Most Profound Medicine

by DrJahnke on November 8, 2015

History and Tradition: The Roots of Chinese Light Alchemy

There is a growing literature on the history, tradition, science and practice of Qigong. (1-24) Its origin is shrouded in the mystery of ancient China. There are stories of special techniques of breath practice that lead to immortality, healing powers, and special abilities. During the ancient Shang dynasty (1766-1154 BC) there is evidence of a system to stimulate, what are now called acupuncture reflexes, which help to resolve disturbances of the Qi.

During the Chou dynasty and the Warring States periods (1100-221 BC) records appeared on bamboo and on bronze that refer to breath practice. A number of Lao Tze’s greatly revered verses suggest breath practice and the benefits of merging with the forces and elements of nature. A famous prescription of the period is frequently referred to and because of the wide variation of possible meanings for early Chinese ideograms it has many various translations.

The following translation is from Helmut Wilhelm, the son of Richard Wilhelm who translated the I Ching and Secret of the Golden Flower.

With breathing proceed as follows: The breath should be held and it will be gathered. If it is gathered, it becomes magic. If it becomes magic, it descends. If it descends, it quiets down. If it quiets down, it solidifies. If it is solidified, then it germinates. If it germinates, it grows. If it grows, it is attracted upward. If it is attracted upward, it reaches toward the heaven. In heaven, it ascends upward still. At the lower end, it descends still. Those who follow this will live, those who act contrary will die. (22)

In 300 BC, great Taoist poet/philosopher Chuang Tzu stated, “the ancients breathed down to their heels.” This suggests that the breath, in the form of the Qi, is projected and circulated throughout the body. In 1973 an archeological excavation of a Han dynasty (220 BC-220 AD) tomb in Hunan Province revealed a series of over 40 figures painted onto a silk scroll doing various Qigong movements. (22)

It is reported that while many of the inscriptions have become unreadable one is clear which says, “Look skyward and exhale.” (22) In this same period one of the first great acupuncture and herbal medicine practitioners, Bien Chieuh, taught breath practice to enhance the circulation of the Qi. (15) It is a strong tradition in Chinese medicine to teach a person to maintain health and many famous physicians developed systems of self-care. In the third century AD, Hua To, whose place in the history of Traditional Chinese Medicine is so illustrious that a series of important acupuncture points bear his name, developed a series of Qigong exercises called the Five Animal Forms.

In the sixth century, Da Mo, a monk in the tradition of Mahayana Buddhism, also known as Bodhidharma, came from India and found the monks of Shaolin Temple weakly and undisciplined. He introduced a combination of movement forms with Buddhist meditation that invigorated the monks and increased their power. This was the beginning of the tradition of the superior martial artists of the Shaolin Temple. Many lineages of Qigong have developed over the centuries.

The martial Gong enhances the strength, endurance and spirit of the warrior. The medical Gong can be used to heal diseases. Confucian Qigong is focused on self-cultivation, ethical development and refinement of personal temperament. The Taoist Gong is aimed at alchemical transmutation, merging with nature, longevity and immortality. The Buddhist Gong seeks refinement of mind, transcending the world of illusion and salvation of all living things.

In the “New China” following the
revolution in the 1940’s Qigong 
briefly disappeared. One elder 
practitioner reported through a 1986 
Los Angeles Times article “At that 
time it (Qigong) was witchcraft, so I
 chanted Maoist slogans like everyone 
else.” The article continues, “since
 then Qigong has qualified for official 
patronage and a national society has 
been formed to classify and describe the Qi.”

In the 1970’s and 1980’s, numerous institutes for the study of Qigong have sprung up in China. Many hospitals now have Qigong doctors on staff and Qigong classes as regular allied treatment with acupuncture, herbs and western medical modalities. There is a genuine renaissance of Qigong occurring in China. The western world, with its tremendous breakthrough of quantum physics, has taken up a sincere fascination with the bioenergetics of Qigong. (7,11)

Most Profound Medicine by Dr. Roger Jahnke

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