ENCYCLOPEDIA OF TAOISM: Gānzhī 干支 [Celestial] Stems and [Earthly] Branches

This article shortly named gānzhī (I do like Chinese, they make new words easily just pairing the ending of one term of the two glyphs with the ending of another term of the two glyphs too) but the full picture would be nicer for us if the title will sound shi tian gan shi er di zhi, Ten Celestial Stems and Twelve Earthly Branches. Wait a second, what we can do here? Well, let’s call it TCSTEB!

十天干十二地支 shí tiān gān shí èr dì zhī, or gānzhī

Pic. 1

ganzhi01Following Christopher Cullen’s entry we can see the beginning of use a ten-day period in ancient China (xún 旬) in the Shang epoch (1600-1045 BCE), probably one millennium BCE sixty days cycle was added by pairing (!) of the ten Stems with the twelve Branches, and from the Han time (202 BCE-220 CE) a cycle of sixty years was in service.

Pic. 2


01     jiazi, for example 1984 or 2044


10     guiyou, 1993 or 2053

11      jiaxu, 1994 or 2054

12     yihai, 1995 or 2055


60     guihai, 1983 or 2043 etc.

By the way, if you will slowly follow to every number from one to sixty you will feel that your eyes make a figure ‘8′, and the process will repeat itself five times, or until you will be tired. And there is a kind of rhythm here too. Numbers will dance in the special rhythm in one place! Is that amazing!     

ERRATUM in the text of encyclopedia (unfortunately):

In the table 7 in STEMS AND BRANCHES article two signs xu 戌 and hai 亥 (11 and 12) from the left column (Stems) should be placed into right column (Branches). In my digital Kindle edition they were misplaced to the left column. Is that obvious for all readers or my eyes are especially sharp? 🙂



Fúqì 服氣 ingestion of breath


This entry was written by Catherine Despeux and the next one about Fuqi jingyi lun (Essay on the Essential Meaning of the Ingestion of Breath) by Livia Kohn. The scientists agree that this technique exists from the Han period (202 BCE-220 CE) and describes the ingestion of outer and inner breath and it is the thing we shall badly need to clarify when we meet breath exercises in the body of  天下至道談 Tiān Xià Zhì Dào Tán (Discussion of the Culminant Way in Under-Heaven, trans. by D. Harper), the ancient erotical treatise.


Some terms should be underlined here: shíqì 食氣 is the synonym to fúqì 服氣, huángqì is “yellow pneuma” (黃氣 contained in the sun rays), and as C. Despeux notes again “one should practice between midnight and midday, the time of the “living breath” (shēngqì 生氣), and avoid the hours between midday and midnight, the time of the “dead breath” (sĭqì 死氣)”. I have just put tones in the terms as promised 🙂


In the Essay on the Essential Meaning of the Ingestion of Breath there is a chapter 3, and L. Kohn describes its content: “On daoyin” (“Dăoyĭn lún 導引論). Literally ‘exercises for guiding (energy) and stretching (the body),’ daoyin or gymnastics should always complement the absorption of qì. They frequently emulate the movements of animals, and serve to make the body supple, harmonize the inner energies, stimulate digestion and blood circulation, and expel diseases.” Nothing to add to make it better. Until we face the exercises themselves.


Actually, there are as minimum five entries on breath techniques in the first volume of encyclopedia and six in the second: (1) breath retention, ingestion of breath, merging pneuma, refining breath, instructions on six sounds, (2) breath and blood, embryonic breathing, regulating breath, exhaling and inhaling, circulating breath, and breathing through the heels. Puzzled?


As always in Chinese culture the easy things are better to digest just reading these humble and private notes on encyclopedia of taoism; the hard things, well, it depends:)



dao red seals

道  Dào The Way
Russell Kirkland underlines in his article seven aspects of the Dao: its polysemy and non-reification, the range of meanings in classical sources, its being the object of personal transmission, its ability to denote the focus of group identity or the focus of personal spiritual practice, a meaning of Dao as ‘the divine’ in broadest terms, and the Dao as the matrix of spiritual transformation. 
I would like to turn attention now to the Webster”s New World Dictionary, which underlines six aspects of the term ‘philosophy’: 1) origin, love of, or the search for wisdom or knowledge, 2) theory or logical analysis of the principles underlying conduct, thought, knowledge, and the nature of the universe, 3) the general principles or laws of a field of knowledge, activity and etc, 4) (a) a particular system of principles for the conduct of life (b) a treatise covering such a system, 5) (a) a study of human morals, character, and behavior (b) mental balance or composure thought of as resulting from this; calmness, 6) same as natural philosophy.
As far as I can see the Western approach is the Western system of knowledge in general and it is always the same dealing with Eastern culture(s). Is it only one way of thinking?
The rare citation in the Encyclopedia of Taoism of the seventh-century text Daojiao yishu (Pivot of Meaning of the Taoist Teaching) looks fresh (thanks, R. Kirkland!) and sounds: “This Dao is the ultimate of reality (zhēn 真), the ultimate of subtlety, and yet there is nothing that is not penetrated by its emptiness.” Looks like we still have another direction to go. 
Sooner or later, we have to say it: a long way (studying Traditional Mandarin, translation of the ancient texts, practicing calligraphy, martial arts, painting, reading prose and poesy in different languages — years and years of private experience in sum) can lead to one short (instant) understanding what truly lays under the word ‘Dao’ and one text, one quotation, one moment of life can be crucial to see what has been hidden before. Nevertheless, it is still not my favorite image:)
What I do like is spending some minutes in everyday life imagining that power many billion years ago which was in the beginning of universe and still somewhere and somehow around and inside me and everything I see. Simple like this.
And my favorite image for that power is …?