Updated: Jun 12, 2019
Is Qigong a religion? The short answer is no because the emphasis of Qigong is about giving each individual the tools to improve their health, well-being and life. You could say that this shares some characteristics with Religion but the following four specific reasons set Qigong apart from being a religion:
1. There are no gods or deities that are worshiped
2. There are no specific doctrines or rituals to follow
3. Qigong is based on the understanding of the human body from the perspective of
Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is a health practice rooted in physiological/biological functions of the body
4. Anyone is invited to practice, it doesn't matter what race you are or what religion you follow
Why Qigong May be Seen as a Religion
There are 3 main reasons why Qigong may be perceived as a religion:
1. Because it is related to Spirituality
2. It has Daoist roots
3. For good results, practitioners do Qigong practice regularly (almost "religiously") and some aspects of Qigong look like praying
To further explore why Qigong may be perceived as a religion, we need to look at why people practice Qigong.
The Four Main Reasons why People Practice Qigong
1. Health: Boosting your general health means that you generally have more energy, you have less body pain, you are able to deal with and recover from stress better, you have a clearer and sharper mind and feel more enthusiasm towards life.
2. Healing: When we need healing we rely on the state of our general health. Healing takes a toll on the body's systems and thus how well one looks after their health in general will mean that they are able heal faster from illness or rarely get sick at all.
3. Spirituality: Qigong can help one to delve into the spiritual aspect of one's life. It teaches you things about how life works and your place in it. It teaches you how things are connected and how your actions relate to and affect others and the world around you. It allows you to look inside and see the good inside you and the bad and what to do about it. Overall, it changes the way you see life and thus it changes how you conduct your life.
4. Martial Arts: Qigong teaches one how to shed unhealthy movements patterns and tension and develop a deep understanding of the body and movement. This is crucial foundation for learning internal martial arts such as Tai chi. Essentially, good Qigong practice is the foundation for and supports/complements martial arts practice.
All of the above four categories for learning Qigong share common ground with each other: Good health supports good healing, good healing gets you back into a healthy state quicker, health and a strong body is important for martial arts practice because of the load put on the body and in undertaking Qigong practice for any, a combination of, or all of the above reasons, gives you a deeper understanding of yourself, life and how you conduct your life. it is Life-changing. This is the Spiritual aspect. Spirituality and religion are closely related and intertwined and next we will explore the differences and similarities.
Religion vs Spirituality
In general, it can be said that religion is more structured than Spirituality. Religion is based on the reverence and worship of a God or Supreme Being, religion has set rules or doctrines to follow, religion defines consequences for not following such rules, Religion usually has a record or a major text (such as the Bible) that officially documents its Teachings. Established religions also have official places of worship where followers congregate and official priests communicate God's will and support people in their communion with deities or God.
Spirituality on the other hand, has no specific form or method of expression. At the center of spirituality is the individual and the individual's experience of life. Spirituality is an expression of each individual's potential and how they are using it. It is the 'quality' that our actions are imbued with and how they affect others and the world around us. Certain events in our lives such as major changes, trauma, challenges & transitions into different Life-stages are conducive to spiritual introspection. When we feel a certain connection to the things and life around us, when we feel we are living the flow of our potential we could say that we feel spiritually fulfilled.
We can feel spiritual fulfillment whether we are Religious or not. It may be that your chosen religion is what gives you this fulfillment or your spiritual practice or simply your job or hobbies. Maybe at some stage of one's life a person feels they need more structure, more direction, and thus they may become part of an established religion, partake in spiritual practice or simply have a more spiritual outlook on life and how they conduct it. This means that spiritual fulfillment can happen whether one is religious or not, spiritual or not. It can be related to mundane activities or the divine or both. Its expression depends on the individual.
