Dr. Zhenbao Jin – Written evidence (INQ0044)
This Submission is made in response to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee’s call for written evidence to the inquiry into aging.
This Submission focuses on the following points:
(1) In order to understand the phenomenon of aging, we need to understand life: what is life, how life develops and evolves, what is the driving force behind the development of life, etc.
(2) The prevailing approach of science, especially the science of medicine, in its effort to understand life focuses on the physical dimension of human life: cells, nerves, hormones, genes, immune system, etc.
(3) However, the picture of human life is far richer and broader than its tangible and visible aspect. It has feelings, emotions, thinking activities, imagination and all other psychological activities, which may be collectively termed “consciousness”, which plays a critical role in our physical and mental health, and in our pursuit for happiness.
(4) How the physical aspect of human life and its consciousness relate to and interact to each other is a very controversial issue. The prevailing opinion is that the phenomenon of consciousness is actually the result of the physical structure and processes of human body. To prove the opposite opinion in a scientific way is beyond the limits of today’s science. That’s why when it comes to the social policy concerning health, aging and medical treatment of diseases, the governments in the west and in the east all have no choice but to rely on the existing scientific findings.
(5) The major reason why it’s difficult to prove that consciousness can impose great, even determining effect upon the physical processes and structure of human body, like the blood circulation, blood pressure, body temperature, performance of genes, structure and development of brain, etc., is that the dimension of life energy is basically ignored in today’s science.
(6) Although the phenomenon of life energy is daily experience, like we feel more energetic after a good sleep than after one whole day’s work, or like when we are happy, we feel more energetic than when we are depressed, etc., it’s basically ignored both in science and in our daily life, as it’s too elusive and it seems that we can do very little to maintain our energy at a high level, not to mention to keep improving it in our life. It seems unavoidable that when we become older, we lose energy and become more vulnerable to physical and mental problems.
(7) However, the phenomenon of life energy can be understood in a scientific way and accordingly our energy level can be maintained and improved in a rational and reliable way, leading to the general improvement of health condition, even for older people. Meditation can be a rational and reliable way to achieve that.
(8) In the body of a living person, life energy flows all the time. It does not flow in a random way, but in a circle, downward in the front and upward in the back (as shown in the drawing below, which depicts the major pattern of energy flow in the body).
(9) The downward pattern of energy flow is related to the parasympathetic nervous system and is responsible for digesting and resting/sleeping, that is, for accumulation and storage of energy. The upward pattern of energy flow is related to the sympathetic nervous system and is responsible for thinking and acting, which consume energy. That’s why we feel refreshed and energetic after a good sleep. In the sleep we no longer think and the downward pattern of energy flow is strenthened. However, for people who think too much, especially when they get old, the downward pattern of energy flow is greatly weakened even in the sleep. As a result people can’t sleep well and feel still tired after the sleep.
(10) The fact that people don’t experience the circular flow of energy in the body is because this flow of energy is normally not strong enough for us to experience it. Besides, the energy flow in us is instantly affected by our emotional changes, which are closely related to our mental actvitities. As a result, what we can experience in daily life is only rough experience of energy (I’m now energetic, I am now tired, etc.), or emotions, instead of the energy flow itself.
(11) However, when we try to stop thinking, especially when we try to do this by focusing on breathing, which means, we try not to disturb the energy flow by our thinking activities, the circulation of energy flow will be strenthened step by step. In the beginning we will feel the effect of strengthened energy flow upon our body, like the increase of body temperature, getting warmer, sweating, more saliva, feelings that hands and feet get swollen, etc. Through some regular practice of this effort not to think, which is already meditation, we will start to experience the flow of energy per se in us, rather than its various effects upon the body.
(12) This direct experience of the energy flow in us is very important for the purpose of becoming master of our own emotion, living a balanced life, achieving natural healing if we get sick, slow aging and achieving lifelong personal development. The ability to directly experience the flow of energy in us is at the same time the ability to strengthen and mobilize the flow of energy in us, as well as to restore the balance of energy flow in our body, which is the basis of physical and mental health.
