The number Three in Chinese thought implies the interplay of energies. If One is the void, and Two is the division into Yin and Yang with the possibility of interplay, Three is the realization and manifestation of that interplay.
The trinity of Heaven, Earth, Man is known as san cai, The Three Powers. The pattern of Three occurs within Man and Nature. In Man, there are the elements of Heaven, Earth and Man and there are the Three Treasures of Shen, Qi and Jing. In the body, the pattern of three is reflected in the Triple Heater. It is through the three heaters that the Breaths of Heaven and Earth are transformed within Man to sustain the easy flow of existence as a sentient being.
The Triple Heater has no radical for flesh or any part of the body. This is because the Triple Heater has no form. It has points of command and functions. It has expressions but there is no actual place where you can say that it’s function is located. One can simply say that it is triple, that it is three and Three means that we have entered the world of Breaths, Qi; the Breaths that are moving in the median void. The Triple Heater has to do with the median void, with mediation – the go-between. It was the messenger of the original breaths, the representative of the Fire Ming Men, which allows all life to continue. The Triple Heater is the origin of body temperature, which is generated by the physiological movements of the body.
The Three Heaters represent a combination of functions that are specific to Chinese medicine. To understand their field of activity, they must be considered in the framework of the vaster combination to which they belong.
These ensembles are partly the doctrine of the Five Elements and partly the genetics of Chinese embryology.
According to the Five Elements the Triple Heater is a Fu organ, paired with the Pericardium in the element of Ministerial Fire. The relationship between the Triple Heater and the Pericardium is extremely tenuous, being more applicable to the Channels, rather than to the interaction of the Organs themselves. The Classic of Difficulties says that there are in fact only 5 Yin organs, thereby excluding the Pericardium, and 6 Yang organs, including the Triple Heater, which has a name but no form, making it thus different from all the other Yang organs. The question of the interior-exterior relationship of the Triple Heater and the Pericardium has even been doubted by some, and The Medicine Treasure says that the Triple Heater is interiorly-exteriorly related to the Gate of Vitality, Ming Men.
The Gate of Vitality, which is the source of Minister Fire, could explain the attribution of the Triple Heater to Fire in the Five Elements context.
Ming Men is where Yuan Qi is attached, and where Yuan Qi of the Triple Heater originates. Ming Men, which is Yang and fiery, is the generative power, which gives men the ability to create sperm and women to conceive for reproduction. This generative power, being Yang and fiery, is called Minister Fire. Minister Fire is the Yang, which exists inside the Five Elements, and in man it represents the functional activities of the body. Ming Men is the source of the Minister Fire of the Triple Heater.
The pairing of the Triple Heater with the Pericardium, or visa versa, could hence be explained, remembering that the Pericardium is closely linked with the Heart, thereby obviously belonging to the Fire Element.
The relationship of the Pericardium and the Triple Heater with the Kidneys and The Gate of Vitality shows itself when looking at the embryonic stage where the Triple Heater manifests itself in the embryo at the moment the primitive lineage is formed along with the Heart and the Pericardium. The functional area of The Gate of Vitality is also found at that same level.
With the differential development of the embryo, the sphere of activity of the Heart (including there the activity of the Heart Governor) is pushed to the cephalic extremity of the embryo. The Triple Heater also accompanies the Pericardium in its cephalic migration, which extends to the caudal extremity of the embryo.
In the emergence of the Primitive Triple Heater, the heaters constitute themselves, as they will appear in the adult.
After birth, the Triple Heater is considered by many to be the “secretary of the interior”, located in the Stomach wall. Controls for the upper level are in the cardia, the middle level in the fundus, and the lower level in the pyloric atrium.
One view is that during embryonic development, the Triple Heater correctly distributes the Yuan, or original inherited energy, from the Kidney Organ System to the source points of each meridian, and thence to the entire being.
Another view is that The Triple Heater only begins to function after birth when the baby takes his first breath in, and the cosmic Qi rushes into the baby’s lungs. That first breath is then considered to activate the whole function of the Triple Heater. This view on the original functions of the Triple Heater in the body would suggest that it acts in a way as a bridge between Heaven and Earth, grounding and earthing the baby so that it can start a new life.
The source of the fire of the Triple Heater is Yuan Qi, which is stored at Ming Men. The Triple Heater is the means by which Yuan Qi, the Original Qi, is distributed to effect changes at the different levels.
