5 Symbolic Categories that Teach Us Masterfully About the Triple Burner

I thought I would share with you a few pieces I’ve put together over the years – they won’t have the copywriting flair you’ve come to know and love from me, but I hope it will provoke some interesting discussion. Today and tomorrow we’ll look a little at the Triple Burner, one of my favorite organ networks (it gets the biggest presents under the Christmas tree) and five categories of symbolic information about it that we can glean from the organ clock, prefaced by the Neijing Chapter 8 line on Triple Burner. Enjoy.

三焦 – San Jiao, Triple Burner/Heater

Master of the Networks
Metaboliser of Water
Hub maker
The source of the sources
Unnamable and unknowable, like the Dao
Master of the In-Between

Neijing Line

San1 Jiao1 Zhe3 Jue2 Du2 Zhi1 Guan1 Shui3 Dao4 Chu1 Yan1

My best translation:

“The Triple Burner is the official of dredging the low-lying waterways, the Way of Water emerges from it.” <I’m a pretty literal kind of guy sometimes>

Other translations:

(Maoshing Ni) “The sanjiao, or the three visceral cavities, promotes the transformation and transportation of water and fluids throughout the body.”

(Wang) “The triple warmer takes the office of dredging water in the watercourse of the whole body, it takes charge of the activity of the vital energy of the body fluid and the regulation and the dredging of the fluid.” <Not so literal, notice>

Some etymological breakdown of the Neijing Line:

决瀆:Du, the right-hand character of this pair is related to the ditches and waterways. In the Ling Shu, the Triple Warmer is referred to as “hubbing/centralizing the ditches or rivers.” We can think of the largest Rivers in China as doing this – all the smaller rivers dump into them – the Triple Warmer is one of these large Rivers. Ditches, in general, are thought to drain the more turbid waters of a city – and this is the function of the TW in the body, draining the turbidity away. Jue1 is involved here, too, as it is the function of “biting away” the dirt and debris that allows it to then be flushed away.

水道: The TW is like the Way of Water insofar that it is not really nameable, not really physical, but present in the world and meant to be adhered to.

Five Categories of Symbolic Information found on the Chinese organ clock

1. The 10th month

(十月 – shi2yue4) November-December, around Scorpio-Sagittarius, mostly associated with the latter. This is the time hovering between death (9th month, PC) and rebirth (11th month, GB). So, in some way the Triple Burner represents the part of the human being and human experience that is “in between.” Some have made the leap to relating the TB, then, to the interstitial spaces. If you have other ideas, or support for this one, please share it with us in the comments.

2. Agricultural Nodes

立冬 li4 dong1
“Start of winter”
Again with the in-between energy. The beginning of winter feels a lot like late fall – the snows haven’t started falling yet, but all of the leaves are down and the crops are harvested.

小雪 xiao3 xue3
“Minor Snow”
Here we have the beginning of true winter, but the snow is still small and normal activities of life can still take place.

3. Earthly Branch

This is one of the only Earthly Branches who’s picture is associated outright with the animal related to it (the other being Si4, the Snake).
It is a water branch


In the oracle bones and bronze script, this character truly resembles a pig or boar (see left)

The Shuo Wen explains Hai in the following way:


In that explanation, we see the character , pronounced da2 or ta4, and meaning “roots.” Related to this character are two other characters for roots, gen1 and ben3. When we think of the root networks that stretch under the ground of all non-arctic cities and rural areas, we can have a clear picture of the Triple Warmer – as a network that spreads all through the body, carrying the vital substances of life to every part of the body no matter how tiny or far removed from the major centers of transportation.

4. Time of Day

corresponds to 9pm – 11pm.
This is the most Yin time of day – when everyone is sleeping and all is very dark. This gives us a snapshot of the pure Yin (Kun!) of TW despite the fact that we are seeing a lot of pure Yang energy as well (adrenals, Sagittarius). To be healthy, one should rest no matter what during this time.

5. Hexagram 2 / / Kun1

is composed of two elements, tu3/earth on the left and shen1/stretch on the right. These are also symbols of the Earth/material and Heaven/spirit. So Kun combines these elements. It can also mean compliance or obedience, which would put it in the realm of the ultimate “feminine” principle. Certainly an image of Earth. This ego stillness is a hallmark of Triple Warmer – it is the in-between quiet. The Triple Warmer has no agenda of its own, it merely communicates the agenda of other officials.

In one ordering of the hexagrams, Kun was first instead of Qian, which is most often listed as being the first hexagram in the sequence. Here we can see Kun as the mother, the source. The Triple Warmer may then be both of these things – source and mother of all. The image of Kun is a valley or the ultimate container – it is a container for spirit, as humans are containers of Earth for Spirit.

Information from Yijing translations for this hexagram

Karcher: “Nourish, provide for, the ‘flow,’ the Gate of Change.” “From this centre, sacrifice is offered to the River and the underworld waters and to Mountain.” “It suggests Nu Gua, the one who made our bodies and the Two, the couple who protect us.” “The Valley Spirit Never Dies”

Maoshing Ni: “Becoming a good follower requires practicing the highest virtues of Kun, as expressed in the teaching of the Dao De Jing where the great sage Lao Tzu emphasizes being soft, gentle, compliant and humble.”

Huang: Calls this “Responding.”

In all of these translations we see the soft, responding, connecting energy of Earth and also of water. Both of these emphasize that the Triple Burner seems more likely to be a networker and supporter rather than the energetic and dynamic organ some have theorized it to be. But in this kind of supportive role there is great power – nothing can happen without it.

I’m interested to know what others think of this – does this imagery seem supported? Please leave a comment.


About Eric Grey

Hi - I'm the founder of this site and the primary master of all functions here. When I'm not writing, you can find me reaching out to the Chinese Medicine community across the web and in my own backyard. I currently teach Chinese herbs at my alma mater, the National College of Natural Medicine. Additionally, I'm the founder of Watershed Wellness, a thriving local clinic in Southeast Portland in Oregon. No matter where I'm working, you'll find my focus on the Classical approach to Chinese medicine laced throughout everything I do.

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