In ancient times the Yellow Emperor, Huang Di, was known to have been a child prodigy. As he grew he showed himself to be sincere, wise, honest and compassionate. He became very learned and developed keen powers for observing nature. His people recognized him as a natural leader and chose him as their emperor.
During his reign, Huang Di had discussions concerning medicine, health, lifestyle, nutrition, and Taoist cosmology with his ministers, including Qi Bo, and others. Their first conversation began with Huang Di asking, “I’ve heard that in the days of old everyone lived one hundred years without showing the usual signs of aging. In our time, however, people age prematurely, living only fifty years. Is this due to a change in the environment, or is it because people have lost the correct way of life?”
Qi Bo replied, “In the past, people practiced the Tao, the Way of Life. They understood the principle of balance as represented by the transformations of the energies of the universe. They formulated exercises to promote energy flow to harmonize themselves with the universe. They ate a balanced diet at regular times, arose and retired at regular hours, avoided overstressing their bodies and minds, and refrained from overindulgence of all kinds. They maintained well-being of body and mind; thus, it is not surprising that they lived over one hundred years.”
“These days, people have changed their way of life. They drink wine as though it were water, indulge excessively in destructive activities, drain their jing – the body’s essence that is stored in the Kidneys – and deplete their qi. They do not know the secret of conserving their energy and vitality. Seeking emotional excitement and momentary pleasures, people disregard the natural rhythm of the universe. They fail to regulate their lifestyle and diet, and sleep improperly. So it is not surprising that they look old at fifty and die soon after.”
“The accomplished ones, of ancient times, advised people how to guard themselves against disease-causing factors. On the mental level, one should remain calm and avoid excessive desires and fantasies, recognizing and maintaining the natural purity and clarity of the mind. When internal energies are able to circulate smoothly and freely, and the energy of the mind is not scattered, but is focused and concentrated, illness and disease can be avoided.”
“Previously, people led a calm and honest existence, detached from undue desire and ambition; they lived with an untainted conscience and without fear. They were active, but never depleted themselves. Because they lived simply, they knew contentment, as reflected in their diet of basic but nourishing foods, and clothing that was appropriate to the season but never luxurious. Since they were happy in their position in life, they did not feel jealousy or greed. They had compassion for others and were helpful and honest, free from destructive habits. They remained unshakable and unswayed by temptations, and they were able to stay centered even when adversity arose. They treated others justly, regardless of their level of intelligence or position.”
Huang Di asked, “I’ve heard of people in ancient times, spoken of as the immortals, who knew the secrets of the universe and held the world in the palm of their hands. They extracted essence from nature and practiced Qi Gong and various stretching and breathing exercises, and visualizations, to integrate body, mind and spirit. They remained undisturbed and thus attained extraordinary levels of accomplishment. Can you tell me about them?”
Qi Bo responded, “The immortals kept their mental energies focused and refined, and harmonized their bodies with the environment. So they did not show typical signs of aging and were able to live beyond their biological limitations.
“Not so long ago there were people known as achieved beings who had true virtue, understood the Way of Life, and were able to adapt to and harmonize with the universe and the seasons. They too were able to keep their mental energy through proper concentration.
“These achieved beings did not live like ordinary humans, who tended to be hard on themselves. They were able to travel freely to different times and places since they were not governed by conventional views of time and space. Their sense of perceptions were supernatural, going far beyond the sight and hearing of ordinary humans. They were also able to preserve their life spans and live in full health, just as the immortals did.
“There was a third type of a person, known as the sage. The sages lived peacefully under Heaven and Earth, following the rhythms of the planet and the universe. They adapted to society without being swayed by fashions and trends. They were free from emotional extremes and lived a balanced, contented existence. Their outward appearance, behavior and thinking did not reflect the conflicting norms of society. The sages appeared busy but were never depleted. Internally they did not overburden themselves. They abided in calmness, recognizing the empty nature of existence. The sages lived over one hundred years because they did not scatter or disperse their energies.
“A fourth type were the natural people who followed the Tao, the Way of Life, and were called naturalists. They lived in accordance with the rhythmic patters of the seasons: Heaven and Earth, moon, sun and stars. They aspired to follow the way of the ancient times, choosing not to lead excessive lifestyles. They, too, lived plainly and enjoyed long life.”
From The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine (the Neijing Suwen) ~240 B.C. translated by Maoshing Ni, Shambala Publications ISBN 1-57062-080-6 © 1995 further edited by Paul Farago