Zhiyi's contributions to the theory of Buddhist Dhyana Samadhi therapy

Author: Chen Bing
Affiliation: Centre for Religious Studies, Sichuan University, Chengdu, China [1]
Conference/Journal: 1st World Conf Acad Exch Med Qigong
Date published: 1988
Other: Pages: 215 , Word Count: 769


The Dhyana-Samadhi of Indian Buddhism began to be introduced to China by An-Shi Kao, an eminent Buddhist monk of Parthia, who lived in the closing years of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25—220). By the end of the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420—581 ), Chinese Buddhists had not only acquired basic knowledge of various ways of Dhyana-Samadhi in both Mahayana and Hinayana which were then popular in India and Central Asia, but also embarked on a stage of summing up, sorting out and creatively developing the theories of it. Zhiyi (538—-591), the founder of the Tianlai Sect, benefited from the work of his predecessors and became the most prominent in the study and development of the Dhyana Samadhi theory.

In his 'Shi Cham Bo Luo Mi Ci Qi Fa Men', 'Zhi Guan' and 'Mo Ke and Xiao Zhi Guan', Zhiyi explained separately three ways of cultivating Samatha-Vipasyana in detail; among them was Dhyana-Samadhi therapy. On the basis of summing up both the theories from India and the experiences gained by the Chinese Dhyana-Samadhi masters, and assimilating the Chinese medical science, qigong in Taoism as well as folk medicine, he expounded the Dhyana-Samadhi therapy in terms of symptoms, causes and treatment of diseases, and provided a rather systematic theory of Dhyana-Samadhi therapy.

In symptomatology and diagnostics, Zhiyi classified all diseases into four types 1.
Diseases of Caturmahabhuta (the four principal elements; earth, water, fire and wind), as taught in Indian Buddhism; 2. Diseases of the five sense organs (eye, ear, nose, tongue and body; 3. Diseases of the five internal organs (heart, liver, spleen, lungs and kidneys), as taught in traditional Chinese medicine; 4. Diseases due to six emotional disturbances. He enumerated symptoms of each, advised those who practiced Dhyana-Samadhi to learn how to feel the pulse in Chinese medicine and diagnose their own diseases by hallucinations and dreams they have while practicing Dhyana-Samadhi.

Zhiyi summarized the cause of diseases mentioned in Buddhist Scriptures and classified them into six groups unbalance of Caturmahabhauta, improper diet, inability to regulate one's body, mind and breath in practicing of Dhyana-Samadhi, and to overcome ghosts, demons and karma. He held that the first and second groups should be treated with medicines, the third, fourth and fifth by Dhyana-Samadhi and the last group by means of psychotherapy (e. g. confession) . He insisted that one should surely dispel and cure all diseases as long as one practiced Dhyana-Samadhi diligently in the right way. Therefore, he called it a treasured therapy by which one could cure oneself of all diseases without paying or suffering from taking medicines.

Zhiyi classified the ways of Dhyana-Samadhi therapy into six groups 1. Focusing one' s mind on one part of the body, e. g. on the acupoint Dantian, feet or the diseased or aching part; 2. Producing the sounds of the six Chinese characters chui, hu, xi, ke, xu and si. Each of them corresponds to one of the five internal organs. One chooses the right character relating to the diseased organ and produces in imagination the sound of it while one is sitting quietly practicing Dhyana-Samadhi, until the disease is cured.

This has its origin in Taoism; 3. Regulating breath. If one trains Dhyana-Samadhi by starting with counting one's breath, one should suit one's counting of exhalations or inhalations to the feelings in one's body while one is sitting quietly. In addition, there are twelve ways of breathing regulation ( bringing up, bringing down, accelerating, filling, increasing, destroying, cooling, warming, bursting through, holding up, harmonizing and enriching), each of which cures one kind of disease; 4. Imagining in a definite situation, e. g. those suffer from cold diseases may imagine fire and those who suffer from general debility may imagine warm cream dripping into their bodies from the crowns of their heads and flowing to and moistening every part of their bodies; 5. All diseases will disappear when one's mind enters a state of void and tranquillity after one fails in introspecting and examining oneself to find the substance of the mind; 6. Folk medicine, such as twirling Dantian, beating the aching part with a rod and dispelling diseases by means of chanting incantations. However, one must examine their effects and employ them with great caution.

For more than a thousand years, Zhiyi's theory of Dhyana-Samadhi therapy has not only been employed by the Chinese Buddhists of different sects, but also exerted a great influence on Taoism, traditional Chinese medicine and qigong. His restoring the unbalance by Dhyana Samadhi, focusing one's mind on Dantian and the diseased and aching part, 'six-character therapy' and cures for general debility have been absorbed by Taoism and qigong, and widely employed in qigong and medical circles up to now.

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