- SCIENCE, SPIRITUALITY, AND QI HEALING AT A DISTANCE
Brother Bernard Seif, SMC, EdD, NMD
The Buddha tells us that there is no self, only the Void. My self, however, often speaks louder than the Buddha. This is due to my training, but fortunately I always knew that there was something more—even when I had almost forgotten.
When someone mentions an unusual medical or psychological treatment and / or healing experience, my mind immediately craves hard data—good data—drawn from double-blinded, well-controlled studies on a large representative sample. This attitude is the result of the blood, sweat, and tears that fashioned me into a clinical psychologist. About half of my graduate work was in the area of research design, statistics, and data analysis. The dissertation requirements at Lehigh University (largely and engineering school associated with the once flourishing Bethlehem Steel Corporation) mandate the doctoral candidate to design and carry out an extensive empirical experiment. Mine was in the area of religious values, racial prejudice, and their impacts upon the psychotherapeutic process (Seif, 1981b). I thought that I would never want to hear about that topic again but the research I did has served me well over my years of clinical practice.
After my psychology education I was fortunate enough to receive additional training in naturopathic medicine, specialize in Chinese medicine, and become a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine in addition to being a Clinical Psychologist. Once again, my well-programmed mind gravitated toward solid research studies within the natural medicine and Chinese medicine literature. This has made me very selective in terms of the nutraceuticals and herbal medicines I recommend or keep in stock in my office pharmacy for patients. Since there are so many products on the market, infomercials, and general hype about natural cures, I will always be grateful for my scientific and selective mind in that regard. My patients take comfort in this as well.
Thus, the scientific method became my greatest strength—and my greatest block to continuing growth and clinical effectiveness. The strength of science obviously lies in its ability to delineate rather clearly the parameters for treatment and diagnosis. The down side of this is that one can begin to disregard completely any treatment that does not have a multitude of studies to support its use.
Sadly, many people who could be helped by Chinese medicine, for example, do not avail themselves of this form of treatment because of a prejudice to that which they do not understand or that which appears unscientific. Perhaps even sadder than that, many highly educated people read and dismiss the scientific literature concerning treatments such as medical qigong and other complimentary and alternative therapies even when the data clearly supports their effectiveness. Scientists can be blind and prejudiced as easily as anyone else, perhaps even more so.
I have been a Catholic Christian monk for all of my adult life and a qigong practitioner for most of my monastic life. The Asian medicine and spirituality aspects of my journey were inspired by people like Thomas Merton (Stone, Hart, Laughlin, & Chakravarty, 1973) and Brother David Steindl-Rast (Aitken & Steindl-Rast, 1996). Merton was a Trappist monk who embodied the values of East and West while remaining true to his original Christian roots. He was accidentally electrocuted in Bangkok after giving a presentation on East-West dialogue. This was the only significant trip he made from his cloistered monastery during his years as a monk. Brother David is a Benedictine monk and viewed by many as a contemporary Thomas Merton. He spends about half of each year in seclusion and the other half giving workshops and retreats related to East-West dialogue.
Returning to my own experience, underneath my scientific programming something never stopped nagging at me. That something was kept alive by meditation and qigong. Some have tried to quantify qi (Lu, 1997) and I continue to delight in that, but qi is beyond quantification. In meditation and entering into the Void, I discover qi and myself. Meditation also frees me of the rigors of science when that gets in the way. The following case history serves as an example.
One fall day I decided to visit a natural medicine clinic about an hour away from our monastery. While they offer Western allopathic medicine there as well, the focus is largely on natural methods of healing and health maintenance. Fascinating machines from Europe, which emit light, sound, and electrical impulses, fill the treatment rooms. People from all over the world go there in hope of a restoration of health. Many of my patients had referred to the clinic over the years of my practice so I thought it a good idea to see what was going on there.
The clinic director was very welcoming and gave me a tour. After some time chatting, I was left to myself in their large library on the second floor of an old but well-kept building. I purchased a few books written by their founder. The woman who worked in the library helped me with my purchase and then asked me if I had a treatment to suggest for her for her cousin in Chile. I asked what was wrong with him and she told me that he had tumors throughout his body and was just sent home to his wife and children to die. After standard of care treatment there was nothing left to do.
The scientific side of me whispered that, given his history, the cousin would die very shortly. The intuitive side, nurtured by meditation and qigong, whispered even more quietly to me. I do not hear voices but often receive an inner sense of things and understood that prayer and a liquid herbal formula called Maitake Gold were needed. Science almost drowned out intuition and I was also afraid of giving the lovely woman with whom I was speaking any false hope. I have long since learned to trust my intuition and risk what others might think of me. I told her about the need for prayer and explained that Maitake Gold was made from Japanese mushrooms and that the purpose of this oral treatment was for anti-angiogenesis—the elimination of blood vessels to the tumors. The woman thanked me in flawless English with a hint of Spanish in her accent.
Upon leaving the clinic, and for days thereafter, the scientific side of me said that the man was dead. The spiritual side of me lived on in hope. I have treated numerous cancer patients, many do very well, and some others do not. This case was different. The call to prayer was different—stronger and more Eastern. I did three brief sessions of distant qi transmission (Kit, 1993) as my prayer form, again, something I have done in the past.
