The Buddhist religion and philosophy entered China in the first two centuries CE and gradually blended with Taoist and Confucian practices. In China, Buddhism got its own flavor becoming so-called Mahayana Buddhism (as opposed to Theravada Buddhism), which later branched in additional Buddhist lineages, such as Zen Buddhism (Chan Buddhism). Today, Buddhism is the most important religion in China.
Buddhist meditation techniques, such as Vipassana, Samatha, and Metta meditation, are among the practices that integrated into Chinese medicine. Meditation is seen as preventive but also as curative medicine and it naturally fitted into medical practices. Quieting the mind and breath control is considered a therapeutic practice to obtain spiritual uplifting, health and longevity.
Moreover, Buddhist approach to health takes the position that mental well-being is a precondition for physical health, sometimes even to the extreme of claiming that illness is a mental construct. In any case, recognizing that the mind (thoughts and emotions) plays a major role in influencing, maintaining or regaining physical health is one of the key principals in TCM also.
Another interesting similarity between Buddhism and TCM is the way health and disease are seen: in Buddhism it’s said that peace of mind and enlightenment cannot be “acquired.” Peace and Self-Realization are always there already, there are only obstacles that need to be removed to see it. The same goes for health, which cannot be “obtained.” Health cannot be experienced, only disease and illness. Thus, by removing barriers and blockages (which are in fact the illness) Qi Life Energy flows unobstructed, disease disappears and health is restored.
Additionally, the Buddhist “Middle Way” blended in seamlessly with the ancient concept of Yin-Yang balance in Chinese philosophy. The Buddha advocated the middle way of moderation, finding balance between the extremes of sensual indulgence and self-mortification. Maintaining balance is considered crucial to attaining physical and mental health, liberation and finally enlightenment.
Buddhism and TCM also converge when it comes to moderation of diet and lifestyle, which is thought to significantly contribute to one’s physical and mental health. An interesting point here is the reverence that is shown in China for Jivaka Komarabhacca, the important Father of Medicine in Thailand, herbal doctor and the personal physician of the Buddha. In the Chinese Jivaka Sutras it’s written that Jivaka, the “Medicine King,” was born with acupuncture needles and herbs in his hand.