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Valley Spirit
Gu Shen, Ku Shen

The Dark and Empty Ground of All Beings
The Ever Giving Mysterious Mother of Life

Research by

Michael P. Garofalo

August 1, 2009



Valley Spirit





"Taoists use the metaphor of gu shen, "the valley spirit."  A valley supports life, feeds the animals who live there and provides fertile earth for agriculture.  It can do this only because it is empty.  It accepts the flow of the river because it is most low and most humble.  It receives the warmth of the sun because it is wide and not filled with anything to block the light.  It brings forth life because it supports all who come to it."
-  Deng Ming-Dao, Scholar Warrior, p. 182



I live in the north Sacramento Valley, California, near the town of Red Bluff.  At this location, the Sacramento Valley is about 70 miles wide.  To the east are the southern Cascades, a range of volcanic mountains, with some nearby peaks over 10,000 feet high. To the west are the Yolly Bolly Mountains, with nearby peaks over 8,000 feet high.  To the north are multiple mountain ranges, including Mt. Shasta, over 14,000 feet high.  Dozens of creeks flow from the mountains down into the Sacramento Valley, and all flow into the Sacramento River.  The area where I live is rural.  The primary agricultural products are almonds, olives, walnuts, prunes, winter wheat, cattle, and sheep.  My outdoor practice of T'ai Chi Ch'uan and Qigong cannot help but be influenced by the "Valley Spirit." 
-  Mike Garofalo



"The Valley Spirit

The valley spirit not dying
is called the mysterious female.
The opening of the mysterious female
is called the root of heaven and earth.
Continuous, on the brink of existence,
to put it into practice, don't try to force it."
Tao Te Ching, #6, Translated by Thomas Cleary



"Gu Shen Bu Si,
Shi Wei Xuan Pin.
Xuan Pin Zhi Men,
Shi Wei Tian Di Gen.
Mian Mian Ruo Cun,
Yong Zhi Bu Qin.

Translated as: 
The valley spirit never dies;
It is called the mysterious female.
The gateway of the mysterious female
Is called the root of heaven and earth.
It is like a veil barely seen,
But if you use it, it never fails."
Chanting the Tao Te Ching



"The valley spirit never dies
Call it the mystery, the woman.

The mystery,
the Door of the Woman,
is the root
of earth and heaven.

Forever this endures, forever.
And all its uses are easy."
-  Translated by Ursula K. Le Guin, Chapter 6, Tao Te Ching



"The Valley Spirit never dies
It is named the Mysterious Female.
And the doorway of the Mysterious Female
Is the base from which Heaven and Earth sprang.
It is there within us all the while.
Draw upon it as you will, it never runs dry."
Tao Te Ching, Chapter VI, Translated by Arthur Waley



"The Tao is called the Great Mother
empty yet inexhaustible,
it gives birth to infinite worlds.

It is always present within you.
You can use it any way you want.
-  Translated by Stephen Mitchell, Chapter 6



"The wu-chi diagram describes the process of transformation through internal alchemy, or the return to the Tao.  The empty circle at the bottom is the Mysterious Gate [Mysterious Entrance] or the Valley Spirit.  Gate means "opening," and Valley referes to "Emptiness" or "Void."  On the physical level the Valley Spirit lies in the Life Gate (ming-men) on the spinal column (an area on the spine between the kidneys).  The ming-men controls movement of generative energy in the lower tan-t'ien (the area near the navel).  On the spiritual level, the Valley Spirit is consciousness emptied of sensations, emotions, and thoughts."
-   Cultivating Stillness:  A Taoist Manual for Transforming Body and Mind, p. xvii
     Translated by Eva Wong, 1992.  



"The Mysterious Gate has many names.  In Confucianism, it is called the altar of wisdom.  It embodies limitless compassion.  It is a consciousness without thoughts and it reflects the way of heaven.  It is intuitive knowledge and reflects the way of earth.  In Buddhism, the Mysterious Gate is the spirit mountain, the empty consciousness of original mind, or nirvana, the realm of the Amitabha Buddha.  In Taoism, it is the Golden Palace, the realm of t'ai-chi, the domain of the Three Pure Realms, the root of existence of all things.  Although it is given different names by the three religions, it is nonetheless the same thing.  In Confucianism, when this gate is opened, the sage emerges.  In Buddhism, when this gate is opened, the Buddha emerges.  In Taoism, when this gate is opened, the immortal emerges."
-   Cultivating Stillness:  A Taoist Manual for Transforming Body and Mind, p. 18
    Translated by Eva Wong, 1992.  



