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Yang-tzu about the True Medicine and our Modern Mentality

Taoist medicine - picture
Men who conduct their lives in accordance with the doctrine of Tao accumulate essence and their spirit realizes its full potential. Unfortunately, these days several tricks masquerade under the name of "Tao." In following the writings of the Yellow Emperor, the mystical maiden, Kung-tzu, and Jung Ch'eng, some men spend their lives in incessant pursuit of the female sex, hoping to strengthen their mental faculties through the return of the [seminal] essence. For these people, mind and spirit no longer form a whole; in reality, they lose that which they thought to preserve...
Source: http://www.itmonline.org/arts/taoism.htm

Despite our belief in the efficiency of the old Chinese medicine the Taoist sages approach it with a critical attitude.

Here is a short story of Yang-tzu about one of his friends - Ki Liang - who had falling ill. His sons called for doctors despited their father's opinion to not do so. The quote is written in bold; my comments follow.

[...] Ki Liang told Yang Tzu: "My sons are completely stupid. Would you please compose a song to instruct them?"

Yang Tzu then sang the following song:

      How could man get to know

      The things Heaven ignores?

      No help descends from Heaven (1)

      Evil does not depend on man,

      Neither I nor you

      Know the source of evil.

      Neither doctor nor sorcerer

      Knows something.

The sons made no sense of that however and finally called three doctors: Mr. Kiao, Mr. Yu and Mr. Lou who all started to examine the patient.

Mr. Kiao spoke to Ki Liang: "The hot and the cold are in no harmony with your body. The cause for your disease is the lack of balance and measure between need and saturation, pleasure and wish, passion and thinking, fun and boredom. Neither heaven nor evil spirits are to blame in your case. Even if this patient's condition is serious, we shall try hard to restore his health" (2)

Ki Liang replied: "That's an ordinary doctor - have him thrown away".

In his turn, Mr. Yu said: "Since your very birth, you have been lacking in force. You had too much milk as an infant. Yours is no recent ailment; its causes have developed gradually ever since. There is no cure to that".

Ki Liang replied: "That is a worthy doctor indeed!", and seated him at his table.

Mr. Lou also spoke: "The cause for your disease lies not in heaven, in men or in spirits. It took shape the moment you became alive. Even the one who rules over his own life could not get rid of it. So what's the use of trying herbs and all sorts of powders?"

Ki Liang replied: "That is a wonderful doctor", and overwhelmed him with gifts.

Ki Liang suddenly recovered as of himself.

Yang-tzu's explanations help us understand the meaning of this tale:

One must not over-estimate one's life, as it cannot be preserved thus; one doesn't treat himself better if he loves himself. And spite for life does not lead to untimely death either and indifference to one's health does not make it feeble. All these may contradict common sense but that's how things are, in fact.

And here is the conclusion:

Everything comes of itself (3); life emerges of itself and so do death, plenty and meagerness.

One might also look after one's life and keep it. One might despise it and lose it. One might love it and live it at its full.

It might sometimes happen that one considers life is not worth a dime and one lives a scanty life. All these may seem self-evident but it is not so. Life and death, plenty and scarcity arise naturally. (4)

Let's sum up: a disease comes of itself and so does recovery from it. There's nothing to depend on man's power (knowledge) unless Heaven has placed it in man's power. Our effort to stay fit and healthy, to live as long as possible in an impaired health condition rarely succeed.

This concept belongs to the ancient Taoist thinking and it is highly intriguing for two reasons:

  • Because we know therapy provided by "our" modern medicine works miracles;
     
  • Because we give much credit to the widely spread opinion maintaining that Chinese traditional medicine (acupuncture, Yin-Yang medicine, and so forth) is an effective practice

It is true that Yang-tzu's opinion concerning illness, because it was considered to be cynical or pessimistic, sparked controversy amongst specialists about the extent to which he was or was not a Taoist. There is an ambiguity also concerning master Yang's identity, who even seem contradictory in his aphorisms published in the Classic of Perfect Emptiness. (5)

But our opinion is that Yang-tzu is neither cynical nor pessimistic or ambiguous in his position here on the efficiency of medicine. He does not refuse medicine in its entirety and does not chase doctors away, irrespective of their "ideology". Our example shows Mr. Lou, a doctor too, being honored by the sick man for his assertion that there is no apparent cause for the disease.

The disease is born at the same time with the individual; it is of the same substance with human condition and is not determined by an agent or cause to eliminate. Disease is something given that we share with all creation as "it took shape the moment we became alive".

For our mentality the disease is surely an evil we have to rid ourselves of by all means.

It is also true that Sigmund Freud showed that disease and suffering play the role of psychic economy regulators - but his opinions have had nowadays but a few  followers. To understand disease as an expression of the living is undoubtedly too great an effort for modern man even.

Notes:
1. In other words, when one has no support from Heaven, one can do nothing against one's fate.

2. This doctor illustrates medical practice based on the balancing of Yin-Yang energy.

3. That is, naturally, without a logical cause.

4. Quoted from French version of Lie Tseu: Le vrai classique du vide parfait (The Classic of Per- fect Emptiness), translated by Benedykt Grynpas, Gallimard, 1961, pp.239-240. English translation by Mihaela Cristea.

5. Learn more about Yang-tzu life and work here.


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