Religious Perception of Mental Illness / Taoism

I assume this article is about Taoism as religion; the Center of Traditional Taoist Studies  refer to themselves as a congregation and certainly have ritual practices. (“Religion is the ritual presentation of the central culture myth” – Joseph Campbell) Westerners are likely to be familiar with the works of Lao-Tzu, but CTTS (to an Asperger / westerner) indulges a focus on magical medicine.)

_______________Laozi Philosopher

Laozi was an ancient Chinese philosopher and writer. He is known as the reputed author of the Tao Te Ching and the founder of philosophical Taoism, and as a deity in religious Taoism and traditional Chinese religions. Died: 531 BC, China

One question that I have is about the common problem of definitions: What do Taoists mean by the word “Mind”? Knowing this would be essential to understanding the following interesting article. (As an Asperger, this is a serious problem since “what mind is” is essential to Taoism.) But! references on the Internet (as usual) jump right in with “mind versus matter” obsession of Western black & white oppositional categorization – so I have no idea what Mind is. From this article, I surmise that it is “The Brain.”

Note to visual thinkers: Meditation is identified as “focused visualization” using a “disciplined process of mental imagery”


When the mind is overworked without stop, it becomes worried, and worry causes exhaustion. — Chuang Tzu

In understanding the link between mind and body, one must recognize the mind controls the body and not vice versa. While the two are interdependent, the mind controls the combined organism, creating a functional human machine. This means that mental control is of the utmost importance, as reflected in Chuang Tzu’s warning that the minds of men should not “let their bodily desires run away.” The Center of Traditional Taoist Studies helps its congregation develop the mental facet of human existence as prerequisite to enlightenment. Because the mind is responsible for correctly perceiving reality and then issuing the proper commands to the body, this is the mechanism by which a spiritual man translates his understanding into action. For this reason, the mind can be a friend or an enemy. By issuing correct commands to the body, the spiritual person can optimally navigate through life’s hardships; or, for the confused, it issues incorrect commands that cause its human vessel to batter itself senseless while traveling through life’s dangerous waters. In essence, a clear mind enables the Taoist to synchronize himself with reality, while its opposite — confusion — prevents the mind from accurately perceiving reality and making correct decisions for action. Therefore, spirituality can never be achieved unless confusion is eliminated.


Do not allow the mind to lead one astray from Tao, and not supplement the natural by human means. — Chuang Tzu

One of the most important ways to gain an understanding of reality is through Taoist philosophy. Correct philosophical principles teach the mind to accurately assess reality and thus counter the effects of incorrect thinking due to dysfunctional notions originating from dogma. In this regard, Lao Tzu’s philosophy uses nature as its model of reality, unpolluted by man’s complicated distortions. He defined principles reflecting the true dynamics of reality. The Center of Traditional Taoist Studies teaches a curriculum with Nine Cardinal Principles at its core.

While Taoist philosophical principles can help the rational individual find his way out of confusion’s fog, it needs a practical means to fight off competing unhealthy thoughts instilled since birth and reinforced each day on television. Taoist principles may make logical sense, but the modern mind must battle emotions born of years following countervailing beliefs. Such ingrained patterns dog the mind with thoughts that disturb one’s mental state, causing it to run amok. Amen brother! LOL


The Sage uses his mind like a mirror. It remains in its place passively… — Chuang Tzu

Taoism’s founder, Lao Tzu, encouraged “stillness” as a way to clear the quagmire of runaway thoughts that block one’s view of reality. He prescribed a regimen of “mental hygiene,” a process to rid oneself of the confused thoughts born of dysfunctional values. It is the mental equivalent of bathing. Chuang Tzu wrote, “When you are disturbed by the external senses and worried and confused, you should rest your mind and seek tranquility inside. When your mind is blocked and gets beyond your control, then you should shut out your external senses.” Thus Taoism advocates a practical solution by which the individual learns to turn off his senses and down shut the brain for a rest. In essence, teaching the brain how to not think. Sounds very Aspergian – what we do automatically when overwhelmed by sensory input – only not controlled as described here, but in desperation.

This prescription of not thinking led to the science of mental Chi Quong or “meditation,” the practical application of Lao Tzu’s mental hygiene. (It’not apparent that this practice is a working addition to Taoist Philsophy -sounds a bit magical) Just as physical Chi Quong develops the body to physically function better, mental Chi Quong improves the functions of the mind. By teaching the mind how to not think on command, it conversely allows one to better focus when intense concentration is needed. A mind that knows how to dwell in repose can spring into focus with greater intensity than a constantly frenetic and fatigued brain. Mental inaction allows for improved mental action. Therefore, the conscious act of disciplining the mind is equivalent to disciplining the body.

Mental Chi Quong is called “meditation” in the West. Its definition in America has been vague and unclear. Most Americans would describe meditation as the act of sitting in a relaxed position, thinking pleasant thoughts, and perhaps chanting. In short, they see meditation as really nothing more than mental entertainment. But this entertainment isn’t going to discipline the mind and bring the benefits of concrete training. True Taoist meditation is more precisely described as a focusing exercise that employs visualization techniques to accomplish specific objectives. It uses a disciplined process of mental imagery to yield practical results. Discipline is key. It isn’t entertaining to sit in place for hours, forcing the mind to focus on specific images while preventing it from wandering to some other, competing thoughts. Indeed, meditation is focused visualization — and it is most definitely work.

At last! Someone not only acknowledges Visual Thinking, but “sees it” as a discipline – a means to achieve “mental health”.

Although there are many forms of mental Chi Quong, the Center of Traditional Taoist Studies teaches three of the most important: (1) “emptiness,” or ch’an, meditation (called “Zen” in Japan), (2) “burning” meditation, and (3) “traveling” meditation. Emptiness meditation teaches the mind to not think and thus rid itself of thoughts, while burning meditation “burns up” the stress of daily life. Both techniques contribute mental acuity by opening the individual’s channels of chi and removing the blockages caused by nervous stress or physical dysfunction.

Mental cleansing is doubly important because its benefits extend beyond the cerebral to the core of psychosomatic illness. Unlike Western medicine, Eastern healing emphatically contends that most diseases can be traced to physical imbalances triggered by mental dysfunction.

So, if I’m reading this correctly, the source of illness is mental dysfunction; the way to counteract this “confusion” is with very specific practices, of “Chi Quong” – both physical (exercise) and mental (meditation.)





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