Tales from the Practice of Medicine: On Keeping Good Health (Part I)

Cheng Shan

PureInsight | November 21, 2005

[PureInsight.org] Many factors can cause illness, and yet we have very few means to cure them. Modern people have all kinds of illnesses. Some are physiological, some are psychological, and some are even caused by environmental factors. The illnesses are really diverse. No matter how good a doctor's skills are and how many rare diseases he has cured, he always encounters patients who seem to be suffering from mysterious illnesses, illnesses that the doctor cannot diagnose. In such a situation, the doctor feels as if he is lost on a foggy cloudy mountain. If the doctor is a doctor of Chinese medicine, even after he repeatedly checks the patient's meridians, applies acupuncture, changes the prescription, and tries all sorts of other methods, the patient's health still might fail to improve or might even get worse day after day and week after week.

Faced with such a patient, a doctor keeps wondering what else he should do. He feels helpless and wishes that there was some other prescription he could try. In such a situation, the doctor realizes that using his limited lifespan, experience, and knowledge to explore the boundless mystery of the nature and origin life is bound to be a losing task at the end.

"Only when a person encounters problems, does he realize that it is too late to learn the Tao. Only when a person becomes sick, does he regret that he hasn't maintained his health well." These are two lines for a poem by Lu You (陸游) (1125 - 1210 A.D.), a renowned poet of the Song Dynasty. The poem reminds us of different methods that ancient Chinese people used to maintain good health. According to ancient textbooks, there are 3600 categories of methods to maintain good health in the Tao school, with each category containing more than ten thousand individual methods. Why is it that the ancient Chinese people had such a deep and wide knowledge on how to maintain good health, whereas today's people have no clue even when it comes to taking nutritional supplements or other means to balance their own organ functions? Why can't doctors find a method that benefits every single patient on a fundamental level and genuinely enable every patient to have good health?

When hearing the words of maintaining good health, today's people immediately think about taking nutritional supplements, taking herbal medicine, or doing more exercises such as hiking, skiing and so on. But what about those who can't afford ginseng or Radix Astragali (Huang Qi, milkvetch root, a Chinese herb thought to have health benefits) and don't have money or time to do outdoor exercises? Aren't we going to get sick anyway as long as we are human beings? Furthermore, if the nutritional supplements are not taken correctly, they don't achieve the expected effects. In many cases, the nutritional supplements not only don't benefit people but even cause people to have shorter lives.

Let's consider 100 years to be the top limit of a person's lifespan (in general but not absolute). Out of one thousand people, no more than 10 people can live to be one hundred. Even if a person does live to be 100 years old, he still spends almost half of her life either as a child or as an elderly person. The time that one spends sleeping at night or working hard to put food on the table during the day takes up more than half of the remaining time. After subtracting the time that one is miserable because he is either ill or suffers from emotional turmoil, natural or man-made disasters, and other tribulations, an average person might only have several dozen days in his entire adult life when he is truly relaxed and happy and doesn't carry any burden or pain.

There are endless days before one is born and after one dies. In between, one only lives no more than 100 years, and even then one ends up with no more than just several dozen days where he is truly happy. So what is the meaning of a human life? What kind of happiness does one need to have before he is happy?

In the ancient time, people knew that life is short and transient. They tried not to violate the laws of nature. What were their basic principles for maintaining good health? At a high level, they harmonized with the principles of heaven and earth, yin and yang. At a middle level, they obeyed the rules of society and human morality. At a low level, they cherished all living beings. These are their basic principles for maintaining good health.

If medical doctors only treat patients at a superficial level by treating the head when the patient says his head hurts and treating the feet when the patient says his feet hurts, they wouldn't be able to treat the sickness at its root. Furthermore, in today's society, psychological problems are the real cause of many diseases. If doctors don't tell their patients that cultivating one's own virtue is the fundamental way to treat one's diseases, modern medicine can never catch up with the speed that new illnesses develop and doctors will feel helpless when they are not able to help many of their patients.

There was an ancient Chinese saying: "Nursing one's virtue is as important as nursing one's health." It shows that only when a person carries high moral principles in his heart, does he become a person who truly knows how to maintain good health.

Translated from: http://www.zhengjian.org/zj/articles/2005/10/31/34422.html

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