Jing Qi Shen

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Jing Qi Shen (精氣神) are three Chinese terms commonly used in Daoism and related studies to refer to the processes that govern spiritual and physical health. Jing (精) means an essence, qi (氣) breath energy and shen (神) a divine or human spirit. They are often referred to as the “Three Treasures” or “Three Jewels” (Chinese: 三寶; pinyin: sānbǎo; Wade-Giles: san-pao). Besides this common jing-qi-shen ordering, both qi-jing-shen and shen-qi-jing are used. The three terms appear in Huangdi Neijing (simplified Chinese: 黄帝内经; traditional Chinese: 黃帝內經; pinyin: Huángdì Nèijīng), the seminal medical text of ancient China, dating to the first or second century B.C.E. The text is said to have been originally composed by the Yellow Emperor who reigned from 2497 through 2398 B.C.E., according to the historian Sima Qian. “Jing Qi Shen” are theoretical cornerstones in traditional Chinese medicine. Neidan, and Qigong, and the three terms appear frequently in the tai chi classics.

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Jing (essence), Qi (breath energy) and Shen (a divine or human spirit) are known as the "Three Treasures" in Daoism

Jing, said to be the material basis for the physical body, is passed by the parents to their child at conception. It governs the growth and development processes in the body and is gradually burned up as the body ages. The loss of jing is hastened by stress, overwork, illness, poor nutrition, and substance abuse. Qi is the invisible life force and vitality energy of the body. Qi is cosmic energy that circulates in channels, called meridians, through the body. When these channels are blocked, illness results. Shen, equated with “spirit,” “psyche” or “mind,” is a manifestation of the higher nature of human beings. It is augmented and developed through the interaction of jing and qi energies. Shen presides over the emotions as an all-encompassing awareness or virtues, expressed as wisdom, love, compassion, kindness, generosity, acceptance, forgiveness and tolerance. A strong shen exists on the foundation of a sound jing and a strong qi; the three must be developed together. Well-cultivated shen brings peace of mind.

The Three Jewels

In Daoist healing traditions, the "Three Treasures" or “Three Jewels” are the essential forces sustaining human life:

  • Qi 氣 "vitality, energy, force; air, vapor; breath; spirit, vigor; attitude"
  • Jing 精 "nutritive essence, essence; refined, perfected; extract; spirit, demon; sperm, seed"
  • Shen 神 "spirit; soul, mind; god, deity; supernatural being"

The Daoist text Gaoshang yuhuang xinyin jing (高上玉皇心印經, "Mind-Seal Scripture of the Exalted Jade Sovereign," or Xinyin jing "Mind-Seal Scripture," probably dating from the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279), contains a discussion of internal alchemy (neidan 內丹), emphasizing the “Three Treasures” (sanbao 三寶).

A brief essay about the Xinyin jing ("The Imprint of the Heart") by the orientalist and translator Frederic Balfour[1] contains the earliest known Western reference to the Three Treasures: "There are three degrees of Supreme Elixir – the Spirit, the Breath, and the Essential Vigour."


“Jīng” (Chinese: ; Wade-Giles: ching) is the Chinese word for "essence," specifically kidney essence. Jing is the most dense physical matter within the body and is believed to be stored in the kidney organ system. It is said to be the material basis for the physical body and is yīn in nature, which means it nourishes, fuels, and cools the body.

Jing is the unique primordial energy that is passed by the parents to an individual at conception (sometimes called yuan qi), and has no “material form.” It governs the growth processes in the body such as the development of bones and teeth, hair, normal mental processes and sexual maturity.[2] After puberty, jing controls reproductive function and fertility, as well as clarity of the mind. Jing moves the human body through birth, childhood, puberty, child-bearing, maturity and old age and is associated with the body’s ability to adapt to change.[3] Jīng circulates through the eight extraordinary vessels and creates marrow and semen, among other functions.[4]

Jing is a vital force essential to life. While jing is strong, the body remains young and vital. As the body ages, the jing that it possessed at birth is gradually burned up. The loss of jing is hastened by stress and overwork; emotional excesses; abuse of drugs, tobacco and alcohol; illness, injury and poor nutrition; and sexual intemperance. Loss of jing results in physical and mental degeneration, and as it wanes the hair becomes thin and gray, the bones, teeth and connective tissues weaken, and the senses lose their acuity. When jing is depleted, the body dies.[5]

Chinese Medicine teaches that jing can be strengthened through proper nutrition, adequate rest, meditation and the practice of qigong, herbal tonics and acupuncture treatments.[6] Strong jing results in a long and vigorous life.

Many disciplines related to qigong are devoted to the replenishment of "lost" jing, including “internal” martial arts such as Tai chi chuan and Baguazhang. Chinese herb shops commonly sell rénshēn which is said to bolster the jīng and is a component of many medicinal recipes.

An early reference to jing is found in a chapter called "Inner Training" (內業), dated to the 4th century B.C.E., of a larger text compiled during the Han dynasty, the Guǎnzi (管子)[7].


Qi, the second of the Three Treasures, is the invisible life force which enables the body to think and move, the most dynamic and immediate energy of the body. Qi is the energy that moves throughout the cosmos. It is said to enter the human body through the nose (Yang Gate) and circulate through the twelve meridians to nourish and preserve the inner organs. Qi brings about change and movement through the interaction between Yang (positivity) and Yin (negativity). Fast moving qi is considered to be Yang while slow moving qi is Yin. When jing is strong, qi automatically arises; a healthy body is a wellspring of constant circulating qi. Qi includes both energy and blood, and is thought to be produced as a result of the functions of the lungs and spleen.

