Chapter 2
A Mind that is Free

Going with the Flow of Nature

In order to better understand the Chinese therapeutic approach to disorders of the shen, we have to first examine in greater detail the Chinese concept of healthy spirit. This concern falls into the realm of philosophy and religion, because it involves the correct ordering of one's thoughts, desires, goals, and methods. Who is to determine what is correct? The answer is in the messages attributed to god or to sages. In this chapter the Taoist (pinyin: Daoist) approach to spiritual health is the focal point, but it is necessary also to mention Buddhism, which (in China only) is closely related, and also to briefly mention Confucianism; these also have had an influence on traditional Chinese medicine. Most patients visiting Western practitioners of Chinese medicine are not familiar with these Asian religions, at least, not in detail. The medical doctor, acupuncturist, or other practitioner trained in the West is rarely in a position to relay the basic concepts of Asian spirituality except to the extent that they might be integrated into his or her therapeutic style (choices of questions to ask the patient; ways of answering patient questions; medical interventions and life style changes to recommend). Rather, most patients (and physicians) will have come from a Judeo-Christian background or a non-religious secular humanist background, which was derived from it. Many of the Taoist, Buddhist, and Confucian ideas, particularly those about recommendations for living properly in society, are consistent with the Western ideas, though the points of emphasis differ.

To help draw attention to the fact that these philosophical-religious concepts influence Chinese medical therapeutics, we can consider the name given to a popular herb formula that is used for, among other things, mental distress, depression, and anxiety: Xiao Yao San. The title given to the herb prescription makes reference to the unfettered wandering of the Taoists who prided themselves in being in tune with the movements of nature, living in harmony with the seasons, and in balance with the qi of the earth. The corresponding acupuncture point is taichong (LV-3), which is widely used today for depression, frustration, pent-up feelings, irritability, and mood swings; to match the herbal formula Xiao Yao San, that point would be combined with sanyinjiao (SP-6) to strengthen the center while freeing up the circulation of qi. There will be more about the herbs and acupuncture points in later chapters. First, it is necessary to consider the underlying concepts.

Taoist Wandering: A Mind that Is Free

The fundamentals of Taoism are described in the book Tao Te Ching (pinyin: Dao De Jing), attributed to the legendary Lao-tzu (pinyin: Laozi). It is the most widely translated book from Asia. To study this work involves considerable time and effort; the following discourse is aimed at helping the reader understand some of the main points that are relevant to the issues of spiritual health.

In chapter 8 of the 81-chapter work (a chapter being only a few sentences long), the Tao is likened to water. The translations vary among the popular English language versions (1-4), but a rendering that captures the essence of all of them is this one (5):

The highest good is like water; water is good at benefiting the ten thousand things and yet it has tranquility [does not compete with them]. It dwells in places the masses of people detest, therefore it is close to the Way [Tao].

There are three key elements of this saying about water as a depiction of the Tao: water is positive (good, beneficial); it can flow without striving or competing, remaining tranquil; and it enters places that people would usually avoid. The way water flows around obstacles, as observed when watching a mountain stream, has been taken by many readers of this ancient book as an emblem of the proper way the mind should deal with the difficulties it encounters. Joining the flow of Tao, where ever it may go, leads one to unusual places, but places meant to be visited by those who have devoted themselves to the Tao. People detest the places not because they are bad but because they are not familiar; they are held back by fear of the unknown, not trusting in the Tao. Fear is the emotion that ultimately causes the most difficulties. Going into nature and observing the flow of streams is, in itself, one of the natural remedies for a troubled mind. Learning to move gracefully around obstacles is one of the aims of practicing Tai Qi Chuan (pinyin: Tai Ji Quan).

The philosophy of Taoism was elucidated further by Chuang-tzu (pinyin: Zhuangzi), who is believed to have lived around 365-290 B.C. (Taoism is sometimes referred to as the Lao-Chuang philosophy). While Lao-tzu focused a large part of his description on the way in which rulers should properly rule their people, Chuang-tzu gave a more personalized account of Taoism suited to the individual. A record of Chuang-tzu's teachings, simply called the Chuang-tzu, was recorded around 310 A.D. by Guo Xiang in a form similar to that which exists now. By that time, Taoism had become a major force in Chinese society. It had influenced Chinese herbalists, many of whom were Taoist alchemists seeking immortality. They used a variety of means to attain their goal, including meditation, special exercises that were later to become the familiar chi-kung (pinyin: qigong), and ingestion of various alchemical substances, some of which became important in herbal remedies (and, unfortunately, often included poisonous components).

