Dan Xi School and The Nourish Yin Doctrine
By Professor Dave Liu, OMD, LAc.
The Nourish Yin doctrine originated from Nei Jing, which was influenced by Liu Hejian’s fire-heat theory, formed in the Jin and Yuan Dynasties, and established by Zhu Danxi. Nourishing yin was Zhu Danxi’s main focus, emphasizing the significance of preserving Yin qi on human health and the treatment of disease. Thus, later generations of physicians referred to his doctrine as the “Danxi doctrine” or “Nourish Yin doctrine.” In the last seven hundred years, many physicians have followed the Danxi Nourish Yin doctrine. Their continued use and development of the doctrine contributed to its growing influence, which ultimately lead to formation of the Danxi Nourish Yin School, a famous institution in traditional Chinese medicine history.
The 1st main idea of the Danxi doctrine: “Yang is often excess and Yin is often deficient.”
This is Danxi’s fundamental viewpoint on Yin and Yang in the human body. He believed that even under normal physiological conditions, the human body exists in a state in which “Yang is often excess, Yin is often deficient”, and “Qi is often excess, blood is often deficient”. Danxi arrived at this conclusion through applying the basic theory of “correspondence between the human and the universe,” analyzing the nature of heaven, earth, sun, moon, Yin, and Yang as they pertain to human growth and development.
Heaven is to earth as sun is to moon; heaven and sun are considered Yang, while earth and moon are considered Yin. “Humans receive the qi of heaven and earth to flourish; Yang qi from heaven is qi, Yin qi from earth is blood, therefore qi is often excess, blood is often deficient,” because heaven is greater than earth. Similarly, the sun (Yang) is more brilliant than the moon (Yin). “The Yin qi in the body rises and falls like the moon waxes and wanes,” and hence, one observes that Yang is often excess, and Yin is often deficient.
In the life process of human birth, growth, development and senescence, “Sperm arrives when a man is 16 years of age, menstruation comes when a woman is 14 years of age. When new life takes form, it needs nourishment from milk, water and food, in order to generate Yin qi. When Yin qi is developed, it pairs with Yang qi, and the body is able to mature into adulthood. This process shows the difficulty of creating Yin qi. By age 40, Yin qi is naturally reduced by half and one’s activities of daily life are diminished…sperm is exhausted when a man reaches age 64, menstruation stops when a woman is 49 years old. Developed Yin qi supports vision, hearing, speech and movement for 30 years before becoming depleted” (where is the first quotation mark, it’s missing). Yin qi of the human body is difficult to build up but easy to deplete, again emphasizing the tendencies of Yang to be excess and Yin to be deficient.
Human physiology is the condition of Yang excess and Yin deficiency. When factors of “human emotion and limitless desire” are present, it stirs up reckless movement of ministerial fire. This leads to Yin essence depletion, thereby exacerbating the underlying condition and transforming it into a pathological state.
“Yang excess and Yin deficiency ” is not only a common disease pathology, it is also a significant cause of early aging. While nourishing Yin and descending fire is an essential method for the treatment of disease, it is also a key principle for health preservation from childhood to old age. Along with Yin qi deficiency, the over consumption of essence and blood is also a cause of aging, so emphasis on essence and blood in the protection of longevity has vital importance.
The 2nd main idea of the Danxi doctrine: Ministerial Fire Theory
1) Normal ministerial fire: Its nature is to create all beings, sustain life, and give movement. Danxi believes that animation of the body is the function of ministerial fire. “Heaven governs all living things, therefore it is constantly moving; similarly, living humans are also constantly in movement. This movement is the result of ministerial fire.” He also stressed that the ministerial fire has important implications for the preservation of life. “Heaven, without this ministerial fire, cannot produce living things, and human beings, without this ministerial fire, cannot maintain life.”
Danxi also believed that “fire is yin on the inside and yang on the outside,” and the ministerial fire of the human body “resides in the liver and kidney. Liver is wood and the kidney is water.” Thus ministerial fire is the material basis of essence and blood in the liver and kidney. In addition, ministerial fire is also related to the pericardium, triple burner, gall bladder and urinary bladder zang-fu organs. “Gall bladder is liver fu; urine bladder is kidney fu; pericardium is the complement to the kidney, triple burner is named because of its burning function, and liver and kidney are located in the lower burner. They are both Yin so they are located in the lower position”.