"Know honor,
Yet keep humility.
Be the valley of the universe!
Being the valley of the universe,
Ever true and resourceful,
Return to the state of the uncarved block."
-  Tao Te Ching, #28, Translaged by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English













"High mountains receive more of these energies than the surrounding lowlands, and their atmosphere is more easily ionized.  The positive ions are pulled down the mountains by the earth's force fields, while the negative ions tend to rise, leaving a greater concentration on the mountain tops.  Applied to human beings, negative charges have good effects, while positive charges have bad effects."
-  Frank Waters, Mountain Dialogues, p. 69



"Ku shen: “Valley Spirit”.  The first word modifies the second here, as in English.  Both are normally nouns.  (“Shen gu” would be “valley of spirits” or “spiritual valley”.)"
-   Chapter Two



"When discussing Taoist philosophy, metaphors are used to describe various concepts. These examples are usually taken from nature. The metaphor of 'gu-shen', loosely translated as 'the valley spirit', has been used to describe the concept of Emptiness.  Emptiness, by most people, is viewed as something negative.  The metaphor of gu-shen shows how very important, and positive, Emptiness is.   A valley allows the flow of the river because it is low and humble.  It is wide so accepts the warmth and light of the sun to sustain growth.  So in it's emptiness, it supports life, not only in it, but to those who come to it."
Why "Gu-Shen?"




"The Tao Te Ching can be seen as advocating mostly "female" (or Yin) values, emphasising "water" fluidity and softness (instead of the solid and stable "mountain"), choosing the obscure and mysterious aspect of things in order to be able to rule-without-ruling them.  In this respect, this book can be understood as challenging "male" (or Yang) values such as clarity, stability, positive action, and domination of nature, values often also referred to as Confucian."
Online Law Encyclopedia  



"The life-force of the valley never dies--
This is called the dark female.
The gateway of the dark female--
This is called the root of the world.
Wispy and delicate, it only seems to be there,
Yet its productivity is bottomless."
-   Dao De Jing, #6, Translated by Roger T. Ames and David L. Hall  



"You darkness that I come from,
out of which all things come,
I love you more that all the fires
that fence the world,
for the fire makes a circle of light for everyone,
and then no one outside learns of you,
But the darkness pulls in everything,
shapes and fires, animals and myself.
How easily it gathers them,
powers and people.
It is possible a great energy is moving near us.
I have faith in the night."

-  Ranier Marie Rilke, I Have Faith in Nights



A monk introduced himself to the teacher Hsuan-sha, saying, "I have just entered this monastery.  Please show me where to enter the Way."
"Do you hear the sound of the valley stream?" asked Hsuan-sha.
"Yes," said the monk.
"Enter there!" 


The valley spirit dies not, aye the same;
The female mystery thus do we name.
Its gate, from which at first they issued forth,
Is called the root from which grew heaven and earth.
Long and unbroken does its power remain,
Used gently, and without the touch of pain.


"Departing from the Mysterious, entering the Female.
It appears to have perished, yet appears to exist.
Unmovable, its origin is mysterious."
The Jade Emperor's Mind Seal Classic

"In the Recorded Sayings of Master Ta Ma it is said, "The Mysterious [hsuan] represents heaven, ching [essence], and the nose.  The Female [p'in] represents earth, blood [qi], and the abdomen.  Hsuan is the father of ching [jing], and p'in is the mother of qi.  So that which departs from the father is ching, and that which enters the female is qi.  Within each person there is the Mysterious Female.  Everyone can create a spiritual embryo.  The Valley Spirit refers to yang shen [pure spirit]; with just one drop of yang shen uniting with the ching and qi, the Spirit Embryo is born."
-   The Jade Emperor's Mind Seal Classic.  The Taoist Guide to Health, Longevity, and Immortality.  Translated with commentary by Stuart Alve Olson.  Rochester, Vermont, 2003.  Index, bibliography, 216 pages.  ISBN: 0892811358.  Reference, p. 139.   



"Here's the commonly available version for Chapter 6
[of the Tao Te Ching):

谷神不死, 是謂玄牝.
玄牝之門, 是謂天地之根.

