Eight Lessons The Tonic Herbs Have Taught Me
Late one night I was contemplating the meaning of life and it came to me that the herbs with which I have been involved for many years have taught me some of the deep truths of life.
As soon I started consuming Chinese tonic herbs, my life virtually turned around. Within a matter of days, I recovered much of my energy, and though it took some years to fully regain my health, I felt vital and strong within a month. The original herbal formulas were simple by my current standards, but I often feel that they saved my life.
It is said in the East that for a person to truly develop, he or she must suffer one great disease. This "disease" might not be an actual sickness--it can be anything that deeply challenges us to overcome our prejudices, our weaknesses, our fear and our ignorance. As a result of my struggle to regain my health, I had a realization that when a person has already become ill, the curing of the disease can often be delayed by the person's attitudes. The lessons contained in his or her afflictions have not been absorbed and upon recovery, he or she will immediately plunge back into the ways which caused his or her original sickness. For this reason it is imperative that the spiritual aspect of a person (Shen) be considered in all human dysfunction and that the emotions and desires that block the full expression of the true self (Shen) be moderated or eliminated.
The sickness I suffered forced me to face myself and to grow. Quite wonderfully, I discovered that, in their great wisdom, the people of Asia had long ago developed a system that could help a person such as myself move through such challenges so as to attain health, happiness and wisdom.
Amazed at the potency of the tonic herbs, I spent the next several years seeking out teachers who could instruct me in the ways of herbalism. Because the herbs that seemed to save me were Chinese, I sought Oriental masters who could teach me their ancient knowledge and allow me to penetrate the secrets inherent in the system. There were no schools of Chinese medicine in those days and herbs were not readily available yet, so I had to find teachers in the Asian communities who were practicing essentially underground. I was an enthusiastic student in those days and I found a number of excellent teachers, most of whom were Chinese. The Chinese teachers tended to be very practical, but did not want to go deeply into the principles underlying the practicality. A Korean teacher, Sae Han Kim, was the first teacher who really got into how the herbs worked and into their subtler applications.
Ultimately, I met my teacher, Sung Jin Park, and he taught me the details of the Daoist art of radiant health. I helped Master Park translate a number of manuscripts as he helped me to understand the principles of the human energy system, the laws of nature, the basics of superior herbalism, Daoist breathing techniques, Daoist exercises, and a few other things. He was a great teacher to me. He had a way of communicating to me extremely subtle ideas that nobody else could explain. He used few words, but his expression was pure wisdom. Then, one day, he returned to Korea to live as a hermit in the mountains with Moo San Do Sha, his teacher. I have not seen him since.
Master Sung Jin Park took me deep into the realm of tonic herbalism. He emphasized the attainment of radiant health rather than the eradication of disease factors. This emphasis on health-promotion was a major turning point in my life. Up until that time, I had primarily relied on the Western model of healthcare, which emphasizes remedial care "after-the-fact." As my training proceeded, Master Park instructed me never to become a "healer." He said that "healing" in the general sense is always temporary. He told me to become a teacher, or in his words “an agent of Shen” (“the light-bearer”) who guides people in their transformative processes, so that many could benefit from this knowledge.
When it came to herbal training, Sung Jin Park taught me only about the tonic herbs, and almost completely ignored medicinal substances. He believed that radiant health could be achieved by any one with the will to achieve it and that the tonic herbs were all one needed to achieve radiant health, even if problems exist which appear to require medicine. He helped me overcome a number of medical problems without ever giving me a medicinal herb. We met several times a week, and each time he would recommend a formula which I would then prepare and drink over the next couple of days. My health improved radically during the time that I was under Park’s training.
Master Park left me before I learned all the details of each of the tonic herbs themselves. The incredibly subtle details of such an art can only be learned by experience over a long period of time. I have spent the past two decades making the tonic herbs part of my daily life and introducing them to many others. In many ways, the herbs have become my teacher, and there are eight lessons that I have learned from them.
