Please enjoy this guest post by my friend and classmate, Christopher Thombs, Candidate, M.S. in Oriental Medicine at NCNM.
Reprinted (in abbreviated form)in Oregon Acupuncture Association newsletter, Fall2007
Classical Chinese medicine celebrates bian hua, or the breath of nature. Only through unrestricted movement of breath will the body and spirit function optimally. Bian hua is a river flowing freely, the energy of spring surging up from seed, and the ebb and flow of the seasons. Our bodies are simply an expression of nature and our environment. As practitioners of Chinese medicine, it benefits us to lay the paradigm of natural processes over the landscape of our bodies. In modern Chinese medicine we have diagnostic and treatment protocols that are the products of studies, past recorded successes, and organized systems devised by doctors in China in the mid-twentieth century based on ancient knowledge — but we have lost something important to the ages.
In his college youth, Mao Tse Tung believed that China was isolated from the outside world, particularly the west, both in terms of cultural growth and social progress. By the late 1940’s, the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) had systematized thousands of years of medical knowledge. This enormous task aligned itself with a cultural revolution that saw the streamlining and regulation of everything from farming techniques to automobile axles and road widths. China wanted at the very least to compete with the rest of the world. Many of the practices and sources of information regarded as esoteric and ethereal in the context of the modern industrial world were simply deleted. Nature and its processes — the very foundation of the medicine — were all but forgotten.
Today, Classical Chinese medicine is a tenuous term, utilized mostly by those in the west seeking to reclaim the missing knowledge. There is, in the mainstream Chinese medical establishment, almost no institutionalized distinction between modern and classical perspectives, yet the classical teachings and treatment protocols do exist in the form of transmissions between student and teacher. Relatively speaking, a classical approach seeks to restore to the medicine the holism of nature and the holographic notion that our bodies are simply an expression of nature: there is something greater than ourselves, and we are a part of it.
Classical Chinese medicine is not exclusive, but rather embraces all the traditions and schools that existed for thousands of years either before relative popular decline or systematic elimination by the PRC in the 1940’s. It is important to understand that classical Chinese medicine recognizes the Wen Bing school, the canonical Shan Han Bin Lun, Six Conformation differentiation, the Bagua and medical I-Ching, and Taoist medicine, just to note a few sources. Additionally, much of the cosmological significance and symbology have been removed from most schools in the medicine, although many of our modern practices are based on this seemingly esoteric information.
Most classical Chinese medicine schooling in the west provides a platform to study and explore classical Chinese medical texts, texts which the majority of modern practices stem from. In Larre and Rochat de la Vallee’s series of publications about the organ systems and meridians, they examine in detail the symbology and cosmology of the Chinese characters in the medical classics in order to reveal valuable pathological and diagnostic information. Several translations of the Su Wen Nei Jing and other medical volumes are also accompanied by commentaries that explore the meanings and place them in a contemporary context.
At the National College of Natural Medicine, the goal of the School of Classical Chinese Medicine is to provide students with a strong classroom and clinical education in modern practices based on classical canonical medicine, while promoting a mentorship program of learning with individual doctors. It is the hope of the school that students gain as much from the transmission between teacher and student as from their books and studies. A number of students are also involved in extra-curricular projects and organizations, from student governance and AAAOM, to websites and publishing projects with individual doctors.
To say that classical Chinese medicine is one thing or another is to open a political can of worms. One thing is sure: we can never have too much knowledge. Problems arise when we mute or curtail knowledge to meet desired results. We can take courses in Chinese medical astrology and calligraphy or translate the Jingyue Quanshu, improve ourselves as practitioners through qigong and taiji practices, and study herbs and nutrition with great depth. Ultimately, however, it behooves us to acknowledge the inherent relationships between the parts of the whole and the natural processes at work in our bodies that have been embedded in these traditions from their inception, and are part of nature forever.
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.