TCM Causality, “Superstition” and Philosophy

Day 2

by Gene Chuah

Are poor people more likely to steal because they are poor, or are they poor because they are the type who would rather steal than work hard? Does A cause B, or does B cause A? In yesterday’s class, we learned that it doesn’t have to be in one direction only. B can also cause A while A is causing B. And, surprise, there may be a third factor C, affecting A and/or B. So yes, crime rates are high in poor neighbourhoods partly because poor people “need” to steal, but they’re also poor to begin with because maybe they’re the criminally-minded type who would rather “reap where they have not sown”, and therein lies the root of their poverty. AND  there could also be an oppressive feudal lord over them, collecting half their income in taxes, and preying on their weakened, oppressed state, and keeping them poor and stealing! We learned that this is one of the beautiful things about Traditional Chinese Medicine because it helps explain the root cause of many diseases and chronic conditions — rather than a fixed, simplistic model of things, we have a rich, complex network of interacting causes and effects which themselves can each reverse their role.

We covered quite a lot in yesterday’s class : (1) how the different modalities in TCM emerged due to the unique differences in the 5 main geographic regions in China (North, South, East, West, and Central), with things like climate and natural resources as factors; (2) how the Huang Di Nei Jing (The Yellow Emperor’s Internal Classic), as the first “scientific” medical book (written between approx 250BC – 200AD) influenced the tone of TCM by taking out the “superstition” and presenting TCM in a more systematic fashion; (3) how belief systems like Daoism and Confucianism influenced TCM; (4) the different diagnostic methods in TCM; (5) steps in treating a patient (diagnosis and treatment breakdown); (6) how the West influenced TCM when contact was made, and (7) some unique characteristics of TCM (cylical vs. linear, non-invasiveness, tailor-made vs. mass-produced).

One of the most popular criticisms of TCM is that it is “witch doctorism”. Well, now we know that in early history, that may have been the case, but TCM in its evolution “phased out” the superstitious stuff (appeasing spirits to cure disease, etc.) and became scientific. The scientific method is plain and simple and accessible even to the non-modern mind — test whatever is repeatable, and document it. So boo to you if you still think that Traditional Chinese Medicine is flaky voodoo.

Some things about Daoism. It is meant to be an observation of the natural laws of the universe. If I could put it into one sentence, based on what we learned in class yesterday, it would be this : “simple is good, and, It is what It is”. We learned that “the 10,000 things” are really just one thing, and vice versa. Ronny talked about how this relates to macrocosms/microcosms and that this is a pattern we see in TCM as well — the “correspondence” idea — for instance, Wind (a TCM term) in the external environment can produce Wind in the body and aggrave one’s condition. One side of the coin influences the other side correspondingly. Fractal theory came to my mind. The planet can be thought of as a living organism, just as each one of us is a miniature model of it. The planet can affect us, but we too affect it with our lifestyle choices.

This next topic ties in so beautifully : how the West came to be like the East and the East came to be like the West. During the Communist revolution in China, the party leaders were debating whether or not to leave Traditional Chinese Medicine behind since they wanted to modernize and get rid of old baggage. They ended up keeping it, but from that point on there has always been a strong push to “Westernize” TCM. So today’s “Traditional” Chinese Medicine as practiced in China, is not really that traditional. It has been merged into a new animal altogether. What’s known as TCM in the West now is actually Classical Chinese Medicine (CCM). Thanks to pioneers like Giovanni Maciocia (author of The Foundations of Chinese Medicine) who visited, lived and breathed China and then preserved Chinese Medicine, we today still have a good chunk of the real deal. Thanks to his efforts and those of others like him, Classical Chinese Medicine flourished in the Western world, and there’s been no stopping it ever since; the holistic medicine movement has embraced TCM and now the Western mind is “looking east” where this is concerned. In regards to the preservation of CCM in the West, ironically I see glimpses of this in North America with Asian immigrants — they preserve their culture (through family life, communal groups, cultural organizations) while the rest of Asia chugs along and evolves into something else… Westernizing, evolving, into a whole different animal (no judgement on my part). But again here we see “correspondence”, duality, and the cyclical cause/effect idea at work.

I should also mention that the principle of non-invasiveness in TCM stems from Confucian teachings — that there is an order to things, and everything has its place in the overall structure. The idea of respect is a big thing in Confucianism (social order, hierarchy, respect for parents and elders). This idea of respect carries through and applies in Chinese medicine, where we don’t cut the body open to try and diagnose/treat it, but do whatever we can from outside the body. Respect and working in harmony with the laws of nature and the universe are key principles of TCM. Now contrast this with brute-force approaches in conventional medicine, the “slash, burn and poison” of surgery, radiotheraphy and chemotherapy for instance. This is such an important concept and I wish more people understood this. Look up Dr. Xiaolan Zhao for an instance of a TCM doctor who’s had massive success in cancer treatment.

Ronny also introduced the 5 Elements Theory. Can’t wait to get into the nuts and bolts of it!


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