Xing and Ming are two of the most important concepts in Daoism, but very little has been written about them outside of China.
To put it simply, Xing is the consciousness and Ming is that which animates life.
Chen Yingning said “xing and ming are like an oil lamp. Ming is the oil and xing is the brilliance of the flame. Without the oil, there could be no flame, but without the flame, the oil would remain unused.” This is a very good twentieth century interpretation of the nature of life and consciousness from a Daoist perspective, but is it the same as what the ancients said?
In the Eastern Han dynasty etymology text book “shuo zi jie wen,” (speaking of words and explaining characters), xing is defined as the yang aspect of the heart and as being paired with its yin equivilent “Qing,” which represents the emotions. Actually, when considering the eight trigrams, Xing is the two solid lines of the fire trigram, Li ☲ and Qing is the inside broken, yin line. In other words, the consciousness surrounds the emotions and the emotions are contained within a larger, clear consciousness represented by the clear sky.
Ming is sometimes viewed as the “jing” or essence of the body, but Wang Chongyang described it as “Qi” or the energy and breath of the body. Zhang Sanfeng went on to elaborate this idea when he said that Ming is called Qi energy because Qi energy and the essence are paired together, with the essence holding the innate energy of the body and making Qi as a way to cycle it throughout the body.
Later Daoist thinker, Li Daochun said in his “Middle Harmony Classic” that Ming is actually the physical body and the Qi. The reason for this is because he interpreted Jing as being the physical origin of our body, so in his thinking, Jing essence would be contained throughout the entire physicality of the body and then be expressed through Qi.
Later yet, in Yin Zhenren’s book “Xing Ming Gui Zhi,” he said that xing is the original mind (yuan shen) and ming is the original essence (yuan jing). The difference between mind and essence and original mind and original essence is that the original aspects of our life reside in the “pre heaven” world, which we already gained through our genetic inheritance during the embryonic phase of the development of our body, this means that these original life essence and original consciousness are not predicated on the aspects of the world that we can decipher through thoughts, feelings, or experiences, but instead is latent deep inside of us and can only be revealed during deep meditation on silence and non action.
Another interpretation is that Xing is the heavens and Ming is the earth, so they are represented as the heaven trigram and the earth trigram, or three unbroken yang lines and three unbroken yin lines. This means that as cultivators of the Dao, we must find a way to return the post heaven mind of fire (two yang with a yin inside) and water (two yin on the outside with a yang inside) back to their original natures of pure yin and pure yang.
As you can see by now, Xing and Ming are one principle with many different ways of understanding. If you can truly exhaust the study of xing and ming, it will be very easy to understand how to master meditation.
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