The first chapter of the book of Chuang-tzu's teachings (6) is titled Xiao Yao; this has been translated as "Wandering Boundless and Free." Xiao has the meaning of free and unrestrained; yao has the meaning of distant; thus, the term implies going a long distance without restraint. The chapter is comprised of short sayings or stories (in English translation, each is about 50-100 words) that encourage the reader to be free of rigid concepts. These sayings, steeped in Chinese mythology and culture, are often difficult for Westerners to interpret; one that is relatively easy to understand is about Lieh-tzu (pinyin: Liezi), a third author associated with books of Taoist sayings:

Lieh-tzu rode the wind and set out, boundless and clear, returning after only 15 days. To be so blessed is rare-and, yet, however free that wind made him, he still depended on something. But, if you mount the source of heaven and earth and the ten thousand changes, if you ride the six seasons of qi in their endless dispute-then you travel the inexhaustible, depending on nothing at all. Hence the saying: 'The realized remain selfless; the sacred remain meritless; the enlightened remain nameless.'

The key is to depend on nothing at all, that is, to be free of all rigid concepts, attachments to material goods, positions of recognition, and all obstructions to movement through life, to have one's mind and body move according to the Tao, often translated as the "Way." The realized Taoist becomes selfless (helpful to others but not concerned about receiving rewards and praise, hence meritless and nameless). In this description, it is said that to set out boundless and clear (free) is a rare and blessed thing. This roaming is not referring to actually traveling about the countryside (which is an external practice that mimics what happens inside); it refers to what goes on within the mind, either during meditation or in daily life. This story by Chuang-tzu reflects the words found in Chapter 25 of the Tao Te Ching, where the Tao is depicted this way (3):

I do not know its name, call it Tao. For lack of a better word, I call it great. Being great, it flows. It flows far away. Having gone far, it returns....Man follows the earth; earth follows heaven; heaven follows the Tao; the Tao follows what is natural.

As in the Chuang-tzu story, there is movement going away and coming back, and it is a long distance (in the story, 15 days in roundtrip being a short journey); the ultimate leader in the journay is that which is natural. Another telling passage in Chuang-tzu's chapter titled Xiao Yao is this small debate between Chuang-tzu and Hui-tzu (pinyin: Huizi). Hui-tzu was a contemporary of Chuang-tzu who held a contrary and competing philosophical view based on rationalism:

'I have a big tree,' said Hui-tzu to Chuang-tzu. 'Its huge trunk is so gnarled and knotted that no measuring string can gauge it, and its branches are so bent and twisted they defy compass and square. It stands right beside the road, and still carpenters never notice it. These words of yours [referring to the stories of Chuang-tzu recorded in this chapter], so vast and useless, everyone ignores them the same way.'

Chuang-tzu replied [after giving examples of his point]: 'Now, you've got this huge tree, and you agonize over how useless it is. Why not plant it in a village where there's nothing at all, in a land where emptiness stretches away forever? Then you could be no one drifting lazily beside it, roam boundless and free as you doze in its shade. It won't die young from the axe. Nothing will harm it. If you have no use, you have no grief.

The tree that is logically useful (its wood is desirable) will be cut down; the tree that is logically useless (its wood too gnarled to be of value) is spared. So, which is better? To be useful or useless? And who is to decide whether something is useful: the gnarled tree serves just fine for shade and is not in danger of being cut down for its wood. In Chapter 22 of the Tao Te Ching, Lao-tzu says (3):

Wise men embrace the one, and set an example to all. Not putting on a display, they shine forth; not justifying themselves, they are distinguished. Not boasting, they receive recognition, not bragging, they never falter. They do not quarrel, so no one quarrels with them.

