Daoist Wellness Study

(道家養生學)

From the earliest times, the wish of all men has been to live forever. The secret wish of all Chinese over the millennia has been to attain immortality and to be forever young. This desire is evident in the Daoist perception of life. Daoist practitioners believe that in this world, those who are specially gifted, through their study of the “Daoist way of the immortals,” will achieve the state of eternal life. Although to this day, there has been no proof of immortality, yet, the constant pursuit of timeless existence by the Daoists has left a rich legacy of great benefits to humankind. Daoist medicine, Daoist study of human wellness and Daoist study of immortality are the three main disciplines in the Daoist practice of life science. Daoist medicine has close ties to traditional Chinese medicine, but its roots in shamanism, its use of secret prescriptions and qigong in the prevention and treatment of illnesses, have made it a unique treatment system that is also outside the framework of traditional Chinese medicine. Daoist study of wellness includes various theories and techniques for harnessing the vital energy in the body (more commonly known as qigong), and for using nourishing food to build up heath in daily life. It is the mainstay of traditional Chinese human wellness and health care methods. Daoist study of immortality encompasses the techniques of Chinese alchemy, both internal (neidan內丹) and external (waidan外丹). Admittedly, there is a religious element in this, but it has, nevertheless, made significant contribution to the study and understanding of physiology, human intelligence and human potential. Daoism preaches the principle that “my life is in my grasp and not in heaven’s.” That is to say a person has control over his own life; and, when one takes advantage of the body’s potential, one is in a position to extend and improve the quality of one’s life. The practice is multi-faceted, but, overall, there are two main foci – the improvement of one’s health and the elevation of one’s morals. This ancient wisdom is of great value to modern times. In theory, technique and approach, it can supplement the inadequacies of modern medical and health care methods. Firstly, Daoism maintains that all wellness activities must involve the body and mind, the form and the spirit, life and the character. As we pursue health for the body, we must also enrich our mind and enhance our morals. To the modern world, this emphasis on morality as a crucial step in the attainment of human wellness is of special significance. Secondly, Daoism promotes the health of the whole person. In other words, we must improve the health of our body, the spirit, personal integrity, nourishment through intake of food and daily hygiene in order that we will become healthier and attain longevity. Daoists oppose the extreme, partial exercising of the body. Their conception of life as a comprehensive system means we must approach wellness from every aspect, using a variety of means and techniques. Thirdly, Daoism states that the key to health and longevity is the enhancement of the internal essence, qi and vitality (精﹑氣﹑神). To that end the improvement of health must combine movement with stillness, the external and the internal, training and nourishment, the physical and the spiritual. The techniques, therefore, are not those that require vigorous exercise and competitiveness, rather, they stress nurturing the still mind, the internal qi and vitality, the use of qigong exercises and the intake of nourishing food. Among the myriad treatment and health promotion systems in the world, this is one programme that is unique and characteristically Chinese. The Daoist way of enhancing human wellness and extending life is especially meaningful in its promotion of an enriched life. However, that is not yet all that it is. To live a life that is truly excellent and perfect, we must cultivate our ethical life so that we can become a morally impeccable superior man (君子). Only through healthful living and cultivating a strong sense of morality can we find the perfect life. This is the basis of the Daoist conception of life. Daoists believe that to truly extricate ourselves from the question of life and death that troubles us, to elevate ourselves to immortality, we must, in addition to protecting and improving our health, constantly perform works of charity. A charitable man is frank and righteous; he is upright and lives a meaningful life. The Chinese have a saying that “one who does no wrong does not fear a knock on his door in the dead of night.” This is a manifestation of true righteousness which is conducive to good health. Longevity is the outcome of physiological and psychological health. A charitable, upright man is calm and without evil desires – this inevitably will benefit his health.