One explanation of the process of transmitting qi at a distance follows and I ask the reader’s pardon for the non-inclusive language in which this quotation is written.
“As chi is a universal medium that connects all things, a Chi Kung maters can use it to transmit this Chi-impulses to another person a great distance away….
“As to how we transmit chi impulses along the medium, the chi that a master transmits to a distant recipient is different from the chi he transmits to someone in front of him. When the recipient is in front of him, the chi transmitted is physical: it comes from the master’s chi and travels through his palms, fingers or any part of his body directly into the recipient….
“If the recipient is very far away, it is not feasible to send physical chi directly. The master has to transform his chi into shen or mind-power, then transmit this shen to the distant recipient….
“Mind-power is transmitted into the form of impulses. The master’s impulses strike one end of the chi-medium, and are transmitted by the medium to the other end. When the impulses reach the recipient at the other end, he receives the impulses as chi. But this chi is not the same as the chi that comes physically from the master, although it is similar—in the same way that the voice you hear over the telephone is not actually the caller’s voice, although they are similar.
“Hence, distant chi transmission requires the attainment of two higher levels of Chi Kung training: transforming chi into shen and merging the mind with the cosmos.” (Kit, pp. 127-129).
Winter passed and spring began. I did not think much more about the man in Chile. Then one day I received a call from his cousin who worked at the clinic. She told me that she was sorry that she had not been in touch sooner due to the harsh and busy winter. She wanted me to know that she had indeed sent her cousin Maitake Gold and prayed for him and that he was completely well. His tumors stopped growing, he was back with his wife and children, and was also back to work.
The clinic worker and her husband came to visit, brought me flowers and a card, and took my picture to send to Chile. My distant healing patient could not speak English, nor I Spanish, but qi was a universal healing language we shared between us.
I continue to wonder about the outcome of that case if I had let the scientific method confine me, rather than help me. I delight in writing case histories such as this one. There is no control group or statistical analysis, yet a life was transformed. Some may attribute the dramatic recovery of this gentleman to other factors and that does not bother me. What I celebrate is his newly found wholeness, no matter what the source.
Ken Cohen (1997), one of the most lucid and compelling writers in the field of qigong devotes an appendix called “Double-Blind or Double Standard?” in his landmark book on qigong. Here are some excerpts.
“The demand that qigong prove a high degree of efficacy (nearly 100 percent for some critics) in double-blind experiments masks a double standard. Many allopathic interventions have failed to meet these same rigorous standards. In 1978, the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment found that 80-90 percent of medical interventions practices by physicians are not scientifically proven. In 1991, the editor of the British Medical Journal reached a similar conclusion, observing that “only about 15 percent of medical interventions are supported by solid scientific evidence…. That is because only 1 percent of the articles in medical journals are scientifically sound and partly because many treatments have never been assessed at all….
“Although it may be difficult to apply the double-blind protocol to qigong research, there are nevertheless many aspects of scientific methodology that can and should be applied. It would be wise to consider the advice of Ed Gracely, Ph.D., of the Medical College of Pennsylvania and Hahnemann University School of Medicine, ‘What ‘replicability’ does entail, in my view, is that once the type and magnitude of effect for a treatment have been identified and the major sources of variation determined, it should be possible to design studies with an appropriate sample size and methodology such as to produce relatively consistent results.’” (pp. 344-346)
The longer I study and practice, the less I know. I have loved the concept of shen for all the years of my qigong practice and study. Anytime the idea of shen is mentioned in something I am reading or at a lecture my ears perk up. I have no scientific way to verify that I somehow transmuted qi into shen and sent it to the patient I had never even met. I do not know if I somehow entered the Void of the Buddha. Other than the research on Maitake Gold, I have no idea as it its effectiveness in this particular case. This I do know. A man has been reunited with his family.
Finally, I recommend this to all medical practitioners of both East and West and every specialty. Avail yourselves of the fruits of the scientific method but do not let that stop you from taking a risk and listening to your intuition. This, to my mind, is the stuff of qigong healers from thousands of years ago down to the present day. What an honor to be part of such a lineage and a bridge between East and West.
Aitken, R. & Steindl-Rast, D. (1996). The Ground We Share: Everyday Practice, Buddhist and Christian. Boston, MA: Shambhala.
Cohen, K. (1997). The Way of Qigong: The Art and Science of Chinese Energy Healing. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.
Kit, W. (1997). The Art of Chi Kung: Making the Most of Your Vital Energy. Rockport, MA: Element.
Lu, Zuyin, (1997). Scientific Qigong Exploration: The Wonders and Mysteries of Qi. Malvern, PA: Amber Leaf Press.
Seif, B. (1981b). The Effect of Counselor Religious Orientation upon Student Perception of Counselors. Dissertation Abstracts International, 42. 1015A. (University Microfilms No. 81-18850).
Stone, N., Hart, P., Laughlin, J. & Chakravarty, A., Editors. (1973). The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton. New York, NY: New Directions.
Brother Bernard Seif, SMC, EdD, DNM
420 Frantz Road - Salesian Monastery (Not 414, which is an internet error)
Brodheadsville, PA 18322-7722
United States / e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
(2004). Science, Spirituality, and Qi Healing at a Distance. Oriental Medicine Journal. XII, 5 (Late Summer), 14-17.