The tree, in the story above, may be huge, but carpenters never notice it. The Taoist is likewise unnoticed because he does not try to call attention to himself; not calling attention to himself, no one quarrels with him. But, this does not mean that he is without value. Like the Tao, he is "great," like the tree, he can provide welcome relief (shade) and a break from desolation (absence of wisdom and virtue). He is not so useless after all. How many people fret over not being as "great" as another or as they dream to be, feeling depressed about it, yet can do things that are truly important for another person, and so they are doing their part?

Zhi Dun (314-366 A.D.) introduced Buddhism, a philosophy based on the avoidance of rigid, limiting concepts, to Taoist China. In his commentary about the book of Chuang-tzu, one passage survives to the present; it is about Xiao Yao (7):

Free and easy wandering refers to the mind of the perfected. When Chuang-tzu talks about the Great Tao, he uses the analogy of the Peng bird and the quail. Because the Peng's life is without obstruction, the bird is free from all limitation in the realm beyond the body. The quail, on the other hand, because it lives in the near and scorns the far, it is limited and obstructed in its mind. The perfected one rides the truth of heaven, soars aloft, and wanders boundlessly in unfettered freedom. He treats beings as beings-without being treated as a mere being himself. He is not self-satisfied in his wandering. Mystically one with the universe, he does not act purposefully. He is not hurried, yet moves swiftly. He goes everywhere in his freedom. He is truly a free and easy wanderer.

In the book Road To Heaven: Encounters with Chinese Hermits (8), Bill Porter relays this poem by Wang Wei (699-761 A.D.; see inside cover), a Taoist who lived in Chungnan:

In my prime, I loved the Way;
a Chungnan cottage in old age.
When I want to roam alone,
wonders are wasted all on me.
Hiking to the river's source,
sitting, watching clouds arise.
Sometimes with an old recluse,
talking, laughing, free from time.

The "Way" or Tao is freedom from worries about time (meaning worries about accomplishments that will be recognized by others), with a life that appears leisurely, like that of a butterfly fluttering here and there. However, to attain the state of true freedom, each individual must cultivate the proper attitude: to overcome the tendencies of striving for reward and resisting obstacles that seem to stand in the way. In the Tao Te Ching (chapter 48) it is said: "The world is ruled by letting things take their course, it cannot be ruled by interfering." Letting things take their course is often described as "being in harmony with nature." Harmony with nature requires yielding, but it results in great things. If this were the totality of the teaching, the Taoist would seem rather irresponsible. However, this is one part of the teaching; the other part provides for a certain grounding.

The study of this first aspect of Taoism is supposed to help one overcome the ingrained personal approach of clashing with-rather than flowing around-a difficulty that is encountered, typically a difficulty that is placed by one's own mind. The lack of freedom of the mind influences the person's flow of qi and blood, causing it to flow erratically and bind up; the bodily condition, in return, contributes to stagnant or erratic mental function, with the potential for continued worsening of the total condition. In the Chinese model of health and disease, the free flow of qi and blood is the requirement for health and the obstructed flow of qi and blood is a cause of disease (there are other causes, such as deficiencies and excesses). The obstruction of circulation corresponds to both a physical stagnation (repression of natural movement) and the psychological condition we call depression, the sense of inability to move and change to overcome obstacles. The great herbal teacher Zhu Danxi said (10): "So long as the qi and blood enjoy harmonious flow, none of the hundreds of diseases can arise. Once they are depressed and suppressed, various diseases are produced."

Basics of Taoist Action: Doing while not Doing

Another aspect of the Taoist teaching, ultimately related to the freedom described above, but having a different starting point, may prove more practical: it answers a question about how humans live together, not just with nature, but with each other. Further, in addressing this issue, Taoism teaches how to manage one's own mental proclivities.

The underlying principle regarding actions presented in the Tao Te Ching is that one should take care of things that are in need of doing, and then move on to the next thing that needs to be done, without any attachment to the accomplishment of the first or the potential outcome of the next. By avoiding any "attachment to the accomplishment" it is meant that one should not dwell upon such things as taking credit for it, accumulating rewards (including material things and power), or spending time with retelling it in order to get recognition.