And the subtle difference of the older one:

谷神不死 是謂玄牝
玄牝之門 是謂天地之根
綿綿呵若存 用之不勤

The life-force of the valley never dies--
This is called the dark female.
The gateway of the dark female--
This is called the root of the world.
Wispy and delicate, it only seems to be there,
Yet its productivity is bottomless. 
- Translated by Ames and Hall



"The spirit of the valley – a powerful symbol of the female principle – is eternal. It has always been there and will always be. We can call it the mystical female, or the sacred feminine.  The sacred feminine is the universal source of life. Therefore, the doorway to the essence of the mystical female is what we can call the root, origin, or genesis of the entire world. This essence – life itself – is a continuous flow. We tend to take it for granted and not pay attention to it, but it is always there. And it does not matter how much it is utilized – the power of life is literally inexhaustible."
-   Derek Lin, Tao Te Ching, p. 12.



"And that futhermore, 綿 was actually, 帛 (white, on top of turban, meaning silk) as the left-side and 系 (drawing threads together, meaning series) making a character I don't think is in the Unicode standard. Even Jade Emperor's Mind Seal Classic which references this passage uses the 綿 form. Combined with 呵 which says means "exhale", that last passage includes some reference to inner alchemy. ...

According to Dr. Jwing-Ming Yang, 谷神 and 神谷 refers to the crown (GV-20) and the third eye. The two halves of the brain is divided in the middle, the convolutions on both side form a valley. The opening (門) to the valley (谷) lies in those two acupuncture points and chakra vertecies. When energy floods the valley, the 神 is expressed through the eyes. ...

Reiki practitioners tend to pull in from ... somewhere, with the idea that they are pulling from an inexhaustible source of energy. They are pulling through the 谷神. Some practice specifically pulling through the crown, and down the spine, sometimes all the way through the earth. Mixing the 'heavenly' and 'earthly' energies makes a big difference in the quality and quantity."

- qaexl, Valley Spirit  



"Carus と Waley では、 he が使用されている。 翻訳の時代を考えると、 総称として he が疑いなく使われていたのであろうが、 しかし、 「女性の賢人」 という可能性を一顧だにしなかったことも確実であろう。また、 Feng and English は妙を mystery 徼を manifestation と訳しているのに対し、ル・グウィンは、 what's hidden と only what it wants と、 意味にふみこんで訳している。どちらがいいのか一概に言えないにしても、 詩を意識し、 なるべく平明に語ろうとしているル・グウィンの姿勢はよくわかる。次に 6 章の 「谷神は死せず、 是れを玄牝と謂う (谷神不死、 是謂玄牝)」の部分を見てみたい。

The valley spirit never dies. / Call it the mystery, the woman. (Le Guin 9)

The valley sprit not expires, / Mysterious woman 'tis called by the sires. (Carus 37)

The Valley Spirit never dies. / It is named the Mysterious Female. (Waley 149)

The valley spirit never dies; / It is the woman, primal mother. (Feng and English.)"

Earthsea - Le Guin and the Tao Te Ching, The Chukyo University Society of English Language and Literature 



"The valley spirit dies not, aye the same;
The female mystery thus do we name.
Its gate, from which at first they issued forth,
Is called the root from which grew heaven and earth.
Long and unbroken does its power remain,
Used gently, and without the touch of pain.

'The Completion of Material Forms.' This title rightly expresses the import of this enigmatical chapter; but there is a foundation laid in it for the development of the later Tâoism, which occupies itself with the prolongation of life by the management of the breath or vital force.

'The valley' is used metaphorically as a symbol of 'emptiness' or 'vacancy;' and 'the spirit of the valley' is the something invisible, yet almost personal, belonging to the Tâo, which constitutes the Teh in the name of our King. 'The spirit of the valley' has come to be a name for the activity of the Tâo in all the realm of its operation. 'The female mystery' is the Tâo with a name of Chapter 1, which is 'the Mother of all things.' 
All living beings have a father and mother. The processes of generation and production can hardly be imaged by us but by a recognition of this fact; and so Lâo-dze thought of the existing realm of nature--of life--as coming through an evolution (not a creation) from the primal air or breath, dividing into two, and thence appearing in the forms of things, material and immaterial. The chapter is found in Lieh-dze (I, 1 b) quoted by him from a book of Hwang-Tî; and here Lâo-dze has appropriated it, and made it his own."
Texts of Taoism (SBE 39)  



"According to Lao-Tzu, the Tao is what gives rise to the Ten Thousand Things (wan-wu); it penetrates all of existence; it "acts without acting" (wu-wei). How, though, can anything act without acting? The best analogy I have seen to explain this is one from Prof. Robert Henricks, who compares the Tao to an uncultivated field, and the Ten Thousand Things to wildflowers. The field does nothing, it does not act... but the wildflowers can not exist without the field. So it is with the Ten Thousand Things and the Tao. The Ma-wang-tui slips refer in Chapter 6 to the "valley spirit" - this is likely another name for the Tao. Here is Chapter 6 in its entirety:

The valley spirit never dies;
We call it the mysterious female.
The gates of the mysterious female -
These we call the roots of Heaven and Earth.
Subtle yet everlasting! It seems to exist.
In being used, it is not exhausted.