Nan Ching explains that Yuan Qi resides in the lower abdomen, between the two Kidneys. It mixes with Ying Qi and Wei Qi and becomes the Yuan Qi of the Triple Heater. Yuan Qi of the Triple Heater spreads to the five Zang and the six Fu organs via the Triple Heater, enters the twelve Meridians and reaches Yuan points.
There are two kinds of Yuan Qi, namely pre-Heaven and post-Heaven Yuan. Pre-Heaven Yuan is a part of Jing, which one is born with, and which embraces the ability to initiate life.
Pre-Heaven Yuan has a deep, subtle and inexplicable relationship with the Zang and the Fu organs as well as with all other organs in the body. This Yuan Qi promotes life to function and every living body is born with this Qi, however it cannot operate fully unless assisted by post-Heaven Yuan Qi.
Post-Heaven Yuan Qi is the energy between the Heaven and the Earth, which enters the body via Heart and Lungs, and the energy, which enters the body in form of food or drink via the digestive system. Post-Heaven Qi cannot be fully utilized without pre-Heaven Qi, i.e. one cannot exist without the other.
The Triple Heater is the three gates, which make it possible for the body to absorb, produce and utilize the post-Heaven Qi, which in turn will enable pre-Heaven Yuan to function. In other words, the Triple Heater is the bridge between the Heavenly and the Earthly energies in Man. This could in no doubt be taken further to say that without the Triple Heater man’s Earthly body could not house the Heavenly Zhen.
The effect of the Triple Heater on Qi and Body Fluids:
The term Triple Heater or Triple Burner is a misleading translation of the original term San Qiao. San means three, and Qiao is level, sometimes referred to as warming spaces. Here, the San Qiao refers to the three warming levels of the body. The relationship of San Qiao energies to heat or warmth is only one aspect of its principal functions, which more importantly are ones of distribution, integration, balance, and homeostasis.
The Simple Questions, ch. 8 says:”The Triple Burner is the official in charge of irrigation and it control the water passages”.
The Su Wen talks about the Triple Heater as one of the six Fu. It says Three Heater drains things without storing them up, and this means that the Triple Heater is just like other Fu organs in that it receives food and drink and excretes it. But, being the irrigation official who is in charge of waterways makes it much more, because as the Chinese always said, “He who rules water, rules the nation”.
The Triple Heater is in charge of Jue Du. Jue being the Heavenly aspect, to make a determination of how things flow and Du is the Earthly aspect, to hold, to block and to contain the flow. The two complimentary aspects hence represent the Triple Heater’s ability to make the flow of life go exactly where it has to go and to stop any sort of invasion, i.e too much water. It has to do with the channelling and blocking the circulation of the liquids. The Triple Heater can be looked upon as being the functional relationship between various Organs that regulate Water. These are mainly the Lungs, Spleen and Kidneys, but including also the Small Intestine and the Bladder. The Triple Heater does not exist as an entity outside these various Organs, but rather it is the pathway that makes these Organs a complete system.
The Lei Jing says that the Triple Heater is “the commander in chief of all the Qi of the various Organs, the Protective Qi, Nutritive Qi, and the Meridian Qi of the Interior and Exterior, right and left, upper and lower regions” and that it is “responsible for communication among the different parts of the body”.
As I have mentioned before the functions of the Triple Heater are similar to those of the other Yang Organs, i.e. receiving food and drink, digesting and transforming it, transporting the nourishment and excreting the wastes. The function of the Yang organs is often expressed in the Chinese word tong, which means making things go through or ensuring a free passage, etc. The function of the Three Heater, in addition, is often expressed in the Chinese word chu meaning excretion or rather letting out. The Triple Heater performs this letting out function in relation to Defensive Qi in the Upper Heater, Nutritive Qi in the Middle Heater and Body Fluids in the Lower Heater.
The essence of the Triple Heater is to excrete. In the case of the Triple Heater, excretion has the double meaning of excreting waste fluids, and also letting out Wei Qi and Ying Qi. The capacity of the two Qi to spread from Middle to Upper Heater depends on the “excretion” or “letting out” function of the Triple Heater. In other words, the Triple Heater controls the various types of Qi at the various stages of energy production, in particular ensuring that the various types of Qi are let out in a smooth way.
