Mental and physical health: the path of wellbeing and Daoist health

By: 景威道長 Jĭng wēi Dàozháng (Hervé Louchouarn)

Living according to the Dao, in harmony with nature, has become an illusion nowadays, or worse a fashion trend, a practice that looks good. Just like in the 20s and 30s, in western societies to be engaged with theology or the esoteric was well regarded; In the 60s to the 70s to be guided by an Indian Guru was a process that looks «hip» or “cool”, and from the 90s and early twenty-first century, following the path of the Tibetan Buddhism in order to relieve our spiritual quest fills our inner emptiness, but above all hides the true practice.

In the last few decades, various sects and religions have been created, on the pretext of the human need to fill this psychic void, to understand their origin and to visualize their existence, hiding their true missions; these associations are dedicated to enrich certain individuals or groups in most cases, and the formation of this assemblies or gatherings of citizens (called church or temples) allows to continue with their main function which is to lead and alienate certain segments of society, as if they were herds, uncontrolled by the hundreds of tensions they have in life.

This is not a modern concept, its roots lay in the beginning of our era, allowing in this way the control of knowledge, the actions and the thoughts of many people; no longer having their own vision or a personal practice that would strengthen their individual process of consciousness.

In our time, being a Daoist is the new trend; to find inner harmony through a greener vision, regarding the Yin and Yang, makes us believe in the possibility to approach the understanding, the ancestral practices, and the development of our inner self. Many of these secret techniques have been exhibited and taught by permissive teachers, but even though many reviews on the sacred classics have been written, we should ask ourselves: Do we understand the Dao? Do we practice the Dao? Are we in the Dao? Or are we just modern Daoists that have lost the Way.

Seen from outside, the practice of Daoism is very appealing: meditating, praying in remote places, performing slow and gentle movements suffused with the original Qì, and dreaming of extraordinary stories of incredible and often immortal characters, brings to our modern and material world a very surreal escape. Great teachers have left an impressive body of writings, drawings and well-prepared tools to follow a strict discipline, raise our spiritual and physical search. According to these experts, the practice of Dao is to harmonize oneself with nature, to discover our true nature and our real life (性-命), the profound meaning of this practice is to discover our origin.

Xiao Tiān Shí 萧天石 (1909-1986), great intellectual and secular Daoist, writes in his book 道家养生学概要 (Dào jià yăng shēng xué gàiyào) Compendium on the study of Daoist Yang Shēng: «The Daoist Yăng Shēng philosophy depends precisely on coherence with the cosmos. The Daoist perception of the human creation depends precisely on a coherent concept with the cosmos». «Vanquish the ordinary to enter the holiness, overcome the holiness to enter the spiritual and exceed the spiritual to reach human transformation». He also states: «The most important methods that every human should practice are: nourish one’s nature 性 (xìng) and defend one’s life 命 (mìng).»The essential goal to understand our true nature is being able defend our lives and strengthen our health, creating tools to achieve this privileged purpose is the role of those who have been able to understand the path, many of those who understood are the old masters who discovered through strict disciplines, knowledge and several processes that were passed on to the following generations: their disciples.

They believed that the usage of these daily practices could help to develop an outstanding energy that would increase the quality of life and also claimed it would generate a great vitality, allowing the person to live longer and never grow old. Becoming aware of the original energy (Yuán Qì元 or Qì 炁) is to stimulate cellular metabolism to return to the source (cell regeneration as the original map: DNA sequencing). As a theoretical principle it can be understood, you can read the documents and get an understanding of them, but without the updated guidelines for modern life, it is very difficult to adjust to a traditional system that evolved losing its virtue. Virtue as an attitude of the human being facing up to the process he has chosen to live, thus a way of life that should make him understand its origin, its true essence. It’s an aspect that humans add to their acts to legitimize their existence in their human reality; and it meets the conditions that allows humanity permanence: compassion, understanding, the will…

The ancient masters also showed the art of staying healthy as nourishment or as cropping a plating field, a personal responsibility inherent to every single stage of growth and decline of man. To cultivate, to nurture (relative to the term: 養 Yăng) is to create a set of methods that allows the “ordinary man” (as Gilbert Keith Chesterton says in his book The Common Man) to prevent his organism against multiple pathogens attacks. For this reason, many different cultures throughout history have adopted various food systems, created many tools to control bad habits and emotional disorders. Also, they have implemented numerous exercises to raise awareness and to reach an understanding of human nature性 (xìng) and life 命 (mìng).