Along these lines also, with regard to one's work, do not bother doing things other than what needs to be done. For example, one should not spend time at efforts that are aimed specifically at collecting wealth, accumulating power, or gaining praise, or even bothering others by taking up their time with unnecessary things. Moving from one moment to the next, taking care of what is necessary, and not straying from that, is the Way. So long as one follows this teaching, things will progress smoothly; but as one deviates from this pattern, obstacles and heartaches arise. Because one does not dwell upon accomplishments nor make efforts to gain things, it is said that "nothing is done." It should be understood, however, that this does not mean simply sitting lazily, avoiding doing anything or skirting obvious responsibilities; something is done, just not specially recognized as such. Also, in the absence of striving after wealth, power, or praise, one may come by it naturally, which brings its own requirements for action; these outcomes aren't necessarily bad, just not suitable as a goal in themselves.

These spiritual messages may be particularly relevant to the ordinary conditions that affect people today. The Taoist belief is that one will suffer from not following this teaching; since this is about a way of being, not just a response to any individual event or undertaking, a person who fails to follow the Tao may continually behave in a way that causes distress; a potential source of a serious mental disorder.

Here are some sample quotations about the proper way of living (3).

"Creating, yet not possessing. Working, yet not taking credit. Work is done, then forgotten. Therefore, it lasts forever." (chapter 2).

"If nothing is done, then all will be well." (chapter 3)

"The sage stays behind, thus he is ahead. He is detached, thus at one with all. Through selfless action, he attains fulfillment." (chapter 7)

"Amass a store of gold and jade, and no one can protect it. Claim wealth and titles, and disaster will follow. Retire when the work is done. This is the way of heaven." ["Retire when the work is done" here means that one should not try to make anything further of the accomplishment.] (chapter 9)

"Giving birth and nourishing, bearing yet not possessing, working yet not taking credit, leading yet not dominating, this is the primal virtue." (chapter 10)

"Surrender yourself humbly; then you can be trusted to care for things. Love the world as your own self; then you can truly care for all things." (chapter 13)

"Who can remain still until the moment of action? Observers of the Tao do not seek fulfillment, not seeking fulfillment, they are not swayed by desire for change." ["Remain still" here means that one is not constantly pursuing selfish fulfillment between the actions that are essential.] (chapter 15)

"Wise men embrace the one and set an example to all. Not putting on a display, they shine forth; not justifying themselves, they are distinguished; not boasting, they receive recognition; not bragging, they never falter." (chapter 22)

"He who stands on tiptoe is not steady; he who strides cannot maintain the pace; he who makes a show is not enlightened; he who is self-righteous is not respected; he who boasts achieves nothing; he who brags will not endure. According to followers of the Tao, 'these are extra food and unnecessary luggage.' They do not bring happiness, therefore followers of the Tao avoid them." (chapter 24)

"Achieve results, but never glory in them. Achieve results, but never boast. Achieve results, but never be proud. Achieve results, because this is the natural way." (chapter 30)

"A truly good man does nothing, yet leaves nothing undone. A foolish man is always doing yet much remains to be done." ["Always doing" here means that he is wasting time doing unnecessary things.] (chapter 38)

"The sage works without recognition. He achieves what has to be done without dwelling on it. He does not try to show his knowledge." (chapter 77)

The Things to Be Done and the Way to Do Them

The above teachings tell about one's attitude in work. What is the nature of the actions, the things to be taken care of? How is one to know what is needed and what ought not to be done? What is one to be like in day-to-day affairs? As the following quotes display, one can know what to do by focusing attention on such virtuous things as gentleness, kindness, truthfulness, competence, alertness, simplicity, yielding (rather than obstructing), constancy, openheartedness, caring, perseverance, willingness to take on difficult tasks, mercy, economy, generosity, humility, gentleness, meditation, etc., and avoids such things as extremes, excesses, complacency, abandoning those in need, trying to do too much at once rather than take the small steps that are necessary, ignoring what is known, having desires for unnecessary things, and rigidity in ideas, as well as avoiding those concerns described earlier, such as boasting, accumulating wealth and power, and seeking rewards.

Here are some sample quotations (3). One of the great teachings is the last one listed here, from chapter 81, about giving of oneself for others.

