Inspired by Louis Komjathy’s old “Popular Misconceptions Concerning Daoism” article from years ago.
“Chinese medicine is Daoist and there is some form of Chinese medicine called Daoist medicine…”
Louis’ response was;
“Chinese medicine is not Daoist. This misidentification, and the construct of Daoist medicine, most often comes from a conflation of correlative cosmology [yin-yang, wuxing etc] with Daoism.
In terms of classical Chinese medicine, there is some overlap between the two traditions, but little research has been done on this topic. We do know, however, that Daoists such as Ge Hong, Sun Simiao, and Tao Hongjing made major contributions to Chinese medicine. They were Daoists and, in the case of Sun and Tao, Chinese medical practitioners.”
In China, there was medicine (yi) practiced by doctors, there was folk remedies or medicine 民間醫藥 minjian yiyao, (sometimes called “grandma medicine”), and there was also Buddhist 佛醫 foyi, and Daoist medicine 道醫 daoyi. There was also of course the Wu 巫, and shamanic work but that I feel is something else again.
The situation is similar to the one I have tried to point out regarding martial artists and Daoism. A Daoist who does martial arts, is generally not the same as a martial artist who follows Daoism. Komjathy comes down hard on the annoying issue of always jumping to the conclusion that something Chinese is Daoist because it speaks of yin and yang and the five elements!
So we have Chinese medical doctors, and there have been several famous practitioners that were also Daoist, which doesn’t make the medicine itself Daoist. Now, here we also need to distinguish between accomplished doctors, who were Daoists, and Daoist preists who knew a bit of Chinese medicine or even “grandma medicine”.
Both Daoist priests and Buddhist monks, were often very poor, and could not afford or did not have access to medicine. As such, some would learn things to help avoid having to go see a doctor. Basic use of herbs, often a rudimentary form of bodywork or acupuncture and so forth. The aim was not to be medical practitioners, it was simply a pragmatic approach to the situation in which they lived. Being more self reliant. Some of these teachings were passed on, and even survive today. In comparison to what we could call the Chinese medical tradition, these teachings are often shallow, with errors and mistakes.
However, we then also have Daoist medicine 道醫 daoyi. Daoist medicine has some cross-over with Chinese medicine, but is not the same thing. It is not a “Daoist” version of Chinese medicine! Whereas medicine is a post-heaven tradition and art centred around curing people, while maintaining an awareness and being anchored in the pre-heaven (or simply not ignoring or separating the “spiritual” aspect of being human). Daoist medicine is really a pre-heaven tradition and art, centred around a person’s xing (nature) and ming (life-destiny).
A point of confusion, as with pre-heaven and post-heaven schools of Daoist practice, is that just becasue the same terms are used the assumption is that they approach, engage and address those things in the same way. Chinese medicine discusses xing and ming, but that still isn’t the same. At best Chinese medicine is attempting to touch these things through the tangible reality of the body, it is reaching up to heaven from the earth.
Daoist medicine, conversely, engages aspects of spirit, nature, and destiny directly and as such it is quite esoteric. It is also not subtle, nor is it a mental or intellectual education upon living life. It is a direct intervention by the Daoist regarding the fate patterns of an individuals life. This kind of work can shift and change pathological patterns arising in an individuals mental-emotional, and even physical daily experiences.
Some individuals would be versed in both Chinese medicine and Daoist medicine further blurring the situation.