Within the culture of health cultivation (preservation- 养生Yăngshēng) many procedures have appeared in relation with the observation of climate change, the different lunar cycles and the cyclic action that the different planets in our Solar system have towards the earth. Understanding these incessant movements of our environment, allows us to comprehend the Daoist theory: “天人合一” tiānrén héyī: Heaven and man are united as one. This is a theory of ancient Chinese philosophy in which man is seen as an integral part of nature, in other words, there is a unity between heaven and humanity. This Daoist view guided much of the development of Chinese culture and allowed people to understand the great phenomena of creation, energy, human physiology, among others…

It is essential to notice that an elevated master in Yăng Shēng and Taoist physician wrote, in the Tang Dynasty 唐 (618-907), about the prevention of pathogenic attack and the strengthening of the principal and complementary anatomical structures脏腑 (Zàng fǔ).

Sūn Sī Miăo孫思邈 (581-682) states in his 摄生 论 (Shèshēng lùn): Theory about how to preserve health, that during the second lunar month, the kidney’s energy is tiny while liver energy flourishes greatly; therefore, one should avoid acidic flavor and augment the consumption of spicy flavors. This helps the kidneys and nourishes the liver. It is important to soothe the diaphragm to release the liquid phlegm in the form of a slight perspiration through the skin, which corresponds to pathogenic energies of a deep winter that were blocked in the different layers of the skin”.

«Summer, the cultivation of things means to develop oneself (disciplined practice), to grow,» says the classic book 太 元 经 (Tài yuán jīng) the sacred book of the supreme origin, also called 太玄 (Tài xuán). Same genre and content than: 周易 (Zhōuyì), (known in the Western countries as an alternative book for the 易经 Yì Jīng).

The writing 济世仁术 (Jìshì rén shù) humanely govern to benefit society states: «In the day’s 庚子 gēngzĭ (number thirty-seven of the sexagesimal cycle) and辛丑xīnchŏu: (number thirty-eight), one should remove the stones from the gallbladder, cure the «wind-phlegm» (a patient with phlegm who has been attacked by a pathogenic wind).

During the period of the second moon, one must be very careful of a thunderstorm coming from the northeast, because the masters said it indicates diseases; if it comes from the northwest then there will be epidemics. During the spring equinox, one should be careful when there is good weather, clear sky, because according to the masters, this also meant that there will be disease outbreaks.

During the period of the third moon, if it’s windy with rain on the first day of this moon, the masters said that it indicates the presence of illness; also, be careful if it’s suddenly a hot day like summer because the masters said there would be increased epidemics.

But we have lost the order of nature, we no longer understand the movements and cosmic influences to the extent that we have allowed our leaders to build with their own visions a life process which does not depend on these natural cycles but rather to an evolutionist and materialist thought. Today, this process has placed us on the edge of environmental destruction, the only place where we can live. It would be okay if this way of thinking would be used to improve our wellbeing, our health, our emotional control, or the way we relate with the spirituality, but this is not the case. On the contrary, to realize we are in the wrong path, we only need to look at the rapid growth of mortality rates due to chronic degenerative diseases, failure diseases, cancer and other modern illnesses, the drug abuse and medicine dependency have exceeded the limits the health standards in society.

Reconnecting ourselves with the environment in order to increase our inner energy and fight against pathologic agents, means that we have to study the mutations that cause the planetary motions, but with a different kind of view (using science and technology advances to «redirect» the researches), and intuitively perceive climate change using the experience of the old masters and observe the peculiar and extraordinary motions of our environment.

Unfortunately, the human being cannot find a way that helps him stimulate his consciousness and harmonize with the original spirit by following a political-religious calendar which doesn’t respect the real time and changes of our planet or by blindly believing in an misleading system that alienates our thinking with useless concepts (global warming, viral pandemics, world cup …) The ancient masters spoke to us of the origin of diseases but we have forgotten to follow their advice. We no longer follow the traditional point of view and we sink little by little into a deep study of our microcosm by following the egocentric view that keeps us apart from our nature.

In chapter 34 «The five disorders» from the Sacred book of the Yellow Emperor.

