Bargaining, Part 1 (Buffy, Season 6, Episode 1)


At the close of the Fifth Season, Buffy sacrifices herself to close a portal which linked all hell dimensions to earth.  As Season Six begins, we see that without Buffy, the gang goes on.  With the aid of the Buffybot, the Scoobies continue their fight against the evils of the Hellmouth.  The gang doesn’t do too badly, though Giles is nearly choked to death by a vampire in the opening sequence.   Life continues with a fair degree of continuity, and Giles is shown keeping the regular training session with the slayer, in this case, the Buffybot, just as he did with Buffy.  In one scene, Giles instructs the Buffybot to breathe while imagining qi — although the Buffybot does not breathe.  The scene ends with the Buffybot asking Giles why he is still in Sunnydale.  Giles decides to leave for England, and so begins the slow unraveling of the gang that becomes the focus of Season Six.

Meanwhile, with the help of Anya, Tara, and Xander, Willow tries to raise Buffy from the dead.  Willow is convinced that Buffy’s soul, her ‘essence’, is trapped in some unknown hell dimension.  It is the gang’s duty to rescue Buffy from such a fate.  She and the others gatehr ingredients for the spell, but the ritual is suddenly interrupted by a broken Buffybot leading a gang of motorcycling demons to the cemetery.  Willow and the others are left at the end of the episode believing her spell failed.

The season thus opens with some very metaphysical terms being thrown about, for which Chinese medicine has some rather different meanings.  Qi, soul, and essence, each mentioned in this episode, are discussed throughout Chinese medical and philosophical history.  The most appropriate acupuncture channel system to regulates all three, and which I will focus on for this season, is the Eight Channels of the Extraordinary Meridians.

Before we get to this episode’s diagnosis, however, a note on Giles’ concept of qi.  Giles instructs the Buffybot to imagine the air as qi, which he glosses as ‘energy’.  However, qi does not mean ‘energy’ as such in Chinese.  In fact, if you ask someone about the qi in Chinese, they will most likely initially think you are talking about the weather outside.  This common use of the word qi points to its intrinsic meaning in medicine:  qi is that which changes, both in the sense of effecting change and in the sense of that which undergoes change.  In this regard, qi is both material and metabolic.  When a herbalist or an acupuncturist regulates qi in the body, they are regulating metabolism, physiology, and the rate of change as a body adapts to variations in its environment.  The traditional character for ‘qi’ is that of a grain of rice exploding beneath whirls of steam:  the transformation of raw into cooked, earth into air or vapour.

Likewise, Chinese medicine would find Willow’s equation of Buffy’s soul with her essence to be somewhat curious.  In a certain respect, Willow is speaking in Greek concepts (ousia as essence and unseen, but tied to personality; and psyche as soul or mind, also linked to personality), while Chinese medicine uses a different sent ideas to convey its understanding of human life.  In other words, the issue is one of translation.  The word translated as ‘essence’ is jing.  It has a grain of rice as the radical, giving the impression that the grain which can grow into the plant is the ‘essence’ of the plant.  ‘Seed’ is not a bad translation, inasmuch as jing is manifest visibly in seminal fluid and menstrual blood.  The other part of the character appears in the word for ‘cyan’ or ‘blue-green’, as well as the character for ‘clear’ or ‘clarity’.  Jing is the clear portion of what grows into a person.

In contrast, describing the soul or spirit is a matter of getting more specific.  Four words can be translated as soul and spirit:  ling, shen, hun, and po.  Of those, ling and shen are the types of soul to which Willow likely referred.  The po are ‘corporeal souls’, the appetites of human life which lead to death and addiction.  Numbered at seven, they are buried with the corpse after death, and are thus sometimes called ‘bone souls’.  Clearly, those are not what Willow is talking about.  The hun or ethereal souls, three souls related to the personality and moral attainments in this life, leave the soul at death through the top of the head.  They are honoured as the ancestors, and after about three generations either dissipate or are reincarnated back into the lineage (depending on what tradition one follows).  It is possible Willow refers to them, but they are housed in the Liver, part and parcel of the blood and emotions which bring warmth and colour to life.  The shen, or spirit proper, is stored in the heart.  This is the soul which gathers the rest together.  It is the soul which experiences this life and changes because of it; it is the soul which imparts a mission to a life, and directs the jing to grow so that the mission can be accomplished.  This is the soul to which Willow seems to refer when she speaks about Buffy’s ‘essence’.  Together, as jingshen, essence and soul constitute the pattern a person is living out in life.  Jingshen manifests physically as marrow, which gathers in the cranium to form the brain.  The channels which address it, are the eight extraordinary vessels.

With those definitions in mind, we can now turn back to this episode’s diagnosis:  Shortness of breath.  Twice this symptom was shown.  First, Giles is nearly choked by a vampire at the beginning, and can’t breathe. Later, he tells the Buffybot to breathe. Difficulty breathing is often thought of as either a Lung (difficulty exhaling) or Kidney (difficulty inhaling) issue.  Of the extraordinary vessels, the Ren Mai is the most appropriate channel to treat.  Not only are its opening a coupled points LU7 and KD3, several points on the midline relate to the chest, diaphragm, and kidneys.  Thus, in addition to the opening point, I might add in CV-12 (the source of the LU meridian, which originates in the middle of the stomach), CV-17 (centre of the chest), and CV-6 (Sea of qi).

For herbal medicine, Ma Huang is the signature herb for difficulty breathing.  Either as Ma Huang Tang or combined with Gecko for Kidney-deficient asthma, Ma Huang opens the lungs, facilitates breathing, and promotes sweating.  Usually Ma Huang Tang is more suitable for robust individuals (like the Buffybot); at a smaller dose, however, Giles would be able to take it without exhausting himself further.

For this first treatment of the season, I’ve used only one Extraordinary Vessel (EV).  I will go through each individually, and then begin pairing them off to create more interesting treatments.  In addition to trying to stay within one acupuncture paradigm, I think I will try to prescribe herbal formulas according to one school of thought.  For this season, I’m going to try a warm-disease approach, particularly since Ye Tian-Shi elucidated a physiology by which pathology enters the EVs.  Hopefully I’ll find enough formulas!

As always, this post is meant for educational and entertainment purposes.  If you or a loved one have died and you want to come back to life, or if you or a loved one have difficulty breathing, please see a qualified practitioner.

Happy Slayage!

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