1. Faith in Nature.
We have evolved over the period of millions of years, by design or otherwise, into true super beings. Nature is so vast and mysterious. No one will ever understand all its subtle and intricate nuances. But its basic laws are clear. Nature nourishes those that live in close harmony with it and destroys those that move too far astray. If we destroy our environment, we will eventually perish. This law applies to our internal being as well. Modern medicine has brought forth many miracles. Yet, maintaining our health is not the responsibility of "medicine" but of our own knowledge of how to live as Nature means us to live.
Chinese tonic herbalism is based on the premise that it is possible to attain a state of health known as "radiant health," which is defined as "health beyond danger." The simple idea is that it is best to build a powerful and healthy system rather than wait until disharmony and illness set in. I do not believe that anyone can argue with this concept. Certain Chinese herbs have come to be revered because they seem to be profound health aids (not "medicine"), and have been found over the period of many centuries to be extremely safe when used moderately and appropriately.
These herbs seem to help us attain and maintain an organic and psychic balance even under stressful conditions. The Chinese tonic herbs have taught me to have faith first in Nature, and in the Nature that resides within me, since I am one with all of Nature.
More recently, I have learned that the best things come from nature. With the advent of the phytonutrient revolution, it is becoming more and more clear that the most powerful and wonderful treasures relating to our health and happiness are all natural. Synthetic and artificial foods and supplements can not hold a candle to the bounty of nature’s phytochemicals. Science is confirming what Chinese herbalists having been saying all along---the laboratory cannot match nature.
Even though my illness seemed to reverse itself abruptly, it took me many years to become what I believe to be truly healthy. And I came to realize that maintaining my health is a moment to moment exercise in life. Health is more than just a freedom from disease, although that certainly is a minimal requirement. Health is actually a state of vitality that allows us to fulfill our greatest destiny while we are alive on this planet. It is a vitality that allows us to adapt optimally to the many changes we go through daily and over time, without becoming exhausted, without using up the precious reserves that sustain our life.
We all may continue to grow on the spiritual plane for as long as we exist. Growth is fraught with danger, failure and struggle. We must overcome many hardships, and we must overcome ourselves continuously. It is the art of overcoming difficulties that allows one to grow and become the most that they can become. The greatest failure is the inability to overcome the challenges that are required for true human growth. I have learned that the tonic herbs are an almost miraculous tool for a person on a serious growth path. They provide the power and adaptability required to survive the down times. I feel that they have helped me develop my power of will and the creative capacities that have allowed me to find ways around the obstacles that have blocked my path. And the tonic herbs provide protection, stability and creative vitality during my strong times, allowing me to grow.
The tonic herbs help us to become emotionally strong, calm and adaptive, and to understand the big picture of life. They have helped me to become patient. By being patient, I have learned how to avoid exhaustion and by being patient I have learned that one can attain almost anything that Nature allows for us as a human being.
3. Self respect
By taking tonic herbs that are harmless and yet so incredibly nourishing in so many ways, I have come to respect my own body, mind and spirit. I have learned that junk food, abusive and harsh behavior, offensive chemical substances, and the like are self- destructive and self-deprecating. I have learned that it is essential to respect oneself deeply if one is to attain any level of health and happiness. I have come to know that I have, like every other human being, a higher purpose that can only be attained if we have self respect of the highest order.
Furthermore, by respecting oneself it is possible to respect others and to respect Nature and all its manifestations, both animate and inanimate. I have observed a deep lack of respect among people in our society, and this will not be corrected with money or "academic" education or medicine. It will be corrected when we have true self respect and realize that we are all great and that we are all one. Self respect therefore extends to everybody and everything in human society and in Nature since we are all one.