Qi gives the body vitality. Theories of traditional Chinese medicine assert that the body has natural patterns of qi that circulate in channels called meridians.[8] Symptoms of various illnesses are often believed to be the product of disrupted, blocked, or unbalanced qi movement (interrupted flow) through the body's meridians, as well as deficiencies or imbalances of qi (homeostatic imbalance) in the various Zang Fu organs.[8] Traditional Chinese medicine seeks to relieve these imbalances by adjusting the circulation of qi (metabolic energy flow) in the body using a variety of therapeutic techniques, including herbal medicines, special diets, physical training regimens (qigong, tai chi chuan, and other martial arts training), moxibustion, massage to clear blockages, and acupuncture, which uses small diameter metal needles inserted into the skin and underlying tissues to reroute or balance qi.[8]

The earliest extant reference to qi is the Analects of Confucius (composed some time after his death in 479 B.C.E.).


The third Treasure, shen (神), can be equated with “spirit,” “psyche” or “mind,” and is developed through the interaction of jing and qi energies. Shen is said to be the energy behind mental, spiritual and creative activities. Unlike jing and qi, a person is not automatically endowed with shen; it is achieved and augmented through a righteous lifestyle, meditation, self control and spiritual practices. Shen is nurtured by music and dancing and participation in creative activities.

A strong shen exists on the foundation of a sound jing and a strong qi; the three must be developed together. Well-cultivated shen brings peace of mind. Shen is a manifestation of the higher nature of human beings and presides over the emotions as an all-encompassing awareness of truth. Shen is expressed as wisdom, love, compassion, kindness, generosity, acceptance, forgiveness and tolerance.ref name=Reninger/>

Shen is associated with the Heart Organ System in traditional Chinese medicine. The quality of shen can be observed primarily in a person’s eyes, which mirror his or her soul. Spiritual radiance shines through the eyes. The gaze of a person with a troubled soul or an unsound mind does not connect with the eyes of others, or seems wild or clouded.[3] Moderately weak shen is manifested as anxiety, mild depression and chronic restlessness. Deeper psychological problems indicate a very weak shen. Shen can be strengthened through medication, physical exercises and herbal tonics.[2]

Relationship to Daoist Deities

Jing Qi Shen correspond to the Sanbao, or Sanyuan, the Three Treasures or the Three Jewels of Daoism, mentioned in Chapter 67 of Dao De Jing: compassion, frugality and humility.[9] Metaphysically, they correspond to the Three Pure Ones (Chinese: 三清; pinyin: Sānqīng), also translated as the “Three Pure Pellucid Ones,” the “Three Pristine Ones,” the “Three Clarities,” or the “Three Purities,” the three highest Daoist deities.

  • The Jade Pure One (Chinese: 玉清; pinyin: Yùqīng), or Yu Ching (玉清元始天尊), also known as "The Universally Honoured One of Origin," or "The Universal Lord of the Primordial Beginning" (元始天尊, Yuanshi Tianzun), reigns over Shen.
  • The Supreme Pure One (Chinese: 上清; pinyin: Shàngqīng), Shang Ching (上清靈寶天尊), also known as "The Universally Honoured One of Divinities and Treasures," or "The Universal Lord of the Numinous Treasure" (靈寶天尊, Lingbao Tianzun), reigns over Qi.
  • The Grand Pure One (Chinese: 太清; pinyin: Tàiqīng), Tai Ching (太清道德天尊), also known as "The Universally Honored One of Tao and Virtues" or "The Universal Lord of the Way and its Virtue" (道德天尊, Daode Tianzun) or the "Grand Supreme Elder Lord" (太上老君, Taishang Laojun) reigns over Jing.

See also


  1. Frederic Balfour, "Xinyin jing" in HSIN YIN CHING (The Imprint of the Heart) (1880), 380-381. sacred-texts.com. Retrieved May 24, 2018.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Jing, Shen, Qi" The Three Treasures. Naturalways.com. Retrieved May 24, 2018.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Frances L. Gander, The Three Treasures: Jing, Qi, Shen Three Treasures Health Center, November 14, 2014. Retrieved May 24, 2018.
  4. Giovanni Maciocia, The Foundations of Chinese Medicine (Churchill Livingstone, 1989, ISBN 0443039801), Ch. 3: The Vital Substances.
  5. Ron Teeguarden, Replenishing and Restoring Jing Acupuncture Today 15(7) (July, 2014). Retrieved May 24, 2018.
  6. Elizabeth Reninger, The Three Treasures ThoughtCo. Retrieved May 24, 2018.
  7. A. C. Graham, Disputers of the Tao: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China (Open Court, 1993, ISBN 0812690877), 100.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Denis Lawson-Wood and Joyce Lawson-Wood, Acupuncture Handbook (Health Science Press, 1964).
  9. Arthur Waley, The Way and Its Power: A Study of the Tao Te Ching and Its Place in Chinese Thought (Grove Press, 1958, ISBN 0802150853), 225.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

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  • Reninger, Elizabeth. "Three Treasures", About.com. Retrieved October 1, 2008.
  • Robinet, Isabelle. Taoism: Growth of a Religion. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997. (original French, 1992). ISBN 0804728399
  • Scheid, Volker. Chinese Medicine in Contemporary China: Plurality and Synthesis. Duke University Press, 2002. ISBN 0822328577
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