caused no disturbances; the four seasons came in good time; the myriad things went unharmed; the host of living creatures escaped premature death. … This condition persisted until integrity deteriorated to the point that Torchman [Suiren] and Fuhsi arose to manage all under heaven, whereupon there was accord, but no longer unity. Integrity further declined until the Divine Farmer and the Yellow Emperor arose to manage all under heaven, whereupon there was repose, but no longer accord. Integrity declined still further until T’ang and Yu arose to manage all under heaven. They initiated the fashion of governing by transformation, whereby purity was diluted and simplicity dissipated. (tr. Mair 1994:149)

Shennong “Divine farmer”

“Now, the people of mysterious antiquity, they reached old age because they remained in leisureand never ate any grains.” (From Most High Numinous Treasure)

The Yellow Turban Rebellion was initiated by Daoist adepts who proposed an alternative world view to restructure society from the Yellow Heaven. The struggle was not against society per se as much as it was frustration at the loss of an “idealized, primitive agricultural community…or a nostalgia for a prefeudal or Neolithic communal society” (Girardot, N.J. 1983. Myth and Meaning in Early Taoism. Berkeley: University of California Press.)

Yellow Turban Rebellion

“Retiring to a mountain, then as now, would require an inordinate amount of training, planning and discipline. Following Maslow, the aspirant’s first concern, especially in times of famine and strife, would be nourishment. This essentially puts the person back in the same situation as before the advent of agriculture. The Daoist masters in some sense decide that in the face of continually crumbling social orders, with intermittent prosperity, to have done with the charade and to face the situation on their own terms. To be able to minimize or abstain from food (especially the Five Grains) and to thrive by way of subtle arts would be tantamount to freedom from the feudal system.” (Dannaway, Frederick R. (2009)Yoked to Earth: A Treatise on Corpse-Demons and Bigu)

“The Immortals always are just off in the distance, just a bit further out to sea, just a bit higher up the mountain. Beyond modern constructs that burden myths, there are examples of the Shuli, “the cooked ones” and the Shengli, “the raw ones of Limu mountains”. The “raw ones” live in the impenetrable heights of the mountains beyond the reach of the civilizing hearth and beyond them at the top of Mt. Limu are the immortals, which are as far away as possible from civilization while still remaining on earth. The proximity to civilization, like graded levels of health or longevity the higher up the mountain, often determines the vitality of Immortals and power plants. Levi (Lévi, Jean. 1982. L’abstinence des céréales chez les Taoïstes. Études chinoises 1: 3–47.) expresses this in the context of a “refusal of orthodoxy” in favour of a primitive Golden-age where Daoist ‘dietetics are not a collection of good house-woman recipes or a proto-scientific hygienic diet’ but an act of protest. ” (Dannaway, Frederick R. (2009)Yoked to Earth: A Treatise on Corpse-Demons and Bigu)

During the reign of Emperor Cheng of the Han, hunters in the Zhongnan Mountains saw a person who wore no clothes, his body covered with black hair. Upon seeing this person, the hunters wanted to pursue and capture him, but the person leapt over gullies and valleys as if in flight, and so could not be overtaken. The hunters then stealthily observed where the person dwelled, surrounded and captured him, whereupon they determined that the person was a woman. Upon questioning, she said, “I was originally a woman of the Qin palace. When I heard that invaders from the east had arrived, that the King of Qin would go out and surrender, and that the palace buildings would be burned, I fled in fright into the mountains. Famished, I was on the verge of dying by starvation when an old man taught me to eat the resin and nuts of pines. At first, they were bitter, but gradually I grew accustomed to them. They enabled me to feel neither hunger nor thirst; in winter I was not cold, in summer I was not hot.” Calculation showed that the woman, having been a member of the Qin King Ziying’s harem, must be more than two hundred years old in the present time of Emperor Cheng. The hunters took the woman back in. They offered her grain to eat. When she first smelled the stink of the grain, she vomited, and only after several days could she tolerate it. After little more than two years of this [diet], her body hair fell out; she turned old and died. Had she not been caught by men, she would have become a transcendent. (tr. Campany 2005:38)

As the Dayou zhang (Verse of Great Existence) says:

“The five grains are chisels cutting life away,

Making the five organs stink and shorten our spans.

Once entered into our stomach,

There’s no more chance to live quite long.

To strive for complete avoidance of all death

Keep your intestines free of excrement!”

Avoiding grains was the primary medical cure for eliminating the sanshi 三尸 “Three Corpses” or sanchong 三蟲 “Three Worms”, which are evil spirits believed to live in the human body and hasten death. Livia Kohn (Kohn, Livia (1993), The Taoist Experience: An Anthology, State University of New York Press. p. 148) describes the Three Corpses as “demonic supernatural creatures who feed on decay and are eager for the body to die altogether so they can devour it. Not only do they thus shorten the lifespan but they also delight in the decaying matter produced by the grains as they are digested in the intestines. If one is to attain long life, the three worms have to be starved, and the only way to do so is to avoid all grain.”

