torsdag 21 april 2011

On the Neijing, part I out of oh, lots

The Neijing – the Huangdi Neijing Suwen, if we´re going to be formal – is the bible of chinese medicine. It was probably written about 200 BC, but the text shows that whoever wrote it down did so from an existing and complex science. The Neijing contains two parts with 81 chapters in each. The first is called the Suwen, the General Questions, where Qin Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor who united China, is having a (made-up) conversation with his trusted advisors. They talk about such things as health, medicine, how illness and the treatment of it works, and how you can keep good health all through your life. Many of the tenets and views are daoist, and it was Daoism who gave birth to chinese medicine. Since then, it has shaped and affected it over the millenia.

The second part of the Neijing is called the Lingshu, often clumsily translated as the Spiritual Pivot. It´s more practical than the Suwen and contains advice on needling, for example, but some chapters also contains information on the treatment of shen disorders: disorders of the mind, emotions, mental states. These are very common among people in the industrialized West, where pressures on the body are often almost gone, but the pressure on the mind, emotions and nervous system is huge.

The copy my friend in LA recommended was translated from a well-known version from the Tang dynasty, (600-900). The author´s name was Wang Bing, a chinese medical doctor and scholar mostly known for the twelve years he put into doing an annotated and restored version of the then existing Neijing from the early 500´s. Wang was finished in 762: a new updated version of the Neijing lay there in front of him, filled with his additions done in red ink around the original text.

The more common version used today is from about 1060. But the text itself has been continously researched, debated, discussed and commented on and its practices upgraded over the past 2200 years, like the rest of the huge medical canon of China. It´s difficult to find good, complete translations of the Neijing. For someone to really understand the old text untranslated and in depth, pretty good skills at reading chinese are necessary, not to mention knowledge of classical chinese medicine – preferably long-time practice of same – Daoist practices and thought, chinese culture, politics, and Chinese history. And if you´re going to look straight at the old text, it´s nice if you can read classical chinese, not just the old characters but translate classical chinese itself, which is something else. There´s not a lot of people in the West who come to the text with those skills in their back pocket.

And in the blink of an eye that Chinese medicine has been in the West (roughly 1960´s and onwards) language has been and still is one of the big bars to deeper knowledge about the complete tradition. I´ll put up a video further on where a discussion on this is done from the medical text called the Shang Han Lun (the Treatise on Cold Disorders – a compendium mainly about how to treat illnesses that arise from cold weather or climates), that will show a little of how much depth has been lost.

I´m going to talk more about the Neijing later, there´s so much to look at when it comes to the core text of classical chinese medicine.

If you want to read one report of how Chinese medical training at the universities work with the Neijing, you can find it in Elisabeth Hsu´s book the Transmission of Chinese Medicine. Hsu (actually Xu, in pinyin) is an ethnographer, and for a couple of years she simultaneously studied with a qigong healer, an old classical chinese medicine doctor and at the TCM university that trained doctors. In her book, she compares the three and their ways of teaching as well as the different material they had, and their treatments. Can be a bit dry (reads like a thesis; probably was) but very interesting.

Coffee now. Yeah. Coffee.