Science vs Religion
Science is a method for understanding the world within & around us and our place in it. This is done by observing natural phenomena and conducting experiments to come up with results and data that can help us draw conclusions and facts. Just like any religion or belief system out there, science is comprised of a community of proponents and people who follow it. There are also different levels of involvement such as the people conducting experiments, the people developing technologies from scientific understanding and the people who benefit from this. The main difference between science and religion is that one is based on faith and the other is based on proof (verifiable data). In concluding facts about the nature of reality, it scientific terms, it is not enough to say that you simply "believe" in it.
So what about practices such as Qigong which are thousands of years old? How is it that Qigong has persisted so long, even into the modern world? Qigong was developed at a time when intricate and sophisticated instruments for sensing data and gathering information about natural phenomena did not exist.....or did they?
These 'instruments' have always existed and they are inherent in all livings things: the natural in-built sensory apparatus we all posses such as sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch. When we practice Qigong, one aspect is that we are developing our senses, in particular the ability to feel energy or Qi. This can only be done by concurrently cultivating a calm and clear mind because when we learn how to do this, we can get clear sensations/sensory information about what is happening inside the body in the subtle energy system. These Qi sensations arise from moving the body in a certain way with the correct technique/approach and develop naturally as the Qigong practitioner progresses.
When one learns Qigong they are given the guidance and the tools to learn the exercises and how to make them work. Each individual needs to confirm the practice for themselves; practical application is key. This means that each person applies what they are taught and do so with the intent to learn what the practice has to reveal to them. No one is taught to believe in Qi or energy or anything at all about Qigong practice.
The starting point for Qigong practice is to simply apply the principles taught carefully to perform the exercises correctly and then the practitioner needs to see what changes occur in their lives and during practice and if this can be directly related to Qigong. Speaking in scientific terms, you need to conduct your own experiment when you practice Qigong through a process of observation and analysis of feedback from your senses/body very carefully because the nature of this experiment can very easily become skewed if one's mind is not clear or calm.
Daoism: Where Science and Spirituality Meet
Qigong has its roots in Daoism and was developed based on Daoist principles and observations on the nature of reality and natural phenomena. Daoism developed its understanding of the world by looking within and without; it is a practical method for understanding the world and how to navigate it. Daoists realised that they needed to fine-tune their sensory apparatus in order to gain insights about the world and to develop technologies to take advantage of natural phenomena.
In the case of Qigong, it is based on the understanding of biological systems in the body in order to optimise them by applying specific body movements, done in a specific way applying specific principles. The result is that it unites and harmonises body, mind and energy. Essentially, it is a body hack and this is done without any kind of sophisticated equipment but rather the inherent mechanisms in the body. This can be called "internal technology" and this is where the complexity lies: It is a fascinating complexity that cannot be seen from the outside by an observer watching someone practice Qigong.
Daoism is the perfect harmony of Science and Spirituality (not religion). Daoism is not a religion because it does not demand the belief in anything; practical application and confirmation is key. It is a form of science because it is about observing the nature of reality and developing ways to harness natural phenomena. Daoism supports spiritual development because its methods are based on giving individuals the tools to harness and uncover their own potential leading to inner fulfillment and an enhanced life.
Is Qigong a Religion?
In conclusion, Qigong is not a religion because it is a method that takes advantage of and optimises biological functions of the body. These tools come in the form of body movements and application of internal principles which were developed by Daoists and their observation of the natural world in order to understand the nature of reality and take advantage of natural mechanisms.
Qigong practice improves your health; both physical and mental. It enhances your understanding of yourself, life, your place in it and thus can enhance the way you conduct your life and relate to the world. This is why Qigong can be mistaken for a religion and why it is the perfect harmony between science and spirituality: because it integrates all spheres of human functioning elegantly into practical life-tools available for anyone to learn. The beauty of Qigong is that although anyone is invited to learn it, No one is automatically granted the results of practice because pure belief or faith in it is not enough to unlock its secrets. The key is in earnestly applying your own efforts and unlocking your own potential. In this regard, not only does Qigong practice offer the opportunity for spiritual development, but it also does this by giving structure which is essential for individuals who are serious about achieving real, life-changing results without the commitment to be bound by a specific religious doctrine.
By: Luis De Florio