The Spiritual Axis, ch. 18 says: “The person receives Qi from food, food enters the Stomach, then spreads to the Lungs and the 5 Yin Organs and the 5 Yang Organs, the clear part goes to the Nutritive Qi, the dirty part to the Defensive Qi”.
The effect of the Triple Heater on the Digestive System:
The Nan Jing says, “The Three Heaters are the way and pathways of the liquids and cereals, the beginning and ending of the Qi….”
The Triple Heater’s close relationship to the digestive system and it’s position as a Yang Organ lend it well to important mental ego duties. These tasks are principally in the areas of accurate flow, integration, harmony, and perception. Integration of the three levels of the mind, the medulla, midbrain, and cortex through a free and balanced flow of energy is fundamental to mental equilibrium. Integration of the two sides of the brain through the corpus collosum is necessary for the effective blending of the creative (right brain) and the logical (left brain), concomitant of innovation, invention, and original conception.
Since the Triple Heater is an integrating force between the three levels of the brain, as well as between the two cranial nerves that control seeing and hearing, the suggestion is strong that it is also involved with the sensory process at cortical levels of perception. Some say that the Triple Heater is the politician who can sense and read the pulse of the outside world. It has also been characterized as a receiving station and transmitter. All of this implies a strong investment in contact with the outside world, with relationships, and through it’s involvement with perception, in the integrity of boundaries, which are so vital in human relations. As a mediator of warmth and an orchestrator of harmony, as the integrator of the families within, these energies would seem to be crucial to all close social bonds, especially with friends and family.
The divisions of the Three Heaters
The Triple Heater is divided into Upper, Middle and Lower Heaters and each heater has it’s own characteristics.
The three energy reactors draw heat from the Kidney Ming Men to the Spleen for the digestion, absorption, transformation, and processing of physical as well as intellectual food into energy usable on both planes of existence. Through the interior duct of the Triple Heater, impure energy flows to the Kidneys to be further separated into Wei energy and the pure and impure fluids. It is also said to be the official who plans the construction of ditches, sluices and creates waterways, assisting the Spleen energies to regulate Water distribution. The Triple Heater has, therefore, a unique relationship to both Kidney Yin and Yang, and, since we are eighty percent water, which depends on heat for metabolism, the Triple Heater energies permeate the entire chemical environment.
The Triple Heater occupies a strategic position to control the correct flow, the balance, and harmony of all energy between the upper, middle, and lower parts of the body, as well through the source points and Stomach, the outside and the inside. Precise direction and movement, integration and dynamic stability characterize Triple Heater energies at any level of function.
The upper heater is located at the level of the thorax, where it works symbiotically with the Heart and the Lung. The middle heater in the upper part of the abdomen, where it participates in the physiological functioning of the Spleen and the Stomach. The lower heater in the lower region of the abdomen, involving the physiological functioning of the Kidneys, Intestines, and the reproductive organs.
The three different heaters work together in an intertwined and unified function. The Lower Heater is operative in the functioning of the Middle Heater, which, in it’s turn, acts upon the Upper Heater; the Upper Heater affects the Middle Heater, which influences the Lower Heater. The result of this multiple dovetailing is an intermixing of all bodily energies moving toward the precise goals of each organ’s special utilization.
In the adult the heaters seem like a kind of felting surrounding all the organs, not just the Heart and Pericardium. The heaters oversee the whole torso, and extend their influence all the way to the bodily extremities, via the Three Heater Meridian and by the participation of all the Meridians of the organs whose environments are affected by the heaters.
In this sense they concern the entire organic functioning, as illustrated by an author of the Han Dynasty “Under their governance they reunite the five zang and the six fu, the Ying (the nutritive energy) and the wei, the jing (the Meridians) and the lo, the inside and the outside, left and right, top and bottom – all these breaths”.
The Upper Jiao (Shang Jiao)
The Upper Jiao is like a mist.
The Upper Heater is like Heaven in the body, it contains the Heart (xin), the Lungs (fei), the Pericardium (xin bao), throat and head. The Heart has the quality of the void and houses the Zhen. It is the emperor, representing the order of Heaven. The Lungs master the Breaths and act as ministers regulating the will of Heaven in the body.
The Spiritual Axis, ch 30 says: “The Upper Burner opens outward, spreads the 5 tastes of the food essences, pervades the skin, fills the body, moistens the skin and it is like mist”.