Like the field under the wildflowers, the valley spirit is used by the Ten Thousand Things, but they are not necessarily aware of it. All one can say of the Tao is that "it seems to exist" - there is no physical evidence for its existence. It is still, empty, and inexhaustible.  The flowers are nourished by the field, but do not exhaust it. Likewise, the Tao enriches our lives, but there is no way we could ever "use up" the Tao."
-  The Tao and the Field  



“The dragon and tiger are none other than yin and yang, the female and male.  They are the cauldron and furnace of alchemical literature, the medicinal substance required to compound the golden pill.  The cauldron, cool and limitless as the element Water, fills herself and nourishes the Fire that would not die.  You have read in the Great One of the miraculous pass, the portal into all knowledge.  I will tell you what this pass is.  It is none other that the inexhaustible female.  Must I be blunt?  Can you grasp the concept of the dragon and the tiger, water and fire, cauldron and furnace, pestle and mortar?  The mysterious female is the key to the firing process.  This talk of base metals into gold and drinking an elixir of mercury is not the real alchemy.  Enter into her and take it into yourself, again and again.  Lao Tzu said, “The valley spirit is the mysterious female.  Her door is the root of heaven and earth.”  It replenishes itself continuously.  There is no coercion, but it is freely given.  Opening up, you will enter the cinnabar chamber where all knowledge is stored.  Conserving your essence, you will draw her into yourself, up through the lower and middle tan tien into the seat of ecstasy.  Her you will find madness and death … or the knowledge that will give you eternal life.”
-  Simon Marnier, White Tiger, Green Dragon, p. 23



"Here are two translations from the Tao te Ching, chapter 6:

The valley spirit never dies;
It is the woman, primal mother.
Her gateway is the root of heaven and earth.

(Feng and English)

The Valley Spirit never dies.
It is named the Mysterious Female.
And the Doorway of the Mysterious Female
Is the base from which Heaven and Earth sprang.

(Arthur Waley)

Is the valley spirit "primal mother" or Mysterious Female? There's a difference! In the first translation, her gateway "is", present tense, right now, the root of heaven and earth. But in the second, the Tao seems to be talking about a cosmic event long ago, the origin of "Heaven and Earth," some sort of creation myth: "the Doorway of the Mysterious Female is the base from which Heaven and Earth sprang."   Yet, neither translation is wrong. The Chinese text permits both of them, and indeed, many others. It has to do with the great differences between Chinese and English. "
Laputan Logic



"Tao is the mysterious origin of creation. It manifests itself through an energy we call Teh. The “Spirit of the Valley” is the result of effectively adapting to – and dealing with – this energy. Laotse uses the word “valley” to describe this result, because energy cannot be created or destroyed. It can, however, be directed, deflected, and channeled in the same way that a valley directs, deflects, and channels the perceivable energy form of moving water.  Nature is the greatest expression of Tao and it is tangible evidence of the intelligence of the source from which it emanates. Adapting to this expression, this energy, is how we move toward adapting to its source because the source and its expressions are actually one and the same."
-   The Spirit of the Valley



"The spirit of emptiness is immortal.
It is called the Great Mother
because it gives birth to Heaven and Earth.

