Sunday, November 18, 2007
Daoism: the religion of good health?
I have become increasingly interested in Daoism over the past few weeks. It's coming up on the end of the semester, and I was hoping on doing Daoism for my final group project. Unfortunately, the closest Daoist "temple" is in L.A., which is too far to drive. Hopefully I'll get another chance.
Anyway, the reason it has become so interesting to me is because of the emphasis that the religion puts on health and well being. I found it to be an amazing concept. I've never actually thought of religion and physical health, or religion and exercise, as similar entities. I am a believer in the mental and emotional health benefits of going to church and praying, and maybe through that a sence of better physical health is gained. What I've found are the actual practices that stimulate good health.
Everyone has heard of Acupuncture. I have personally never tried it, so I don't know how well it works, but I've heard good things about it. It is all based around the Daoist belief in energy "meridians" that run throughout the body, especially throughout the spine. The "point" of using the needles (haha, he made a funny!) is to stimulate the natural flow of energy at a certain point in the body, thus curing various bodily ailments.
Tai Chi, or T'ai chi ch'uan, is another one of these "health practices". According to Living Religions by Mary Fisher, it is a "continual circular movement through a series of dance-like postures", and it is intended to encourage the "unobstructed flow of chi through the body". Chi can vaguely be compared to the status of God in this Chinese religion, because chi is believed to be the "impersonal self-generating energy" from which the universe was made. To me this religion teaches that enlightenment on earth doesn't come from praying or reading ancient scriptures, but rather through accepting the "yin" and "yang" aspects of chi and allowing the both to flow throughout the mind and body freely. Amazingingly, the practices which help to allow this free movement of chi also improve balance, strength, agility and flexibility. So even if we don't believe that chi exists, we can still reap the physical benefits. If nothing else, we can walk away from these fantastic exercises with reduced stress and a better, more confident feeling with ourselves.
I just can't get over how great of a concept it is. These Daoist practices are gaining popularity all over the world; by now, though don't quote me on this, there must be just as many non-Daoists who practice the exercises as those who are Daoist. If Daoism was the religion of choice in the world, if it somehow took the place of Christianity in the number of people who practice it, it seems to me that the world would be a much healthier, if not much better, place.
And if that dream came true, who knows what could come next? Maybe a religion that focuses on world peace! Oh wait, we already do. Shoot.