Wu Qigong

January 18, 2006 08:50 AM

1. Introduction

When I was a child in China, I was curious about the way that local Wu (Chinese shaman) treated patients. How could an acupuncture needle release the pain when the Wu put it in a suffering patient's body? How could the Wu's chanting help patients recover from sickness? I came to understand more about Chinese medicine when I grew up, of course, but I did get some answers to my questions in childhood. Still, I had more questions such as: What are meridians? What is an acupuncture point? Where did this knowledge come from? How did it come to us?

Through years and years of Wu (Shamanic) Qigong practice, I got the answers to all of these questions. I understood that ancient Wu (Chinese Shamanism) is the root of Chinese culture, which includes Qigong and classical Chinese medicine. I felt that learning Wu could help me better understand the Qigong healing system and deepen my spiritual cultivation. Therefore, in this paper I want to share some Wu information with you first and then I will introduce Wu (Shamanic) Qigong to you.

2. What is Wu?

The Chinese character Wu can be used as a noun or an adjective and can also be translated as shaman, shamanism, or shamanic. The word shaman comes from the Tungusu-Manchurian language.

The practice of an ancient Wu only distantly resembles that of current day shamans, who travel in "alternative realities" as part of their religious practices. They are mostly located in Siberia and are very aggressive. In trance, but still in full possession of their faculties, these shamans may climb the World Tree to reach the "Heaven of the Ancestors" or descend to an underworld in search of lost or trapped souls. They undergo difficult and painful initiations, including ritual death and rebirth. In contrast, the Wu referred to by the Chinese character is much more of a spirit-medium. Through natural ability, training, and ritual preparation, the Wu can summon the bright spirits. These spirits inhabit and speak through the Wu's body.

The oldest writing style of the Chinese character Wu depicts the four cardinal directions-North, South, East, and West. This is the pattern that the ancient Wu applied to the center of their bodies as "high-tech" equipment to communicate with the other four directions, and it was through this practice that they understood the Universal Way.

Shamans specialize in ritual and possess unique powers that enable them to act as intermediaries between humans and the shadowy world of spirits and the supernatural. However, the ancient Wu were not similar to modern-day shamans and they were different from the modern concept of Wu. In ancient China, the Wu were omniscient and they governed the country in addition to aiding others in transcending the physical plane. They were also able to function as doctors and taught disease prevention.

Indeed, the Wu possessed Shenming (literally, spiritual clarity or spiritual brightness): Spiritual Enlightenment and a deep understanding of the Universal Way. The Wu were enlightened beings who embodied Tian Ren He. The original function of Wu was to connect with universal energy (or living in the Dao) and pass this universal knowledge on to others. Through this ritual connection with Heaven, they sustained both Yin and Yang-stillness and movement. Stillness and movement became the fundamental Qigong model.

3. Qi

Qi originated in ancient Chinese shamanism. Offering sacrifice (Heng) was an important way for ancient shamans to connect with higher-level spirits or with their ancestors. The mist or vapor rising from a sacrificial offering was understood to be a pattern of mystery, connection, and communication between Heaven and human beings. Thus, Qi is related to spirit and can be translated as spirit. The word Qi has been widely used in Chinese daily life for thousands of years to convey different meanings.

In Qigong theory, Qi is usually translated into English as breath or vital energy. The existence of Universal Qi is like a musical rhythm. Even if we can't see it, we can feel it in our bodies and in the environment through a deep heart/mind connection.

Classical Chinese culture is a Qi culture. According to classical Chinese philosophy, Qi is the most basic and important material in the universe. Qi is the original energy of the universe and follows the laws of the cosmos as it cycles between tangible and intangible forms. "The pure Qi is Qi [here meaning something like breath]; the turbid Qi is matter (Zhi )." Its expression in the sky is found in the stars and in their movements. In the Earth, Qi is found in the mountains, oceans, air, and in all forms of life. For human beings, Qi manifests as the physical body and the processes of the mind. This animating energy connects us with the cosmos. We can understand Qi at a deep level through Qigong practice.

4. Qigong

Qigong is a traditional method of physical, mental, and spiritual cultivation. It can be translated into English as Qi cultivation, spiritual cultivation, or to work with the Qi. The original function of Qigong was to model a way of life as well as to reach a state of Enlightenment.

From the perspective of ancient Chinese philosophy, the Great Dao is composed of the interaction of one Yin and one Yang and its expression throughout the universe. Heaven represents the Yang component while Earth represents the Yin component. The balance and union of these Heavenly Yang and Earthly Yin energies result in a peaceful and harmonious world. Likewise, imbalances in these energies can result in disharmony in the world, which can take the form of natural disasters such as earthquakes, storms, floods, and volcanic eruptions.

As a part of this dynamic universe, human beings are also subject to the effects of these energies. By following and living by the balancing principles of the universe, it is possible to achieve harmony in the body. Through study and observation of this Universal Way, the ancient Wu created numerous methods to help people maintain/rebuild their body balancing systems in order to keep their bodies, minds, and spirits healthy. People have used these methods to improve their lives for thousands of years in China. Now, we call these modalities Qigong.

Given the long history of Qigong, we may not fully understand its original function. Moreover, the benefits of Qigong practice have led many of us to focus only on the desired results rather than on the deep roots of Qigong. Yes, it is true that we can do Eye Qigong to improve eyesight, or Strengthening Qigong to eliminate cancer, or other Qigong forms to treat particular health concerns. However, in my personal Wu (Shamanic) Qigong experience, mastering the Wu (Shamanic) root of Qigong practice is a powerful way to enhance our cultivation.

Karcher, Stephen. Ta Chuan. New York: St. Martin's Press. 2000: 40.
Li Zehou, Jimao Wu Shuo. Beijing: Zhongguo Dianying Chubanshe, 1999: 68.
See Wu, Zhongxian. "Seeking the Roots of Classical Qigong: Exploring the Original Meaning of the Pure Yang Mudra." Empty Vessel Winter 2003: 26.
Li Jingde. Zhuzi Yulei, comp. (1270; rpt Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju, 1986) 3:37.