Heaven, Earth and Human

Chinese medical theory is rooted in a much deeper and more comprehensive philosophical framework. Essential is the notion of correspondences between, heaven, earth and man, or alternatively the plane of the spiritual, the material and the human. The human plane is the isthmus between the two and possesses the properties of both, as the great Sufi mystic, Ibn ‘Arabi writes, “An isthmus is something that separates two other things while never going to one side, as, for example a line that separates a shadow from sunlight (Chittick, 1983, p. 118). The seventh chapter of the Huainanzi (Bromley, 2010, p. 5), a major Daoist text of the Chinese Han dynasty (206 BCE-221 CE) elucidates this point:

Therefore the vital spirits belong to heaven

And the bony frame belongs to earth

The vital spirits re-enter the gate and the bony frame reverts to its root

How can ‘I’ continue to exist?

This is the reason why the sage adopts the model of the heaven

            and follows his natural disposition

He is not enticed by the worldly

He is not seduced by the human

He takes heaven as his father

He takes earth as his mother

Yin Yang as guidelines

The four seasons as rules


Heaven and earth are but a singular reality assuming various forms, according to each individual manifestation. Natural disposition is the extension of heaven unfolding in human life. Thus, the sage adopts the model of heaven and corresponds that with natural disposition since there is essential harmony between the two. The Chinese sage Zhang Jiebin says,

The heart has the responsibility of sovereign and master; it gathers and presides over the spirits and their beneficent influences, and it places itself in a triad with Heaven and Earth; in this way, it takes on the burden of the myriad of beings (Rochet de la Vallee, 2013, p. 46).

The heart mentioned here is not only master and sovereign, but also the center of human consciousness, since to take on the burden of ‘the myriad of beings’ is conscious, intentional work. It is a burden insofar as it falls in the domain of human responsibility, which is to rectify the self and harmonize with the world. There are other ways to conceive of this triad, particularly in the human microcosm: spirit is heaven, body is earth and heart is human. The heart is born from the commingling of spirit and body in the way the human is born of heaven and earth. Thus, the human being is identified with the heart, which is the center of one’s being. The physical heart is an analogue to the spiritual heart; the spiritual heart is the true seat of consciousness, not simply the locus of emotions. The heart encompasses the mind yet may become limited by it because there are multiple layers of the self, some which are immediately available and others that require deep exploration.  


Bromley, M., Hill, S., Hext, A., Freeman, D., Rochet de la Vallée, E. (2010). Jing Shen: Huananzi Chapter 7. Monkey Press.

Larre, C., and Rochet de la Vallée, E. (1995). Rooted in Spirit. New York: Station Hill Press.

Mukhtar AliComment