Important Things to Do!

Hi folks! I’ve been out of touch, but haven’t fallen off the edge of the earth. Well, at least not physically. I’ve been busy…so busy that I couldn’t even stay involved with my website. I tried to start blogging again at the end of 2011, but only posted a few times and went back underground. So, what’s up with that? The whole point of this website is to try to engage people in how I think about Chinese medicine and health care in general. How can I do that, if I don’t even post, or monitor responses? Good questions, and I can’t say I have a good answer. My only response is that I’ve been busy, and until fairly recently didn’t really have much ready to say about what I was doing. Believe it or not:

I’ve been learning classical Chinese, so I can study Neijing as it has been received.

Neijing is the oldest and most fundamental pair of classic texts about Chinese medicine, consisting of Suwen (Simple Questions) and Lingshu (The Spiritual Pivot). They are amazingly important, and I’ll have a lot more to say about that during the coming weeks and months. It’s a BIG topic, and learning classical Chinese alone is challenging. It’s a difficult language – for several reasons, which I will discuss when I share the fruits of my current researches. Yet, I’ve also found many jewels in the chapters that I’ve studied carefully, and can now confidently say that studying the text in conjunction with clinical practice can be a journey into awesome and previously unknown potential. Oh, my! Well, I’ve been writing about that for a long time, and will certainly do more in the future. I’m thinking of a blog piece right now on that topic, but won’t wander off now.

Learning classical Chinese — YIKES, and I don’t even like languages! Why would I subject myself to such an project? I’ve learned a wonderful oral lineage of Chinese medicine, which I’ve always known was based on Neijing. I’ve organized and taught a short series of seminar introducing acupuncturists and students to the wonders of the channel complexes, consisting of fives systems of channels and vessels rather than just the usual ‘primary channels.’ Isn’t that enough? Well, apparently not, as my opportunities to teach wither on the vine. I’m sure a large part of the problem is that I haven’t had a clue how to market what I do, and the organizers I’ve worked with haven’t ended up being particularly successful attracting participants. Well, among other things, that’s all changed now. I guess we’ll see who wants to study Neijing, and what it has to say about Chinese medicine.

But, why did I take this on myself? Surely, there must be others who are better prepared suited to this task! Aren’t there? Please? Well, I guess not. Wait a minute, you might say. There are other translations – of both texts. Yes, that’s true, and likely a good topic for an entire blog posting. My conclusion about my need to do this work myself is based on my experience with this work. Study of Neijing relies on two important prerequisites:

  1. A high degree of literacy in classical Chinese: I am blessed to have the able assistance of Sabine Wilms, Ph.D. Sabine did her doctoral degree in history; her dissertation topic was the writings of a Chinese doctor named Sun Simiao (581-682), which of course required her to learn classical Chinese. Her period of concentration was indeed fortuitous, because while Neijing was originally recorded during the western Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 9 CE), the earliest recovered versions of each text date from the early Song Dynasty (960-1279), and we know the texts underwent extensive editing by Wang Bing (c. 710-804). She has studied specific language and usage during the period of time that Neijing was edited – before the texts we have received, and has had to study older sources for her historical research, so can help me decipher its mysteries. Most importantly (for me) – she has an open mind with an inclination toward recognizing the import of lineage. She has been willing to help me rise from illiteracy (of classical Chinese) to be able to study the texts, and do my own translations with notes and commentaries. This has been a gift beyond measure (for me), and I hope at least some in my profession will think so as well.
  2. Clinical Experience based in the concepts of Neijing: While contemporary Chinese medical doctrine is based on material selected from several chapters of Neijing, it has excluded many other topics found in the classics. In short it has been edited down for clarity, as the classics are riddled with obscure and even contradictory ideas and information. During the long history of Chinese medicine, various authors have selected material from Neijing that supports their ideas, which is actually pretty easy to do, because there are so many ideas in those classics that are only vaguely woven together. It leaves A LOT for the reader to interpret and understand, and in so doing develop a thinking process that will allow them to discern the subtle dynamics of life within individual patients. It’s quite a marvelous text, which CANNOT be fully understood outside the context of practice.

So, what makes me think that I can do this, even with Sabine’s help? Well, I certainly couldn’t do it without A LOT of help! Frankly, I don’t think anyone else could, either. My help has come in the form of the oral lineage I’ve received from Jeffrey Yuen. I’ve written a bit about Jeffrey before and likely will again. At this point I’ll simply note that he leaves a lot for his students to figure out, because classical Chinese medicine is an awakening to seeing the dynamics of life rather than a body of doctrine. Of course, Neijing includes a lot of information, much of which is new to most practitioners and students. However, that is not the key distinction between Neijing and contemporary approaches to Chinese medicine. Another BIG topic, which will grow more clear as I share my current research. Stay tuned!

I’d love to see some interesting and insightful material about Neijing in English, so I guess I’ll just have to give it a try myself. I have sufficient practical knowledge of the 經絡脈 (jīngluòmài, Channel Complexes) that I can START studying Neijing. I’ve already learned that there are other practical applications of (at least parts of) Neijing out there, and that discovery has been very exciting. I had the pleasure to finally meet Susan Johnson, L.Ac. last year, when she showed up at my series in Santa Cruz. After just a few minutes of talking with her, I discovered that the material she has been teaching for many years from her lineage (from Master Tung), while very different from modern TCM, derives from Neijing. She then pointed out to me pointed out to me a very important principle concerning application of material in Lingshu, chapter 5, which I had not yet clarified for myself and Jeffrey never mentioned. She was so excited that the things she knows in her bones derive from that chapter, and I was excited to be so enthusiastically received.

Just last week, Susan complained that it had been SO LONG since she had some ‘juicy’ Neijing to read. I shared a couple early drafts during my series in Santa Cruz last spring and summer, but quickly learned that openness is probably counter-productive. While I’d like others to join me in the process of reading the text (I include the Chinese), nearly everyone seems to relies on my translation. I get that, and it imposes a high degree of responsibility on me. I can’t share pieces that I’m working on with others, until I’m clear on the translation. While I do the translation, I also prepare “translator’s notes” that discuss various issues of language critical to the translation. Some of those would not be necessary for people fluent in classical Chinese, and I believe they will all help practitioners understand the text more fully. Well, that’s already a lot of work, but Susan has told me that what she really enjoys are my Commentaries, which discuss how I understand each chapter, based in my experience working with my lineage teachings. Alas, I’ve decided to work on translations and notes of a group of chapters to publish together as (a first volume of) a Neijing ‘reader’ or anthology, and only then focus on writing their interrelated Commentaries. Round Two!

So, I’ve been busy choosing and working on that first group of chapters to prepare for publication. I’ve learned to not share any translations until I feel confident of them, which will likely mean going over them with Sabine for a long time. We’ve worked on about ten chapters, and I think I’ve chosen most of a first collection. My own ‘rough’ translations of most of the rest of Lingshu and selected chapters of Suwen are improving, which allows me to search for themes around which to gather each collection of chapters, as this is intended to eventually be a series. Yet, I still seek her input on classical grammar and certain usages. The language of Neijing is difficult; Sabine has even complained about a few of the chapters we’ve done being very hard, so one can only imagine the steam streaming out of my ears as I’ve worked to figure them out. As we get the language straightened out, I make a list of line-by-line ‘comments’ derived from my practical understanding of the philosophy of Chinese medicine, based on my two decades of work with the teachings of my lineage. Those individual comments will eventually be woven  into an essay of “Commentary” on each chapter. It’s a BIG project, but as the old Chinese saying goes, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”



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