The 5 Shen are the spirits related to each of the five yin organ systems of the body (Lungs, Liver, Spleen, Kidney, and Heart). The 5 Shen system originated from what is found within the Taoist practice of the Shangqing bloodline. Every one of these spirits has an association not only with a yin organ and its related element, but also with a direction and the energy of a planet. “Waking up” the Shen of the organs is the same as “beckoning the spirits” for a shamanic ritual.
When in balance, the 5 Shen, vibrate with a resounding harmony similar to the “Harmony of the Spheres” of the planets. With the framework of our Inner Alchemy (neidan) practice, the 5 Shen are ultimately, returned to the integrated Mind of Tao.
Emperor of the Heart Shen
We find something like a spiritual hierarchy within the system of the 5 Shen: Shen – the Empero is the spirit of the Heart, with facets of its power – like ministers – dwelling as the other organs’ spirits. Communication between the organs is harmonious and balanced when these secondary spirits fulfill their role as loyal heralds of the Shen of the Heart leading to a well-functioning and happy “Body Politic.”
Fire is the element related to the Heart Shen. South is its direction, and Mars is the planetary energy that it represents. Being the emperor of the 5 Shen, it is connected with the general quality of our consciousness that can be sensed in the energy moving through our eyes.
Eyes that are responsive, sparkling, and clear are signs of a healthy Shen – of consciousness that is intelligent, fluid, and vibrant.
The Will to Act of the Kidneys – Zhi
The kidney system’s Shen is will or Zhi. The water element is associated with Zhi which represents the planet Mercury and bears the energy of the north direction.
The minister responsible for the intention and work needed to achieve things is Zhi. This includes the perseverance and effort required to succeed in our spiritual practice. In Taoism, to align ourselves with the Tao or the “will of Heaven,” is the greatest use of our personal will. The spirit-filled effort springing from such a choice has the characteristic of wuwei: “right” action or spontaneously skillful and non-volitional.
The Spleen’s Intellect – Yi
The Spleen System’s spirit is intellect or Yi. The element of earth is associated with Yi: Saturn is its planetary energy and center is its direction. Yi includes our ability to form intentions and the capacity to utilize our conceptual mind to exercise discernment. A Yi that is out of balance can manifest as unconscious internal chatter or discursiveness: a sort of “pensiveness” or over-thinking that injures the Spleen. A Yi that is healthy can manifest as spirit-filled understanding and intelligence.
The Lungs’ Bodily Soul – Po
The bodily soul or Po is the part of consciousness that, at the time of death, dissipates with the body’s elements. It is also related with the lung organ system. The metal element belongs to Po, as is Venus, the planet, and the west direction.
As opposed to the Hun, Po is associated with our denser or immediate desires since it only exists within the context of a single lifetime.
The Liver’s Ethereal Soul – Hun
The ethereal soul or Hun is affiliated with the liver system and is the part of consciousness that, in more subtle realms, continues to exist – – even after the body has died. The wood element and Hun are related to each other as with the planetary energy of Jupiter and the east direction. As our spiritual practice deepens, more and more of the physical aspects of consciousness, or Po is used or transmuted as support for the Hun. We are manifesting “Heaven on Earth” within our very bodies, as this process unfolds.
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