The ‘Three Worms’ or ‘Three Corpses’

The three worms, or again three corpses. depending on the text, reside in the head, torso and lower body (three elixir fields dantian) and are assisted by a pernicious group of nine worms that do everything they can “to incite people to evil or ill.” Upon his death the host is cast into hells and the worms are rewarded by feast of the poor soul’s corpse. The Upper Worm is named Peng Ju, is white and blue color, and focuses on tempting the adept to long for delicious food and other “physical”delights. The Middle Worm, Peng Zhi,is white and yellow and incites the adept to greed and excessive emotions of joy and anger. The Lower Worm, Peng Jiaois white and black conspires to entice the mystic to the worldly pleasures of sex, alcohol and fancy attire (Eskildsen 1998) or vitality-sapping wet dreams (Eskildsen, Stephen. 2004. The Teachings and Practices of the Early Quanzhen Taoist Masters. Albany: State University of New York.)

The Chu sanshi jiuchong baoshen jing (Scripture on Expelling the Three Corpses and Nine Worms to Protect Life) prob. 9th century gives the following details:

1. The Upper Corpse, Pengjulives in the head, symptoms of its attack include a feeling of heaviness in the head, blurred vision, deafness, and excessive flow of tears and mucus.

2. The middle corpse, Peng Zhi, dwells in the heart and stomach. It attacks the heart and makes its host crave sensual pleasures.

3. The lower corpse, Peng Jiao, resides in the stomach and legs. It causes the Ocean of Pneuma ((qihai) corresponds to lower dantian) to leak, and make host lust after women.

Nine worms, which cause corpse-malady (shih-chai) or corpse-exhaustion (shih-lao) [(Strickmann 2002):

1. The “ambush worm” (fuchong) saps people’s strength by feeding off their essence and blood.

2. The “coiling worm” (huichong) infests the body in pairs of male and female that live above and below the heart, consuming the host’s blood.

3. The “inch-long white worm” (cun baichong) chews into the stomach, weakening the inner organs and damaging the digestive track

4. The “flesh worm” (rouchong) causes itching and weakens the sinews and back.

5. The “lung worm” (feichong) causes coughing, phlegm buildup, and difficulty in breathing.

6. The “stomach worm” (weichong) consumes food from its host’s stomach, causing hunger.

7. The “obstructing worm” (gechong) dulls the senses induces drowsiness and causes nightmares.

8. The “red worm” (chichong) causes stagnation of the blood and pneuma, heaviness in the waist, and ringing in the ear.

9. The “wriggling worm” (qiaochong) causes itching sores on the skin and tooth decay.

(Pregadio, Fabrizio, ed. 2008. The Encyclopedia of Taoism. RoutledgeCurzon.)

The Nine Worms

The Taishang shengxuanjing says a fast of 30 days kills the Upper worm, 60 the Middle, 100 and so on as mentioned, but that even after the adept purges the body he will still feel the urge to eat. This is explained that the refined essence of grains causes a slimy membrane that coats the Five Viscera, Six Bowels, the joints, muscles and vessels but perseverance for 20-30 more days will make it disappear (as will moles, scars and blemishes).

The Japanese medical texts are full of similar demon-worms, some requiring magical or potent treatment or vigils on Koshin day. These are from an anonymous 16th century Osakan medical text the, Harikikigaki:

Lectins are types of proteins commonly found in nature in foods such as fruits, vegetables, and seafood, but especially grains, beans and seeds.

Some of the lectins consumed in everyday foods act as chemical messengers that can in fact bind to the sugars of cells in the gut and the blood cells, initiating an inflammatory response. In wheat, gliadin, a component of gluten and an iso-lectin of wheat germ agglutinin (WGA), is capable of activating NF kappa beta proteins which, when up-regulated, are involved in almost every acute and chronic inflammatory disorder including neurodegenerative disease, inflammatory bowel disease, infectious and autoimmune diseases. (Jones, David S., ed.. Textbook of Functional Medicine. Gig Harbor:The Institute for Functional Medicine, 2005, 303.)

Aglaée the Paleo Dietician says, “Some people may experience diarrhea, nausea, bloating, reflux or vomiting when ingesting lectins. Whether you experience symptoms or not, lectins can damage your gut lining, impair nutrient absorption, compromise your gut flora and interfere with your immune system”.

Lectin has a protective role for the plant by irritating your digestive system so you don’t digest its seeds, which is needed for the reproduction and survival of their specie. Some people may experience diarrhea, bloating, nausea, reflux or vomiting when ingesting lectins. Whether you experience symptoms or not, lectins can damage your gut lining, impair nutrient absorption, compromise your gut flora and interfere with your immune system.  Lectins are also involved in impaired intestinal permeability, or leaky gut, which allows undigested particles (pooh!) to pass from your intestines into your blood and causing problems.

Lectins which can damage the gut lining, which increases inflammation and is a newly discovered feature of not only autoimmune disease but also insulin resistance and liver pathology.

