Introduction to Ruesi Dat Ton

Ruesi Dat Ton and the Foundations of Thai Massage

Reusi Dat Ton is a little known aspect of traditional Thai healing and culture. It consists of breathing exercises, self-massage, acupressure, dynamic exercises, poses, mantras, visualization and meditation.

“Reusi” in Thai, from the Sanskrit Rishi, is an Ascetic Yogi or Hermit. “Dat” means to stretch, adjust or train. “Ton” is a classifier used for a Reusi and also means oneself. So “Reusi Dat Ton” means the Hermit’s or Yogi’s self-stretching or self-adjusting exercises. Reusis were also known as “Jatila,” Yogi,” and “Chee Prai.” The Reusis were custodians and practitioners of various ancient arts and sciences such as: tantra, yoga, natural medicine, alchemy, music, mathematics, astrology, palmistry, etc. They have counterparts in many ancient cultures, such as: the Siddhas of India, the Yogis of Nepal and Tibet, the Immortals of China, the Vijjadharas of Burma and the Cambodian Eysey (from the Pali word for Reusi, Isii).

There are different Reusi traditions within Thailand. There is a Southern Thai/Malay Tradition, a Northeastern Thai/Lao Tradition, a Central Thai/Khmer Tradition and a Northern Thai/Burmese/Tibetan Tradition. In Thailand, there are Reusis as far South as Kanchanaburi Province who follow the Northern Thai/Burmese/Tibetan Reusi Tradition.

A typical Reusi Dat Ton program would begin with breathing exercises and self-massage, followed by dynamic exercises and poses (some of which involve self acupressure) and finish with visualization, mantras and meditation. The exercises and poses of Reusi Dat Ton range from simple stretches which almost anyone could do, to very advanced poses which could take many years to master.

Some of the Reusi Dat Ton techniques are similar to or nearly identical to some techniques in various Tibetan Yoga Systems, particularly “Yantra Yoga,” “Kum Nye” and the Tibetan Yoga Frescoes from the Lukhang Temple behind the Potala Palace in Lhasa Tibet. (See Norbu, Tulku and Baker) For example; some of the self massage techniques, exercises, poses, neuromuscular locks (bandhas in Sanskrit,) breathing patterns, ratios, visualizations and the way in which male and female practitioners would practice the same technique differently are almost identical. It is possible that Reusi Dat Ton and some of the Tibetan Yoga Systems are derived from a common source, which Rishis brought with them as they moved down the Himalayan foothills into Southeast Asia.

According to the Reusi Tevijo Yogi “The foundation and key to Traditional Thai massage is Reusi Dat Ton. Ancient Reusis, through their own experimentation and experience, developed their understanding of the various bodies (physical, energetic and psychic, etc.) They discovered the postures, channels, points, the winds and wind gates within themselves. Later it was realized that these techniques could be adapted and applied to others for their healing benefit, which is

how Thai massage was developed. So, in order to really understand Thai massage, as a practitioner, one should have a foundation in Reusi Dat Ton and be able to experience it within oneself and then apply it to others. It is not only the roots of Thai massage but it also unlocks the method for treating oneself and maintaining one’s own health.” (Reusi Tevijo Yogi)

It is also interesting to note that there are many similarities between the Reusi Dat Ton “Joint Mobilization Exercises,” many Thai massage techniques and some of the Indian Hatha Yoga therapeutic warming up exercises (the Pawanmuktasana or wind liberating and energy freeing techniques.) There is even an advanced Hatha Yoga pose, Poorna Matsyendrasana, which compresses the femoral artery and produces the same effect as “opening the wind gate” in Reusi Dat Ton Self Massage and Traditional Thai massage. (Saraswati)

Reusi Dat Ton in Traditional Art

In Northeast Thailand, in Buriram province atop an extinct volcano sits the Ancient Khmer temple of Prasat Phnom Rung. Built between 900 and 1200AD, this temple is dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva. The pediment over the eastern doorway features a sculpture of an avatar of Shiva in the form of Yogadaksinamurti. According to the Department of Fine Arts “Yogadaksinamurti means Shiva in the form of the supreme ascetic, the one who gives and maintains wisdom, perception, concentration, asceticism, philosophy, music and the ability to heal disease with sacred chants.” Here “Shiva is dressed as a hermit with crowned headdress holding a rosary in his right hand, seated in the lalitasana position…surrounded by followers. There are figures below him that…represent the sick and wounded.” (Department of Fine Arts). All over the temple one can see additional carvings of Reusis engaged in various activities. In one carving of the “Five Yogis” (or Reusis) the central figure is the God Shiva in his incarnation as Nagulisa, the founder of the Pasupata sect of Shivaite Hinduism. The four yogis on his sides are followers of this Pasupata sect, which is still active today in Nepal.

