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Three Treasures (traditional Chinese medicine)

The Three Treasures or Three Jewels (Chinese: ; pinyin: sānbǎo; Wade–Giles: san-pao) are theoretical cornerstones in traditional Chinese medicine and practices such as Neidan, Qigong, and T'ai chi. They are also known as Jing Qi Shen (Chinese: 精氣神; pinyin: jīng-qì-shén; Wade–Giles: ching ch'i shen; "essence, qi, and spirit"). Despeux summarizes.

Jing, qi, and shen are three of the main notions shared by Taoism and Chinese culture alike. They are often referred to as the Three Treasures (sanbao 三寶), an expression that immediately reveals their importance and the close connection among them. The ideas and practices associated with each term, and with the three terms as a whole, are complex and vary considerably in different contexts and historical periods. (2008:562)

This Chinese name sanbao originally referred to the Taoist "Three Treasures" (from Tao Te Ching 67, tr. Waley 1958:225, "pity", "frugality", and "refusal to be 'foremost of all things under heaven'") and subsequently translated the Buddhist Three Jewels (Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha).

In long-established Chinese traditions, the "Three Treasures" are the essential energies sustaining human life:

This jing-qi-shen ordering is more commonly used than the variants qi-jing-shen and shen-qi-jing.

In Neidan "internal alchemy" practice (Despeux 2008:563), transmuting the Three Treasures is expressed through the phrases lianjing huaqi 鍊精化氣 "refining essence into breath", lianqi huashen 鍊氣化神 "refining breath into spirit", and lianshen huanxu 鍊神還虛 "refining spirit and reverting to Emptiness". Both Neidan and Neo-Confucianism (Despeux 2008:564-5) distinguish the three between xiantian 先天 "prior to heaven" and houtian 後天 "posterior to heaven", referring to Yuanjing 元精 "Original Essence", Yuanqi 元氣 "Original Breath", and yuanshen 元神 "Original Spirit".

  • Jing "nutritive essence, essence; refined, perfected; extract; spirit, demon; sperm, seed"
  • Qi "vitality, energy, force; air, vapor; breath; spirit, vigor; attitude"
  • Shen "spirit; soul, mind; god, deity; supernatural being"
  • Balfour, Frederic H. 1880. "Three Brief Essays", The China Review 9: 380-382.
  • Despeux, Catherine. 2008. "Jing, qi, shen; 精 氣 神; essence, pneuma (breath, energy, vital force), spirit", in The Encyclopedia of Taoism, ed. Fabrizio Pregadio, pp. 562–5. Routledge.
  • Engelhardt, Ute. 2000. "Longevity Techniques and Chinese Medicine," in Daoism Handbook, ed. Livia Kohn, pp. 74–108. Brill.
  • Komjathy, Louis. 2004. Daoist Texts in Translation.
  • Olson, Stuart Alve. 1993. The Jade Emperor’s Mind Seal Classic: A Taoist Guide to Health, Longevity, and Immortality. St. Paul: Dragon Door Publications.
  • Waley, Arthur. 1958. The Way and Its Power: A Study of the Tao Te Ching and Its Place in Chinese Thought. Grove Press.
  • Wang, Mu. Foundations of Internal Alchemy: The Taoist Practice of Neidan. Golden Elixir Press, 2011. .
  • Yu, Anthony, tr. 1977. The Journey to the West. University of Chicago Press.


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