Disciple: There are many poisons in the food we eat, like coffee and ginseng. A lot of people use mushrooms as means of cultivation of the Way or as a Dharma door. Does the Venerable Master have any suggestion? What should we do?
Venerable Master: The reason for the precept against taking intoxicants is that intoxicating substances can make people go insane. They can make people go crazy and act in upside-down ways. If you take a small amount and it doesn't confuse you, that's okay. It's only to be feared that you start out taking a little, but you end up taking a lot. For example, people who drink alcohol may start out with one glass, then drink another glass because they don't realize they are tipsy. People who drink usually won't admit that they are drunk. Even if they are drunk, they say they aren't. I've seen a lot of people who are like that. They drink a little, and then some more, and then more. That's the reason for the precept.
If you use a little bit as medicine to cure an illness, it is acceptable. If you are not sick, then you don't need to use this medicine. Just now ginseng was mentioned. Ginseng is not poisonous. It is sweet in nature. "Ginseng has a sweet flavor and is very bolstering to the constitution. It quenches thirst, helps to produce saliva, regulates the complexion, and nurtures the stomach." What advantages does it have? If you are thirsty and you eat it, it will quench your thirst. It also produces saliva. It nourishes your inherited constitution (yuan qi). The qi or energy in your dantian (near your abdomen) is called central energy (zhong qi). The inherited constitution is the energy that gives rise to your central energy. It is the source of energy. Ginseng bolsters your energy. If you are weak, eat some ginseng and you will feel invigorated.
Many Chinese Dharma Masters, when they give lectures, have to drink ginseng tea, because lecturing drains their energy, and the ginseng tea helps to replenish it. So, "ginseng has a sweet flavor and is very bolstering to the constitution. It quenches thirst, helps to produce saliva..." If you are very thirsty, drink ginseng and it will cure your thirst. It "regulates the complexion, and nurtures the stomach." Regulating the complexion means regulating the blood, and nurturing the stomach means nurturing one's energy. That's ginseng.
You have to know the functions of each medicinal herb. You can't just take a little of this and a little of that. If you do that, then even if you were healthy to begin with, you could end up getting sick. Medicines are for curing sickness. If you aren't sick, you don't need to take them. Some people say, "I feel tired, I think I'll take some drug to make my tiredness go away." If you feel tired, just take a rest and then you'll be fine. You don't need to take medicine.
Disciple: Regulating the complexion refers to regulating blood?
Venerable Master: It regulates the blood so that the blood circulates well and doesn't get clogged up like a sewage pipe. If a person has good blood circulation, he will not get sick.
Who else has a question?
Disciple: What about taking ginseng during Chan sessions? Is it appropriate to take ginseng at that time? Does it count as curing illness?
Venerable Master: It helps your cultivation. If your legs tend to go to sleep a lot, you can take some ginseng to help them wake up. That's okay.
Disciple: We ate some ginseng here. It creates a very yang state that some people have a hard time handling. The tide flow will block up in the shoulders or the back for awhile, and some people were uncomfortable with that yang state. I find that just by hanging on for awhile, the blockage will stop. Is there some exercise you can do, or some other medicine that can be taken together with it?
Venerable Master: If it's too yang for someone, he doesn't need to take it. With the human body, excess is as bad as deficiency. Too strong is as bad as being too weak. Don't overdo it. Just follow the middle path. For example, if you can carry a hundred pounds and you take some ginseng so you can carry 150 pounds, that's going overboard. If you have a cup, you want to fill it up full. But if you keep pouring after it is full and it overflows, it's the same as not being full. Suppose you feel very weak and lacking in energy, so your voice is very soft and you can't speak any louder. If your vital energy is weak and you pant when you walk, then ginseng can help to bolster your energy. It's not the case that everyone should take ginseng, especially when they are not sick. If one is not sick, then one should take it very sparingly. Even once a month is already quite substantial. One should not take it every day. If one is taking pure ginseng, one should only take one or two qian (1 qian is 1/10th of a Chinese ounce), or about half an ounce. And one should take ginseng only in the three winter months, not during the rest of the year.
OK, it's time to send off the plaques.
To be continued