Whether the movement of ministerial fire is normal or pathological is closely related to the internal organs’ functional activity. Normal movements of the “five fires” are an important indication of normal movement of ministerial fire. “If movements of all five fires are normal, ministerial fire can only support nature’s creation and transformation, endlessly generating life.” Therefore, normal functional activities of the human body organs, meridians, qi and blood, as well as the perpetuation of life, all reflect the crucial function of the ministerial fire.
2) Transformed ministerial fire: Danxi believed that all things cannot survive without the dual aspects of dynamism and stillness; the ministerial fire is no exception. Dynamic ministerial fire is fundamental, but stillness is still necessary. If there is movement without stillness, it is reckless movement, which is harmful. “The auspicious, ominous, remorseful and miserly all have origins in movement.” In other words, the movement of ministerial fire has two situations, normal and abnormal. When ministerial fire moves normally, it supports the perpetuation of life; when ministerial fire loses its normal movement, it robs the vital (source) qi.
“Human disease arises from movement, and if movement is extreme, one dies from disease”. Causes of reckless movement of ministerial fire include intense emotion, excessive lust, rich or heavy flavored food, and many other sources. “Five organs have their own fire, which the five wills excite and stir up.” Injury from the six lusts and seven emotions often first stimulate “fire of five organs,” so that “drunkenness and fullness leads to fire in the stomach; sexual injury gives rise to fire in the kidney; strong anger generates fire from in liver.” Subsequently, ministerial fire is incited, resulting in reckless movement of ministerial fire.
Reckless ministerial fire is closely related to the heart fire. “The two organs (liver and kidney) both have ministerial fire, which is linked to and considered part of the heart. The heart is monarchical fire; when affected by things it easily moves, and when the monarchical fire moves, so does the ministerial fire.”
Reckless ministerial fire inevitably consumes Yin essence, “where there is movement then essence will leave naturally”. Reckless ministerial fire, unpredictable and ever-present, causes “torment of true yin, yin deficiency, illness, yin exhaustion, then death.” In such cases the illness may change quickly and progress to severe conditions.
I began to study medicine under my grandparents when I was 16 years old, and learned from many Nourish Yin School masters. I have 40 years experience in this field. In the modern clinic, application of the Nourish Yin doctrine yields remarkable results in the treatment of immune deficiencies, autoimmune diseases, infertility, gynecological disease, menopausal syndrome, bone disease, kidney disease, endocrine disease, fatigue syndrome, diabetes, geriatric diseases, pediatric developmental disorders, hypertension, emotional disorders, hyperthyroidism, blood disorders, allergic diseases, ENT diseases, late-stage chronic diseases, febrile diseases, side effects of medication, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and also anti-aging and longevity. (this list is very long, consider splitting it up)
Zhu Danxi was also good at using clinical syndrome differentiation, and was especially good at treating disorders of qi, blood, phlegm, stagnation, yin, and other miscellaneous diseases. He was also famous for using only five basic formulas to treat a very large number of diseases. Si Jun Zi Tang, Si Wu Tang, Er Chen Tang, Yue Ju Wan and Liu Wei Di Huang Wan. Doctors (TCM) may use 20 formulas to treat one disease, Zhu Danxi may use one formula to treat 20 diseases. There are over one thousand formulas in the Chinese pharmacopeia with hundreds of them commonly used. For students and practitioners to quickly and easily select the formula following Danxi theory, we have developed a reference tool in a mobile application of TCM Formula Families Guide that is both convenient and easily accessible. This app will assist clinicians to find and match a customized formula prescription with ease. Formulas are categorized into groups based on primary disease category or pattern.Each group consists of one core formula with related formulas that are modifications of the core formula. The related formulas may have emphasis on addressing sub-syndromes or specific symptom(s) of the primary disease category or pattern. Furthermore, we have created the theory of “The Yin is the root, the balance is the basis,” and developed many adjuvant therapies which include Yin Yoga, Yin Tai Chi, Yin Chan Gong, and Yin diet.
Zhu Danxi wrote “Ge Zhi Yu Lun”, “Ju Fang Fa Hui” and ” Dan Xi Zhi Fa Xin Yao.” His works played an important role in the development of TCM, and served as inspirations for later schools such as the Tonify Kidney School and Wen Bing School. His theories continue to have great clinical relevance today, so that future generations said “for miscellaneous diseases, use Danxi.”