Learn about our own body
Confucius said, “Once a person reaches his fifties, he shall know about the rules of heavens.” This means everyone has his own fate. Our body, this physical form made up of blood and flesh came from a father’s sperms and a mother’s blood. It is the result of what we have done in our past lives. Its birth, growth into old age, illnesses, and death follows a kind of objective law, and this is fate, which includes a life expectancy by nature. The reasons for life expectancy are complicated, and it has a lot to do with heredity. Modern medical studies revealed that if a parent has longevity, their child lives long as well. There is a common saying: a doctor only cures diseases but not death. You have your fate; and when the time of death comes, nothing can save you from that. At the same time, we say that fate，in this case fortune can change. A healthy mind and good deeds can prolong your life and brings about better physical health; on the contrary, an evil mind and bad deeds cause danger to health and thus shorten one’s life.
Let’s talk a little bit about the Yin-Yang and the Five Elements. The Yin-Yang and the Five Elements are basic theories in Traditional Chinese Medicine. We human beings have forms, never away from Yin and Yang, the negative side and the positive side.
Yin and Yang form the law of Heavens and Earth. Everything in this universe, including our physical body, is made up of the Yin and the Yang. Yin and Yang live on each other and support each other. Our (five) viscera (heart, spleen, liver, lungs, and kidneys) belong to the Yin and six organs (gallbladder, stomach, large intestine, small intestine, bladder, and bowels/the Three Warmers) belong to the Yang. The Three Warmers normally refer to the Upper Warmer (chest, head, and heart/lung), the Middle Warmer (abdomen above the navel, spleen, and stomach), and the Lower Warmer (abdomen below the navel, liver, and kidney). According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the heart relates to fires, the liver relates to wood, the spleen relates to the soil, the lungs relate to gold, and the kidney relates to water. Fire, wood, soil, gold, and water make up the Five Elements.
Next, we talk about the Four Basic Elements. According to Buddhist teachings, our physical body is made up of the Four Basic Elements: soil, water, fire (warmth), wind (circulation). Our bones and flesh are the soil; they become part of the earth after death. Our blood, perspiration, and urine are water; our body temperature of 36-37℃ is fire. Our breathing is wind. These are our Four Basic Elements. Our heart refers to fire; kidney refers to water; heart and kidney are closely related to each other. The fire shall go down, while water shall go up. When the water and the fire work together inside our body, there is steaming inside. When our organs work together in harmony, we have good health. We can learn about the reasons by watching our tongue. A dry tongue is a sign of bad health. In Chinese, the word 活is made up of water (three dots) and tongue (舌). The colors of our tongue can tell symptoms of our inner organs, and from the tongue, we can judge life and death. The water in our body (tears, perspiration, and urine) all tastes salty; only the water in our tongues is different. We feel thirsty when our tongue is dry. Feeling thirsty is an illness; the cure is water. When our stomach is empty, we feel hungry. Feeling hungry is an illness; the cure is food. So food is medicine. When a person has a bad temper, he lacks water. When the Four Basic Elements do not cooperate in good order, we become sick. Lack of balance is an illness.
Next, we talk about blood and breath. Blood and breath-bloodlines make up the basic materials within our body; they form the foundation for the physiological activities of our organs. Breaths, in Chinese we call Qi, are tiny materials for movements; it belongs to the Yang. Breaths include the energy from the kidney, energy from water that we drink and food that we eat, as well as the air that we inhale from outside through our lung movements. These breaths move around our bodies, and they are everywhere. The reason why we are still alive is that we are still breathing. Blood belongs to the Yin; it comes from the energy of water and grains. Our heartbeats the blood and makes the blood move around our body. When our blood and breath work together nicely and support each other, we can have good health. Otherwise, we will become sick.
