In Chinese, the number three is San. It is written with three horizontal lines to represent the three layers of the universe. The three layers are known as Sanyuan EL jt, the three sources, or Sancai ELzt, the three materials. Sanyuan and Sancai both mean the key components of the universe, which include everything constructed by the three layers. To understand the number three is another way to understand the Dao. This is no coincidence, and it is why the Yijing uses three lines to construct a trigram. Each line represents a layer of the universe.
The number three itself has many important connotations. From a Daoist perspective, three is the number of creation and accomplishment. Chapter 42 of the Daodejing states:
The Dao gives birth to the One, The One gives birth to the Two, The Two gives birth to the Three, H^H^J And the Three gives birth to the Ten Thousand Things.
The Shuowen Jiezi also explains three as being "the Dao of Heaven, Earth, and Humanity." These three aspects can be further subdivided into threes: Heaven has three lights: the sun, the moon, and the stars. Earth has three sources of energy: water, fire, and wind. Humans have three treasures: Jing, Q and Shen. According to the sages, we can strengthen our own Jing, Qi, and Shen by communicating with the three Heavenly lights and the three sources of
Earth energy. The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Medicine [Huangdi Neijing) states, "If one understands the Dao of Heaven, Earth, and Humanity and follows the Dao, one will live a long life" (Chapter 78).13
The number three represents the creation of the universe. In the Yijing, three is the Dao (the Way) of Heaven, Earth, and the Human Being. According to ancient Chinese cosmology, after Heaven and Earth were formed from the Primordial Q (Wuji), the Q of Heaven and the Q of Earth were attracted to each other because they both came from the same source. Therefore, Heaven's Q descended and Earth's Q rose, meeting each other in the middle, between Heaven and Earth. These movements of Heavenly and Earthly Q gave birth to everything in the universe. The Yijing explains this as: "The intercourse of Heaven and Earth gives birth to the Ten Thousand Things." The Human Being is among the most precious of all the Ten Thousand Things. Thus, the Human Being represents everything between Heaven and Earth. This is the pattern of the creation of the universe. The number three, then, refers to the three layers of the universe.
In the Five Element number system, the number three belongs to the Wood element. Three stands for the Liver in the body and belongs to the eastern direction. It represents the universal life force. In Qigong practice, we always work with three: posture, breath, and visualization. This is the way to strengthen and harmonize the three treasures of the body: Jing (essence), Qi (vital energy), and Shen (spirit).
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