"Oh great," I say, "tell me more."
She tells me he leads a cancer group at one of the local Integrative-Medicine hospital clinics. "What makes him a master?" I ask, explaining that Qigong as medicine is a pretty new idea, and that taxi drivers in China are awarded the title "Master" (Shirfu) as well.
"Oh he's amazing." She said, "We do a style of walking Qigong around a small park and one day a drunk homeless guy stood up and moved imposingly toward our path shouting insults. My master just waved his hand and the guy promptly went over to a bench and fell asleep."
"O.K." I thought to myself, "Obe-Wan Kenobi did that in the Star Wars movie too!" "That's an extraordinary claim," I say. "Are you learning how to do that? What other sorts of claims does he make?"
"Oh, he is very modest. He would never make such a claim himself. I just do it everyday because it makes me feel healthy."
Now, eye rolling aside, I'm not a truth junkie. I don't want to pop this woman's balloon. I don't know what he is personally claiming, but she has apparently talked herself into exercising everyday. Who am I to get in the way of that?
Still there is a significant chance that I have been practicing qigong longer than her "Master," who I suspect invented a lineage and an improbable training history. It diminishes me in two ways. First, some people will assume I'm not very knowledgeable because I don't do these sorts of amazing feats. Second, other people may associate Qigong with these improbable claims and disregard my knowledge altogether. Both of these things happen all the time.
Does her master have some ethical responsibility to clarify his powers of agency?Â How different is this from Jerry Alan Johnson who wrote a dictionary sized book on Qigong that I wouldn't even use as a door-stop?Â Johnson uses the "sword-fingers" mudra to do "needless" acupuncture, and one of his students is the main Qigong teacher at a Berkeley Acupuncture School.
I acknowledge that charismatic Qigong teachers get disciplined health commitments from their students or clients that I don't get. If you tap into a client's insecurities, or their desire for power, by convincing them that they will be freer, or happier, or stronger, or more preceptive, or even more intuitive, if only they quit eating fried chicken and do some groovy breathing exercise--who am I to get in the way? Those commitments are legitimately good for one's health. Other people are free to subordinate themselves to people and ideas.
The first American Qigong Precept that I propose is this (I know, it's a little long for a precept):
When you don't know, admit you don't know! Teach your students to do the same.Â Do not make claims about healing properties that you can not substantiate.Â Clear explanations are O.K., anecdotes are not unless you say, "This is an un-substantiated anecdote!"
Good storytelling can be a useful teaching method because it has the power to make metaphors memorable.Â When you present stories as history, go ahead and give the good-guys white hats and the bad-guys black hats--but beware, your are walking a fine line--make sure your students are sensitive to the presence of ambiguity.
If your knowledge comes from intuition admit that, and don't cross the line of claiming to know with certainty.