Demon Miso (Halloween post, 2016) : Drain the Epigastrium formula/Xie Xin tang : Blue Beryl Blog
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Demon Miso (Halloween post, 2016) : Drain the Epigastrium formula/Xie Xin tang

by Hyoun Bae on 09/15/18

Demon Miso, Liminal fox spirits and other Haunted tales
There's a type of miso to make when the neighbors are away. Fermented fresh soy beans, a Korean makjang or miso - bearing a stench and taste so incongruous, one might wonder if you’re preparing a noxious feast for non-human entities.
Hakuin, the enigmatic Zen master and calligrapher of the eighteenth century, offers a wonderful teaching through his painting, Demon Miso, wherein he employs the image of Shoki, known to have the ability to cast out demons after exorcising his own. 
Imbued with great compassion, the bulging eyed, ornately-robed character gazes upwards, while brandishing a pestle akin to a sword (of wisdom perhaps), mashing demons in a pestle - making his own special miso-as an enthusiastic young onlooker chimes, "Papa, I can't wait to have a taste!". Hakuin has Shoki, mouthing in the inscription, "Tenuous it is, mashing one's demons into miso. You have to be ruthless (paraphrase). (Yoshizawa, Katsuhiro, 2009).
Demon slayers and shape-shifting spirits are all part of the premodern religious landscape of Japan. Not all spirits are considered evil. Some are powerful and reflect the notion of liminality in the human realm, where desire and belief obscure and that perhaps the full round of existence can be experienced in our own complexity. Many of these shape shifters and human spirits live at the borderland, thresholds of experience where dream and reality, ignorance and conscience, fade ominously.
One record, of a famed koan known as the 'Wild Fox,' recounts the story of a priest whose unkindly acts landed him the bondage of a life as a fox spirit, neither man nor beast, but as a fei-jen, disembodied and haunting as it were, the temple he once served at. In this incarnation, disguised as a monk, with his fox tail protruding from the back of his robe, he approaches the present abbot, and confesses to Pai Chung of his past, whereupon he is met with incisive words that wake him up from his dreamy state. The koan itself is a tool for looking beyond the narratives that construct our experience.
This type of exorcism portrayed in the literary record is more of a transmission, a parable of retribution and awakening. The fox spirit is cast under a stone behind the monastery, and a proper funeral held, indicative of a new lease on life.
The analogy is clear and resonant, and with a somatic meaning as well. 
In my study of herbal medicine, the fox-spirit (Heine, Steven, 1999), cast as a liminal and wily creature was also alluded to with regards to a certain line of prescriptions that could ease epigastric focal distension - that area just below the sternum at the fundus of the stomach, known classically as the reflex area of the heart. 
Most of us get an uncomfortable feeling here, when our emotions get stuck. The area, the opening of the stomach is also a pivot between yin and yang, marked laterally by the threshold of the diaphragm. Breath, emotions, mind and qi reflect an interplay between conscious and unconscious - unspoken elements. The fox spirit becomes a medical metaphor for 'xie xin' - or that which drains the heart of its virtue, the drain of emotional life, when our afflictions and limited beliefs obscure and exhaust a heart/mind radiant and bright, in its natural condition.
The xie xin tang series of herbal presriptions deal with everything from digestive to emotional distress.
Our final interlude invokes Tengu, and the Demon's Sermon (2012), wherein a half-vulture/half-human instructs in the martial arts, on health and of the essence of the spiritual life, based in the wisdom known to the author of these parables, a swordsman at home in Buddhist, Taoist and Shinto religion and the mountain environs where ascetics, spirits and gods roamed freely.
This supernatural twist of motifs has the tengu discoursing to other animals, known as they are to teach human swordsman as well, on the central ways of qi, mind-training and self-cultivation. Returning these earthly lessons, a 'spirit' instructs that the heart and essence of health cultivation is in learning the relationship between mind and vital energy, and that to train in qi is to understand desire, as if to know well our demons, to release the sources of inner conflict that dissipate.
In the opening parable, a sparrow and butterfly wax poetic about the life that was and the life that is - how they've each changed over time and the fallacy of lamenting the past, in favor of accepting things as they are. 
Following this tale is a story about a grandiose and self-assured hawk, in conversation with a timid, self-doubting owl, who questions his odd appearance, not seeing himself as a gorgeous bird of flight. After speaking to other birds, the owl realizes his own gift of seeing at night, and begins to deliberate the relativity of his existence - both its upsides and downsides -and comes to acknowledge that all being are interrelated, and perception are relative and concludes that a compassionate existence is what is warranted.
Ghostly apparitions, spirited guides and stealthy demons retain their power like the unconscious. They inform us not unlike memories, intuitions and beliefs do - in their nature, sources of fragmentation or of wisdom. From Hakuin, we realize our own demon mash is the most savory. From the fox spirit, that redemption is in reckoning and disclosure, and the tengu, or vulture spirit, our demons are our teachers and that to rectify the qi is to look deeply into the essence of our own mind.
And, if that all is ineffectual, the legendary Sun Simiao noted 13 Ghost Points- acupuncture to let the ghosts out!

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