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Self

  • This article exposes the dangers involved in administering medicine to China’s emperors, and how, from the perspective of the doctor-patient relationship, people practicing medicine today have it much better than their predecessors.

    Summary

    In ancient times, the royal physician or palace doctor was responsible for diagnosing the emperor’s condition and administering treatment if needed. Palace doctors would also examine members of the royal family and high-ranking officials. Emperors rarely, if ever, sought the services of a common doctor for treatment. Due to the limited scope of a royal physician’s job description, they were never able to expand their knowledge base or learn new and improved techniques. In ancient times there was an established selection process whereby everyone from local officials to aristocrats would nominate their favorite doctor, who was then required to fill out a form including personal details and the names and addresses of closest relatives, for liability purposes.

    It may have looked like a charmed life but in reality the palace doctor was constantly in fear of his own life. Emperors expected their doctors to perform miracles. If the results were less than miraculous they would either be censored and cast out or, in more extreme cases, sentenced to death along with their entire clan. Enraged by the death of Princess Tongchang, Emperor Yizong of Tang had two royal physicians, 20-plus assistants and more than 300 of their relatives put to death. Emperor Chengzu of Ming had his doctor and several hundred relatives executed because he was unable to save the royal concubine from a terminal illness.

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  • Summary

    In the section discussing why some don’t live to a ripe old age, the Divine Pivot [灵枢经] proposes the following guidelines for a long and healthy life:

    1. Maintain and strengthen the five viscera - the heart, liver, spleen, lungs, and kidneys - as this is the best guarantee of good health.

    2. Regulate the meridians and collaterals, because your blood and Qi depend on it. Only with normal flow and equal distribution of blood and Qi to all parts of the body can one attain optimal health levels.

    3. Tone the muscles. Each muscle is made up of thousands of fibers. When elasticity is enhanced, each fiber is able to expand and contract on cue and in sync with mind-body coordination. This in turn strengthens the skeletal framework and makes joints and tendons more flexible. When all the above conditions are met, normal blood and Qi flow is achieved.

    4. Maintain the fineness of the pores. The skin absorbs and expels at the same time. This dual function prevents external elements such as wind, cold, heat, moisture, dryness and fire – not to mention all types of pathogens – from breaching bodily systems.

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  • This article, the last in a three-part series, attempts to demystify “silent retreats”, or “spiritual journeys”, as well as answer some of the questions I am frequently asked about silent meditation retreats; what goes on behind the walls of a retreat centre; and the benefits gained from subjecting myself to the rigours of this annual pilgrimage, regarded by some as a “tortuous journey”.

    Lessons From The 10-Day Vipassana Retreat in Kuantan, Malaysia (4-15 January 2014)

    “Vipassana is the art of living. Not the art of escaping.” – S.N. Goenka

    The writer provides a day-by-day account of the 10-Day Vipassana Meditation Course – the hardship and rigors of the “tortuous journey” as well as the epiphanies gained.

    By the end of the course, she comes to the realisation that everything is ephemeral, arising and passing every moment – annica. The rapidity and continuity of the process create the illusion of permanence. The only way to break the illusion is to learn to explore within oneself, and to experience the reality of one’s own physical and mental structure. As the understanding of annica develops within her, the notion that there is no “I”, no “mine”, hits her. There is nothing that lasts more than a moment, nothing that one can identify as an unchanging self or soul.

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  • Song dynasty man of letters Su Dongpo developed his own system for staying fit and living well that combined good daily habits and a roll-with-the-punches attitude with meditation and morning exercises. By adopting Su Dongpo’s unique regimen, which embodies the spirit of traditional Chinese wellness practice, we too can live in the moment and live life to the fullest.

    Summary

    In addition to being one of the most illustrious poets, essayists and calligraphers of the Song dynasty, Su Dongpo also wrote extensively on the art of living well, the pith of which is found in his Thoughts on Wellness.

    According to Su Dongpo, the four cardinal rules of wellness are spending more time relaxing and calming the spirit, rising early and sleeping early – the benefits of which are far more valuable than those of material gain – walking, not driving, to destinations within walking distance, and eating only when one is hungry. In this way even the simplest meal will taste like a rare delicacy.

    Su Dongpo’s formula for wellbeing also includes finding inner peace in all places and situations, and being industrious at home and work. His own views were censored numerous times during his political career, and yet he remained impervious throughout. We would do well to emulate his peaceful and conciliatory approach to adversity.

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  • —Interview with Justine Huang, Cosmetologist at Mahota Health Management Center

    For our skin to be naturally beautiful, we have to recognise that our skin condition varies of different stages of our lives. We should not try to alter its ‘fundamental state’, but to be attuned to the body’s natural rhythms.

    Summary

    The skin is the largest organ of the body in terms of surface area. Its integrity is a deciding factor in the health of the body as a whole, hence the importance of keeping the skin healthy. Justine Huang, cosmetologist at Mahota Health Management Center, is an advocate for natural beauty care. She believes that we must care for the skin the right way, and that beauty practitioners must do so with a conscience.

    Most people judge a person’s skin by its smoothness, suppleness and lustre. To achieve this standard of beauty many seek the help of medical cosmetics – chemical peeling, facelifts, Botox and other injections – but Huang believes that this actually compromises cell renewal and undermines the body’s natural processes, causing serious damage to the skin.

    To keep skin naturally beautiful you must know and understand its properties in each stage of life. For beauty care to be natural, it must be attuned to the body’s natural rhythms. When beauty care is gentle and healthy, there are no side effects and there is no risk involved.

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  • —Lin Gufang on the Traditional Chinese Academy

    The Shuyuan [书院], or academy, played a pivotal role in the history of Chinese culture. Taipei Lecture Hall is operated according to Lin Gufang’s three primary directives: Instruction for enhanced self-awareness, instruction in the classics (applying the knowledge of the ancients to modern situations), and human-oriented instruction, all of which compensate for the deficiencies of the modern education system. Concurrent instruction in Confucian thought, Buddhism and Taoism ensures that Chinese tradition will play a role in the future of mankind.

    Summary

    I paid a visit to Taipei Lecture Hall Director Lin Ku-fang at the end of September to find out more about the Lecture Hall’s aim and methods.

    The Shuyuan [书院], or academy, is a learning institute unique to China, originating in the Tang dynasty and flourishing in the Song, influencing educators as far as Japan and Korea. The Bai Ludong Academy set a precedent for the lecture-hall style of teaching, while Ying Tianfu Academy is known far and wide as the origin of Fan Zhongyan’s famous quote exhorting leaders to prioritize the welfare of the people, and worry about their own fortunes later.

    The traditional Chinese acadamy served a purpose similar to its modern-day counterpart: providing the venue and facilities needed for lectures, research and archiving. In addition to the above, the Shuyuan also housed altars to Confucian sages and other sainted persons of note from the local community.

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