(13) This approach of meditation is different from the more popular approach of meditation with Buddhism as its philosophical basis, including mindfulness meditation, vipassana, Zen meditation, etc. The various ways of meditation influenced by Buddhism do not attach much importance to life energy and thus do not particularly aim to improve the health condition. This approach of meditation regards health as important value and aims to improve health, increase life span and health span, and achieve healing of diseases in a natural way. It’s also more compatible with modern science and is suitable for scientific research concerning spontaneous healing, psychology, aging, consciousness, etc.
(14) This approach of meditation is more inspired by Taoism, a practical philosophy originating from China. The special contribution of Taoism for the understanding of life lies in its understanding of life energy, or Qi, and how it mediates between the physical body and consciousness. This is important as modern science focuses on the physical world, including the physical aspect of life, and refrains from the other aspects of life as they are believed not able to be subjected to serious scientific research. However, when the effect of meditation upon the energy flow, and further upon the physical conditions of the body is understood, and can be reliably repeated, it’s possible to draw a more complete picture of human life which can be scientifically examined.
(15) This approach of meditation includes sitting meditation, standing meditation, walking meditation, jogging meditation and toning meditation, all of which are ways to explore the energy dimension of life and at the same time ways to improve the health condition and achieve natural healing of health problems, which are especially suited for older people to increase their health span. For sitting meditation, it’s not necessary to sit in lotus position. Rather, sitting on a chair or a stool in a relaxed and comfortable way is recommended.
(16) This approach of meditation is developed by me on the basis of personal practice of meditation, extensive research on Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, traditional Chinese medicine, philosophy, etc. and giving workshops to hundreds of people in China and in Europe in the past 7 years.
(17) I am born in Zhejiang Province, China, in 1974. I had a bachelor degree, a master degree and a PhD degree in law at China University of Politics and Law in Beijing. I taught law at the Law Faculty of Nanjing Normal University from 2000 to 2007. After I got my PhD degree in law in 2011, I worked as lawyer at Beijing Zhong Lun Law Office, one of the leading law firms in China. For my PhD research I focus on judicial law-making in China, which is closely related to philosophy and methodology of law. My research on philosophy and methodology of law provides very helpful perspective for me to develop an integrative approach of meditation later.
(18) In July 2012, I was diagnosed to have non-Hodgkin lymphoma at Peking University Hospital No. 3, one of the leading hospitals in China. However, I rejected the doctor’s suggestion to have chemotherapy as I wished to explore the possibility of natural healing. I thought that the tumor was somehow related to my stressful work as lawyer and that it could be a solution if I could manage to relax myself and replenish my body. I first cycled for more than 3000 km from Beijing to Yunnan in South China from September to December in 2012, which indeed made the tumor on my neck become smaller by a half after I returned to Beijing. In January, 2013, I started to practice meditation at the advice of a friend. Later I realized that the way of meditation he adviced is more based on the Taoist tradition which values the experience of Qi or life energy. I indeed experienced the flow of Qi very soon after I started to practice mediation and the improvement of health condition in general.
(19) I realized the great significance of meditation and took interest in further exploration of meditation and its effect upon natural healing and health. Meditation has a long history in China and is closely related to Taoism and Buddhism. Actually, the popular exercise of Taiji and Qigong are both meditation, which are based on Taoism as they attach importance to energy experience. However, although Taiji is generally accepted and practiced everywhere, Qigong and meditation are more contrversial and believed by many people as superstition. In addition, if one would like to learn Qigong or meditation, it’s generally believed that one has to follow a master. Practicing Qigong or meditation without a master is said to be dangerous.
(20) However, I think meditation can be practiced in a scientific way and a master is not necessary. Meditation is a practice for us to try to become aware of the energy flow in the body. It could be practiced in an experimental way, or in a way of trail and error. We can observe the energy flow in us by sitting there for 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes,… and we practice it one day, two day, one week, two week, one month, two month, and so on, and see how the energy flow develops and how it works on our physical and mental conditions.
(21) Through regular practice of meditation, around 1 to 2 hours of practice each day, I do experience the continuous development of energy flow in me in the past 7 years, up to now. After around 3 months, I experienced very strong circular flow of energy in me, which was very impressive. This experience of very strong energy flow with powerful momentum has been reported by many people who practice meditation that focus on energy, including Qigong and Kundalini Yoga. In Taoism it is said that energy flows along the meridians in our body and two major meridians, the Ren meridian and the Du meridian together form the circle as depicted in the drawing above. As we grow older, the energy flow in us weakens and the meridians are more and more blocked. Through the regular practice of meditation, we strengthen the energy flow in us again. At a certain point, we can experience this dramatic energy flow in us. Then the momentum of energy flow ebbed again. But I can experience the energy flow in me more stably on a daily basis.