The Upper Jiao distributes and diffuses. It is the most refined of the Three Heaters, a place where only the pure can come, and the place where Qi is created.
The Upper Heater spreads the flavours of five grains, warms up the skin, fills the body, and moistens the hair, like irrigation by fog and mist.
The Upper Heater is in charge of dispersing and scattering Qi to the skin and muscles. In particular, it controls the outward movement of Defensive Qi to the skin. The main process of the Upper Heater is to distribute Zong Qi all over the body.
It is said to receive but not excrete; it governs the reception of liquids and cereals (and air), and sends them down to the Stomach and Spleen in the Middle Jiao, i.e. it governs entry.
The Lungs are responsible for the regulation of liquids in the Upper Heater from above. The Lungs exert pressure on the humid vapours that condense and go down.
The Middle Jiao (Zhong Jiao)
The Middle Jiao is like a muddy pool.
The Middle Heater is like Earth in the body. It contains the Spleen (pi), Stomach (wei) and Gallbladder (dan). This is where the liquids and cereals are cooked, ripened and rotted, a place of change and transformation. It is the pivot between the upper and the lower, the place of first separation of the pure and impure, of ascending and descending. The wastes and residues descend from the Stomach to Small Intestine, while the clear fluids and Gu Qi ascend to the Lungs along the axis of the Great Nourisher (Tai Yin).
The Spleen is responsible for the production and the diffusion of the body Fluids, Jin Ye, in the Middle Heater, and the course of reconstitution will come from the Stomach and Spleen.
The Middle Heater is in charge of digesting food, transforming the essence extracted from food to Ying and Wei Qi, and Blood, and transporting the Food Qi upwards to the Lungs and Heart. In particular, the Upper Heater controls the movement of Nutritive Qi and makes sure that Qi moves in the right directions, i.e. Spleen Qi upwards and Stomach Qi downwards.
The Spiritual Axis, ch. 18 says “The person receives Qi from food, food enters the Stomach, then spreads to the Lungs and the 5 Yin organs and the 6 Yang organs, the clear part goes to the Nutritive Qi, the dirty part to the Defensive Qi” and “The Middle Burner is situated in the Stomach… it receives Qi, expels the wastes, steams the body fluids, transforms the refined essences of food and connects upward with the Lung”.
The Lower Jiao (Xia Jiao)
The Lower Jiao is like a canal or a drainage ditch.
The Lower Heater represents the level of Man in the body. It contains the Liver (gan), Kidneys (shen), Bladder (pang guang), Small Intestine (xiao chang), and Large Intestine (da chang). The Lower Jiao excretes and does not receive. Its function is to further separate the clear and unclear by filtration and to evacuate the waste. It is the home of Yuan Qi, of the Kidney, of the Fire of Ming Men.
The Lower Heater is in charge of the transformation, transportation and excretion of fluids and wastes. Its Qi has a downward movement, and therefore it controls the downward movement of the Qi of the Intestines and Bladder.
The Lower Heater discriminately transmits refined substances to the lower section of the Small Intestine, and it also transmits water to the Bladder by “soaking” and “penetrating”.
The Spiritual Axis, ch. 18 says: “Food and drink first enter the Stomach, the waste products go to the Large Intestine in the Lower Burner which oozes downwards, secretes the fluids and transmits them to the Bladder”.
The Kidneys are responsible for water in the Lower Heater. The Kidneys and the Bladder transform the liquids that arrive in the lower part of the body. One part will be rejected from the body and the other part will be recuperated after purification. And at that moment it will be clear and so useful to life. Under the action of the fire of Ming Men the fire of the Lower Heater, it will be able to evaporate and rise up in a vapour throughout the whole body.
This three – fold division of the body can also be seen as a summarization of the mutual assistance and transformation into each other of the Gathering Qi (Upper Heater), Central Qi (Middle Heater) and Original Qi (Lower Heater).
The interaction of Heaven and Earth give rise to all the transformations within the Three Heaters. It can be seen how the three divisions of the Triple Heater reflect the qualities of Heaven, Earth and Man. The power of Heaven is represented in the Upper Heater, directing the movements of the Breaths and sending it’s influence downwards. The supporting and nourishing aspect of Earth is reflected in the Middle Heater, providing the substance and form, and the manifestation of power at the level of Man is reflected at the Lower Heater, where the combined actions of Heavenly and Earthly Breaths manifest themselves in the Essences that contain the source of life.