Self-Cultivation in Asian Medicine, Part VII (201)) : Blue Beryl Blog
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Self-Cultivation in Asian Medicine, Part VII (201))

by Hyoun Bae on 01/12/19




The sage healers of ancient times were able to heal the heart of humanity, and thus prevent disease from arising. Today’s doctors only know how to treat disease when it has already manifested in physical form, and don’t know anymore how to work with the heart. This situation can be compared to the process of pruning tree branches while neglecting the tap root, or to working downstream without awareness of the properties of the wellspring. Is this not an ignorant way to go about the business of medicine? If you wish to bring about real healing, you must first and foremost treat a person’s heart. You must bring the heart on the right path, so that it can be filled and sustained by a universal sense of truth. You must get it to a place where it can safely abandon all doubting and worrying and obsessing in senselessly looping patterns, where it can let go of any anxiety provoking imbalances, and where it is willing to surrender all “me, me, me” and all “this is his/her fault!” Try and awaken the heart to acknowledge and regret all the wrong that one has done, to lay down all selfish attachments, and to transform one’s small and self-centered world for the glorious universe wherein we are all one, and wherein there is nothing to do but praise its existence. This is the master method of the enlightened physician–healing through the heart. Or, in different words from the ancient record: the enlightened doctor intervenes before physical disease manifests, while the average physician springs into action only after disease has become apparent. To treat before this stage, this is the terrain of healing the core—the heart; to treat afterwards, this is the realm of dietary therapy, herbal therapy, acupuncture, and moxibustion. Although there are these two types of therapeutic paths, there is really only one core law of healing: All disease comes from the heart.

Hur Jun (Chinese: Xu Jun) All Disease Comes From the Heart, from Dongyi baojian (Precious Reflections by an Eastern Physician). Tr. Fruehauf, Heiner



The heart of Chinese medical practice lies is in the transformation of suffering. Self-cultivation is acknowledged as the means by which one can enter into the root of disease, which paradoxically, is also wellspring of health. One of the earliest dialectics forming therapeutic intervention is known as root and branch determination, or ben and biao respectively. The Korean physician Hur Jun plays on the metaphor of the heart as the root of suffering, and by treating at the level of the heart, or addressing any limited sense of self, one can eradicate disease at its source, and engage a process of “core healing.”


The extent to which self-cultivation serves a role in the cultivation of medical knowledge and skill in medical arts depends upon each practitioner’s disposition or proclivity. The role and parameters upon which personal development can be measured is subject to personal validation, yet that themes of self-cultivation have a long precedence in medical discipline is unquestionable.


The philosophical origins of Chinese medical tradition include Daoist and pre-Buddhist influences, yet through the ages Buddhist, Confucian and Neo-confucian values came to shape the orientation of practitioners in individual approaches to self-cultivation. Historically, many of the scholar physicians of whom Scheid offers biographical sketches were influenced by Neo-confucian values of self-cultivation and the development of sincerity (cheng) as a primary virtue. For many notable medical authorities, their affiliation with the ethical, religious and contemplative traditions of China guided their medical careers. Among them, Fei Boxiong advocated empathizing and connecting with the suffering of the patient, as a manner to maintain conscientiousness, and stressed the ethical cultivation at the heart of medicine. (Scheid, 106).


Hsu clarifies that for qigong healers, wellbeing is transmitted and that methods are trained in which a healer may become able to alter physiological states via transmission or working upon the vital energy of the patient. Hsu’s informant, Qiu di spoke of “nurturing the primordial qi through herbs, diet and meditation.” (Hsu, 71) These ideas have been prevalent since antiquity, in vogue primarily in Taoist religious contexts, including the adherence to alchemical practices and philosophies in the pursuit of longevity and immortality. Aside from clinical medicine, many noted medical authorities were concerned with these realms of quasi-religious practice and inner alchemy (nei dan), including Li Shi Zhen, in whose Qi Jing Ba Mai Kao (Exposition on the Eight Extraordinary Vessels) one finds a conscious inclusion of alchemical ideas and principles in discussing the core meridian systems of the body. While the “medical body” of the Inner Cannon had us glimpse the potentials of medicine in terms of preserving and extending life, further evidence of alchemical thought can be gleaned even in Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, an early systematic presentation of herbal pharmacology. The concerns of medicine and that of religion arbitrated notions of physiology and bodily existence, such that the context for transforming suffering into wisdom took on varied directions.

Traditional Medicine Research Database