All our illnesses are caused by the non-balance of our blood and breath. When our blood or breath is blocked, we will become sick. Blood stagnation comes from a block of breaths. When movements of our mind and thinking become violent, we shall see abnormal symptoms. Therefore, to balance our breaths, we need to balance our mind and thinking first. Meditation is a way of balancing the mind, and thus balancing the breaths; with smooth breaths, that helps with a peaceful mind as well. So our mind is the control center of our whole physical body. It might also become the first devil that causes all the disturbances. Our minds can stir up our nervous system and make us very nervous. When our brain (cerebral cortex) feels uneasy, it may cause lots of troubles, like neurasthenia, gastroptosis, gastric ulcer or duodenal ulcer, high or low blood pressure, coughing with phlegm, irregular menstruation, bowel constipation, arthritis, anemia, etc. If we want to cure the above diseases and regain health, we shall firstly calm down and balance our mind and breath, and get rid of the nervous conditions. This brings us back to normal. When our mind controls our breaths, and we can breathe naturally, our blood will circulate in good order. By doing this, our brain cells can gain more oxygen and energy. This helps our brains to direct other functions more efficiently. This is like a large organization of many systems: our bones system, flesh system, circulation system, breath system, digestion system, bowel system, reproductive system, and nerves system. Without outside devils to disturb them, these systems cooperate in harmony and work in good order, and as a result signs of diseases will disappear. Our physical body has very special functions: it has the ability to grow naturally; it has the ability to cure sickness; it has the ability to force our mind to change bad habits, and it has the ability to live longer. But once these functions are disturbed, these abilities will not work. In the beginning, there might be some shortage; later there might be some loss. If this lasts long, we might lose all these abilities. By that time, we will fall down and collapse. This is a process of gradually killing ourselves.
Our human body is one complete system; our physiological activities are the process of different parts of this system working with, supporting, and balancing each other. At the same time, the human is one of the living beings in nature; any change in nature will have some sort of effect on our body. For example, the season and weather changes, and environmental changes all have effects on our body and our health. Typhoid fever is a type of syndromes caused by changes in weather, or exogenous factors. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, if our body is in good health, exogenous factors will not cause much disturbance. When exogenous factors work inside our body, our body will feel weak; when exogenous factors leave, our body will be at ease. There two methods to cure this illness: one is to defeat the exogenous factors; the second is to build a stronger defense within our body. To defeat the exogenous factors, we must first try to set our breaths in balance, or set our mind in peace. We use our healthy circulation system to defeat the enemy. How to build a stronger defense? First, we should also nourish the heart to calm the mind; this is the way to vitalize our breaths.
To cure diseases associated with the five viscera, we make it the most important to vitalize our breaths, especially by paying special attention to support the kidney. A sound circulation by healthy breaths helps the blood flow smoothly as a liquid. This liquid is like an income stream that helps build a good business. To vitalize the breaths, we need to keep our mind in peace. If our mind is always moving, our liver will burn like fire, and our nerves will be shaken violently. This fire will consume the water in our bodies. Our heartbeats are like a fan blowing, it brings about the wind. With wind, the fire will spread faster. When fire spreads faster, water will dry up. Without enough water, the soil will suffer. Soil is our physical body of bones and flesh. So it is very important to balance our mind and keep it in peace. When our mind is in peace, greed, bad temper or sickness will go away. Even when they come, it is easier to keep them under control. Inside we have the wind mainly associated with the liver, and outside we are faced with other winds, like weather changes and material wants/desires. When our mind is in peace, and these winds do not pose a threat, our Four Basic Elements will be in balance. There is no better way than this when it comes to longevity.
We shall not rely on the doctors to cure all our diseases. Doctors can cure some diseases, but they can not take care of our daily health problems. A doctor can use medicines to help us defeat the exogenous factors, but he cannot help us to build a strong defense and vitality. An illness won’t cost people life, but without vitality, he shall be doomed to die. Although he will not die instantly, the root causes of his death are still there; when circumstances get worse, he has the possibility to die. So to build a strong defense, to have breaths of vitality, to maintain a peaceful mind, is the foundation of defeating illnesses.
