Contemporary discipleship in Chinese medicine

One of the things I see as inherent in a Classical approach to Chinese medicine is the recovery of a sense of discipleship. The passing of knowledge from Master to Student has always been a part of the medicine, as far as I can tell. This is not a foreign concept in general, the use of apprenticeships and master-student relationship are present in most arts and sciences through time. But it is a pretty absent feature of contemporary American life, in my experience.

Chinese medicine education – for the most part – is done in the same ineffective way that most education is done. Lecturers lecture. Students listen, or at least try to listen. Lab time is neglected. Standardized tests are seen as a viable way to measure performance. People graduate who really don’t know what they’re doing or why.

Through every step of my education, I have sought real mentors. People with diverse life experience who can help me navigate not just the material, but life. The first is, perhaps, primary – but if the second isn’t present in some way I don’t really feel as though I am learning anything of value. I have been fairly successful finding people who I resonate with who have excellent information to share, a love for teaching and also many words of wisdom in life to pass along.

When I learned that the Classical Chinese Medicine program at NCNM had as an integral feature a restoration of true mentorship, I was very excited. I have to say that while there have been efforts to materialize this ideal, it has been no easier for me to find mentorship in this program than it has been anywhere else. I think the consciousness of the importance of mentor-mentee relationships is there, and various structures exist to help manifest those relationships. But, as everything, it’s a work in progress.

What does discipleship mean in contemporary society? Is it truly an integral feature of learning Chinese medicine? These are questions I consider heavily many times each day.

Recently I’ve been in conversation with a respected friend and colleague about this issue. We’ve gone back and forth about what constitutes discipleship and, perhaps most importantly, whether the exchange of money should be involved between mentor and mentee. What is gained or lost in this situation?

One argument I have made is that in the past, frequently trials were required from the mentee – involving considerable investments of time. Further, in the end we have to admit that if the mentor simply did not like the mentee, they would not come into relationship. At least not frequently. Many of us these days have money but not time. Or, rather, we trade most of our time for money. Does this make money a good substitute for time in this situation? It is sometimes a trial to come up with money. 🙂 Also, does this somehow democratize the mentor-mentee relationship? Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

I’d be really interested to hear folks’ thoughts on this and related issues. Please add your voice in the comments. Also, if you would like to have more articles about topics like this brought to you directly be sure to subscribe to this blog via RSS feed or via email.


About Eric Grey

Hi - I'm the founder of this site and the primary master of all functions here. When I'm not writing, you can find me reaching out to the Chinese Medicine community across the web and in my own backyard. I currently teach Chinese herbs at my alma mater, the National College of Natural Medicine. Additionally, I'm the founder of Watershed Wellness, a thriving local clinic in Southeast Portland in Oregon. No matter where I'm working, you'll find my focus on the Classical approach to Chinese medicine laced throughout everything I do.

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