Wheat contains a lectin called wheat germ agglutinin, or WGA. Lectins are sticky little buggers and the WGA goes into your small intestine and gloms onto the brush border. It then tricks your body into taking it across the border of your intestine intact, where it is seen as a foreign invader by your immune system. Antibodies are created in response to the lectins, and unfortunately, lectins often look a lot like other parts of your body. They may look like cells in your brain, pancreas, etc., so the same antibodies that were created to attack the lectin will actually go launch attacks on your own body. This is where autoimmune issues arise, like diabetes type 1, celiac disease, lupus and multiple sclerosis. (

There is an abundance of literature from the most prestigious journals that lectins such as WGA initiate allergic reactions in the gut causing the release of IL-4, IL-13, and histamine from human basophils producing noticeable allergic symptoms. (Watzl B, Neudecker C, Hansch GM, Rechkemmer G, Pool-Zobel BL. Dietary wheat germ agglutinin modulates ovalbumin-induced immune responses in Brown Norway rats. Br J Nutr. 2001 Apr;85(4):483-90.) (Eur. J. Immunology. 1999. Mar;29(3):918-27.)

WGA has also shown to interfere with protein digestion and increase gut permeability. (Falth-Magnusson K., et al. Elevated levels of serum antibodies to the lectin wheat germ agglutinin in celiac children lend support to the gluten-lectin theory of celiac disease. Pediatr Allergy Immunol. May 1995; 6(2): 98-102.) (Hollander D, Vadheim CM, Brettholz E, Pertersen GM, Delahunty T, Rotter JI. Increased intestinal permeability in patients with Crohn’s disease and their relatives. A possible etiologic factor. Ann Intern Med, December 1986; 105(6):883-85.)


Groups led by Zioudrou (1979) and Brantl (1979) found opioid activity in wheat, maize and barley (exorphins), and bovine and human milk (casomorphin), as well as stimulatory activity in these proteins, and in oats, rye and soy. Cereal exorphin is much stronger than bovine casomorphin, which in turn is stronger than human casomorphin. Mycroft et al. (1982, 1987) found an analogue of MIF-1, a naturally occurring dopaminergic peptide, in wheat and milk. It occurs in no other exogenous protein… Since then, researchers have measured the potency of exorphins, showing them to be comparable to morphine and enkephalin (Heubner et al. 1984), determined their amino acid sequences (Fukudome &Yoshikawa 1992), and shown that they are absorbed from the intestine (Svedburg et al.1985) and can produce effects such as analgesia and reduction of anxiety which are usually associated with poppy-derived opioids.(Greksch et al.1981, Panksepp et al.1984)… One of the most striking phenomena in these studies is that patients often exhibit cravings, addiction and withdrawal symptoms with regard to these foods (Egger 1988:170, citing Randolph 1978; see also Radcliffe 1987:808-10, 814, Kroker 1987:856, 864, Sprague & Milam 1987:949, 953, Wraith 1987:489, 491). Brostoff and Gamlin (1989:103) estimated that 50 per cent of intolerance patients crave the foods that cause them problems, and experience withdrawal symptoms when excluding those foods from their diet. Withdrawal symptoms are similar to those associated with drug addictions (Wadley, Greg; Martin, Angus “The Origins of Agriculture: A Biological Perspective and a new Hypothesis” Australian Biologist 6: June 1993 pp. 96-105)

“The adoption of cereal agriculture and the subsequent rise of civilisation have not been satisfactorily explained, because the behavioural changes underlying them have no obvious adaptive basis… The answer, we suggest, is this: cereals and dairy foods are not natural human foods, but rather are preferred because they contain exorphins. This chemical reward was the incentive for the adoption of cereal agriculture in the Neolithic. (Wadley, Greg; Martin, Angus “The Origins of Agriculture: A Biological Perspective and a new Hypothesis” Australian Biologist 6: June 1993 pp. 96-105)

In the 2ndcent BC Huainanzi quotes a common saying: “Those who eat cereals are intelligent, but they die early, those who don’t eat them at all are immortal”(Lévi, Jean. 1982. L’abstinence des céréales chez les Taoïstes. Études chinoises 1: 3–47.)

The Legend of the Birch Tree

Long ago and not far away, a boy was born into a nice  family. Before he could walk, a ceremony was held in his honor, a naming  ceremony. He was given the name Wiigwaas. Wiigwaas was given many gifts from the creator.  One of those gifts was to help others in a  good way. He not only helped his father hunt and fish, he also helped his mother  pick wild berries and tend the garden. He helped the elderly not only in his  village, but in other villages. He would help make canoes and houses.

One day when he became a young man he had to go to battle. In this battle he lost his life. His brothers brought his body home and  buried him, after they held a farewell ceremony. He was buried in pure white  buckskin on a hill just beyond his village. The following spring his people noticed that a little tree began to grow at the site of his grave. As this  tree grew tall a dream came to the father of Wiigwaas. In this dream he was  told that Wiigwaas was still able to help his people and the dream showed him how.

In the springtime you can take the sweet sap from him and you can make syrup. You can peel the bark off to fashion food containers for keeping food and eating. You can make canoes and you can use the bark to make lodges. You can make boxes and baskets.  From the strong wood you can make daabaagan, sleighs and lodges. You can make  fires, so the people can keep warm and cook food. So, even in his death, Wiigwaas is still helping his people.

-Anishinaabe Nation