This wall hanging at the Twin Cities T’ai Chi Ch’uan Studio is a symbolic representation of the human body and the spiritual forces that dwell within it. The chart was carved in stone at the White Cloud Temple of Beijing by a Daoist monk named Liu Cheng-yin in 1886. The Daoists believe that qi may be visualized as energy, breath, or luminous spirits. Practicing Qigong keeps the spirits happy and well-nourished, which helps to maintain the health of the body.
These explanations of the Qigong philosophy behind the images on the chart come from The Way of Qigong, by Ken Cohen.
The boy and girl working the water treadmill represent the need to balance Yin (feminine) and Yang (masculine) energy. They also represent the right and left kidneys, which in Chinese medicine are considered reservoirs of sexual potency. The accompanying inscription says “Kidney water reverses its course.” This means that by practicing meditation, the waterlike sexual energy is conserved and made to flow upward, repairing the spine and brain and recharging the body with vitality.
Next we see a man plowing with an ox. The inscription says, “The iron bull tills the earth and sows the gold coin.” This means that Qigong requires the perseverence of a farmer and the stamina of a bull. The earth element, related to the spleen, is also a symbol of qi acquired through a balanced diet and harmonious lifestyle.
The four circular yin-yang symbols suspended above a flaming cauldron represent the lower dan tian, the “field of the elixir,” below the navel. The dan tian is like an alchemal vessel. By practicing abdominal breathing, the internal energy begins to cook. Eventually it “steams,” healing, repairing, and energizing the body. The four yin-yang symbols are radiating energy in all directions.
The weaving maid and the boy standing above her symbolize the unity of Yin and Yang. The weaving maid is Yin, the ability to store energy, to go inward, to maintain tranquility. Inner quiet is a prerequisite for energy cultivation. According to Chinese legend, the weaving maid spins a silken garment out of moonlight, which we see as the Milky Way. Here, the silken garment is the internal energy rising up the spine.
The boy represents Yang, the active and outgoing. He stands in a ring of blood; he is the spirit of the heart and the middle dan tian. According to Chinese legend, the cowherd boy and the weaving maid were once lovers. Because they neglected their duties the ruler of the heavens, the Jade Emperor, changed them into stars at opposite ends of the sky. One night a year, the seventh day of the seventh month, celebrated as Lover’s Day in China, the lovers cross the heavens and meet. In the Chart of Inner Luminosity, a bridge of qi joins the distant lovers. Thus Qigong means to unify internal energy. The boy also represents spiritual wisdom, innocence, simplicity, and youthful vitality regained through Qigong practice.
We see the stars of the Big Dipper constellation protruding from the cowherd’s crown. This means that a Qigong student should absorb qi from the stars and seek harmony with the cosmos. Daoists believe that the Dipper handle is like a lightning rod, drawing qi from the stars into the Dipper bowl. During the course of the year, the handle of the Dipper makes a 360-degree rotation. Since it thus points to all the stars, it is a reservoir of astral power.
The forest is the wood element and the liver. It represents the largest organ in the body and thus has a prominent place in the Chart. The liver, according to Chinese medicine, controls the even flow of qi. A healthy “forest” is extremely important for success in Qigong. However, we cannot improve our health by focusing on only one organ exclusively. Kidney-water helps the liver-wood to grow. Wood provides the fuel for heart-fire. Heart-fire creates ashes and nutrients that are necessary for the farmer to reap a good harvest from the earth (spleen). The earth produces gold and metal, the element and energy of the lungs. Metal becomes a molten liquid, feeding the kidneys. The organs thus form a circle of mutual interdependence.
The twelve-tiered pagoda represents the throat and the back of the neck. During meditation, qi is pumped from the sexual center, up the spine, passing the middle dan tian and internal organs, to the throat, continuing over the crown and then down the front of the body. The throat is an area where the qi is easily stuck, a result of poor posture, tension in the neck, or the concentration required to keep qi flowing upstream. From a Western psychological perspective, qi may be impeded at the “pagoda” because of difficulties in self expression and communication. The pagoda may also symbolize the importance of having a high vantage point, of not getting bogged down by details.
To the left of the pagoda we see a rectangular pool of water with the word “drawbridge” written next to it. The pool is the mouth and saliva. The bridge is the tongue. The pool provides water that prevents the mouth from drying out during breathing exercises. Saliva also absorbs qi during meditation; the meditator swallows saliva periodically and imagines it dropping into the lower dan tian, replenishing it. The tongue forms a bridge between two major meridians, the Governing Channel that follows the spine and extends over the crown, ending at the upper palate, and the Conception Channel that begins at the tip of the tongue and descends to the perineum. Touching the tip of the tongue to the upper palate closes the circuit so qi can circulate and flow without leaking.
Above the pond are two circles, representing the two eyes and the sun and moon. The Qigong student closes his eyes and turns the light inward, illuminating the inner world. By practicing self-awareness, he becomes a sage such as Lao Zi, the meditating figure above the right eye, or Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism, the figure standing under Lao Zi with up stretched arms. The presence off Lao Zi and Bodhidharma, esteemed founders of Daoism and Zen, signify the importance of meditation as the means to awaken intuition and wisdom. They also represent the fundamental unity of different spiritual paths, all leading to the same goal.
Continuing up the spine, we see the head as a series of sacred peaks. Mountains are funnels that draw down stellar and heavenly energy; this energy is concentrated in caves. Daoists go to mountain caves to meditate and commune with heavenly power.