In 1767, invading Burmese armies destroyed the old Thai capital of Ayutthaya. Soon after his coronation in 1782, the Thai King Rama I established a new capital in what is today Bangkok. He initiated a project to revive the Thai culture after the disaster of Ayutthaya. An old temple Wat Potharam, (popularly known as “Wat Po,”) was chosen to become the site of a new Royal temple

and formally renamed Wat Phra Chetuphon. Beginning in 1789, a renovation and expansion project was begun on the temple. King Rama I also initiated a program to restore and preserve all branches of ancient Thai arts and sciences including: medicine, astrology, religion and literature. As part of this project, medical texts from across the kingdom were collected and brought to be stored at Wat Po. The King also ordered the creation of a set of clay Reusi statues depicting various Reusi Dat Ton techniques.

This restoration project was continued by the Kings Rama II and Rama III. As part of this work, scholars compiled important texts on various ancient arts and sciences and created authoritative textbooks for each of these fields. In 1832, a project to etch the medical texts into marble tablets was begun. Medical theories regarding the origin and treatment of disease, massage charts and over 1000 herbal formulas were all recorded on the marble tablets. Gardens of medicinal herbs were also planted on the temple grounds. Thus, Wat Po was to become “a seat of learning for all classes of people in all walks of life” which would “expound all braches of traditional knowledge both religious and secular,” and serve as “an open university” of traditional Thai culture with a “library of stone.” (Griswold, 319-321)

By 1836, the clay Reusi Dat Ton statues created by order of King Rama I had deteriorated. To replace these, King Rama III commissioned the creation of 80 new Reusi Dat Ton statues. Each statue depicted a different Reusi performing a specific Reusi Dat Ton technique. For each statue there was a corresponding marble tablet upon which was etched a poem describing the technique and it’s curative effect. These poems were composed by various important personalities of the day. Princes, monks, government officials, physicians, poets, and even the King himself contributed verses. The original plan was to cast the statues with an alloy of zinc and tin, but unfortunately only the more perishable material stucco was used. The statues were then painted and housed in special pavilions. Over the years most of the original statues have been lost or destroyed. Today only about 20 remain and these are displayed upon two small “Hermit’s Mountains” near the Southern entrance of Wat Po. The marble tablets have been separated from their corresponding statues and are now stored in the pavilion Sala Rai.

Beginning in 2009, the casting of metal Reusi Dat Ton statues was begun. These new statues are gradually appearing in and around the Wat Po Massage School near the Eastern entrance of Wat Po. So now after almost 200 years, Wat Po will soon finally have it’s complete set of 80 metal Reusi Dat Ton statues as originally envisioned by King Rama III.

Textual Sources of Reusi Dat Ton

We may never know what, if any Ancient texts on Reusi Dat Ton may have existed and were lost when the invading Burmese armies destroyed the old Thai capital of Ayutthaya in 1767. Today, the closest thing to an original source text on Reusi Dat Ton is an 1838 manuscript commissioned by Rama III entitled The Book of Eighty Rishis Performing Posture Exercises to Cure Various Ailments. Like other manuscripts of the time, this text was printed on accordion like folded black paper, known in Thai as “Khoi.” This text, popularly known as the Samut Thai Kao features line drawings of the 80 Wat Po Reusi Dat Ton statues along with their accompanying poems. In the introduction, it states that Reusi Dat Ton is a “…system of posture exercises invented by experts to cure ailments and make them vanish away.” (Griswold, 321) This text is housed in the National Library in Bangkok. There are also other editions of this text housed in museums and private collections as well.

The Benefits of Reusi Dat Ton

In both the Samut Thai Kao and The Book of Medicine, the texts not only describe the techniques, but also ascribe a therapeutic benefit to each pose or exercise. Some poems describe specific ailments while others use Sanskrit Ayurvedic medical terminology.