4. The value of a positive attitude
Chinese tonic herbalism is based upon the premise that by taking certain very healthy substances we can attain a very positive healthy state. With a strong immune system, a strong vascular system, a strong nervous system, etc., we will avoid or be able to overcome most dangers and we might even live a longer, better life. This makes sense to me. If we spend all our time concentrating on our weaknesses and problems, we will never cease putting out fires, since our attitude is awry. I am not saying that one should ignore a problem. That would be foolish. There is the Oriental saying, “when a problem is acute, treat the stem; when a problem is chronic treat the root.” After dealing with the problem, and even during that process, continue to focus on creating positive health.
As a general principle for living and acting, emphasis should be placed on creating well being and positive achievements. The tonic herbs tend to generate that attitude, and are in this sense very positive.
5. The meaning of "moderation"
"All things in moderation." These are words of wisdom that we have all heard but by which few abide. Excessive behavior, including all compulsive and/or addictive behavior patterns destroy our ability to live naturally. And though we live in unnatural environments, we are still natural beings under the influences of the sun, the moon, the stars, gravity, the weather, the air, our food, water and the earth.
Excessive behavior imbalances us and drains our energy. Excessive behavior inevitably and invariably results in disharmony. Excessive activity drains our energy and our energy reserves. Excess in any aspect of our life can be dangerous and will inevitably lead to trouble, and possibly catastrophe. The saying in Chinese tonic herbalism, for example, which states that "It is all right to become fatigued, but never to become exhausted." Fatigue is natural and even healthy. However, exhaustion means that we have drained ourselves, going beyond our normal limits, depleting energy reserves. Such depletion is much harder to recover from than mere fatigue. In fact, many people never do recover from a bought of deep exhaustion.
A great Chinese wise man by the name of Zhuang Zi once wrote:
When the shoe fits, the foot is forgotten.
When the belt fits, the belly is forgotten.
And when the Heart is right, "for" and "against" are forgotten.
The great wisdom expressed in this proverb can only be experienced and appreciated when we have attained a dynamic balance and harmony with Nature. The great Chinese tonic herbs are some of Nature's sublime gifts. They can help the "shoe to fit," they can help the "belt to fit," and ultimately and most importantly, they can help the Heart become "right," allowing us to rise above the illusionary world of duality and to know Nature as it is, as a complete, unified, harmonious being, of which we are a part.
The tonic herbs can help restore that balance, harmony and energy and are themselves the very essence of moderation. They can also help us to sense our limits, maintain our center and to have the strength and wisdom to stop when we need to.
6. Perseverance yields stunning results
When I discovered something that exploded with truth, I was compelled to follow its path, even through times of diversity and extreme challenge. It was the perfection of the principles of yin and yang, the ring of truth in my teachers words and teaching, the intuitive knowledge that tonic herbalism makes sense, that led me to persevere through thick and thin.
Sticking with the Chinese tonic herbs over the years has yielded great results that I would not have envisioned in the beginning. At first my goal was to feel better and eradicate some of my nagging symptoms. It was because my teacher had been such a good “light” that I kept on with the herbs. I had an understanding beyond mere medical relief. I had a vision of achieving radiant health – health beyond danger. Perseverance has yielded its great rewards.
Never give up on the really important things. Don’t give up on your life’s work. Don’t stop working on your health before you have achieved radiant health, and don’t stop even then. Great success only comes to those who persevere.
7. Giving is truly its own reward
As I became a practitioner of tonic herbalism, I gradually came to know how remarkable these herbs are. They are practically miraculous and to some degree fool proof, which is why I was able to get so much out of them while I was young and foolish. There may be temporary set backs and temporary side effects, but as the body grows and adjusts and becomes more adaptable, the side effects disappear, and the tonic herbs become easier and easier to assimilate.