"In dwelling, be close to the land, in meditation, go deep in the heart, in dealing with others, be gentle and kind, in speech, be true, in ruling, be just, in business, be competent, in action, watch the timing." (chapter 8)

"Alert, like men aware of danger, courteous, like visiting guests, yielding, like ice about to melt, simple, like uncarved blocks of wood...." (chapter 9)

"Knowing constancy is insight, not knowing constancy leads to disaster. Knowing constancy, the mind is open; with an open mind, you will be openhearted. Being openhearted, you will act royally. Being royal, you will attain the divine. Being divine, you will be at one with the Tao." (chapter 16)

"The sage takes care of all men and abandons no one. He takes care of all things and abandons nothing." (chapter 27)

"The sage avoids extremes, excesses, and complacency." (chapter 29)

"Perseverance is a sign of will power. He who stays where he is endures." (chapter 33)

"The truly great man dwells on what is real and not what is on the surface." (chapter 38)

"There is no greater sin than desire, no greater curse than discontent, no greater misfortune than wanting something for oneself. Therefore, he who knows that enough is enough will always have enough." (chapter 46)

"All things arise from Tao. By virtue they are nourished, developed, cared for, sheltered, comforted, grown, and protected." (chapter 51)

"Keep your mouth shut, guard the senses, and life is ever full. Open your mouth, always be busy, and life is beyond hope."(chapter 52)

"Cultivate virtue in yourself and virtue will be real; cultivate virtue in the family, and virtue will abound; cultivate virtue in the village, and virtue will grow...." (chapter 54)

"Knowing harmony is constancy, knowing constancy is enlightenment." (chapter 55)

"In caring for others and serving heaven, there is nothing like restraint. Restraint begins with giving up one's own ideas. This depends on virtue gathered in the past. If there is a good store of virtue, then nothing is impossible." (chapter 59)

"Reward bitterness with care. See simplicity in the complicated. Achieve greatness in little things. In the universe the difficult things are done as if they are easy. In the universe, great acts are made up of small deeds. The sage does not attempt anything very big, and thus achieves greatness. Easy promises make for little trust. Taking things lightly results in great difficulty. Because the sage always confronts difficulties, he never experiences them." (chapter 63)

"The sage seeks freedom from desire. He does not collect precious things. He learns not to hold on to ideas. He brings men back to what they have lost." (chapter 64)

"From mercy comes courage; from economy comes generosity; from humility comes leadership." (chapter 67)

"Knowing ignorance [knowing that you are ignorant] is strength; ignoring knowledge is sickness." (chapter 71)

"A man is born gentle and weak; at his death he is hard and stiff. Green plants are tender and filled with sap; at their death they are withered and dry. Therefore, the stiff and unbending is a disciple of death; the gentle and yielding is a disciple of life." (chapter 76)

"The sage never tries to store things up; the more he does for others, the more he has; the more he gives to others, the greater his abundance." (chapter 81)

Many of the recommendations of the Tao Te Ching may seem obvious. Yet, even those who have achieved great equanimity know that one can again and again experience failings, and thus, must be reminded and brought back to what has been lost. As it is said in the Tao Te Ching (chapter 78): "Under heaven everyone knows this; yet no one puts it into practice."

Linking Taoism and Buddhism

Taoists, when confronted with a rise in devotion to Buddhism in China, eventually adopted it as part of their own philosophical base. As Taoist Master Yang at the Baxianggong (Eight Immortals Temple, Beijing) said recently (8):

Buddhists and Taoists walk the same path. They just dream different dreams. Essentially, Buddhism and Taoism are the same. Their sacred texts talk about the same things. It's just that Taoism emphasizes life, and Buddhism emphasizes nature. But people who truly cultivate, cultivate both. In terms of actual practice, Buddhism is somewhat better than Taoism. Even though Taoists talk about cultivating their mind, they often have a harder time controlling their emotions. They have a harder time suppressing feelings of pride. But to cultivate either of them successfully is very hard."

To say that "Buddhism emphasizes nature" and that "Buddhism is somewhat better" are remarkable statements from a Taoist. Yet, he has hit upon one potential pitfall: feelings of pride. Because the Taoists have invested heavily on developing certain talents (e.g., physical disciplines, some aimed at longevity), they may forget the basic teaching and take pride in their accomplishments.

