Monday, August 08, 2005

A note on Hun Po (souls)

A recent spiritual discussion on ancient Chinese thoughts on souls in a forum triggered my following thoughts and theories on the subject. (Probably not too good an idea talking about souls during the seventh lunar month- the Chinese ghosts’ festival month- which started on August 5th and to end on September 3rd but what the heck, just call in the ghosts’ busters where necessary!)

According to tradition and as one understands it; the Chinese called the human soul (s), Hun Po. It is believed that each person has three Hun and seven Po.

Hun represents the light, heavenly soul while Po represents the dark, earthly (animal) soul. Hun is written with two adjoining Chinese words, ‘cloud and demon’ while the two adjoining words for Po are ‘white and demon’. The mandarin pronunciation for Hun is the same as that for Cloud. But it differs for Po and White. However, the tonal pronunciation for Po and White differs only slightly if spoken in Cantonese or Hakka (two Chinese dialects). This means that the (co joining) word, Demon (or ghost) is left out when pronouncing both Hun and Po.

In Chapter 10 TTC, Laozi advised the keeping of Po within the body and to refine it. For if Po leaves a body, the person dies. And since Po represents the earthly and animal soul then its refinement would be necessary as part of Dao cultivation.

When a person dies, it is believed that Hun being the heavenly soul returns to heaven as Shen (spirit) and may later return to Tao, while Po, the earthly soul returns to earth as Kuei (ghost).

At this juncture, one ventures to put forth two theories which may be further developed at a later date. As part of cultivation, the often quoted Buddhist saying of ‘remove the heart (hsin) demon’ (meaning to remove objectionable desires such as revenge, greed or lust, for example) may have something to do with Hun Po. When we remove the word ‘demon’ from both Hun and Po then we are left with the Chinese words, Cloud White or White Cloud. White cloud(s) can be visualized during neidan meditation. White cloud (s) can also signify clarity, like in a clear sky?

The other theory arose from attempts in studying ancients thoughts. Buddha said that one can hear dharma being spoken (or songs of immortals) in open space when the souls interact with others and they alternate as host and guests. Laozi advised the keeping and refining of Po. (With no references made to Hun, it could mean that Hun is already in a refined state.)

As there are supposed to be three Hun and seven Po in a person, when the seven Po are refined then one will have ten Hun. By tradition, the number, ten is often referred to as completion. As indicated, Hun returns to heaven as shen (spirit) and later returns to Tao. Does it then mean that the refining in inner alchemy actually means refining the seven Po, to enable ten Hun to return as Shen (spirit) to Xu (emptiness) and to Tao?

If we delve deeper into the Daoist texts and the Leng Yen Ching, we would be able to determine whether the latter theory holds water. Even if my theory proves correct, it is only for the neidan practice and not for the entire cultivation. There are many other ingredients to be added, still lots to learn, and a long way to go. That is why Yu Ching’s poem is called, “A magical spell for the Far Journey”. But one does hope you have enjoyed this note.


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Allan said...

Thank you for dropping by.

Anonymous said...

i realize this is long after the po of this post has returned to their mother but... i think balance is actually 15, not 10. 5 heaven, 5 earth, 5 man. the missing 5 in your equation is the plain that exists between the two primordial states - essentially the manifest. it occupies the center. we occupy the center.

great post. very interesting. good luck on the path fellow journeyman. godspeed.

Matt J said...


When I read about Hun and Po, I am reminded of Yuan and Shi Shen. I wonder if you have any thoughts on how they relate.

Anonymous said...

You have po and hun reversed. Its' Hun is dark and po is light. Hun(Chinese: 魂; pinyin: hún; Wade–Giles: hun; literally "cloud or cloudy-soul") and Po (Chinese: 魄; pinyin: pò; literally means "white-soul"). Within this ancient soul dualism tradition, every living human has both a hun spiritual soul that leaves the body after death and a po corporeal, substantive, and yin soul that merges with the karmaless hun after purification. Hun and Po remain today, the key to understanding Chinese views of the human soul and the afterlife."