Some of the ailments mentioned include; abdominal discomfort and pain, arm discomfort, back pain, bleeding, blurred vision, chest congestion, chest discomfort and pain, chin trouble, chronic disease, chronic muscular discomfort, congestion, convulsions, dizziness and vertigo, dyspepsia, facial paralysis, fainting, foot cramps, pain and numbness, gas pain, generalized weakness, generalized sharp pain, headache and migraine, hand discomfort, cramps and numbness, heel and ankle joint pain, hemorrhoids, hip joint problems, joint pain, knee pain and weakness, lack of alertness, leg discomfort, pain and weakness, lockjaw, low back pain, lumbar pain, muscular

cramps and stiffness, nasal bleeding, nausea, neck pain, numbness, pelvic pain, penis and urethra problems, scrotal distention, secretion in throat, shoulder and scapula discomfort and pain, stiff neck, thigh discomfort, throat problems, tongue trouble, uvula spasm, vertigo, waist trouble, wrist trouble, vomiting, and waist discomfort.

Some of the Ayurvedic disorders described in the texts include; Wata (Vata in Sanskrit) in the head causing problems in meditation, severe Wata disease, Wata in the hands and feet, Wata in the head, nose and shoulder, Wata in the thigh, Wata in the scrotum, Wata in the urethra, Wata causing knee, leg and chest spasms, Wata causing blurred vision, Sannipat (a very serious and difficult to treat condition due to the simultaneous imbalance of Water, Fire and Wind Elements which may also involve a toxic fever) an excess of Water Dhatu (possibly plasma or lymph fluids,) and “Wind” in the stomach. Other benefits described in the old texts include; increased longevity and opening all of the “Sen” (There are various types of “Sen” or channels in Traditional Thai Medicine. There are Gross Earth Physical “Sen” such as Blood Vessels. There are also more Subtle “Sen” such as channels of Bioenergy flow within the Subtle Body, known as “Nadis” in Sanskrit. In addition, there are also “Sen” as channels of the Mind.)

In recent years, the Thai Ministry of Public Health has published several books on Reusi Dat Ton. According these modern texts, some of the benefits of Reusi Dat Ton practice include; improved agility and muscle coordination, increased joint mobility, greater range of motion, better circulation, improved respiration improved digestion, assimilation and elimination, detoxification, stronger immunity, reduced stress and anxiety, greater relaxation, improved concentration and meditation, oxygen therapy to the cells, pain relief, slowing of degenerative disease and greater longevity. (Subcharoen, 5-7)

A recent study at Naresuan University in Phitsanulok, Thailand, found that after one month of regular Reusi Dat Ton practice there was an improvement in anaerobic exercise performance in sedentary females. (Weerapong et al, 205)

Thai Reusi Dat Ton and Indian Hatha Yoga

A survey of the traditional Indian Hatha Yoga text Jogapradipaka of Jayatarama from 1737AD identified the following 45 Indian asanas as having similar or identical counterparts in Thai Reusi Dat Ton; Svastikasana, Padmasana, Netiasana, Udaraasana, Purvasana, Pascimatanasana, Suryasana, Gorakhajaliasana, Anasuyasana, Machendrasana, Mahamudrasana, Jonimudrasana, Sivasana, Makadasana, Bhadragorakhasana, Cakriasana, Atamaramasana, Gohiasana, Bhindokasana, Andhasana, Vijogasana, Jonisana, Bhagasana, Rudrasana, Machindrasana (2nd variety), Vyasaasana, Dattadigambarasana, Carapatacaukasana, Gvalipauasana, Gopicandasana, Bharathariasana, Anjanasana, Savitriasana, Garudasana, Sukadevasana, Naradasana, Narasimghasana, Kapilasana, Yatiasana, Vrhaspatiasana, Parvatiasana, Siddhaharataliasana, Anilasana, Parasaramasana and Siddhasana. To date over 200 different Indian Hatha Yoga techniques have been identified which have similar or identical counterparts in Thai Reusi Dat Ton.

One unique feature of Reusi Dat Ton is the absence of Viparitakarani (Inversions) such as Shirshasana (Headstand), Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand.) Reusi Dat Ton also has no equivalents to Mayurasana (Peacock) or Bakasana (Crow). In Hatha Yoga both men and women use the left heel to press the perineum in Siddhasana (Adepts Pose), while in Reusi Dat Ton, men use the

right heel and women use the left. Reusi Dat Ton includes a series of “Joint Mobilization” exercises, many of which are very similar or identical to the Pawanmuktasana (Joint Loosening and Energy Freeing Exercises) taught by the Bihar School of Yoga in Northeast India. (Saraswati) Reusi Dat Ton also includes a system of self-massage, which is typically done prior to the exercises.