Língshū tome 灵枢 • 五乱 (Língshū • wŭ luàn) the emperor asks his celestial master: «The twelve vessels are separated from the five movements and from the four divisions of the seasons; why is the connection lost and disorders appear? How can this be cured?» The heavenly master Qí Bó answered: «The five movements follow an order, the four seasons are divided, if the meaning of this order and these divisions are followed correctly one can be healed, but if we go against this order, the disorders will appear». Then the Yellow Emperor asked: «What is the name of this way of following the natural sense and heal?» The heavenly master Qí Bó replied: «The twelve vessels in relation to the twelve moons (months). The twelve moons are divided into four seasons:

Spring, fall, winter and summer, each one with a different energy. The constructive energy (nutritive 营气yíng qì) and the protective energy (卫气wèi qì) follow each other, Yīn-Yáng; they combine and harmonize each other. The pure and the impure cannot be hurt (offend each other); thus if you follow the order of this factors then you can cure. «

For this reason, it is indispensable to understand the flow of the seasons and the rhythm of the passing years. The lunisolar calendar – (夏历 xiàlì) or better known as the agricultural calendar (农历 nónglì) – is based on the observation of the lunar and solar cycles and allowed humans, first, to reconnect with their social rituals (parties, weddings, anniversaries) and professional activities (farming, fishing, hunting) and second, with the cycles of astronomical phenomena.

But the usage of the sexagesimal system (甲子 jiăzĭ) disappeared, and with it, the recognition of the different periods (气候 qì hòu: five days corresponding to 60 double hours) which allowed us to record the movements of nature according to climate change. Instead, the Gregorian calendar was adopted in most of the world, with an entire series of schedule changes (daylight saving time, nautical time zones, among others …) greatly disrupting human life. Originally, this calendar was modeled by religious powers in order to regulate ritual and economic processes. In Rome, the 10-month-year began in March and lasted 355 days.

The Romans used to pay their debts at the beginning of each month, these days were known as “Calendas” (Calendae: The first day of the month of the Roman calendar, the day of the new moon when the calendar followed the lunar cycle –Year of Rómulus and Numa Pompilius-. In this day, the pontiff announced the dates of the following month feasts and debtors had to settle their debts registered in the accounting book (Calendarias). In 1582, the usage of this system, created by the Greeks and Romans, was decreed by Pope Gregory XIII in a papal bull named Inter gravissimas (among the very noble tasks of our pastoral ministry translated from the latín: Inter gravissimas pastoralis officii nostri curas. February /24/1582). This new calendar took back the ten days delay that had been moved in relation to the sun and thus modifying the modalities of leap years in future centuries.

This calendar is actually a system created by humans, to regulate socio-economic activities, it does not respect the natural rhythms and cycles set by the heaven. This type of calendar represents a big problem when it comes to understanding our presence in the universe especially if this system has an individualist point of view. This won’t let us foresee environmental, emotional and evolutionary complications that are involved with the movement of the earth in the universe.

Our «small world» seems protected by this microscopic view, because many humans still retain a geocentric point of view (astronomical system in which the Earth was considered the center of the universe, all the other stars rotated around her) besides a large part of humanity is still hiding in a shell of detachment and indifference and huddling in a shelter of ignorance.

It is a huge mistake to believe in this security because every living being on this planet is and has been since ancient times, bombarded by a number of attractions and energetic changes that weaken them. In order to survive these difficulties of the outdoor, protect and nourish their communities, humans had to settle in large cities and put aside their nomadic nature, from gatherer to cereal and livestock farmer. These drastic changes brought about the destruction of their environment: the Earth.

Nowadays, we are on the verge of several disasters and society is blinded by its lust for power, money and having something to conquer (in the future: space conquers). We are not able to predict any calamity, prevent epidemics and even though we live in a high-tech society, everybody is still suffering from unhappiness, lack of understanding and appeasement. When did society lose its path? Why did we never try to straighten its evolution and decide to keep on walking through this twisted path? What makes desires and illusions so powerful, that man cannot push them aside?

At our last meeting, during the 南岳Nán yuè International Forum, I presented a text on: Returning to the essence, value the truth and protect the spiritual wellbeing, herein I stated: «In order to understand the essence of the being, it is necessary to return to ancient knowledge, connect with the cycles of humanity, and find the moment in history where the scripts have the essence, the everlasting truth, the philosophical motor that remains.

Ancient civilizations found this truth, each one according to their own worldview, they treasured this knowledge, but many of them were not able to protect and transmit these ideas with authenticity. As time went by, millenniums flew away and man finds himself today in a very different reality, drawn away from nature’s harmony, eclipsed from his own spirit».

