Confucianism and Healthy Longevity

Confucius, the great philosopher of ancient China, attained great influence on Chinese civilization through his famous teachings. Confucianism affected virtually all aspects of Chinese philosophy, including health and longevity.

Confucius, a politician and scholar, lived from 552 to 479 B.C. His impact on healthy longevity consists of practical advice for application in everyday life.

Confucianism advice on everyday healthy longevity includes his exemplary daily living, such as the following:

He did not eat rice, meat, or fish that was spoiled (not fresh) and badly cooked (medium rare); he ate meat in proportion to the amount of rice consumed; he used ginger to spice his food; he drank wine but only moderately; he dressed for comfort and convenience; and he slept, curling up his body, using his bent arm as a pillow (keeping his spine in alignment).

Confucianism advocates mental health in the form of peace and harmony. Confucius was against strong emotions of anger, joy or sorrow, and pleasure – the stirrings of these human feelings do not keep the mind in a state of equilibrium.

Confucianism is expressed in two basic concepts of healthy longevity living: “chung” and “yung.”

“Chung” is “equilibrium” or “being without inclination to either side.” Confucius did not refrain from the pleasures of life, such as eating and sex. However, he sought to achieve balance between extremes, and to avoid excess. His way of life was based on “the golden mean” concept of equilibrium.

“Yung” is “persistence” or “continuing without change.” Confucius said, “The path may not be left for an instant. If it could be left, it would not be the path. Therefore, the superior person does not wait until he sees things to be cautious, nor till he hears things to be apprehensive.” In other words, your pursuit of good health should be persistent. Your health practices, whether they involve exercise, diet, or meditation, should become your regular habits of healthy longevity living. You do not wait until you are sick to begin these intense efforts for healthy longevity. Prevention is always better than cure. You cannot reap their beneficial effects on a particular occasion or after a short period of practice.

Confucianism was subsequently expanded by Meng Tzu (Mencius), second only to Confucius as a Confucian sage.

Mencius went beyond Confucius in being concerned not only with the physical aspects of healthy longevity, but also with the spiritual. To Mencius, spiritual health is as important as physical well-being. Mencius said, “To preserve one’s mind and to nourish one’s spirit is the way to serve nature (heaven). When a man realizes that there is no real difference between a short lifespan and a long one, and does not worry, but wait, cultivating his own personal character, for whatever may come to pass – this is the way he carries out his fate-ordained being.”

Mencius also said, “The human will is the leader (commander) of the ‘qi’ (internal vital energy). The ‘qi’ pervades the body and moves it. The will is of primary importance; the ‘qi’ is secondary. Therefore, maintain a firm will and do no harm to your ‘qi.’ When the will is concentrated, it moves the ‘qi’; when the ‘qi’ is concentrated, it moves the will.”

By nourishing the spirit as well as the body, Mencius lived to a ripe old age.

In Chinese medicine, ‘qi’ signifies vital energy that embraces correct breathing, good blood circulation, and mind consciousness through meditation.

In summary, Confucianism emphasized balance and harmony achieved through the concepts of “chung” and “yung” in everyday living with focus on spiritual well-being. These health practices can be applicable in contemporary living to attain healthy longevity.

Copyright (c) 2007 Stephen Lau