Over many years, I have provided herbs to thousands of people, and the joy of doing so has made my life truly complete and satisfying. Many people say that “giving is its own reward,” but for most of us, that is hard to really connect with fully. But by providing the tonic herbs, blended with a good dose of intelligence, skill, caring and compassion, the magic of life unfolds on a daily basis right before our eyes. All health care practitioners know the joy of helping someone overcome illness, pain and suffering. That is a motivating force for all of us. But tonic herbalists are really Shen Herbalists, guides for people on a path to higher consciousness. The joy of observing people grow is truly stunning – and quite unexplainable. It’s like tending a garden. God provides us with a unique feeling of pleasure and satisfaction in seeing our crop develop and the same is true with seeing our clients become more special, more evolved, happier, more giving and more successful in their lives. It is the joy that drives people to become teachers.
My teacher, Daoist master Sung Jin Park, told me: “Don’t be a healer, be the Light.” I have taken these works as the guiding spirit of my life. Become the Light. Guide people. Help them to nourish Jing, Qi and Shen. Help them to cultivate their lives and the lives of those they influence, positively and with joy. The tonic herbs are a remarkable tool in this process. They provide something tangible to a growth process that is not always so tangible. People take the tonic herbs regularly and that alone is of great importance. Taking the tonics is not too far off from being a form of prayer or yoga. It keeps people connected to the to their ancestry (Jing), to the earth (Qi), and to God (Shen).
It is said that giving builds Shen. How true this is! Giving also builds knowledge and wisdom. The more you teach the more you learn. We are performing Shen Herbalism. Teaching and providing the earthly tools to achieve radiant health are definitely giving of the highest order. To be the Light. Bright are the one’s that shine in the dark. Guide people every day. Be the Light.
Clearly, being the Light is it’s own reward.
8. Love is everything.
As we learn the other five lessons over time, we come to experience a sense of profound love for Life, for Nature, for ourselves, for our Earth and all its beings, for Humankind as a whole and for all the members of our human family. Love is the ultimate truth. Love really is everything. And indeed, everything is love.
Our true spirit, which the Chinese call Shen, is the spark of divinity that resides within the heart of every human being. Shen is the guiding light by which all of us are capable of growing toward illumination. All beings possess Shen, and in particular the animals, plants and trees are often abundant in Shen. Even many minerals possess Shen in crystallized form. Mountains possess Shen, as do all aspects of Nature. But it is in the human being that Shen comes to full flame.
Shen resides in the heart and manifests as love, kindness, compassion, generosity, giving, tolerance, forgiveness, mercy, tenderness, and the appreciation of beauty. It is the spirit of a human being as the divine messenger, the channel of God's will and love. Shen is the purpose of all spiritual paths. It is Buddha's desire to end suffering and it is Christ's love.
Generally, though, this light, this love, is buried in the heart of a human being, hidden behind a thick opaque layer of human emotion and misguided imagery. It is taught in Chinese philosophy that Shen naturally rules our lives, but if we lose our balance (which we all do) then the ego and the emotions vie for dominance and Shen withdraws and becomes hidden. We develop addictions to particular egoistic attitudes and to the emotions that help manifest our egoistic goals. Anger, greed, fear, worry, sorry, frustration, the perpetual seeking of pleasure in the things of this world of relativity and illusion, are all examples of the types of emotional states that force Shen into hiding, often for the duration of one's life.
The great spiritual teachings have all attempted to teach their followers how to temper these excessive desires and unbalanced emotions so that Shen can naturally regain its position as the ruler of our lives. Shen manifests only when the heart is open. Once the heart is open, Shen manifests as light which illuminates the path of a man or woman in life's journey toward the spiritual goal and along the spiritual path. All people possess Shen. For some, Shen manifests easily and early in life. Others must dig for it. In digging for Shen, one may have to uncover a few or many ugly or unpleasant experiences and thoughts. These thoughts, experiences and misconceptions provide a kind of cocoon for Shen. According to Taoist tradition, the great Shen tonic herbs can help us to find our way into the heart of our own being. They are a gift from the heart of God. They have helped me, and I have seen them help others as they have helped me.
If there is one truth, it is that he or she who seeks Shen shall find it. As the great Taoist sage Lao Zi said:
You ask where is Tao?
Look, it is within your heart!