(22) And I find that with the strengthening of energy flow, I need to do sports like jogging, cycling and swimming, or I will feel dizzy or headache. I believe this is because that energy and physical body have to be in balance. Meditation, especially sitting meditation improves the energy level, then the physical body has to be strenthened to match the increase of the energy level.
(23) In the course I can obviously feel the improvement of my health condition in general. My sleeping and digestion have become much better. When I was diagnosed to have lymphoma, I also had atrophic gastritis, prostatitis, ankylosing spondilitis and allergic rhinitis. Their symptoms have all become stably weaker and weaker and are now basically all gone in the past years since I started to practice meditation rgularly in 2013.
(24) When I was diagnosed to have lymphoma in 2012, two tumors were found on my neck, which can be touched by myself. One was around 2 cm * 1 cm and the other one was round, around 0.6 cm in diameter. When I came back from my cycling in the end of 2012, the bigger one became 1 cm * 0.8 cm and the smaller one remains basically the same. In the past 5 years I never had physical examination again, as I think meditation is already an ideal way to monitor my own health condition. Now when I touch the two tumors, I can feel the bigger one is even smaller, and the smaller one remains nearly the same.
(25) And the practice of meditation has also greatly improved my mental condition. Meditation is a very relaxing practice, which helps to restore the balanced flow of energy in us and releases stress and depression. The more we are able to get connected with our inner energy flow through regular practice of meditation, the more we are able to have resilient mental condition, even under stressful circumstances.
(26) After nearly 7 years of regular practice of meditation, with my practice of sitting meditation alone up to more than 6000 hours, and extensive reading on Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, traditional Chinese medicine, philosophy, and relating branches of science including neurology, psychology, quantumn physics, science of consciousness, etc., I am now fully sure that meditation can be and should be approached and practiced in a way that is compatible to the scientific and rational approach. The practice of and research on meditation can contribute to the dialogue between science and the spiritual traditions, between the west and the east, leading to new breakthrough in mankind’s effort to understand life and the world.
(27) Philosphy tries to give a consistent and catch-all explanation to the nature of being, to our life and the world. Such a grand ambition can have no choice but to begin with a particular hypothesis, like the world is composed of small particles like atoms, or the world in its essence is emptiness, or the world is created by a transcendental Being. If such fundamental hypothesis is regarded as absolute truth, we have religions. For philosophers, these fundamental hypothesis themselves have to be examined if necessary. However, this is indeed very difficult, as we, as human being living in a particular culture, all are born with some fundamental hypothesis, or rather, belief, given to us by our culture. Without such common belief shared with our fellow members of the community, our life will be very difficult. And it takes tremendous courage to reflect over and try to question such common belief.
(28) By contrary, meditation is a way to begin with no hypothesis. In meditation we try to stop any thinking activities, that is, to drop any conceptual presumption or belief about life and the world, by focusing on breathing. In this way we feel the flow of energy, which is the force of life. Meditation makes us get connected to life itself.
(29) We don’t practice meditation without any attitude or position toward life. We practice meditation in order to be healthier, freer and wiser, in order to know what life is really about. So when we are able to sense the force of life in meditation, it’s good that we try to experience more energy and go deeper into meditation. And we will become aware that for that purpose we also need to do sports, to have proper nutrition, to live in a balanced way, to have good relationship with our family, friends and the community, to be ethically responsible toward the society and the environment, etc.
(30) This life-confirming attitude is the basic characteristic of Taoism and Confucianism, the basis of the cultural tradition of China, which can be attributed to their understanding of life energy and its role in the development of personal life as well as for a harmonious and peaceful society.
(31) Taoism and Confucianism had both become dogmatic gradually in China’s history, mainly because they are naïve philosophy and there lack a sophisticated epistomology. However, at this time of the West and the East coming together in a far closer way than any time in the history, it’s possible to integrate the wisdom from the West and the East and our understanding of life, including the problems of health and aging, can be much deepened accordingly.
