What is Daoist Medicine?

By the Commission on Traditional Daoist Medicine

The Yellow Emperor went up to the mountain’s summit where the Sage lives, to enquire on the art of governing the country and said: “Venerable Master, you possess the art of the Dào. Please, tell me how I can use the heavenly and the earthly essences”, the old sage replied: “Under your government, rain falls before the clouds come together, leaves on trees fall before they have turned yellow, sunlight and moonlight have become pale, how can I speak to you about the Dào”?

The Yellow Emperor withdrew and left to live in a cabin made out of straw for three months. He returned with the sage and said: “Venerable Sir, you have been able to dominate the Perfected Way. Tell me, how can I dominate my body so as to be able to live forever”? The sage proceeded to answer: “Stay calm, be pure, do not tire your body, do not disturb your vital essence and you shall enjoy a long life. Do not see or hear anything, keep your mind in ignorance, thence your spirit will protect your body, and you will live forever. I have lived for 1,200 years and my body has yet to deteriorate”. The Yellow Emperor prostrated himself before the Master and said: “Venerable Master, you and the heavens are but one”. The old sage then added: “The Dào is infinite, even though men believe it is finite, the Dào is unattainable, even though men believe its limits can be reached”.

This is the first occasion where The Yellow Emperor Huáng Dí 黄帝 (2697-2598 B.P.) searches for Daoist philosophy. The command of the Chinese Empire was passed to him directly by Shén Nóng 神農. He was a fervent student of what nature had to teach. He applied the teachings of nature in the material world, the practical world of humans; he created musical notes, and designed musical instruments. It is said his mother 附宝 Fú băo, who was miraculously impregnated, gave birth to him on the riverbed. He was born in 轩辕 Xuān yuán, where his tomb remains to date. This is a famous place that has been visited by presidents and world leaders.

The Master in the Mountain teaches us how to obtain virtue in life: virtue is the quality of being; to be able to understand your origin and to catch a glimpse of your way. This is not a quest where good behavior accommodates to moral laws or norms, it is not following the cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, nor is it following the theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity; although this does aid in the understanding of the vital process. However, in this case, virtue is the human being attitude to face the process each one has chosen to live by; a way in life that provides them with the understanding of their origin, their true essence; and to be able to achieve this, one has first to strengthen the capability of detachment from the body to then be able to understand one’s own spirit.

To speak about Daoist concepts, about the Daoist science, about Daoist Medicine; is to comprehend the philosophy that gave origin to these concepts, the impact these thoughts had on the scientific vision, the research that generations of masters have undergone to try to begin to understand the functioning of the human body and thus approach the origins of creation. This ideology was born thousands of years ago, even though, in many occasions, throughout the history of China, it has been confused with other different currents of thought.

What shall be named Daoism, this term that had not come into existence during the Classic Era, had to constitute a superior dimension, a starting point different to religious processes and public cults.

As it commonly happens today, traditions may exist without proper recognition. Daoism is the complement to that “shamanic” substrate, while at the same time, it is in opposition to it. Everything in this knowledge becomes “mysterious”, or even an example of liturgy or theology. This world view of the Dào that was ratified during the period of the Battling Realms (475-221 B.C.) is inherited from the “Huáng Lào” 黄/老 (Yellow Emperor – Lào Zi) school, and appears as a religion of “Mysteries” with a very wide audience. This whole concept is based in the quest for immortality, to be able to attain a home in the afterlife.


Objects used in rituals; divine writings named Fú符constituted by signs found in caves; keywords that allow for the recognition of the initiated in the heavens. These symbols, these prayers and ceremonies stimulate the communication with the immortals. This contact with the beyond allows the initiated to receive strength from his/her masters or spiritual beings of the elected cult and thus heal, curse, remove a spell….. a whole series of processes in which human beings have been involved since the dawn of times. Different cults, techniques for the same purposes.

The same scenery can be applied to modern medical science. Not all doctors are Daoists, but 9 out of 10 Daoist priests are doctors.

The search for immortality has influenced modern research in medicine, even more, it has contributed to the systematisation of theory, just as it appears in the The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, known as:

黄 帝 内 经
Huáng Dì Nèi Jīng
Yellow God inner sacred book

It comprises two parts:

素 问 灵 枢
Sù wén y Líng shū
The Sù wén describes the theory and The Líng shū describes Acupuncture.


But to talks about references in medicine, it is indispensable to name the Daoist Heritage, the most imposing works, are the holy written pieces that have been conserved and re-written for over 2,500 years.

The Dào Zàng道 藏 , The Daoist Canon, is a work composed of approximately 1,490 texts, and is representative of Daoist literature through the ages. Many have no name, signature nor date. These documents spawn many themes, some of them are texts in Traditional Medicine and contain the elements of fabrication of medicines or elixirs (外丹 wài dān), inner practices (内丹nèi dān), prescriptions from the immortals (仙方xiān fāng),), diet, the cultivation of health (养 生 yáng shéng), incantations , and therapies that use charms.

The medical works became part of the Daoist Canon with the catalog of xuán dōu guān 玄都 觀 by Wáng yán王延 (529-604) and his collaborators.

Medicine and medicines have been part of Daoist practices since the beginning of times. In times of the Celestial Masters, spiritual exercises served as a substitute for medicine, to heal ailments, but this soon would be modified, as for example, in the case of the 太上洞淵 神咒經 Tàishàng Dòngyuān Shénzhòu Jīng sectarians, where masters used acupuncture to alleviate the suffering of the faithful.

Medicine, specially herbal formulas, occupy a prominent place in Shàngqīng writings, and his editor Táo hóngjĭng 陶弘景 (456-536), was also an important student of Chinese medical science. Ancient medical texts have been regrouped and reedited many times over throughout history.

As a result, many important ancient texts figure in the canon published during the Míng Dynasty明 (1368-1644) in its later versions.

This is why, nowadays this science is called丹道醫學 Dān Dào Yī Xué, which corresponds to the study of daoist medicine in the construction of inner alchemy.

Different topics are still to be presented by the Commission on Traditional Medicine through this media. The members of this group wish you a Happy New Year in 2016.