It is like a vapor,
barely seen but always present.
Use it effortlessly."
Tao Te Ching, Chapter 6, Translated by J. H. McDonald



The Valley Spirit, The Completion of Material Forms, The Infinitude of Creative Effort, The Mysterious Female
Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu  


"The Spirit of the perennial spring is said to be immortal, she is called the Mysterious One.
The Mysterious One is typical of the source of heaven and earth.
It is continually and endlessly issuing and without effort."
-   Translated by Dwight Goddard and Henri Borel, 1919


"The Spirit of the Depths is immortal; it is called the Azure Heaven and the Mother Earth.
The passage through which these Two Influences emerge and enter is called the root of the visible creation.
They are ceaseless in action as though permanent, and may be drawn upon without ever being exhausted."
-   Translated by
Frederic H. Balfour, 1884


"The valley spirit never dies.
It is the unknown first mother,
whose gate is the root
from which grew heaven and earth.
It is dimly seen, yet always present.
Draw from it all you wish;
it will never run dry."
-   Translated by T. McCarroll  


"The valley spirit never dies.
It's named the mystic woman.
And the gate of the profound woman is the root that heaven and earth sprang from.
It's there within us all the while;
draw upon it as you will,
you can never wear it out."
-   Translated by T. Byrn 


"The mystery of the valley is immortal;
It is known as the Subtle Female. The gateway of the Subtle Female
is the source of Heaven and Earth.
Everlasting, endless, it appears to exist.
Its usefulness comes with no effort."
-   Translated by R. L. Wing


"The valley spirit is not dead:
They say it is the mystic female.
Her gateway is, they further say,
The base of heaven and earth.
Constantly, and so forever,
Use her without labor."
-   Translated by Raymond Blakney, 1955


"The spirit of emptiness is immortal.
It is called the Great Mother
because it gives birth to Heaven and Earth.
It is like a vapor,
barely seen but always present.
Use it effortlessly."
-   Translated by John McDonald


"Like the sheltered, fertile valley,
the meditative mind is still,
yet retains its energy.
Since both energy and stillness,
of themselves, do not have form,
it is not through the senses
that they may be found,
nor understood by intellect alone,
although, in nature, both abound.
In the meditative state,
the mind ceases to differentiate
between existences,
and that which may or may not be.
It leaves them well alone,
for they exist,
not differentiated, but as one,
within the meditative mind."
-   Translated by Stan Rosenthal  


"The concept of Yin is ever present.
It is the Mystic Female from whom
the heavens and the earth originate.
Constantly, continuously, enduring always.
Use her!"
-   Translated by C. Ganson  


"The heart of Tao is immortal
the mysterious fertile mother of us all.
of heaven and earth,
of every thing
and not-thing.
Invisible yet ever-present,
You can use it forever without using it up."
-   Translated by Brian Walker


"Like a riverbed, the heart is never filled
 It is an ineffable female
 Whose entrance is the source of the World;
 Tao is ever present within it:
 Draw upon it and it will never fail."
-   Translated by Peter Merel  

"The valley spirit dies not, aye the same;
The female mystery thus do we name.
Its gate, from which at first they issued forth,
Is called the root from which grew heaven and earth.
Long and unbroken does its power remain,
Used gently, and without the touch of pain."
-   Translated by Stephen McIntyre, 2009



"The Cavity of the mysterious female lies within. Its without structure and form and is limitless. Try to find it, and it will seem as if it is beyond thousands of mountains. Try to locate it, in the heart, liver, spleen, lungs, or kidneys, and you will find nothing. Words cannot describe this cavity. If you try to grasp it, it is nowhere to be found.

The cavity of the Mysterious Gate is the most important gate in the body. The cavity is the mind within the mind. Its not made of flesh and blood, yet its the spirit that directs everything in us. The spirit dwells inside a substantive form. It is there, and yet not there. When the ego is absent, the one cavity of the Mysterious Gate will emerge. However, even if there is only a small trace of ego present, the cavity will disappear.

Reference:Nourishing the Essence of Life: The Inner, Outer, and Secret Teachings of Taoismby Eva Wong
ISBN 1590301048
p.58, 60





谷 = Valley

神 = Spirit




Links and References


Chan Buddhist and Taoist Poetry

The Doctrine of the Mysterious Female in Taoism: A Transpersonalist View.  By Evgueni A. Tortchinov.  Department of Philosophy, Ste. Petersburg State University, Russia.  54Kb. 

One Druid's Journey


The One Cavity of the Mysterious Gate


Trigrams of the I Ching


The Spirit of Gardening

Valley Spirit Center     Red Bluff, California

Valley Spirit (Gu Shen) Concept of the Tao Te Ching  

Valley Spirit Versions   
















Cloud Hands - Yun Shou

Cloud Hands Index




Michael P. Garofalo's E-mail


Green Way Research


Zen Poetry

Cuttings: Haiku and Short Poems

Cold Mountain Sages

The Spirit of Gardening

Cloud Hands: Tai Chi Chuan and Chi Kung Website




Valley Spirit