The Historical Roots of Qigong
Qigong, an ancient energy art integrating Qi (or Chi – energy awareness) and Gong (or Kung – the practice of mastering it), is a system of self-realization that has been practiced for over five thousand years. Its numerous styles and schools developed mostly along the lines of different philosophical and spiritual traditions in the pursuit of embodiment of their respective teachings. The deeper you explore the history of Qigong in search of its roots, the more apparent it becomes that all of these teachings emerged originally from the vast pool of pre-historic Shamanic practices. Most Qigong styles were organized by and for the followers of one belief system or another in ancient China, Tibet, Mongolia and Korea. Following the establishment of the main Eastern schools of thought about twenty five hundred years ago, Qigong eventually developed six distinctive branches: Daoist, Buddhist, Tantric, Therapeutic, Wushu (martial arts), and Kung Fu Tze (Confucian Qigong).
Each of them developed their teachings and methods of training following the steps of their respective founders. The history of some traditions can be traced back to particular individuals who originated their schools of thought, oftentimes even unbeknownst to themselves. As Jesus Christ was not a Christian and Buddha Shakyamuni was not a Buddhist, so most original masters of Yoga and Qigong had no idea that their disciples would institutionalize their personal practices of self-realization. The masters simply followed their own inner guidance as to how to be in the flow of things in this magical world. With time, a lot of people perceived those masters as great examples of living in the flow. The consequent generations of students, however, grew further and further apart from the roots of their respective traditions by institutionalizing them. The experiential and playful approach of the Shamans of antiquity was gradually replaced by more institutionalized education due to the lack of imagination and creativity exhibited by the generations of students who preferred to learn from instructions, rather than from nature. Instead of paying attention to the essence of the master’s practices, most students could only pay enough attention to the forms of movements and poses. Thus the proliferation of sectarian forms of energy work and wellness systems based on their respective ideas about which form is “right” or “correct.”
About 2,500 years ago, Chinese philosopher Lao Tze presumably wrote Dao De Jing, which brought together many pieces of ancient Oriental wisdom and formed the foundation of Daoism. The adherents of that teaching formulated Daoist Qigong dedicated to attainment of great longevity and, supposedly, immortality. Around the same period of time, the followers of the famous Chinese philosopher Kung Fu Tze, also known as Confucius, created Confucian Qigong mainly concerned with mentoring outstanding citizens and guiding them in creating a harmonious society. At the same time in India, Buddha Shakyamuni taught his teachings to thousands of devoted disciples, who eventually started practicing Buddhist Qigong to achieve spiritual awakening or nirvana. Adepts of Tantra, a mystical sect of Hinduism that spread via the Himalayas into Tibet, eventually came up with Tantric Qigong dedicated to enlightenment through the means of enlightening personal and transpersonal relationships. Therapeutic Qigong, a corner stone of Oriental Medicine, is mostly concerned with health and holistic healing. Martial arts or Wushu Qigong, as the name implies, is dedicated to effective self-defense and protection of others.
Nowadays, many Qigong styles are still confined within the parameters of their respective doctrines, while others integrate some aspects of two or more branches of Qigong. For example, Buddhist monks from the Shaolin Temple are known for both martial arts prowess and competence in Buddhist Qigong. Many Daoist Qigong masters are also great healers and/or martial artists. In fact, Tai Chi Chuan is an offspring of Daoist martial arts. By the same token, Tantra is a major part of Buddhist tradition in Tibet and Mongolia where lamas (both Buddhist and Shamanic spiritual teachers) often integrate Tantric and Buddhist Qigong practices.
There is a living tradition; however, that does not merely try to reach for the fruits on the ends of the branches of the “Qigong tree,” but rather goes back to the Shamanic roots of the entire tree and empowers its practitioners to stay true to the original universality of the art. Its practice allows advancing to high levels of achievement in all six applications of Qigong as a result of integrating the power and wisdom of the six branches into one. This non-sectarian tradition of Tibetan Shamanic Qigong has been preserved through the centuries by twenty-seven generations of masters who explored numerous possible applications of energy awareness in all spheres of life, from fighting to healing and sexual energy arts.