Simple Facts about the Huang Di Nei Jing

By Arnaud
May 15, 2023

Among the myriad historical texts of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), none stands taller than the Huang Di Nei Jing, or "The Yellow Emperor's Inner Classic." Often simply referred to as the “Nei Jing," this ancient medical text is not just an important cornerstone of TCM, but also a remarkable reflection of the broad and profound Chinese culture.

The Genesis of a Medical Classic

The Neijing holds the distinction of being the only surviving book among seven ancient Chinese medical scriptures referenced in the "Hanshu yiwen zhi", the oldest known bibliography of ancient China. While traditionally attributed to Huangdi, the semi-mythical Yellow Emperor, the Neijing is thought to be the collective work of numerous medical practitioners. These contributors spanned the Warring States period as well as the Qin and Han dynasties.

The Neijing's distinctive style of question and answer dialogues, primarily featuring Huangdi and his subjects, lends a unique didactic quality to the text. These dialogues illuminate the intricate concepts of TCM, serving as a critical pedagogical tool.

A Comprehensive Medical Text in Two Parts: The Suwen and Lingshu

Comprising 18 volumes and 162 articles, the Nei Jing is partitioned into two major parts: the Suwen (素問), also known as Basic Questions, and the Lingshu (靈樞), or Spiritual Pivot. Each section forms a distinct yet complementary facet of the comprehensive body of knowledge encapsulated in the Neijing.

The Suwen, containing nine volumes and 81 articles, is a treasure trove of TCM theories. It outlines the fundamentals of human psychology, physiology, and pathology, providing a detailed guide for disease diagnosis and treatment. Included within its pages are the foundational theories of the Five Elements, Yin and Yang, internal Organs and Meridians, as well as the key substances of Qi, Blood, Body Fluids, Essence, and the Mind/Spirit (Shen). Notably, the 72nd and 73rd articles, originally bearing only titles, had content added during the Song dynasty, earning them the moniker "The Remains of the Suwen".

The Lingshu, also composed of nine volumes and 81 articles, delves into the functional aspects of TCM organs, the origins and mechanisms of diseases, and the specifics of meridians, acupoints, needles, and stabbing methods. It emphasizes treatment principles, particularly focusing on acupuncture, a cornerstone of TCM therapy.

Unity and Holism: Core Philosophies of the Neijing

The Nei Jing, at its heart, is a philosophical compass that navigates the intricate web of connections within us and around us. It describes an understanding of human health that sees the individual, society, and the natural world as interconnected and interdependent components of a grand, unified whole.

Foremost, the Nei Jing elucidates the unity of the human body, emphasizing the interconnectedness of its various parts. It proposes that no organ or system functions in isolation; they are part of a complex, interwoven network, each influencing and being influenced by the others. This holistic perspective extends to the relationship between the body and mind, affirming their inseparability in health and disease. It underscores that physical health cannot be fully understood or addressed without considering the mind's state, and vice versa.

The Nei Jing further extends this concept of unity to the relationship between humans and the natural world. It proposes that humans, as part of nature, are subject to the same cyclical patterns and governing principles. Changes in the natural world, whether seasonal shifts or climatic variations, influence human health and wellbeing. Recognizing this interconnectedness fosters harmony with our environment, enhancing our health and longevity.

Lastly, the Nei Jing posits a profound connection between human health and societal wellbeing. It advocates that the health of individuals and communities are mutually reinforcing, emphasizing the importance of societal harmony and stability for individual health.

These interconnected strands of unity, meticulously detailed in the Nei Jing, form a comprehensive, holistic approach to health and wellness, testifying to the timeless wisdom encapsulated in this ancient treatise.

The Inner Landscape: Organs and Meridians

The Nei Jing offers an intricate map of the human body through its exploration of internal Organs and Meridians. It was the first text to clearly document the names and relationships of the 12 Channels, which are conceived as a network of pathways facilitating the flow of Qi (life force) and blood throughout the body.

The internal organs, or Zang-Fu, play a central role in this system. The Nei Jing characterizes each organ with a specific set of functions and associations, both physiological and emotional. In particular, according to the crucial concept of the unity of the body and mind, the Nei Jing describes how each organ has an associated emotion, and an excess in that emotion could harm the organ. Emotions and organs counterbalance each other within the 5 elements theory: for instance Joy in the Heart, which stores the Mind/Spirit (Shen), overcomes Sadness in the Lungs, which itself overcomes Anger in the Liver. This all forms the basis for the 7 emotions theory as a cause of disease and for treatment.

In short the Nei Jing proposes that our wellbeing depends on the harmonious functioning of these organs and the unobstructed flow of Qi along the meridians. Any disruptions could lead to disease.

Universal Principles: The Five Elements and Yin-Yang Theory

The Nei Jing presents the Five Elements (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water) and Yin-Yang theories as fundamental frameworks for understanding the body, health, and the world around us. The Five Elements theory, also known as Wu Xing, describes dynamic relationships and cycles of interaction between different elements, each associated with certain organs and physiological functions.

The Yin-Yang theory, on the other hand, expresses the concept of dualism, the co-existence and interdependence of contrasting yet complementary forces. In the context of human health, it represents various pairs of opposing but interconnected states, such as rest and activity, cold and heat, or deficiency and excess.

These theories provide a lens to understand the interconnectedness and balance necessary for health and wellbeing, guiding the diagnosis and treatment principles within TCM.

The Nei Jing's Enduring Influence

Even after thousands of years, the Huangdi Nei Jing remains a cornerstone of TCM, its wisdom and insights continuing to influence practitioners across the globe. Its emphasis on holistic care, the unity of body and mind, and the interconnectedness of humans and the natural world resonate today, perhaps more than ever, as we recognize the complexity and interdependence of health.

In its detailed discussion of the human body, the environment, and their intricate interactions, the Nei Jing presents a comprehensive and nuanced understanding of health and disease. It underscores the importance of balance and harmony, not only within our bodies but also with our environment and society.

The Nei Jing is much more than an ancient medical text; it is a testament to a timeless philosophy that views health and wellbeing as a harmonious dance of various interconnected elements. Its enduring relevance speaks volumes about its profound insights, reinforcing its stature as an invaluable resource in the realm of health and wellness.

Article tags: Chinese Medicine theory