In this forum, I will return to these statements because in my opinion, they correspond to a fundamental concept related to the Daoist vision, thus being able to build a new spiritual path. Evolving and growing, for the human being, doesn’t mean going forward, higher, or being wealthier, it means seeking awareness, the approach with his origin. To do so, we ought to make the most of the experiences of the ancient masters; copy their methods, study their knowledge, listen to their advice and be humble enough to accept we don’t know everything. These following four points are important to build a strategy where Daoism can contribute its knowledge, experiences and assist in the education of each community.

1. Promoting the usage of the lunisolar calendar

Human beings and nature sculpt together an integral dynamic, since ancient times, the sages spoke of a strong correlation between the human and the universe. Our earthly world provides necessary conditions for the survival of man and for the other ten thousand beings. People live and are extensions from nature, every change or mutation of the latter have a direct or indirect influence on every living being on this planet. We can say that the physiological order of human kind has been wrought by the alternation of changes like time (year, month, day, hour) and forces (electromagnetic, physical, light …) Therefore, all physiological activities, pathological changes and sensitivity to certain treatments or methods are closely linked to the periodic variations of the environment. To understand this process and to explain the organization of the earth movements, we must return to the sacred book of the Yellow Emperor, volume Sù Wèn, chapter 9: 六节藏象论篇第九 (liù jié cáng xiáng lùn piāndì jiŭ) Theory of the six divisions and the visible manifestation of anatomical structures: The Yellow Emperor asks as follows: «I have heard that heaven uses 6, 6, divisions to become a year while men use 9, 9, reunion system. Making calculations, he also possesses 365 divisions (areas for treatment). Is this the reason why the universe can exists for a long time? “To which the celestial teacher, Qí Bó, answered: «Oh! Ah!  What a clear question… Please, let my words satisfy you: These divisions, 6.6, and the 9.9 reunion system, these are the measures of the true heaven and the numbers of energy. They represent the measurement of the sky and thus the circulation system of the sun and the moon.

2. Exercises

Since the Chinese man understood the forces which nourish and boost his development, he has sought techniques to strengthen these principles, standing out the Qì Gōng气功, a modern term to others more ancient like: tù nà 吐呐, xíng qì 行气, dăo yĭn 导引. This method literally means: train the energy, which means the art of nourishing life. For this reason, Qì Gōng is a word that covers many varieties of practices including: meditation, movements, breathing, self-massage and lying exercises. Its development involved not only research, but also the cultivation and its practice in diverse communities, which enabled to gather knowledge to create a scientific basis that at the present time helps stimulating many people’s health. Besides having an impressive number of references on curing several diseases, it’s a very economical process that requires very few facilities and can be done in a regular basis. Taking into account the principles of these methods are: a controlled breathing, a slow body movements and mental concentration in the area involved, the impact is somatic and mental. The therapeutic action tends to become stronger by stimulating the neuro-vegetative system, controlling the energy in the body, therefore, psychosomatic diseases such as depression decrease considerably. Through a conscious breathing and the relaxation of the muscles, the metabolism balances itself and thus, the vital activities of various organs and systems.

First of all, the respiratory system removes more carbon dioxide thereby improving oxygenation. Second, the cardiovascular system promotes vasodilation, lowers the heart rate and ameliorates blood pressure. Third, the digestive system improves the width of the diaphragm thus enhancing the digestive process. And finally, the nervous system lowers the tension from the cerebral cortex by raising the level of alpha waves and regulating visceral functions; in a glandular level, oxygen consumption is reduced and the amount of serotonin in the metabolism rises.

All this advantages, confirm that Qì Gōng has a preventive implication on health by allowing deeper tissue nutrition and a physical comfort, the organism becomes less vulnerable to aging process. Additionally, this therapeutic practice improves the organic disorders caused by this imbalance. Improving our health and prolonging our life will stimulate a real search for our true self, helping us this way find balance and harmony, enhancing personal development and improving human relationships. Raising self-awareness will enable us to evaluate our real activity and judge the priorities of being, define with certainty the functions of our lives, and thus its realization, changing our necessities and desires that no longer are simple objects of lust.

3. Nutrition

Our bodies need the elements of Earth 土 (tŭ) to realize various processes, but it cannot take them directly from the source because our organism is heterotrophic: it feeds on organic substances synthesized by other life forms. Primarily, humans depend on external sources of raw materials and energy for their growth, and keep up the proper function of their body. Food transformed in its tiniest form, is used to generate and repair damaged tissue, and to produce an energy which allows the structures function, the life of cells. The following is an excerpt of the sacred Book 黄帝内经-灵枢 (Huáng Dì Nèi Jīng- Líng shū) 营卫生会第十八 (yíng wèi shēng huì dì shí bā) Generation and gathering of nutritious and protective energy. Chapter 18:

The Yellow Emperor asks Qí Bó: How does human kind get energy?

