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October 20, 2009

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Dutch Taoist on good life

WEARING his long hair in a topknot, like ancient Chinese, the man in white performs perfect yun shou (moving hands in the "clouds" style in tai chi) like kung fu masters. But his Roman nose and deep-set eyes identify him as a Westerner.

Rene Goris is a 46-year-old Dutchman who has been practicing tai chi for about 35 years. He has undergone both mental and physical training with Chinese Taoist masters, studied Oriental medicine, and in the Netherlands studied health sciences.

In 2000, he traveled to Wudang Mountain, Hubei Province, site of many Taoist monasteries, to further pursue martial arts, including qigong and Taoist medicine.

Goris lectures in Europe on Taoism and health maintenance, and recently delivered a similar talk in Shanghai for Double Dragon Alliance, an association for cross-cultural communication.

"Taoism does not simply involve martial arts as most Westerners think; it also involves Chinese philosophy and culture," says Goris. "If you know nothing about it, all you can gain are movements without essence."

Tai chi practice also involves study of Taoism as Taoists say that one should never practice anything uninformed. Physical practice is also mental practice and one needs to study the concepts of yin-yang and wu xing, the five elements.

Letting go

Thus Goris believed there's no better place to study the way than in China where Taoism originated.

Taoist philosopher Zhuangzi says that Tao is in everything and thus everything is related to each other one way or another, with a result that reality can be understood by living in the moment.

According to the "I Ching" ("Book of Changes"), if one resists Tao, the outcome will be disaster in a short time.

Goris says understanding and following Tao involves understanding how things happen and letting them happen as they are supposed to.

Keeping hair uncut is a tradition in Taoism. There is a story about an emperor ordering a Taoist to cut his hair to demonstrate his loyalty. The Taoist refused, saying that next time the emperor would ask for something bigger, maybe a finger, an arm or even head if he did so. If the emperor trusted him, he didn't need to prove himself by cutting his hair, and if emperor did not, then giving up his hair wouldn't create trust.

"That's a typical example of Taoist logic and how it sees the world," says Goris. "When things are exaggerated to the extreme (as in hair cutting), Tao is usually much easier to see."

Goris encountered Taoism when he was an 11-year-old boy with a kidney ailment that sapped his energy. After surgery to remove a kidney, doctors told he could never do intense physical exercise and probably would not grow taller than 150 centimeters.

"I happened to be reading books about Oriental sports, including yoga and tai chi at the time, and started practicing those gentle physical exercises on my own," says Goris.

He fell in love with the exercises, his health was greatly improved and he was keen on training with Taoist masters.

Health maintenance is also an important part of Taoist practice, says Goris, and is usualy called yang sheng, the cultivation of life. Taoism holds that life span is not predetermined: it can be prolonged with proper care and healthy living.

"Modern medicine usually focuses on finding the cause of ailments and fixing it with medication, but in Taoist medicine, the aim is to restore people with health rather than curing disease," says Goris.

Like traditional Chinese medicine, Taoist medicine also involves herbal medicine, tui na (vigorous push-pull massage), acupuncture and moxibustion, but it also attaches great importance to living life in the "right" way.

Taoism believes that everything is naturally organized by Tao, resulting in qi (energy) or life force. If life is not organized according to Tao, there is no qi or the qi is blocked.

Therefore, living in a way you are supposed to live is the key to health in Taoism. Otherwise, ailments may occur.

The fundamental text of Chinese traditional medicine and Taoist medicine, "Huangdi Niejing" ("Medical Classic of the Yellow Emperor"), says that at one time people could live "almost forever" by living the right way.

This meant living in harmony with heaven and earth, staying in touch with the process inside and outside themselves, observing similarities and choosing the best time to perform best action to achieve the best result.

Many people nowadays don't do things the way they are supposed to, and that causes health problem, says Goris.

Take sitting for example. We are supposed to sit with our backs straight back and knees bent so that qi can flow fluidly inside our bodies. But many people sit "like a loose bag of potatoes with a hunched back, resulting in blocked qi and health problems."

"To find the way to gain health, or yang sheng (health cultivation), we have to practice," says Goris. It does not necessarily involve martial arts like tai chi, he says. There are various easy ways of practicing mentally.

Keeping fully aware of all your actions and movements, both awake and asleep (if possible) is crucial. In this way you can conserve conserve jing (essence), qi (energy) and shen (spirit) in whatever you do.

Even if you are just sitting and drinking tea, as long as you are fully aware of sitting straight, reaching out for the cup, lifting the cup to your lips and sipping, you are practicing yang sheng (health cultivation).

"As long as you do one thing with full concentration, even if only for half an hour, the practice can help you gain health," says Goris.

For more information about Double Dragon Alliance, check

Steps to a good and long life Yang sheng, or health cultivation, involves both moral practice and physical maintenance. Moral practice - living a moral life - is considered superior in its effects to the physical practice of eating and drinking what is appropriate and supporting oneself with herbal medicines.

In Chinese legends, some immortals offer potions of eternal life to mortals, but they do not provide them freely. They are only bestowed on those who show moral rectitude and the ability to manage life and health.

The basic rules of yang sheng can be summarized:

Develop the five Confucian qualities of ren (humanness), yi (honesty), zhong (loyalty), shu (altruism) and li (respect for ritual).

Be well informed, prudent and discreet.

Be calm at heart and active physically to lead a long, full and enjoyable life.

Be broad-minded and generous.

Avoid damaging the body by losing touch with the environment. Enjoy life in all its manifestations as to concentrate the will on a single objective.

Do not seek entertainment and comfort but take things as they come.

Do morally acceptable work.

Reduce the 12 overabundances - all things in moderation:

1. Too much pondering and serious thoughts damage shen (spirit, awareness).

2. Too much wishful thinking diminishes will power.

3. Too many desires ruin wisdom.

4. Too much sex wears out the body.

5. Too much talking generates conflict between qi (energy), shen (spirit) and jing (essence).

6. Too much laughing hurts the wuzang liufu (organs).

7. Too much worrying startles the heart.

8. Too much merriment makes the shen and jing flighty.

9. Too much joy causes forgetfulness, confusion and mistakes.

10. Too much anger causes instability of the jing, luo, mai (energy channels) and destabilizes ying qi (nutritive energy).

11. Too much fondness infatuates a person beyond cure.

12. Too much disliking makes life tough and unpleasant.


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