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Mig

Spirit and soul in Daoism

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Does someone knows or can explain about the difference between spirit and soul in Daoism? Maybe there is a distinction between the religious or philosophical point of view. Your input shall be appreciated. Thanks

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My knowledge isn't much profound, as it is based on TCM, but I shall help as best as I can.

 

"Souls" refeer to anything that constitutes our perceptions and "being". There are five basic souls, each taking root on a different organ of your body. If any of these organs gets affected, so gets the soul. If any of the souls get affected, so gets the organ.

 

The first soul to appear on a human and the only one that remains after death (proceeding to reincarnation) is the Ethereal Soul, Hun, located at the Liver.

 

It is basically "reflexes". It has to do with all kinds of reflex acts, that is, reacting to things. It is also responsible for keeping the harmony of all souls - making it so they react with the needed strenght to each stimuly, not less, not more.

 

After Hun, the other four Souls split from it and go to the organs.

 

The most subtle of them is Shen, many times understood as "spirit", and it goes to the Heart. It has to do with consciousness, notion of space, perceptivness of environment (internal and external) and "perceiving" in general.

 

The most dense of them is Zhi (some say not, see bellow for more details), many times understood as "Willpower", and it goes to the Kidneys. It has to do with raw, brute force and energy. The power to do things beyond what it is commonly your limits, and even surpassing them - usually at a heavy cost.

 

Zhi manifests itself as "Willpower" as it has close interaction with the Kidney's Yang - therefore easily stimulating it and generating the effects of what we see as "adrenaline release". It has a secondary effect on the Kidney's Yin, and with good training it can bring what we call "persistence".

 

The next most subtle soul is Pi, usually seen as "Thought". It has to do with all forms of thinking, analysis and understandment of the world through intellectual means. It can be found on the spleen-pancreas.

 

Then comes Po, called the "Corporeal Soul" (which some consider to be the densest, and not Zhi), which has to do with the general vitality of your body and regulates the connection between all the Souls and the Body.

 

Those would be the Five Souls - Hun, Shen, Zhi, Pi, Po.

 

"Spirit", by its time, refeers usually to "Shen", but can also refeer to what could be seen as Gods, Immortals, or some mixture of Shen and others Souls still inhabiting a Hun that has left its corpse (which would form Ghosts).

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Desmonddf, thank you for your kind response. It makes sense and wonder where those concepts come from? It seems those concepts have been used by Daoists, Confucianists and others

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On 17/09/2020 at 11:14 AM, Mig said:

Desmonddf, thank you for your kind response. It makes sense and wonder where those concepts come from? It seems those concepts have been used by Daoists, Confucianists and others

 

Most come from the Warring Periods Era, mostly from the Hundred Schools of Thought, from the 6h century to around 200 BCE.

 

They are from a time when people tried to rationalize the mystical and turn what was oral knowledge, passed from master to disciple, into written knowledge.

 

They can be found in books such as the HuangDi NeiJing, which is the most known book about TCM.

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From an alchemical perspective (this may or may not match 'religious' or philosophical views, I don't know), Daoism does indeed recognise the soul.

 

However, as everything in Daoism, things are a little more nuanced to them.

 

There are two aspects to the soul. The Yin, earthly aspect that's linked with the Po spirit of metal element/lungs - and the Yang, heavenly aspect that's linked with the Hun spirit of the wood element/liver.

 

The nuances don't really stop there either... The Po is then subdivided into 7 spirits. And the Hun is subdivided into 3 further spirits.

 

The main difference between the Po and Hun aspects of the Soul are the 'heavenly' and 'earthly' functions.

 

The Hun is the 'immortal' aspect of your Soul. It's the part of you that transmigrates and reincarnates.

 

The Po is what forms your earthly attachments. Attachments to physicality, base desires (for food, power, sex, status, preference etc). If you die in a confused or strongly desire-led frame of mind, your Po is what tethers you to the earthly plain (and you become a ghost :) )

 

 

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I found this that may help understand a little better:

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/16/opinion/religion-taoism-death.html

Yancy: How does Taoism conceive of the soul?

Ziporyn: Taoism has no concept of “the” soul per se; the person has many souls, or many centers of energy, which must be integrated. All are concretizations of a more primal formless continuum of energy of which they are a part, like lumps in pancake batter. These are neither perfectly discontinuous nor perfectly dissolved into oneness.

Ancient Chinese belief regarded the living person as having two souls, the “hun” and the “po,” which parted ways at death. Later religious Taoists conceived of multitudes of gods, many of whom inhabit our own bodies — multiple mini-souls within us and without us, which the practitioner endeavored to connect with and harmonize into an integral whole.

Yancy: The concept of a soul is typically integral to a conceptualization of death. How does Taoism conceive of death?
ImageProfessor Ziporyn is a scholar and translator of some of the most complex philosophical texts and concepts of the Chinese religious traditions.
Professor Ziporyn is a scholar and translator of some of the most complex philosophical texts and concepts of the Chinese religious traditions.Credit...Devin Oktar Yalkin for The New York Times

Ziporyn: In the “Zhuangzi,” there is a story about death, and a special friendship formed by humans in the face of it. Four fellows declare to each other, “Who can see nothingness as his own head, life as his own spine, and death as his own backside? Who knows the single body formed by life and death, existence and nonexistence? I will be his friend!” We go from formlessness to form — this living human body — then again to formlessness. But all three phases constitute a single entity, ever transforming from one part to another, death to life to death. Our existence when alive is only one part of it, the middle bit; the nothingness or formlessness before and after our lives are part of the same indivisible whole. Attunement to this becomes here a basis for a peculiar intimacy and fellowship among humans while they are alive, since their seemingly definite forms are joined in this continuum of formlessness.

The next story in the “Zhuangzi” gives an even deeper description of this oneness and this intimacy. Three friends declare, “‘Who can be together in their very not being together, doing some­thing for one another by doing nothing for one another? Who can climb up upon the heavens, roaming on the mists, twisting and turning round and round without limit, living their lives in mutual forgetfulness, never coming to an end?’ The three of them looked at each other and burst out laughing, feeling complete concord, and thus did they become friends.”

Here there is no more mention of the “one body” shared by all — even the idea of a fixed oneness is gone. We have only limitless transformation. And the intimacy is now an wu-wei kind of intimacy, with no conscious awareness of a goal or object: They commune with each other by forgetting each other, just as they commune with the one indivisible body of transformation by forgetting all about it, and just transforming onward endlessly. Death itself is transformation, but life is also transformation, and the change from life to death and death to life is transformation too.

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