Originating sometime during the Tang dynasty in Shanxi province, this story is about an elderly man who sold herbal medicines in the marketplace of his village. Since no one in the village knew his name, they just called him the Old Herb Seller.
Wang Yu, a rich man in the village, was reserved, kind, and very skilled regarding medical treatments. One evening he decided to invite the old herb seller to his house for dinner, doing so in hopes of learning something valuable from him. Curiously, when the old man appeared at Wang’s front door, he did not salute his host, instead bowing to Wang Yu’s servant.
Wang Yu did not take this to heart and just let it go assuming the old man was too old to remember proper protocols. Instead, he poured the old man a cup of wine and presented it to him personally. The old man took the cup of wine and downed it in one gulp. He then turned to his host and blurted out quite sharply, “What is it you want to ask of me? You didn’t invite me here just for free food and wine. So don’t stand on ceremony, speak!”
Wang Yu nervously responded, “You never tell people what your name is. Could you please tell me who you are?”
The old man replied, “My feet are firmly on the ground with the sky above my head, so I get Qi from both Heaven and Earth. My surname is Ren (Man) and my first name is Ren (Man). So I am Ren Ren (Man Man), and I don’t need any other name.”
“The medicines you sell can cure various diseases. People who take your medicine are always cured. What is in them?” Wang Yu asked politely.
The old man stared at Wang Yu and said with some irritation over his question, “There are no various diseases. All people suffer from the same disease. People survive by relying on Qi. If Qi flows through the body smoothly and abundantly, the person will be in good health. Otherwise, if the Qi flows poorly or is obstructed a person will experience disease and sicknesses. So, there is actually only one disease in the whole world, and it is called “poor Qi circulation.” It is not logical to give diseases various names. I only sell one kind of medicine. Because all diseases have one cause, only one type of medicine is needed to cure them.”
Wang Yu then nervously asked the old man, “Could you please consider taking my servant as your disciple?” Thinking his servant could learn the old man’s secrets and then tell him.
The old man replied, “Your servant has the same status as I have. But, if you give me your servant as my disciple, then I shall give you a book in return.”
Wang Yu agreed and received a book from the old man. He then discharged his servant from service so to go with the old man. The servant was very happy at this development, as he really wanted to learn from this old man. Soon the old man and his new disciple went away, and no one knew where they went.
After reading the book the old man had given him, Wang Yu made great progress in his medical treatments. A couple of months later a young man came to Wang Yu and insisted on seeing this book the old man had given to him. The young man looked very familiar, but Wang Yu couldn’t place where he had seen him before. For some strange reason, he felt obliged to show the young man the book and handed it over to him. Then right before Wang Yu’s eyes the young man and the book disappeared in an instant, like a puff of smoke. Wang Yu immediately knew he had been dealing with a true immortal.
What I really like about this story is what the old man explains about Qi, that if we do things to maintain and promote good Qi flow then there are no diseases and illnesses that can enter the body. What he has to say here is quite true. Our health is completely dependent upon good Qi flow. We can all learn a lot from this example of the Old Herb Man, so everyone should really put forth good effort towards their practices, such as Taijiquan, Qigong, Kungfu, meditation, and, of course, maintaining a proper and healthy diet and alleviating stress—all of which promote good Qi flow. Then, as Master Liang would tell students regarding consistent practice, “You can enjoy a beautiful life in this beautiful world.”