Monday, December 5, 2011

Major similarities between qigong and Native American healing

There are two major similarities between qigong and Native American healing. 

First, both qigong and Native American medicine are ancient and indigenous healing systems. 

Second, people who pay close attention to their bodies and to nature discover similar things. 

Thus, both cultures recognize the existence of subtle, invisible life currents, connected with the breath. 

They independently create similar methods of balancing these life currents with acupuncture and massage. 

The Native American and Chinese healing systems are complementary. 

Native American healing is truly holistic.

It examines not only the energetic components of disease-- the specialty of qigong and acupuncture-- but also the emotional, mental, spiritual, and environmental. It also places a strong emphasis on the intuition, visions, and dreams of the healer.

Kenneth Cohen, Sacred Earth Circle

  • Research, teach, practice, and preserve Native American and other indigenous healing and cultural traditions. Build respect and appreciation for these traditions.

  • Help non-indigenous people trace their roots back to the common soil of humanity. All human ancestors lived in harmony with their environment and learned the lessons of healing from Mother Earth and Creator. 

  • Promote peace, understanding, and dialogue between diverse spiritual paths.

  • Create bridges between ancient and modern healing sciences.

  • Help preserve indigenous lands and rights through education, peaceful activism, and financial support.


adapted from Kenneth Cohen's Honoring the Medicine: The Essential Guide to Native American Healing (New York: Ballantine Books, 2003)

"Sick-care," focus on pathology.Health-care, focus on healing person and community.
Adversarial Medicine, Divide and Conquer Attitude: "How can I destroy the disease and cure or manage each individual sign and symptom?Teleological Medicine, Emphasis on Wholism: "What can the disease teach the patient? Is there a message or story in the disease? Is there a greater meaning, beyond the personal?"
Physician is an authority who may attempt to coerce patient into compliance.Healer is a health counselor and advisor.
Fosters dependence on medication, technology, and other aspects of the medical system.Empowers patients with confidence, awareness, and tools to help them take charge of their own health.
Subject to review, regulation, and sanctions by licensing boards and the State.Based on patient's right of access to healing; healers accountable to Native American communities.
High medical costs.Healer achieves status throughgenerosity, no fixed fee for services.
Dangerous and invasive medicine, adverse effects common.Safe, promotes harmony and balance, adverse effects rare.
Malpractice defined and litigated in a system of hierarchical justice that punishes offenders.Healers accountable to Native communities and their consensual justice systems, designed to restore harmony rather than to punish.
Physician's lifestyle not considered a significant factor in his or her efficacy. Legitimacy based on credentials (academic degrees and license).Healer is expected to model healthy behavior; efficacy depends on healer's insight, spiritual power, and grace of the Creator. Legitimacy based on behavior and reputation.

Buddha in a cup of tea

"Too worldly for a monastery,

I find Buddha in a cup of tea:
Up with the sunrise,
I sit alone in my cabin,
Mind washed by simmering water
Sound, like wind in the pines.
This is my solitary quest,
Buddha under the Bodhi Tree
Meditated for seven days,
Until a beautiful sunrise
Made him give up
The futility of revealing
What was never hidden.
I prefer a simple cup of tea,
Seven minutes to boil water,
Much easier than seven days.
Complete, unexcelled Enlightenment:
Of course, only if
You are paying attention!

The Four Noble Truths

First, suffering exists:

Why else would we drink tea?
A daily taste of paradise in the everyday.

Second truth: suffering caused by tanha–
“Self-centeredness, grasping, and greed;”
Drink tea and be ego-free;
Self dissolves in service to the holy leaf;
Guests arrive and Buddha meets Buddha.

Third truth: suffering can cease
The tea cup is a raft between
Nirvana and Samsara,
Neither shore more holy than the other.

Fourth truth: there is a way to end suffering,
The Noble Eightfold Path:

Right view: the beautiful leaves, the color of the brew.
Right intention: prepare a delicious cup and enjoy.
Right speech: no yesterday or tomorrow in the tearoom.
Right conduct: spontaneous morality needs no rules.
Right livelihood: honest, forthright, a good example.
Right effort: delight in details: gong fu cha!
Right mindfulness: care for another cup?
Right concentration: nothing but tea, yet tea includes all.

All of this called
The Middle Way,
No extremes:

Neither asceticism nor hedonism
Greedy people make insipid tea.
The overly patient brew it
Too dark and bitter.

Elaborating on obvious truths
Tea Buddha also teaches
Anatta—no self,
How can I know I,
Since I’m the one doing the knowing?
I am not I, and tea is not tea!
And anicca, impermanence,
The same guests, like the same moment
Never return—one time, one meeting.
Tea changes: white, green, oolong, red, pu erh.
Today’s Long Jing is different from yesterday’s.
And tathata—suchness, the beingness of Tea:
What is tea? Just this, just this, just this…"

The Way of Qigong

Qigong (ch’i kung, chi gong), China’s ancient system of energy medicine, consists of exercises and meditations that stimulate the flow of qi, life energy. Qigong Master Kenneth Cohen personally teaches both the theory and practice of qigong and related arts such as Tai Chi (Taiji Quan) and Chinese tea culture and ceremony. 

