Chan and Daoism do not distinguish between spiritual, mental and physical practice when it comes to establishing good health. In Daoism, internal martial arts, qigong, meditation, and some other lesser-known methods are applied as a form of spiritual practice that uses the body as an instrument.
One of these Daoist practices is the “avoiding grains” (bigu 辟谷), a fasting method that removes cereals (wheat, rice, barley, millet, sorghum, etc.) and other food from the diet. Instead, the person only consumes a small amount of living raw food, which contains herbs, seeds, nuts, resin, sap, bark, and roots. Such a “superfood” is highly nutritious and has a big impact on the body. Regular use is believed to slow down aging, detoxify the body, cleanse the digestive system, and balance body energy.
Already by the early 4th century, various Daoist masters multiplied fasting approaches, which led to the creation of over 100 different methods of bigu. Although some modern day Daoist masters are constantly developing new approaches, some of the ancient diet plans are still available and can be found in the Daoist Canon (Dàozàng 道藏).
It is important to understand that bigu is perceived as a spiritual practice, and as such should be practiced withdrawn from the regular lifestyle.
Many spiritual teachings believe that the accomplished person of the path can live without food. It is said that such people live on light, Prana, or Qi.
To cite a philosophical work Huainanzi 淮南子(also known as "Huainan Honglie"and "Liu Anzi") compiled by the royal family of Huainan Wang Liu An in the Western Han Dynasty:
People who eat meat are courageousand violent,
People who eat grains are smart and die prematurely,
People who eat qi have a clear spirit and are long-lived,
And those who eat nothing become immortal.
Nowadays, fasting is becoming increasingly popular in urban areas and is mainly used to lose weight or detoxify the body. Nevertheless, the focus of modern fasting is more on the digestive tract and most people integrate fasting into their busy work and life schedules. They even keep watching television, continue to use smartphones, or read newspapers. Certainly, such a fasting approach results in lower body weight, but detoxification is short-lived, and the burden on the body causes negative impact on another level.
The true effect of fasting is only generated when, the entire body-mind-spirit system is considered and not only the digestive tract, but also all other organs and senses are addressed. Fasting is a time when this that enters our system should either be completely discarded or reduced. In other words, the quantity is minimised and the quality is maximised.
With that, fasting stops being just a simple weight control, and raises to a level of a spiritual practice that, as a side effect, activates the self-healing and regeneration of the entire body, but also creates a blissful feeling, and deep peace.
However, any fasting, and bigu in particular, should only be carried as instructed by the experienced teacher and after medical examination.