Fire – The Organs

12. Fire – The Organs

Chapter contents


The Heart – the Supreme Controller87

The spirit of the Heart – the shen88

The Pericardium – the Heart-Protector90

The Small Intestine – the separator of pure from impure91

The Triple Burner – the Official of balance and harmony93

The time of day for the Organs95

How the Heart, Heart-Protector, Small Intestine and Triple Burner relate95


Fire is different from the other Elements. It has two yin Organs and two yang Organs. Two of these are not ordinary Organs and are often referred to as functions. The two Organs are the Heart and Small Intestine and the two Organ/functions are the Heart-Protector and the Triple Burner.

The Heart-Protector is also known as the Pericardium, which is the sac around the heart and is a physical part of the body, if not an organ. The Triple Burner gets its name from the division of the torso into three ‘burning spaces’. The Upper Burner is from the solar plexus up, the Middle Burner is from the solar plexus down to the navel, and the Lower Burner is from the navel down (see Figure 12.1).

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Figure 12.1 •

The four Organs are divided into pairs, each with one yin Organ and one yang Organ (Table 12.1). The pairing on one ‘side’ of the Fire Element is the Heart and Small Intestine and on the other is the Heart-Protector and the Triple Burner. In general Fire CFs tends to be treated on one of the yin/yang pairs, either the Heart and Small Intestine or the Heart-Protector and Triple Burner. This is not a rigid rule and there are patients where other combinations are more clinically effective.

Table 12.1 The Fire Organs

Organs Organ/functions
Yin Heart Heart-Protector
Yang Small Intestine Triple Burner

The discussion that follows will first centre on the two yin Organ/functions and then on the two yang Organ/functions (Table 12.2)

Table 12.2 The Fire Element Officials/Organs
Organ/Official Colloquial name Description from Su WenCh 8
Heart Supreme Controller The Heart holds the office of lord and sovereign. The radiance of the spirits stems from it
Pericardium Heart-Protector The Envelope of the Heart (Pericardium) represents the civil servants; from them can come joy and pleasure
Small Intestine Separator of pure from impure The Small Intestine is responsible for receiving and making things thrive. Transformed substances stem from it
Triple Burner The Official of Harmony and Balance The Triple Burner is responsible for opening up the passages and irrigation. The regulation of fluids stem from it

The Heart – the Supreme Controller

The character for the Heart

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The Chinese character for most Organs contains the ‘flesh’ radical, indicating that it is a part of the physical body. The character for the Heart, xin, is different (Weiger, 1965, lesson 107A). It has no flesh radical but instead shows a space. This demonstrates that the Heart is not merely a muscle which pumps the blood, but more a space that our shen or mind-spirit shines through. The heart is more to do with ‘being’ than with ‘doing’.

Su WenChapter 8

Su WenChapter 8 says: ‘The Heart holds the office of lord and sovereign. The radiance of the spirits stems from it’ (Larre and Rochat de la Vallée, 1992, p. 33). Thus the Heart has a special relationship to all the other Organs. The welfare of all other Organs is dependent on the sovereign. Su WenChapter 8 continues:

If then the sovereign radiates (virtue), those under him will be at peace. From this the nurturing of life will give longevity, from generation to generation and the empire will radiate great light.

But if the sovereign does not radiate (virtue), the twelve charges will be in danger, which will cause the closing and the blocking of the ways, finally stopping communication and the body will be seriously injured. From this the nurturing of life will sink into disaster. Everything that lives under Heaven will be threatened in its ancestral line with the greatest of dangers.

(Larre and Rochat de la Vallée, 1992, p. 34)

The Heart is important because it governs every other Organ. The Organs are like the officials of a court. If the emperor is settled and well, the officials can do their jobs. If the emperor is weak or disturbed, the officials are unable to function well.

Historically, the emperor of China was regarded as being halfway between human and divine. It was through the emperor and specifically through his ling (see Appendix A) that the people had a connection to the heavens and the spirits. The emperor had total authority over his people yet his role was to do nothing other than reflect the will of the heavens. A healthy heart with no obstructions does nothing other than allow our spirit to rest peacefully within it.

The spirit of the Heart – the shen

All the yin Organs store a ‘spirit’. The Heart houses the shen.

The character for the shen

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The character for the shen is composed of two characters. On the left is shih, which suggests an ‘influx coming from heaven’ (Weiger, 1965, lesson 3D). On the right is shen, which gives the notion of ‘two hands extending a rope; the idea of extension, or expansion’ (Weiger, 1965, lesson 50C). Both characters together help us to understand something about the power of the shen. It emanates from heaven and is capable of unfolding with infinite expansive power from within us.