(32) This has already been forseen by philosophers of our time. Prof. Tu Weiming, director for the Institute for Advanced Humanistic Studies at Beijing University and a renowned researcher of Confucianism and philosophy, said in his keynote speech at the XXIV World Congress of Philosophy held in Beijing in 2018:” Strictly speaking, we do not own our bodies. We become our bodies. Bodies are not givens. They are attainments, indeed, amazing achievements. Bodies in all their dimensions, physical, physiological, emotional, psychological, mental, intellectual, and spiritual, define holistically who we are as lived concreteness.”(Tu Weiming, Spiritual Humanism: Self, Community, Earth, and Heaven, 2018). The practice of meditation will reveal to us that what Prof. Tu said is not just theory, but a matter of fact. And it can lead to the further development of philosophy, the mankind’s effort to have a consistent understanding of life.
(33) Various forms of meditation, including mindfulness, vipassana, Zen meditation, etc., are becoming more and more popular, for different purposes including development of consciousness, enlightenment, better health, reducing stress, etc. Accordingly, academic interest in meditation is also increasing, in different fields of scientific research, including medicne, psychology, management, brain research, science of consciousness, etc. However, the scientific research on meditation is tricky as meditation in its essence is not some sitting or breathing technique. It is indeed a philosophical endeavor. Any researcher who limits himself to the technical aspect of meditation while leaving its philosophical dimension untouched will not go much further.
(34) Another tricky issue is that the most forms of meditation now under academic research are more or less based on the Buddhist philosophy, which basically ignores the phenomenon of life energy in the practice of meditation, thus making it difficult for the health condition to improve continuously and reliably. As a result the interaction between consciousness and the physical and mental condition can not be clearly revealed.
(35) The understanding of life energy (Qi) and its significance for health and healing has a very long history in China and still permeates in the cultural and social life of the Chinese people. Its presence can be found in paintings, music, cuisine, martial art, architecture, medicine, customs, etc. The different methods used in the traditional Chinese medicine, including herbal medicine, acupuncture, moxibusture, massage, all work at the energy level.
(36) Of all these methods, meditation is the most fundamental. Actually it is no longer a way of healing, but the way of ongoing personal development. For Taoism and Confucianism, the focus of life is not shaped by the fear of death, but by the calling of continuous personal development to the most potential of life.
(37) Due to its concern of life energy, it’s also possible to examine in a measurable way the effect of meditation inspired by Taoism upon the health condition, healing of diseases, aging, as well as physical and mental performance, like in sports, in stress management and in cognitive capacity, etc..
(38) That means the training and practice of meditation can be applied in scientific research in many different areas, including pharmaceutical industry, education, parenting, sports, business management, etc., as well as in art, and there is great potential for the scientfic findings to be commercialized.
(39) The research in science and philosophy supported by meditation can also support each other’s development.
(40) Meditation with focus on life energy is far easier and more comfortable to learn than any other ways of meditation. I would like to quote just two feedbacks from the western participants of my workshop:
(41) “I have found that the focus on the energy going around the body with the breath helps me to remain anchored in the meditation. My thoughts are terribly distracting and the focus on my breath and Qi makes it less likely for my mind to wander off. It’s the best method I have found so far to minimise my thoughts.”
(42) “I have been interested in studying meditation for many years but everytime I decided to dive into learning about the different philosophies and endless techniques surrounding the practice I would get overwhelmed and discouraged. The five day workshop led by Dr. Jin was a perfect way for me to begin my journey of healing and improved wellness. His approach is simple in explanation but deeply complex in practice. I feel I have learned enough in five days to feel confident in progressing in my own journey without the support of outside sources.”
(43) Indeed the social cost to learn meditation is very low while its benefit is enormous, especially for the older citizens of the society. The older citizens of the society have accumulated very rich knowledge, experience and wisdom. However, due to the weakening of their life, they can no longer make good use of the rich rescouces they possess and become huge burden of the society. The practice of meditation can help to rejuvenate them and open a new horizont in their life, while making them valuable and active members of the society again. It’s totally possible for the UK Government to achieve its stated mission to ensure that people can enjoy at least five extra healthy, independent years of life by 2035, if a policy that is proper to support the dissemination of the knowledge of meditation among the public is adopted.
20 September 2019