Study Centre PaKua aims to bring to the attention of the TCM community one of the most authentic styles of acupuncture: Acupuncture according to the philosophy of Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches. In doing so we wish to preserve this style for future generations of practitioners, as well as spread knowledge of this unique and relatively unknown form of acupuncture in the wider TCM community. We also intend to stimulate research into further development of this style of treatment.

huang di nei jing su wen 黃帝內經素問

The philosophy of the Heavenly Stems and the Earthly Branches (tiangan dizhi) and its application in acupuncture originates from the study of the five movements and the six energies (wu yun liu qi). This doctrine is described in the “seven discourses” (da lun) of the “Yellow Emperor’s Classis of Internal Medicine” (huang ti nei jing su wen). These seven discourses comprise chapters 66 to 74 of the Su Wen. Numerous other references to Stems and Branches or the five movements and the six energies are made throughout the other chapters of the Nei Jing Su Wen. The term “tiangan dizhi” in itself is older than the earliest compilation of the Nei Jing. Its earliest appearance in history is on the oracle bones of the Shang dynasty (approximately 1500 B.C.). At that time the 10 Heavenly Stems were used to indicate a 10 day cycle, later to be combined with the 12 Earthly Branches to form the 60 day cycle. At the time of Wang Bing, the foremost compiler of the Nei Jing, stems and branches were used to form the Chinese calendar which is still in use today. This calendar assigns years, months, days and hours to the sexagonal cycle of the Heavenly Stems and the Earthly Branches.

The philosophy of Stems and Branches describes the origin of the five phases or elements (wu xing) and the six divisions (liu qi) as the motive forces behind the synchronizing of the very pulsation of life in general, and humanity in particular, with the rhythms of Heaven and Earth. The organization of life into a system of five elements and six divisions was derived from extensive observation of the complex, repetitive movements of the heavens above. In ancient China the moving and utterly predictable patterns in the sky provided a reliable “clock” against which all the manifold changes on earth could be measured. With the cyclical patterns of movement of the heavenly bodies as a guideline, all the earthly phenomena were classified into being in correspondence with the prevailing heavenly body during a particular period of time, and described according to their particular character with which these phenomena appeared to manifest. wu xing As such a whole system of organic correspondence came to light, revealing a synchronization of the energetic qualities of the life process on the one hand, and the rhythms of time and space on the other.

The supposition of such a system of correspondence in nature is widely accepted in all schools and styles of TCM and is generally taught in one way or another as the five element system. The originating rhythms of heaven and responses of earth which, from a creative point of view, predate the appearance of the five elements and its organic correspondences are elaborated on in the “da lun” which were added to the final compilation of the Nei Jing by Wang Bing. To this day Wang Bing’s edition of the Nei Jing is seen as the most authoritative being the longest serving edition of this classic in Chinese history. Nonetheless, most schools of thought in the TCM community view these chapters and other references to the five movements and six energies as too complicated for practical use and tend to ignore their inherent wisdom. In fact, many sinologists consider Wang Bing’s additions to the earlier versions of the Nei Jing as somewhat controversial, thus curiously sidestepping the fact that he was, and still is, the most influential editor of the internal classic.

In contrast to that view, acupuncture according to the philosophy of Stems and Branches is completely dedicated to integrating the cyclical rhythms of Heaven and Earth into diagnosis as well as treatment strategies. Energetic processes in the external world, as well as in humans internally, are directly related to these rhythms and therefore to time and space. Every human being and all of nature has a direct relationship with time, and each individual has a specific relationship with his or her time of birth. From birth onwards we live our lives subjected to the laws of yinyang and the five elements, and function between the rhythms of Heaven and Earth.

As such the time of birth: year, month, day and hour, provides an insight to the acupuncturist into the relationship between the patient’s condition and their constitution, as well as into the relationship between the patient’s condition and their environment. The focus is therefore on the patient as a human being in a specific, unique relationship with his or her life at that time and not on a specific disease or syndrome divorced from the life of its sufferer. As a result of that, no single treatment will ever be exactly the same and will always aim at respectfully bringing the patient in synch with the pulse of his or her life.