Returning to the Roots of Chinese Medicine
Chinese medicine is rooted in a comprehensive theory of existence and profound philosophical framework that is essentially derived from Daoism. The notion of correspondences between, heaven, earth and man, or alternatively the plane of the spiritual, the material and the human forms the warp and woof of its doctrine. Chinese medicine is fundamentally a spiritual way of thinking, or a way that heaven, earth and man communicate and coordinate. If acupuncture is known in the West to treat pain, this is the smallest of its achievements. The real purpose is to "adopt the model of heaven and follow natural disposition" as stated in the Huainanzi, a major Daoist text of the Chinese Han dynasty (206 BCE-221 CE). The purpose of this paper is to bring to light the spiritual dimension of medicine and that modern biomedicine without a spiritual component only treats the symptoms, not the patient.
A Critique of Modern Medicine
Modern medicine in all its glory, technological advancement and precision is still lacking in one key area of human life: a sound investigation on the nature of the soul. Without taken into consideration the spiritual dimension of the human being, it can only observe the movement of the material constituents of the human body. It can observe causality and the mechanisms of action that explain only superficially of how it works. Because immaterial existence, namely, the soul, heart and spirit is not observable by modern methods of scientific observation, arguably it cannot be verified and accounted for. Therefore, the whole of biomedicine has not been able to adequately incorporate a theory of the soul in its body of knowledge and consequently in its diagnostic and treatment strategies. It seems that there is simply too wide a gap between the scientific and spiritual worldviews for there to be any common ground and reason for inclusion. It is interesting to note that because modernity has so boldly embraced a materialistic worldview, the mention of spiritual life is found mainly in ancient and borrowed traditions such as Yoga, Chinese medicine, Sufism, Taoism, Buddhism and Ayurveda, to name a few. While these traditions have made an imprint on society at large, this has not been the case for the scientific community. The implications of this blind observance to materialist dogma is evident at the very core of education systems in the West. Unless one specializes in some form of Eastern thought at the university level, everything from anthropology to zoology will be deeply rooted in the idea that existence is material, discrete, quantifiable, and that phenomenon can be explained through linear causality.
Chinese medical schools in the West are not impervious to this materialistic undercurrent. Even though we begin our studies with the foundations of yin and yang theory, and the so-called corporeal/ethereal souls and spirit (shen), the trend at the advanced levels of study is to whole-heartedly embrace the Western biomedical model, all in the name of integrative medicine. In other words, Chinese medicine is being colonized through more stringent regulations of conformity and strategic curriculum changes. The onus of learning the language of medicine ‘proper’ is on the ‘alternative’ practitioner, not the physician, who is often beholden to the pharmaceutical industry (in some cases a glorified drug rep) and utterly ignorant of a 2000-year-old Asian medical tradition, and likely other grand movements in the intellectual history of medicine. That ‘language of medicine’ has shifted its semantic structure to fit a more material bias, particularly in TCM educational institutions which are looking desperately for acceptance or accreditation. These are, unfortunately, the dynamics of power and the political backdrop of TCM in the West. Conform or die.
Am I suggesting that TCM practitioners not learn the language of biomedicine, nor study the human body on a cellular level, nor integrate in their practice the breathtaking achievements of science? Not at all! What I am suggesting here is that the practitioner of Eastern medicine revisit the spiritual principles that forms the best of this medicine, not to become awestruck by modern science and lose sight of the power of its own spiritual wellspring.