dimanche 13 mars 2011

Yangsheng, the art of nourishing the vital principle

The teaching of Wang xiangzhai, known today as Yiquan or Dachengquan, was established on the basis of the several researches he made during his living. These searches, focused on the chinese tradition, brought him to the creation of a method for the developpment of the human being in harmony with its proper nature. He taught this method, so called zhanzhuanggong, by assimilating it to an antic Yangsheng form (Yangsheng : nourishing life). In his text entitled "Zhanzhuanggong" (the pole standing exercice), he speaks about it in those following words (personal translation) :

"The pole standing (zhanzhuang) is an antic form of the "nourishing life" art (yangsheng) of my country.
More than 2000 years ago, the yellow emperor's book of esoterism (Huangdi neijing) was already speaking about it in those words : " ... In the ancient times, there were men able to understand the mysteries of the sky and earth. Men who had understood the principles of yin and yang, of the vital breath, able to preserve their spirit in loneliness, to make their muscles be one. As a result, they could live as long as the sky and earth ... "
A few hundreds of years later, that kind of exercice became only a way for martial artists to work on their basics."

Yangshengzhuang, by master Wang xiangzhai

But if Wang xiangzhai is quoting the "Huangdi neijing" as the first book which mentioned that art of preserving vitality, the expression Yangsheng was already used in several taoïst classic books. The "Zhuangzi", one of the very classic corpus of Taoïsm from the 3rd century is mentionning it in its chapter 3 "Yangshengzhu" (About nourishing the life).

In a text entitled "Process of nourishing the vital principle in the old Taoïst religion" (Journal asiatique, 1937), Henry Maspero talked about it in these words :

"As it is the original breath, and not the external breath, that you have to make circulate in the body, there is no need to make it enter and to hold it with effort, as some ancestors were doing : No breath holding, which are tiring and sometimes harmful. But it doesn't mean that it is an easy thing to do. On the contrary, it requires a long apprenticeship. "The internal breath...is naturaly in the body. It is not something that one has to look for outside of the body ; (but) if one doesn't get explanations from an enlightened master, (all the trial) will be only wasted time and one will never succeed" (Taiqing Wanglao (fuqi) chuan koujue, Daozang, 569)."

Taoïst symbol, the
tripod vase of alchemy

This work on nourishing the vital principle (Yangsheng) is nothing else but the origin of the Taoïst internal alchemy (Neidan).

The goal of this alchemy, in the Taoïst tradition, is to trancend the human nature and reach immortality. Immortality which was regarded in the chinese popular myths as the final state of development that only superiors being could reach. As a reality it was a representation of the ultimate spiritual stage of regression proposed by the Taoïst religion which allow the human being to go back to the primitive way of fonctioning, when it was free of any conditionning...