July 7, 2021 | By a Falun Gong practitioner in China
Sun Simiao, one of the greatest Chinese doctors in history, lived 141 years and left an admirable legacy.
Although he lived through four dynasties, he paid little interest to fame or material wealth. Emperor Xuan of the Northern Zhou (578-579) and Emperor Jing of the Northern Zhou (579-581) invited him to be an officer, and Emperor Wen of Sui (581-604) invited him to accept a guozi boshi (imperial doctorate), but he declined.
“In 50 years, a great sage will emerge and I will help him save people,” he often told those close to him.
When Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty (626-649) was enthroned, he invited Sun to the court. Impressed by his refined demeanor and youthful looks, the emperor said, “From you, I know the Dao is really admirable, and heavenly beings such as Xian Men and Guang Chengzi do exist.” He offered Sun official positions, but Sun declined, saying he just wanted to pursue the Tao and save people.
Throughout his life, Sun cherished virtue and saved people with his medical skills. Considering human life priceless, he titled two of his books Qianjin Yaofang (Essential Formulas [Worth] a Thousand Pieces of Gold for Emergencies) and Qianjin Yifang (A Supplement [Worth] a Thousand Pieces of Gold for Essential Formulas for Emergencies).
“If one does not embrace virtue with good behavior, longevity will remain beyond his reach even if he takes the best medicine and supplements,” he wrote in Qianjin Yaofang. “When one continues to follow the Tao and accumulates virtue, he will have blessings without prayer and longevity without pursuit,” he explained.
Encounter with Thieves
During the final years of the Sui Dynasty, wars broke out and society was in chaos, but Sun continued traveling and treating patients.
Once he traveled to Jiujiang (in today’s Jiangxi Province), where he met a group of thieves. Thinking he was a “spy,” they tied him up and took him to the head thief.
“I am not a spy. I am a doctor in my 70s,” Sun explained.
Everyone was surprised since he only looked about 30 or 40 years old. “Are you a divine being?” the head robber asked. Nonetheless, he asked Sun to stay and take care of the thieves and their families.
Although he was respectful of doctors in general the head thief bragged, “People like me are so strong that we do not need doctors.”
Sun asked, “Do you have the sensation that your chest and abdomen are swollen? Is your stool dry and you have to urinate frequently? Do you have insomnia, a bitter taste in your mouth in the morning, and bleeding gums?”
Shocked to hear his symptoms so accurately enumerated, the head thief quickly realised that Sun was not an ordinary doctor.
A sworn brother of the head thief was severely ill. A key ingredient Sun needed to treat him was ginseng, but none grew on the mountain and it had to be obtained elsewhere.
After Sun explained this, the head thief said, “Let’s go steal some.”
“No, we cannot do that,” Sun explained. “It is not allowed to do bad things even to save someone’s life.”
Since the thieves did not have the funds to purchase something as expensive as ginseng, Sun offered to leave the mountain and find a way to get some.
Worried that Sun would not return, the head thief sent someone with him and said they had to return in six days. Since they were doing this to save a life, Sun promised to be back on time.
At the base of the mountain was a Chinese medicine shop that sold ginseng. Sun asked if he could treat patients in the shop for three days in exchange for three taels of ginseng. The owner called over a clerk to test Sun’s skills. Sun said the clerk’s stomach had felt cold and full for three years, which the clerk verified was true. Impressed by his skill, the owner said Sun would have to stay for eight days treating patients or he would get no ginseng.
Thinking of the six-day deadline, Sun said he would work overtime for six days to complete eight days of work. If he was unable to finish, he would return later. “Once a man gives his word, he cannot take it back,” he said. The owner agreed.
After Sun started to treat patients, more and more people came with all kinds of health problems. Three days later, the shop had raked in more than in the past six months put together. As more patients kept coming, the store closed very late. Sun was very tired, but he continued. The owner earned so much money that he had to store it in big sacks.
Six days later Sun returned to the mountain with three taels of ginseng. The head thief heard about it and offered him a reward. The patient took the medicine and improved immediately. Sun thanked the head thief but declined the reward. He said he only wanted to leave the mountain and visit the prefecture chief. Touched by Sun’s ethics, the head thief agreed.
It was admirable that, during an era of chaos, Sun could remain and treat patients as usual. Furthermore, through his behavior, he taught thieves to be good (and not steal ) and the locals about the miraculous effects of Chinese medicine.
Sun’s words about the preciousness of human life were reflected in his actions. He influenced everyone involved, the head thief, the thieves, and their families, the shop owner, and the villagers. Such kindness and sacrifice were nearly unprecedented.
“A Great Doctor Is Dedicated and Sincere”
Sun practiced in the Jiaozuo area (in today’s Henan Province) for over 20 years.
He stayed in a humble abode in the village and put a desk at the entrance. He would have the patient sit on the other side of the desk across from him. He only charged a small fee to cover the cost of the medicine. If someone was poor, he would not take anything and treat the patient for free.
In addition to charging the least, Sun did not laugh or talk loudly in front of his patients. “When one person suffers, the entire family is unhappy. Plus, a patient might be in constant pain. If a doctor carelessly enjoys himself and is conceited, both mankind and the divine will find it unacceptable,” he wrote.
As Sun’s fame grew, many people sought him out to be treated. To make it easier for patients who had to travel long distances, he often stayed in one place for a while and then moved to another place. That way, more people could benefit.
In an article titled “A Great Doctor Is Dedicated and Sincere,” Sun wrote:“When a great doctor cures illness, he must remain calm and determined, with no desire or pursuit. He vows to save everyone with great compassion, regardless of the person’s social level, wealth, age, profession, feud, friendships, ethics, or intelligence. That is, everyone should be treated the same, just like a close family member.”
He also wrote, “Human life is precious and worth a thousand pieces of gold (qianjin). If one can save a life with a prescription, the merit is beyond that.” His books therefore all had “qianjin” in their titles. He also set an example by writing prescriptions for treating common illnesses on a stele near his residence. That way, people could refer to it free of charge.
Traditional Chinese culture focused on moral values and respect for the divine. Sun’s idea that health and happiness stem from virtue further explained this, leaving a long-lasting legacy for future generations.
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