The Penetrating Divine Illumination

Ted Kaptchuk spoke about this subject at a recent Pacific Symposium. I was intrigued, so I did a little digging and discovered that he had also written about the concept of the penetrating divine illumination at some length in a recent edition of The Web That Has No Weaver. The penetrating divine illumination is supposedly the highest form of healing intervention. It is a special type of patient-doctor interaction that is supposedly more powerful than any medicine or needle. In Ted’s words:



I was intrigued by this concept, so I got my hands on a copy of the Divine Farmer’s Classic of Materia Medica by Sabine Wilms. She actually devotes a bit of her introduction to discussing it, because a number of herbs are said to have the property of facilitating the breakthrough of the penetrating divine illumination. Perhaps the most notable (or notorious) of these is cannabis flower. I was curious about which herbs other than cannabis are also associated with this property. It turns out that cannabis is one of only 17 herbs in the book that is described as “facilitating the breakthrough of the divine penetrating illumination.” The other 16 fit mostly into the following 2 categories, the most interesting of which to me are the other herbal substances.

  1. Aromatic and pungent herbs loaded with essential oils, such as cinnamon, ginger, tangerine peel, and eupatorium. (It is notable that essential oils are composed of terpenes and terpenes are an important area of research in pharmacology of cannabis. This also hints towards the potential of aromatherapy in this area, as many essential oils are indicated for their effects on the brain and nervous system. Finally, the terpenes of cannabis are found in many other plants, such as hops, cloves, black pepper.)
  2. Mineral substances, including the notorious cinnabar. Interestingly, cinnabar is listed as a non-toxic substance in this book. I am less familiar with the pharmacology of these substances, as they have generally been considered either inert or poisonous in modern times.
  3. One of the most interesting entries was for a form of henbane that contains an alkaloid called Hyoscyamine (also known as daturine). This alkaloid is most well known as a major component of jimsonweed (Datura stramonium). Datura was frequently combined with cannabis in preparations used to cause dramatic alterations of consciousness in some sects of Tantric Buddhism.

It is unclear if the cannabis referred to in the divine farmers materia medica contained THC or if it was a predominantly CBD variety. Based on the research of EJ Brand and colleagues, it seems likely that the varieties that were predominant in the mainstream practice of Chinese medicine were CBD hemp varieties. This is based on both the reported indications in a wide cross-section of premodern materia medicas and, perhaps more importantly, the lack of widespread reports of the expected side effects had this usage actually been referring to high THC varieties. 

Armed with this information and my prior knowledge of Chinese herb combining, I wrote a formula based on cannabis and some of the nontoxic herbs, fruits, and minerals also said to possess this property.

I’d say it regulates qi, transforms dampness, harmonizes the spleen and stomach, calms the spirit, nourishes the heart and “facilitates the breakthrough of divine penetrating illumination.” All of the herbs in the formula have some history of being used together except for the cannabis flowers. (However, the seeds were actually often combined with several of the other herbs in this formula in the shang hang lun and jin gui yae lue.) If I was treating a pattern with this formula, it would probably be for a mild phlegm misting the mind due to qi stagnation and dampness originating in the spleen and stomach (not a full blown mental illness but more like the normal state of affairs for a 21st century human).

Tong Shen Ming (通神明)

A formula to facilitate the breakthrough of spirit illumination (aka penetrating divine illumination)

  • 25 mg Full-spectrum CBD Hemp flower oil –  regulate qi, relax sinews, calm spirit
  • 3g Longan fruit (Long Yan Rou) – nourish blood and yin
  • .5g Cinnamon (Gui Zhi) – regulate qi and blood, expels wind cold from the channels
  • .5g Dried Ginger (Gan Jiang) – warms center, transforms dampness
  • 1g Tangerine peel (Ju Pi) – transform dampness and regulate qi
  • 3g Hemp seed (huo ma ren) – nourish yin
  • Editor’s notes: My speculation on the functions here. I only recommend CBD Hemp with negligible amounts of THC in it. I do not consider THC to be a general use medicine. CBD hemp has its place, but there are better Chinese herbs for everything in the standard materia medica, IMNSHO. If you’re not a fan of cannabis, just leave it out. There’s nothing in any of the books that says you need to use all or most of the herbs that facilitate the breakthrough of the penetrating divine illumination in order to accrue the benefits. If you’re curious but inexperienced with CBD, I would suggest starting at a much much lower dosage, even though the dosage listed above is generally considered on the low end.
  • I don’t really consider this to be formula to be therapeutic, per se. It is basically a personal experiment to see what the heck the divine farmer might’ve been talking about. My main interest here is this peculiar thing called the penetrating divine illumination. I thought maybe the Chinese characters would give me a little more insight. So, I dropped them into the Google translate app and, lo and behold, those three characters together translate to a modern Chinese reader as “psychic.” That is particularly interesting, because if you have read my other recent post on cannabis, I noted that there is an entry in a pre-modern herbal textbook that referred to what appeared to be clairvoyant abilities from the consumption of cannabis. For those who wonder if THC Cannabis is really the key to this mysterious power, I am sure you can think of ways to test that hypothesis.
  • I have only tried this little formula on myself. So, use at your own risk. However, these are all food items, except for the CBD hemp oil. And, here in SoCal, you can get that at any corner market. So far, I have not been able to clearly see the future.