Exploring the Channels

Well, if I still have any readers, I’m back! It’s been a long time, and all I have is crummy excuses. I went to Portland, OR last summer for the first annual conference of the International Society for the Study of Classical Acupuncture. I enjoyed the communion with other Chinese medicine  practitioners who are trying to reach beyond the narrow bounds of modern doctrine to explore and learn from the classic texts at the roots of this great healing art and science. One thing I learned is that studying the text alone does not lead many to prioritize the five systems of channels and vessels, as I have learned from the oral lineage of interpretation of Jeffrey Yuen. I wrote an essay that discusses both the foundations and basic functions of those five system called, “Exploring the Channels.”

Enjoy it, and share your thoughts below…

Are they Divergent Channels or Channel Divergences?

I say potāto and you say potäto… Does any of it really matter?

I talked with Andy Ellis a few days ago, who brought to me the question posed in the title of this posting. He mentioned that according to Chinese syntax and usage, the translated name should be “channel divergences,” rather than the commonly used “divergent channels.” Initially, I didn’t see the significance of that distinction, but within a few days decided to change the translation I use to reflect more closely the original Chinese syntax.

Does this change of syntax have any significance on how we understand and use these terms? I think it does, and understanding how leads into considering of the roles of the “primary” and “secondary” vessels of acupuncture. The primary channels regulate the moment-to-moment physiological process of the embodied spirit, and the “secondary” vessels (as they are sometimes called) work in various ways that support the primary channels in doing that. They are NOT LESS IMPORTANT than the “primary channels,” but “secondary” because they support the primary channels in maintaining life.

The channels distinctions and divergences facilitate the primary channels in two important and related ways:

As “distinctions,” they contain the individual’s learned interpretations and automatic patterns of activation and reaction that allow individuals to engage an increasing number and complexity of interactions. They project those interpretations and “pre-dispositions” onto all experience, which facilitates the person’s movement as an individual through life. The channel distinctions (along with the sanjiao mechanism) individuate the person’s implementations of the universal movements of the primary channels. They also make what Zen Buddhist practitioners call “beginner’s mind” so difficult to achieve!

As “divergences,” they absorb unresolved pathogenic factors, and provide the embodied spirit a place to suspend them in “dormancy.” This process allows individuals to “go on” to engage new experiences and opportunities in life, even when previous experiences have not been processed to resolution. However, these unresolved pathogenic factors accumulate and may fester; eventually, they exceed the embodied spirit’s capacity to contain them and they emerge as progressive or degenerative disease.

Indeed. some consider these “secondary” vessels MORE IMPORTANT than the primary channels . At the beginning of Book II of his Systematic Classic of Acupuncture and Moxibustion (Jiayijing), Huang Fumi (215-82) asserted:

The twelve channels are responsible for life in humans and the development of illness. They concern the origins and treatment of a person’s illness. They must be studied by the beginner and yet provide the skilled (practitioner) with limitations (they cannot exceed). The mediocre (practitioner) finds them easy, while the superior one finds them difficult.
The Yellow Emperor asked: What are the separations (bie — divergences and distinctions) and anastomoses, the exits and entrances (of the channels)?
Qi Bo responded: These (topics) are neglected by the mediocre, while the superior practitioner is familiar with them. Please allow me to inform you about them: [He then delineates the Six Confluences of the channel divergences and distinctions (jingbie)!]

Translation by Charles Chase and Yang Shouzhong (pg. 95-6)

The channels distinctions and divergences are centrally important in how they serve and support the primary channels. Their name in Chinese (jingbie) indicates that relationship; perhaps we should use a translation into English that conveys that meaning.