Traditional Chinese Medicine and Western Medicine have become two separate systems, each criticizing the other, sticking to each other’s own ideas, refusing to embrace each other. This is not good news for patients. If a patient is confused as well, sometimes going for Traditional Chinese Medicine and sometimes going for Western Medicine, without careful consideration of the true causes of his illness, this is not good news for him either. As a matter of fact, either Traditional Chinese Medicine or Western Medicine has its strong points and weak points, advantages, and disadvantages. In cases of emergencies, injections, anatomy, clearing away toxic matters, and checking form-like diseases, Western Medicine works better. In cases of how to balance the heat and cold, how to nourish the vitality, and how to recover after surgery, Traditional Chinese Medicine will play a better role. An adult should know about his own body and health conditions: fat or slim, a cold base or warm base, easy to catch typhoid or fever. He should be the one to make the first decisions. If the illness bears certain forms, and the patient has enough vitality, he should probably go for a Western Medicine doctor. If his illness does not take in specific forms, hard to tell whether it is cold-typhoid-like or warm-fever-like, and the patient feels weak and lacks vitality, he might be better to go for a Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor. When in the case of failure whether by Western Medicine or by Traditional Chinese Medicine, it might be better to dry acupuncture for acute diseases and massage for a long-lasting problem. When acupuncture and massage do not work, secret religious incantation/curses might be helpful. Religious methods can be used for certain emergencies. If there is a Buddhist master who can help with these methods, it is also an option. Anyway, we shall be open-minded for all options, whether it is Western, Chinese, acupuncture or massage. As a medical doctor, we shall have a good heart, be merciful for all patients, and be always open to other ways out. This is good news for the patient. People normally think that religious incantation or curses is superstitious, and are doubtful of their uses. If a patient is not in good hands, he is in a dangerous hand. Human has physical and mental illnesses, he may also be bewitched and become ill; he may have past karma, which is retribution for sins he committed in past lives. In Buddhism, we call the evil creatures; and in Tantric School, we have incantation methods to eradicate them. If the patient has the luck to invite a Buddhist master for help, he must have the benefits of recovery.
According to Confucius, a person should be able to think for himself. A man in his thirties shall be able to learn and understand basic health knowledge. To become one’s own doctor, does not seem very difficult. In 1992, World Health Organization publicized the Victoria Declaration in which a concept of Four Bases for Health is described as a reasonable diet, appropriate amount of outdoor exercise, no smoking and limit on drinking, and mental balance. As Buddhist practitioners, we do more than that. We are vegetarians, we meditate, we do not smoke or drink, and we safeguard our minds. We do not have to understand difficult terms in medicine, our daily health care does not need to be complicated, taking precautions is better than going to see a doctor. From today on, we take away our wrong ideas and behaviors; from today on, we start to build a healthy lifestyle. We train ourselves to keep calm in our mind; we try to ensure high-quality sleep and a better diet, to keep our living surroundings clean, to have a harmonious family life, and to maintain a regular life. In present-day society, life is often fast-paced, under the pressure of competition, and faced with material wants and desires. We shall do our best to come back to nature, to live a simple and peaceful life. This is the key to health and longevity, and the way to a happy life.
The Buddha says, do not think too much of our physical body, but try to understand the truth of our physical body. When we look at our bodies, from head to feet, we can see and feel our hair, teeth, flesh, skin, joints, bones, abdomen, kidney, heart, lungs, liver, gall bladder, intestine, stomach, feces, and urine, tears and spits, brains and nerves, bone marrow, pus, and blood; they are all dirty things when open. Buddha says again, our physical body is made up of 36 different kinds of dirty materials. When we look closely like this at our bodies, who is me? Who am I? What is the real self? What do I belong to? Where do I live? Where on earth is the real ME? This so-called physical body, apart from skin and flesh, seems to be only a pile of white bones. What the Buddha has said has deep meanings.
Buddha says, a man dies the way a lamp goes out. What are our illnesses? They are like four evil snakes in fighting: soil, water, fire, and wind. Illnesses are of two kinds: physical and mental. Physical illnesses have five causes: water, wind, heat, a mixture of these, and outside factors. These outside factors include work to the extreme, falling from a height, hit by knives or stones, bewitched by evil creatures. Mental illnesses also have four kinds: too active, be frightened, worried, and without a reasonable mind. Some illnesses are both physical and mental; they include illnesses from retribution, fights with enemies, and seasonal changes. Illnesses associated with wind are results of cause and effect. Stuffy chest and flatulence, coughing, cardiac terror, and diarrhea are apparent symptoms. Headache, the ache in the eyes, hands, or feet, are names from the feelings of suffering. The above are basic reasons for illnesses.
What is death? Death is to give away our physical bodies. There are two circumstances: the end of life and the end of accidents. End of life may mean 1) end of life expectancy but not of good fate, 2) end of good fate but not the end of life expectancy, 3) end of both life expectancy and good fate. End of accidents may mean 1) suicide, 2) natural disasters like earthquakes, 3) traffic accidents. There are three other kinds of death: death by the evil tongue of slander at Buddhist teachings, violation of Buddhist rules, and death of the spiritual soul. Both illnesses and death are great sufferings.