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Acupuncture Today – August, 2004, Vol. 05, Issue 08

Taoist Models of Hun and Po, Part One

By David Twicken, DOM, LAc

Hun-Po is a traditional Taoist and Chinese cultural model for understanding medical and spiritual conditions. At the most basic, level it represents the multifaceted nature of yin-yang, including its dynamic interaction of opposition and inseparable unity.

Beyond this basic understanding, Hun-Po can also be presented in a more detailed and complex system, based on traditional Taoist and Chinese medical theories, principles and metaphysics.

Hun-Po originated in an ancient time with the legendary shamans of Chinese culture, including Fu Xi, Huang Di, Great Yu, Shen Nong and Wen Wang. These ancients discovered the early and later heaven gua (xian and hou tian gua), the luo shu nine palace magic square, the he tu formation, herbology, Chinese medicine and the I Ching, which all revealed a comprehensive view of life. From the Xia to the Zhou dynasties, these ancients created the building blocks to the eight branches of the Taoist arts, which include a view of Hun-Po.

Lao Tzu, credited as the founder of philosophical Taoism and deified by an emperor in the Han dynasty, made significant contributions clarifying the Taoist view of life. A profound contribution by Lao Tzu was the transition from a shaman view of many gods/deities to one encompassing unifying force, the creator of all life, and that each person has the same chance to realize and connect to the one creator and directly realize their eternal nature. Lao Tzu's classic text, Tao Teh Ching, is the source of religious, alchemical and mystical branches of Tao. The essence of the Taoist arts is an understanding of one's true nature. Lao Tzu's classic book (Ching/Jing) is one important tool to assist in realizing that goal. A common and fascinating Taoist model explaining this nature is Hun-Po. In true Taoist form, it is not a fixed, rigid model, but a flexible view that includes a variety of ways of expressing or communicating the Tao and life.

In the Han dynasty, the Five Elements (wu xing) were very popular and infused into most every aspect of Chinese culture. At this time its influence entered the classic text, I Ching or Book of Changes. The foundation text for Taoist internal alchemy is the Can Dong Qi or Zhou Yi Can Dong Qi, written by the legendary Wei Po Yang. It uses the I Ching as a metaphor and vehicle to explain a method of spiritual cultivation or nei dan. The Five Elements correspond to the five internal organs, and their relationships are found in the classic medical text Nei Jing, or Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine. The roots of the Hun-Po theory can be found in three classic books: I Ching, Nei Jing and Can DongQi. The Hun-Po model relates directly to physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of life

This article explores common and non-common models of Hun-Po. My goal is to discuss and clarify the meaning of this classic Taoist model and present the central understanding common among all the models.

One Hun and One Po Based on Yin-Yang

Yin-yang is the foundation model of Chinese metaphysics; a deeper understanding is that yin-yang is a profound model containing complex and elegant patterns that are applied to every Taoist art. Hun-Po can be viewed as a yin-yang dynamic. An ancient method was to refer to the dragon and tiger, or the sun and moon, as metaphors for yang and yin, the two great opposing but interrelated forces. A common Taoist view is that each person contains yin and yang aspects of their spirit. The yin and more physical is the Po; the Hun is the yang and more subtle. The traditional view in common books on Chinese medicine and cosmology is that each person has one Hun and one Po. Hun relates to the ethereal soul and is lighter. At the time of physical death, it leaves the body to return to subtle realms. The Po is the corporeal soul. It is closely related to the physical world and returns to the earth at the time of physical death. The basic goal is to harmonize these two influences or energies, obtaining health, balance and self-realization. Cultivating Hun and Po is a refining process; as one refines oneself, her or she become more subtle and spiritual. At a refined state, the physical or Po aspects of our life support the Hun-spiritual aspects, leading to directly experiencing heaven on earth. The long and rich history of Taoism and Chinese medicine include many cultivation methods for refining ourselves. They include tai chi chuan, qi gong, nei gong (internal alchemy), sexual practice and nutrition.

One Hun and One Po Based on the Luo Shu

This understanding of Hun and Po links the Hun with the Wood element, East direction and Liver organ, and the Po with the Metal element, West direction and the Lung organ. From a Five-Element view, this is Wood and Metal, two elements contained in the controlling ko cycle of the Five Elements. These opposing energies, in both geographical and elemental nature, imply the need to be harmonized for the favorable qualities to manifest. This harmonization can occur by practicing the Taoist cultivations arts. The following diagram is the Luo Shu, which is commonly known as the "magic square."

Classic Luo Shu or Magic Square



Red Phoenix



















The Luo Shu is the classic nine-palace diagram, believed to be founded by Yu the Great. It is a profound Taoist tool used in acupuncture, feng shui and astrology. In this Luo Shu, East is the dragon and West is the tiger. These are the classic metaphors for yang-yin and the Hun-Po. The Luo Shu emphasizes the importance and application of harmonizing opposing forces, a central theme in postnatal life. This model contains numerous applications, all expressing the same concept. For example, Wood and Metal are in the controlling or ko cycle. When this cycle is in harmony, it is favorable. Disharmony may occur when an element "overacts" on another. The dragon can mean light and the tiger can mean dark. We desire the right balance of the two, which can change depending on circumstances. Hun and Po are physical and spiritual energies. When in balance, we live in harmony; when in disharmony, many conditions can manifest, including emotional and physical.

The Luo Shu or magic square contains profound numerological and cosmological relationships. Sum up all vertical, diagonal and horizontal palaces or boxes and the total is 15, revealing balance. It is this pattern that contains the 3 Hun and 7 Po numerological supports to many Hun-Po models. These models, and others, will be discussed in the second part of this article.

Click here for more information about David Twicken, DOM, LAc.

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