The Tao Te Ching is thought to have originated from teachings given sometime around the 4th century B.C. According to legend, during his travels to the west, Lao-tzu gave the written teachings to Yin Xi, the guardian of the Hangu Pass, who preserved them. The origins of Buddhism are usually traced to Shakyamuni (Siddharta, Gautama), an Indian prince who renounced his royal inheritance and pursued a path of asceticism (which nearly killed him) and then found a path of balance (the middle way). This led, ultimately, to full enlightenment that was attained during prolonged meditation, throughout which he faced the demons of mundane consciousness. His enlightenment consists of an egoless state, where calm prevails. The philosophy of Buddhism was presented in the form of discussions between Buddha (as the enlightened former prince became known) and his disciples in documents called sutras (teachings, discourses, sermons). The earliest of these are traced back to around the 4th century B.C. Among the most important of ancient texts are the Lotus Sutra, Heart Sutra, Avatamsaka Sutra, and Diamond Sutra (the latter considered especially important in bringing Buddhism to China).

Although Buddhist scholars don't agree, and certainly people of India won't agree, many Taoists believe that Lao-tzu was, in fact, one and the same man as Buddha, or, at the very least, was the actual originator of Buddhism. There is a story that Lao-tzu traveled west, following the Changnan Mountain range, and reached India where his teachings were received as Buddhism. It is also told that Lao-tzu, not as a man, but as a holy immortal, was able to make Yin Xi (recipient of the Tao Te Ching manuscript) appear as the Buddha to the "barbarians" in India, where the teachings were transmitted. In this way, Buddhism is seen in China as nothing more than a foreign sect of Taoism.

The close connection between Taoism and Buddhism is still perceived by some Taoists. In 1995, Shambhala Publications produced a book called Huahu Ching: The Later Teachings of Lao Tzu (9). This version of the Huahu Ching is nothing other than The Diamond Sutra even though there is no mention of that title, followed up with several pages of unique Taoist writings. Hua-ching Ni, its translator, who claims to be part of a 2,000 year old lineage of Taoist masters, says that the original text of the Huahu Ching was lost and has been passed on by oral tradition, a tradition of which he is a recipient. In the book, the transformation of Siddhartha to the Buddha is described thus: "Rejecting his position as crown prince, he went into the mountains and cultivated the Tao. He realized the highest Tao and duly was called the Buddha."

Bill Porter, in his talks with mountain-dwelling hermits, found plenty of Ch'an practitioners (as Chinese Buddhists are called) living alongside the Taoists hermits. One of the Taoists he interviewed, Jen Fajung, abbot of Loukuantai, said this (8):

Taoists and Buddhists seek that which doesn't change. This is why they don't seek fame or fortune. They seek only the Tao, which is the nothingness of which we are all created and to which we all return. Our goal is to be one with this natural process.

For several centuries, China grappled with the question of whether Taoism or Buddhism should be officially sanctioned: which one was the best? This question also raised the concern of how Confucianism, which was deemed clearly different than the closely related pair of Taoism and Buddhism, would fit in. As Livia Kohn relays in her book Early Chinese Mysticism (10):

In the fourth century, Chinese literati integrated Buddhism in an encompassing "harmony among three teachings." The chief exponent of this integrationist view was Sun Chuo (ca. 310-390 A.D.), who combined Confucian social responsibility, the Lao-Zhuang [Taoist Canon] ideal of contemplation, and Buddhist enlightenment. In the fifth century, the first wave of court debates took place in south China....Following Sun Chuo's line of reasoning, Zhang Rong contended that both teachings [Taoism and Buddhism] were fundamentally identical. Both court factions should therefore have equal say in matters of state. The Buddhist Zhou Yong countered this argument by referring to the association of Taoism with the Great Peace of 184 A.D. [Great Peace refers to a Taoist movement: using predictions based in Taoists texts, the followers staged a rebellion that lasted over a decade; this rebellion was the "beginning of the end" of the Han Dynasty, which collapsed in 220 A.D.]. Contrary to this lowly heritage, he claimed Buddhism was lofty and of high quality.

