Nurturing life through the body, heart, and spirit with the wisdom of Chinese medicine


A collection of notes on the topics of classical Chinese, medicine, and traditional culture.

This blog is a collection of ruminations, translations, and personal opinions by Sabine and some guest authors. Reflecting my own personality, some posts are academic, some clinical, and some personal, some are excerpts from existing books and some may become part of future books. Please leave comments with feedback, questions, constructive criticism, and differences of opinion as long as you argue your reasons for disagreement logically. Any personal attacks, uncivil remarks, or self-promoting comments will be deleted.

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Z'ev Rosenberg on "The Seminal Suwen Chapters: A Blueprint for Human and Ecological Health"


Given the fact that I am really busy right now finishing up my forthcoming book Humming with Elephants: The Great Treatise on the Resonant Manifestations of Yīn and Yáng (a discussion of the Yellow Emperor's Inner Classic, Plain Questions 5 黃帝內經素問:陰陽應象大論) and getting ready for a busy spring lecturing season, my esteemed colleague Z'ev Rosenberg, professor emeritus and former chair of the Department of Herbal Medicine at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in San Diego, has kindly offered to help out. Incidentally, Z'ev and I will be teaching a "medical classics study and herb expedition summer retreat" in Taos, New Mexico, in August of this year, which will incorporate material from both of our books. For more information on that, see here. To read more about Z'ev and his ongoing projects, visit his website here. In the guest blog below, he is providing a brief excerpt from his long awaited brand-new book Returning to the Source: Han Dynasty Medical Classics in Modern Clinical Practice, which has just been released by Singing Dragon and promises to be a real gem. Here is a little taste:

The essential first three chapters of the Huang di nei jing Su wen set the stage for the core principles of Chinese medicine. These opening chapters contain the compass of life and medicine; the text reveals the equations that allow us to see how far we’ve deviated from the principles of life. As Wang Bing explains in his commentary of Chapter 3 in the Su wen:

If one’s desires cannot fatigue one’s eyes, if the evil of lewdness cannot confuse one’s heart, if no recklessness causes fatigue, this is ‘clarity and purity.’ Because of one’s clarity and purity, the flesh and interstice [structures] are closed and the skin is sealed tightly. The true and proper qi guards the interior and no depletion evil intrudes... Those that are ‘clear and pure’ follow the order/sequence of the four seasons, ...they do not cause fatigue through reckless behavior, and rising and resting follow certain rules. As a result, their generative qi is never exhausted and they are able to preserve their strength forever.

Many modern practitioners of Chinese medicine criticize the seminal first three chapters of the Su wen as ‘fantasy’, about a world that no longer exists, of sages living in perfect harmony with the way (dào 道). The Su wen describes it as an ideal, as a way of living that even at the time of the Huang Di nei jing was long past. In Chapter 1 of the Su wen Huang Di asked Qi Bo:

The people of high antiquity, in [the sequence of] spring and autumn, all exceeded one hundred years. But it their movements and activities there was no weakening. As for the people of today, after one half of a hundred years, the movements and activities of all of them weaken. Is this because the times are different? Or that the people have lost this [ability]?

Qi Bo responded:

The people of high antiquity, those who knew the Way, they modeled [their behavior] on yin and yang…. [Their] eating and drinking was moderate. [Their] risings and resting had regularity. They did not tax [themselves]) with meaningless work. Hence, they were able to keep physical appearance and spirit together, and to exhaust the years [allotted by] heaven. Their life span exceeded one hundred years before they departed.

What many people don’t glean from the passage is that the Su wen presents the principles for the practice of ecological medicine, based on living in harmony with natural law and its influences on the intricacies of human health. This has been known since ancient times, first mentioned in the Mawangdui manuscripts, as nourishing life (yǎng shēng 養生). The ideal way of life attributed to the sages is based on the intrinsic harmony of heaven (sky) and earth, and the human being as an intermediary between these poles of existence. So right at the beginning of Chinese history, we are seeing that the human being has a profound influence on the world around us.

In modern times, the predominating dogma(s) in modern science, on the one hand, are that nature is unconscious, working according to Darwinian mechanisms that push survival and adaption forward. On the other hand, are the religious fundamentalists who believe that such phenomena as climate change are a hoax, and free-market evangelists who believe that energy companies should be deregulated and be allowed to despoil the environment in the name of economic need and job growth? Nowhere is this problem more acute than in mainland China, as we discussed above. The closest modern theory I could find from a scientist is James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis’ “Gaia Principle,” which states that the Earth is a living being that responds to our activities. One of the great sea changes of the scientific revolution in the West was the complete repudiation of what is called the vitalist principle, the concept of a life force in creation that animates all living and sentient beings, replaced by a more mechanistic view of life. In my opinion, this is the biggest rift between Western and Chinese medicine. And to the degree that Chinese medicine abandons so-called vitalism, it moves far from its Han dynasty sources.