Eight Branches of the Tao Healing Arts Before TCM
Eight Branches of the Tao Healing Arts Before TCM
by Jeff Nagel, MA, Lac
According to the ancient "keepers of the knowledge" from the Taoist tradition, the evolutionary roots of Chinese Wholistic Medicine came into being at least eight thousand years ago through the first two of the Eight Branches of the Tao Healing Arts. Over the centuries the other six branches evolved into a unified way of life. The Branches are (1) Meditation/Self Cultivation; (2) Chi Kung/Internal Kung Fu-Tai Chi Chuan; (3) Five Phase Nutrition; (4) Bodywork: Tui Na Acumassage/Bonesetting, Jin Chi Chinese Cranial-Spinal-Sacral Balancing, Chua Ka Deep-Tissue Self Purification Massage, Nei Kung Chi Liao-Internal Energy Diagnosis and Healing/the first healing art of China; (5) Tao Philosophy, Cosmology, Ba Kua/I Ching Medicine; (6) Feng Shui: Environmental Chi Design and Natural Arrangement, the Fine Arts; (7) Herbology; (8) Acupuncture.
The beginning branches are considered to be the most subtle and therefore the most powerful because they are practiced on a personal level. Due to their less subtle nature, the latter branches miss some of the unlimited potential and power because they are done to someone or for someone. Originally, a would-be doctor received training in the first and second branches before going on to study acupuncture and herbal medicine. This training was developed in order to instill the arts of personal chi cultivation and self healing in the practitioner before he began to treat others. When a doctor was sick, he would give no treatments until his health was relatively restored—it is best for the healer’s overall health to be stronger than that of the patient’s.
Each of the Eight Branches is essentially the study and practical application of chi to balance and harmonize the Three Realms: heaven, human, earth. This is the prevailing image of the Ba Kua/Eight Trigrams founded by the great Taoist sage Fu She eighty centuries ago in China when pictographs were commonly used (predating written language). This underlying theme is the unifying essence of all the Chinese healing arts gleaned through the direct cognition and observation of nature over the past thousands of years. Whether it be with the acupuncture needle and its depth of insertion and method of manipulation, the directionality of feng shui architectural design and arrangement or the internal breathing/energetic connections of tai chi chuan-chi kung, it is through these easily observed applications that the results can be so effective and profound. Chi is ever present; the question is simply how to balance it in both the inner and outer landscapes.
In Taoist cosmology, time is considered to flow and ebb in various rhythmic cycles. As such, during the Communist regime/Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, much of the ancient transmission of knowledge was deliberately restricted and watered down for social, political and other reasons. What emerged during that time was but the tip of the iceberg—"Traditional Chinese Medicine"—which was far from being traditional! A strong marriage between Western Symptomatic Medicine and specially selected and often elementary aspects of Chinese Medicine had now been manufactured and joined into place.
This new hybrid almost completely overshadowed the roots of the ancient teachings as practiced for over eight millennia since the time of Fu She, founder of the first healing art of China, Nei Kung Chi Liao. Many of the universal, fundamental principles were either omitted, forgotten, misrepresented or misused. In particular the Tai Chi T’u-Ba Kua Map, which in its simplest form is at the very least a four-dimensional, binary mathematical and microcosmic model of the Three Realms of the Universe, continues to be missing in the TCM model. This was a fundamental part of the ancient knowledge of the "Tao of Bio-Physics" and therefore, Chinese Wholistic Medicine which is derived from the diversity of nature. Interestingly enough, thousands of years later the Tai Chi T’u-Ba Kua map is still used in feng shui, tai chi chuan, chi kung and meditation, yet remains virtually unknown in TCM.
This modern-day system of medicine, especially as practiced in the West, relies primarily on just two of the Eight Branches—acupuncture and herbs. It addresses in part only the health concerns within the human body while at the same time encourages the patient to rely almost totally on the doctor/healer. It tends to overlook the cultivation, empowerment and healing of the self. The external or outer environment is also often neglected or completely forgotten. Traditionally, doctors of Chinese Wholistic Medicine received payment only as long as a patient enjoyed good health. According to the law at the time, if a person became sick the doctor was to have treated him for free until he regained his health. A red lantern was to be prominently displayed outside the medical clinic for each patient who died of disease while under that doctor’s care. These laws were upheld under penalty of death, which helped ensure a high caliber of practitioner and standard of healthcare for the times.
To promote external balance, this system of Natural Life Medicine includes feng shui (Gentle Wind-Calm Water), the sixth branch. "Earth Acupuncture" or Environmental Chi Design and Natural Arrangement can be used to harmonize, prevent or minimize undesirable and negative influences in our surroundings on both a personal and group level. "The science of life”—Ayurvedic Medicine from India and Tibetan Medicine, both cousins of Chinese Wholistic Medicine—along with many other time tested healing traditions around the world, follows a similar approach. Presently medical doctors, especially in Europe, are combining some of the ancient worldwide geomancy principles with science and developing a new branch of Western medicine known as Geo-Pathic Medicine.
At the core of the Teachings of the Tao which includes, but is not limited to, the practice of medicine, lie the virtues of cultivation, realization and empowerment of the Self. From this "Medicine of Life" springs forth the idea of the "Three Kinds of Doctors." The common physician treats patients when they are sick. The advanced practitioner can diagnose and treat disease before it manifests in the physical level of the body. The highest level of doctor has no patients nor gives any treatments or medicine. These are the great master teachers who impart the "Pearls of Wisdom," knowledge of life and the Way of Nature (Tao) to their students. Special emphasis is placed on how to prevent and heal oneself of pain, illness and emotional disharmony in body-mind-spirit through the self integration of the Eight Branches of the Tao.
This ancient life medicine from the distant past can be a helpful guide and venerable teacher for the present as well as the future, especially in the multifaceted and multidimensional aspects of Chinese Wholistic Medicine.
Jeff Nagel, MA, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac., trained in the Eight Branches of Chinese Taoist Healing and Martial Arts since 1969, is a licensed practitioner of acupuncture, herbs and is a feng shui consultant. Jeff is a senior student of Taoist Grandmaster Share K. Lew and Master Doctors Nobu Asano and Richard Tan. He is the associate director of the Golden Dragon Taoist Health Association and teaches the Eight Branches of the Tao Healing Arts in the United States and internationally.
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Sources of information:
One of the main sources of the information presented in this article is derived from the time-honored "oral traditions" of ancient China. Grand Master Share K. Lew of the Yellow Dragon Monastery in China is considered one of the world’s leading experts on Taoist history, philosophy, culture, health, medicine, chi kung and martial arts practices. Unfortunately the temple and all the books were destroyed during the Communist Revolution. The "roots" of the Taoist Tradition extend back to at least the time of Fu She, founder of the Ba Kua eight thousand years ago and beyond. This is roughly three thousand years before any formal written system was in use.
The author is a senior student of various renowned teachers including Taoist Grand Master Share K. Lew, Master Doctors Richard Tan and Nobu Asano. Since 1969, additional information has been gathered from direct oral transmission of knowledge through extensive classes with Taoist Philosopher-Historian and Tai Chi Master Chao Li Chih, Dr. and Tai Chi Master York Why Loo, Tai Chi-Taoist Master and Physicist, C. K. Chu, Tai Chi Master and Physicist Dr. Harry Tippins, Taoist Monk-Tai Chi Master Dr. Wu Jyh Cheng.
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