Qigong has many applications. As a healing art, sometimes called “medical qigong,” it includes exercises for personal wellbeing as well as “External Qi Healing” to transmit healing energy to clients or patients. Qigong is a powerful and enjoyable way to improve health, increase vitality, and develop a “contagious” healing presence.

As sports training, qigong improves strength, stamina, coordination, and other skills necessary for peak performance. As a spiritual art, rooted in Taoism, it deepens awareness of self and nature and creates a wonderful feeling of harmony, tranquility, and peace.


Vince: Hello, Buddhist geeks. This is Vince Horn, and I’m in the studio today with a very special guest, Kenneth Cohen ( Kenneth, thanks so much for taking the time to drive down from the mountain and join us here.

Kenneth: Thanks, it’s good to be here.

Vince: Cool. So, just a little bit of your personal background to frame the conversation we’re going to be having, which is on tea. The profundity of tea; as it relates to Buddhism, and as it relates to meditation, as it relates to Chinese culture, Japanese culture, which are all very interesting topics. We’re going to talk a little bit about that, but first just to explain kind of your background. You’re a long time Qi-Gong and Tai Chi practitioner, you started 40 years ago. Some people probably seen your books, The Way of Qi-Gong and you also have a long history in the Zen tradition, and of course in the Taoist tradition. And you started your practice in tea in the early 70s, right in 1973 and

Kenneth: That’s right…

Vince: And the Japanese Tea ceremony.

Kenneth: At first.

Vince: At first, and then later you branched off into Chinese tea culture as well.

Kenneth: Uh-huh.

Vince: Yeah, so I was wondering if you could start maybe with a little bit of your personal story or history with tea and in particular how it relates to some of your religious practice and your mystical practice.

Kenneth: Well, having been involved in Tai Chi and Qi-Gong for so long, and tea is just part of the culture. You are doing martial arts as I also have done most of my life, it’s very common before the class starts or at the end that you drink some tea. There are some good reasons for that, it’s not only that tea inspires a quality of wakefulness with tranquility, but also just in terms of its physiologic effect, it helps the chi, the life force, to flow more smoothly. In fact, tea, as you know, is green colored.

Now we’re talking about tea that is Camellia sinensis, the leaves of that plant. It’s the camellia flower basically, and it’s related to the camellia flower, but it’s the leaves of the plant. I’m not speaking about tea as any brand of herbal infusion. It’s a little bit confusing in English, because if you say cha in Chinese or Japanese, same pronunciation, you know what you’re talking about. You know what plant you’re talking about. If you say the in French, you know it’s different from the tisanes, an herbal infusion. But in English, we tend to use the word tea somewhat indiscriminately, to mean any infusion of herbs in water. So I’m not speaking about chamomile tea or peppermint tea but rather the actual tea plant. And whether you’re drinking green or white tea or oolong or black, or as the Chinese call hong cha, red tea, because the leaf actually turns from green towards red, or pu’erh, it’s all the same plant. It’s a matter of where and how it’s grown, how carefully it’s harvested, the hand picking of the leaf, whether you’re drinking tea from a single estate or if they’re mixed with and blended with teas of various estates. All that will change the flavor and the degree of oxidation of the leaf as it goes from green towards red. But again, green tea, oolong tea, black tea, It’s all the same plant, despite the variation in flavor.

So that’s my interest of what we’re talking about today. And it is certainly deeply connected with Buddhism right from the start and in Chinese culture. Many people have seen the wonderful paintings, Sumi painings, ink paintings of Bodhidharma, the first patriarch of Zen Buddhism in China. He came into China around the 5th century. He was either Indian or perhaps even a Persian monk, we’re actually not quite sure. But he was a strong Buddhist practitioner, settled in the famous Shaolin temple. And they say he faced a wall, a wall of a cave for nine years. Now we need to remember, however, that as in reading the Zhuangzi, or any of the ancient Taoist texts, Chinese love to exaggerate to make a point. So we’re not really to take this so literally, and I think many Zen Buddhists I have spoken to would not assume that someone in fact sat in a cave those full nine years.

Vince: Right.

Kenneth: Hope no one considers it blaphemous for me to say this, but Bodhidharma, according to legend, he sat in the cave and one day he fell asleep. Well, he was so furious at himself for falling asleep during his nine-year vigil that when he woke up, he snatched a knife and cut off his own eyelids. The eyelids fell to the ground, and arose as the first tea plant of China. So ever since that time, tea has been used to keep the meditate.

Frankly I don’t think this is a very appetizing story. I probably shouldn’t have told it. It doesn’t make me want to drink tea, but again if you look at those wonderful paintings – Japanese Sumi paintings of Bodhidharma, you’ll notice the big eyes. Well, look more closely. The eyes are big because often there’s no eyelids. So it relates to that story.

In fact, however, tea is much older than that, we don’t know how old tea is in China, but there are – there’s a mention of tea in the Shi Jing, The Classic of Poetry. And there, in some poems dated to about the 7th or 8th century B.C. we see referen

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