Gu Huan, in his Yixia Lun (On Barbarians and Chinese) of the year 467 A.D., argued that Buddhism was quite suitable for barbarians, while Taoism was the proper teaching for the Chinese. [He argued also that:] Buddhism was concerned with salvation of the spirit, was second hand, did not involve filial piety [a key aspect of Confucianism], and contains complex and abstruse ideas; by contrast Taoism was concerned with longevity of the body, original, very filial, and straightforward, concrete, and practical....In the sixth century, a second round of debates-now growing increasingly polemical-was staged at the Northern Wei court. In 520 A.D., the Taoist Jiang Bin and the Buddhist Tan Muzui argued the seniority of their teachings in the presence of the emperor. They concentrated on the problem of dating. If Laozi went west to convert the barbarians and become the Buddha, he must have left China earlier than the recorded birth of Buddha in India [which doesn't agree with the reported dates]..the Buddhists emerged victorious from this phase of the debate and thereby gained influence at the court....

The debates went on for centuries more. Taoism and Buddhism have remained intertwined in China ever since.

Buddhism has had some influence on herbal use in China. For example, the development of the popular herb heshouwu (Polygonum multiflorum) is attributed to a Buddhist priest who knew Mr. He, the man who first took the herb and found its miraculous properties. Its pair of intertwined vines were thought by some to represent the close linkage between Buddhism and Taoism. The fruit luohanguo was developed into a medicinal agent by Buddhist monks. During the Tang Dynasty, Guilin (where this fruit originated) was a major Buddhist retreat area with many temples. The fruit was then named after the Luohan, which are advanced Buddhist practitioners (in India, they are called Arhats; see illustration).

Buddhism is an approach to life that posits the primacy of mind. Its doctrine considers the disturbance of mind by attraction, revulsion, and confusion, to be the primary spiritual disorder which leads one to suffering. Therefore, calming the mind, particularly by meditating, is the most important means of gaining health of the spirit. Living a moral life is understood to be a means of not only helping others, but also preventing situations that disturb the mind. Because Buddhist belief depicts a long cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, it does not emphasize earthly immortality, and also places less emphasis on maintaining bodily health than do the Taoists. Buddhism puts greater emphasis on calming the emotions and stabilizing the body so that prolonged meditation is possible.


Confucianism predated both Taoism and Buddhism and is attributed to Kung-fu-tze (pinyin: Kong Fuzi) whose name was Latinized to Confucius. Confucianism is a complex system of moral, social, political, and religious teaching aimed at making men worthy of respect. Confucius' ideal person, the junzi, is not simply the man of virtue, but the man of learning and of good manners. The perfect man must combine the qualities of saint, scholar, and gentleman. The key element, though, is his moral force.

There is a well-known Chinese herb formula named for the gentleman described by Confucius, called Si Junzi Tang; the "Four Gentleman Decoction." This name was given because of the great respect held for the four major ingredients, as well as for the valuable action of this formula in rectifying the person's "center" to aid restoration of health. In the book, Confucius Lives Next Door (11), T.R. Reid describes the term junzi this way:

It is written with two characters that mean royal [jun] and person [zi]. This tells us that traditionally junzi referred to a prince, an aristocrat, someone who obtained a position of stature and power through birth. Confucius accepted the basic principle that certain people have the right to hold elite positions, but then he completely changed the rules for joining the ranks of the elite. To Confucius, the junzi-the term has been variously translated as "the noble man," "the superior man," the "gentleman"-was a person who had earned elite status. To be a gentleman, a person had to spend a lifetime studying and following the rules of virtuous conduct. Just being born right was not enough.

Confucianism laid the way for the development of Taoism by emphasizing the character of the ideal man. However, Confucianism had the tendency to fall into the nature of a legalistic approach, where one followed certain rules of behavior, but did not necessarily have the inner nature that would lead to good results, so the Taoists countered by proclaiming freedom from such rules, emphasizing the cultivation of the ideal inner condition in harmony with nature. Confucianism itself appears to have arisen as a move away from an earlier belief system in which a heavenly god ruled over humans. Thus Confucius shifted the burden of moral behavior to the set of rules, particularly about social and family relationships. In recent times, the influence of Confucianism on society was best seen in Japan, where it had been introduced from China around the 12th Century.


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