The Brain in Taoist Medicine

Taoist medicine is a system of knowledge, developed on the basis of the practical experience in the art of nurturing the yellow and the white. This system is associated with the transformation of the body, and the peak in the understanding of this process are the conditions for the permanent existence of immortal consciousness (related to the science of immortality), formed in the laws of the Taoist body. This knowledge shaped ‘Canon of the search for the elixir of immortality.’ Moreover, regardless of the perspective of the Taoist system towards immortality, its fundamental concept is always the immortal consciousness, which further determined the direction of the Taoist medicine.

The question of immortality is, above all, a question. And who will respond to it and how is an entirely different matter. The most important aspect of this question is the process of conscious experiences - a concept that is difficult to interpret in the traditional terms.

Here, the different parts of the brain, interpreted in the Taoist tradition as palaces, have their own distinctive internal processes, and therefore, experiences. Let’s take the Palace of the Great Lord Tai Huan Gong (太 皇宫), located in the frontal area, for example. Apart from its primary goal, e.g. to link the frontal lobes, it also forms man’s experience in relation to the concept of intention. Even the very control of the parts of the brain by the Greatest Master, or the center of the brain (Niwan Gong), is characterized by the experience caused by the effort associated with the control.

Thus, from the perspective of the brain, we can talk about a very large range of experiences - from experiences of death to experiences of immortality. But as the supreme concept in the functioning of the brain in the Taoist tradition is connected with the experience of immortality, it is in relation to this kind of experience that the functioning of the brain is considered in general.


From the Taoist perspective the question of the brain is actually philosophical, rather than medical. Even the ancient treatise Huangdi Neijing (The Emperor's Inner Canon), written almost 3,000 years BC., is sometimes seen as interesting from the perspective of ‘how and who could have written that’. That is, it is mostly about the history of the issue related to the circulation of energy in the brain, and therefore the knowledge of the process.

All this shows that the philosophical foundation of Chinese medicine is the very ability of the brain to be in a state of reasoning, where the basic type of experiences is associated with centrality. In fact, matter itself was initially considered not simply from the perspective of centrality, but also from the perspective of its comprehension.

What is more, within the Taoist system of coordinates the brain was never considered from the perspective of opposing substances, but rather from the perspective of deviation. The Yin deviation and the Yang deviation. These deviations prompted the famous Chinese natural philosopher Wan Chong (1st century BC) to point out the futility of the search for immortality, if the brain is not centered.

Therefore, the Taoist tradition (and even Confucianism) considers the problem from the perspective of the possibility for a centered perception. What is the use of intelligent reasoning, if the brain is not concentrated? Balance should come first. So, thought must be weighed. Then it cultivates consciousness, and consciousness nurtures the brain. This is what Wan Chong says in Lunheng, which is dedicated to the weighing of thoughts or reasoning.

Because, if thought is not weighed, then anger, joy, sadness, thinking, frustration, anxiety and fear can lead us in an unknown direction, but with a clear end. Actually, the goal of the whole science of medicine was to harmonize the flow of energy, which was necessary for its cultivation, and this was already the realm of Taoist alchemy. However, this cultivation was seen as impossible without knowledge of the measures, e.g. of what strengthens and connects (cun).

Taoist Alchemy identifies nine measures in relation to the nine types of energy circulating in the body. They all have a particular pulsation in one of the nine palaces of the brain - the surface cun, the frequent, the excessive, the rare, the free, the intense, the tough, the gradual, the subtle and the deep.

These measures were described by the outstanding Chinese doctor and alchemist Hua Tuo (II c.), who contributed immensely to the study of the brain. He studied the effects of five densities in every part of the brain, and thus created a unique practice of movement of five animals, that teaches the knowledge of the nine profound states of consciousness.

Functionality of the brain

Brain damages or diseases were not discussed in the teachings about the brain, since they were considered profoundly detrimental. Everything was done to prevent these, as they lead to the loss of the centered state, which, consequently, lead to the loss of personal nature, of the personal spirit. In other words, the brain was examined from the perspective of cultivation, this is why only the precautionary measures were considered important. They were, in fact, considered so important that the question was solved within society at the state level. Therefore, understanding the brain from the perspective of the Taoist tradition is very important, first and foremost, in respect to everyday life, and not so much to immortality.

In general, the functionality of the brain was understood as particular internal efforts or experiences that shaped a different view towards life in the centered person, including through the prism of the psychosomatic condition.

23 january 2015

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