How do the Yīn and Yáng become one? How does the energy become nutritious?

How does the energy become protective? Where and how is the nutritious energy generated?

How is converged the protective energy?

The old and the sturdy don’t have the same energy,

Yīn and Yáng have different positions…

I sincerely want to hear your confluence (a very formal way of asking something to his master).

The master Qí Bó replies:

Man obtains energy through food (cereals),

The food penetrate through the stomach,

In order to be carried with the lungs,

The five major anatomical structures and six complementary anatomical structures,

all obtain energy this way,

The pure, is the nutritious energy,

The impure, is the protective energy,

Nutritious energy lives in the center of the blood vessels,

The protective energy lives outside the blood vessels (in connective tissues),

The nutritious energy, on the circumference, cannot stop (the energy never stops circulating in the blood circuit). Fifty cycles is repeated in the great reunion (blood circulates throughout all the body in fifty turns a day).

The Yīn and the Yáng mutually penetrate each other (Blending), like a blunt ring (a closed circuit as the blood system).

Returning to a nutrition coming from the soil is essential, regulated by flavors, if a restoration of a balanced state of health is sought. You cannot rely on food products generated by chemical or mineral solutions (fertilizers, synthetic minerals, hydroponics, transgenic agriculture) instead of depending on agricultural soil because little by little we are losing nutrients and intestinal capacity of absorption which causes cell and corporal degeneration (cancer, reduced immunity and obesity).

Likewise, it is necessary to regulate and control the production of livestock for human consumption, since we have lost the respect for the lives of other living beings. We own everything that walks, flies, swims or crawls and therefore we eat it and destroy it without any order or respect. It is crucial to return to a regional production that respects the rhythm of the seasons and eliminate intensive monoculture plantations that deplete the earth to reach harmony with nature.

4. Self-observation

The sacred writings can help us create modern tools that will encourage us to reach introspection in our lives. This chapter of the Dào Dé Jīng道德经, describes people that, since ancient times, have been regarded as sages (a person who has understood their role in life, has a strong self-discipline and observes and hears himself). Since these people were dedicated to the study of their life process and virtues that humans should possess (an attitude of their function in life), as a way to understand the path we must live in our passage through earth. To achieve this process it is important to follow the advice they left for us:

– Be cautious.

– Remain prudent in all situations of daily life (thoughts, food, travel, interaction).

– Be discreet and respect other humans, animals and plants.

– Be flexible, tolerant and receptive to try harmonize with the other members of your community.

This message was left to us from antiquity and allows us to perform a daily observation of our emotions, feelings and experiences. Every day, take a moment of your life to write down your thoughts according to the following aspects:

1. Today, this happened to me:

2. How did I react? Was it normally or extraordinarily? Try to describe it.

3. According to the observation process, what could be the answer?

Finally, observe the results of this exercise:

• Has my observation process improved?

• Were there any difficulties in understanding the qualities of virtue?

• Did the self-awareness process allowed me to understand the cause?

• What outcome do I get from being conscious of my reactions towards every day’s life?

道德经Dào dé jīng

(Translation in English by 邱园行)

Chapter 15篇第十五

In ancient times, those who were adept at practicing Dao had a thorough understanding of it.

Because they practiced Dao secretly, to understand them is beyond people’s cognitive capacity.

Since they are beyond comprehension, I can only describe them in general terms:

They were cautious as if walking across a frozen river in winter.

They were vigilant as if threatened by attack from all sides.

They were without indiscretion, as solemn and respectful as a visiting guest.

They were without stagnation, as natural and pliant as ice about to melt in spring.

They were without vanity, as simple and plain as an uncarved block.

They were limitlessly tolerant, their minds as broad and receptive as a great valley.

They and the mundane world were completely undifferentiated, as united as water and mud are in muddy water.

Who could keep muddy water from becoming more turbid and, by being tranquil, gradually make it clear?

Who could remain unmoving until the right action arose by itself and then move spontaneously?

Those holding fast to the above-mentioned ways do not want to be full of themselves.

It is exactly because they do not want to be full of themselves that they never make a display of new achievements.