The functions of the shen


The shen enables people to radiate outwards. Shen gives a person a sparkle in the eyes, an inner vitality, joie de vivre, and an alertness of the mind. This brightness and radiance is called shen ming in Chinese texts. Shen ming is the glow and radiance of Fire. Practitioners often notice after a treatment on the Fire Organs that patients’ shen ming has been enhanced. Their eyes sparkle more, their mind is more settled and their pulse improves. The change reminds us of the description of the Heart. It is like an empty space, just being, needing to do nothing and influencing simply by being there.

When the luminous radiance of the Spirit’s shen ming is stored within the Formless, and when the essences/spirits jing shen return to the Supreme Authenticity, then the eye is radiant and no longer oriented towards vision, the ear is fine and no longer just for hearing, the heart spreads out, is propagated far and wide, and is no longer for preoccupation and worry.

(Huainanzi, Chapter 8; Larre and Rochat de la Vallée, 1995, p 88)

Relationship with the other spirits

Each yin Organ has a ‘spirit’ associated with it. Thus as well as being the spirit of the Heart, the shen is also the spirit of the whole Element. The other spirits are the following:

Wood hun or spiritual soul
Earth yi or intellect
Metal po or corporeal soul
Water zhi or will

One of the functions of the shen is to be the overseer or leader of the other spirits. This means that for each of these to thrive, they will to some degree depend upon the state of health of the shen. If the shen itself is healthy the other spirits may then perform their roles perfectly.

Other functions

The shen, which the Heart stores, has other more specific functions. Like many of the Organ functions in Chinese medicine, these are not exclusive to the Heart. They are primarily a function of the shen, but the spirits of the other Organs also influence them.

The shen affects our ability to sleep, especially to go off to sleep. The shen goes outward during the day and engages with the world. At night, when it is time to rest, the shen returns to the Heart. The shen rests in the Blood of the Heart. When the Heart Blood is not healthy, then the shen is not ‘rooted’ and becomes agitated. This is somewhat like a dog that circles its blanket time and time again and cannot settle. Going off to sleep depends upon a settled shen. If the shen is unsettled, then the unconscious can be sufficiently disturbed for dreams to break through into consciousness and wake the person up.

The shen affects our short-term memory. When the shen is disturbed or deficient it often manifests in ways such as not knowing why we came into a room, not remembering the name of someone to whom we were just introduced, or forgetting where we put our pen or car keys. Scatty, vague, absent-minded are the usual terms to describe these mental states. This often deteriorates with age or if the person is upset or preoccupied.

The shen also governs our ability to think clearly and have clear consciousness. Thinking clearly means that there is a purpose to one’s thinking and that a person can concentrate without wandering off. When the shen is weak or agitated the mind easily strays. Clear consciousness is similar to the function of thinking clearly. Anyone who has meditated knows the tendency for the mind to wander, to disappear into foggy gaps and then re-emerge. Consciousness is also affected or lost when a person has a fit or is in a coma. The shen has no ‘residence’. At the same time the person often becomes extremely ‘lack of red’, indicating that the Fire Element is out of balance.

Imbalance of the Heart

A Five Element Constitutional Acupuncturist’s diagnosis is largely made by observing ‘signs’ such as colour, sound, emotion and odour. These signs can reveal the person’s CF but not which Organ is primarily in distress. This is especially important in the case of the Fire Element as there are four Organs as opposed to two. Pulse diagnosis is crucial but the nature of the symptoms can also be revealing.

The hallmark of Heart dysfunction is lack of internal control, especially when the shen is affected. Difficulty getting off to sleep and dream-disturbed sleep are also common. Seeing someone in an acute state of shock can give some insight into disturbance of the Heart’s shen in an extreme form. Excessively volatile emotions, uncontrollable tearfulness and internal desperation are common. Lack of stability of the emotions is the key diagnostic indicator. The person usually finds it difficult to stabilise the intense movements of qi induced by mild shocks and upsets. This is especially so when brought on by difficulties in relationship to other people but can arise in other situations. Tearfulness is often very transient, arising and departing in a flash. Feelings of rejection are often extremely intense. The person can also be panicky, and may experience intense feelings in the chest.

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Nov 30, 2016 | Posted by in PHYSICAL MEDICINE & REHABILITATION | Comments Off on Fire – The Organs

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