Both Hatha Yoga and Reusi Dat Ton practice forms of Surya and Chandra Bhedana Pranayama (Solar and Lunar Breathing.) However in Hatha Yoga men and women both use the right hand when practicing Pranayama (Breathing Exercises), while in Reusi Dat Ton men use the right hand and women use the left. Both use Ashwini Mudra (Anal Lock) and Jivha Bandha (Tongue Lock.) However, Reusi Dat Ton has no counterparts to Uddiyana Bandha (Abdominal Lock) or Jalandhara Bandha (Throat Lock.)

In Traditional Indian Hatha Yoga one will generally maintain an Asana for a few minutes. In contrast, Reusi Dat Ton tends to be more dynamic. Generally, one will inhale while going into the pose, hold the pose for several breaths, and then exhale when coming out of the pose. This is done to encourage the strong, healthy flow of Prana thru the Nadis (or Loam thru the Sen in Thai)

 Reusi Dat Ton Today

Today in Thailand, Reusi Dat Ton is being used in various ways. Some practice Reusi Dat Ton poses and exercises as a way to improve and maintain overall health, in much the same way as Hatha Yoga and Chi Gong are used today. Others such as Ajan Pisit Benjamongkonware of Pisit’s Massage School in Bangkok used Reusi Dat Ton in combination with traditional Thai Massage techniques as a system of therapy. They will use specific techniques for specific ailments, rather like an ancient system of rehabilitation similar to modern day Chiropractic and Physical Therapy. Others consider the energetic effects with the aim of facilitating the normal healthy flow of bioenergy through the “Sen” or energy channels of the subtle body. There are also a few remaining Reusis who still use Reusi Dat Ton in the traditional way as part of their personal meditation and spiritual practice.

The Institute of Thai Traditional Medicine at the Ministry of Public Health requires all their students of Thai Massage and Thai Traditional Medicine to attend Reusi Dat Ton classes as part of their curriculum. In these classes, students learn some of the self-massage techniques as well as 15 poses and exercises. While based on Reusi Dat Ton, these 15 techniques are actually newly created modifications thought to be safe and easily practiced by anyone. In Bangkok, The Wat Po School of Traditional Medicine offers a formal Reusi Dat Ton certification course in which students learn 18 of the poses and exercises. The Massage School Chiang Mai offers a formal Reusi Dat Ton certificate course, which is accredited by the Thai Ministry of Education. Their course is based on the same 15 poses and exercises as taught by the Ministry of Public Health. There are also a number of other places offering Reusi Dat Ton classes. Most of these programs teach either one or a combination of both of the two different programs, as taught by the Ministry of Public Health and Wat Po. There are also a number of commercially available Reusi Dat Ton books and videos.

Today in Thailand, there are a dwindling number of true Reusis and few young people are interested in learning the traditional arts and sciences in their authentic forms. Much of the traditional knowledge of the Reusi traditions is in danger of being lost. Nowadays, most modern day students and teachers of Reusi Dat Ton have learned from second or third hand sources such as commercially available books, videos and classes. They have not had access to primary sources such as actual Reusis or even the Samut Thai Kao. If this trend continues, there is a danger of Reusi Dat Ton becoming diluted and distorted like Hatha Yoga has become in today’s popular culture. Today we may well be seeing the last generation of teachers with an actual living link to the ancient traditions of the past and who are able to transmit the authentic teachings of Reusi Dat Ton. Serious students of Reusi Dat Ton would do well to seek out actual Reusis who have themselves learned from older Reusis who serve as a living link in the lineage of this ancient tradition.

Possible Future Research 

A possible research project would be to seek out Reusis and traditional healers across Thailand. One would then learn as much as possible about Reusi Dat Ton from them and compile it. This way the authentic teachings of this ancient tradition would not be lost in case these people die without being able to pass their knowledge on to the next generation. It could also be well worth investigating the many claims about the therapeutic effects attributed to Reusi Dat Ton practices in the old texts.

Bibliography of Readings about Ruesi Dat Ton

English Language 

  • Baker, Ian A. and Thomas Laird. (2000). “The Dali Lama’s Secret Temple: Tantric Wall Paintings from Tibet.” Thames & Hudson Ltd., London, UK.
  • Buhnemann, Gudrun. (2007). “Eighty-Four Asanas in Yoga: A Survey of Traditions.” (Contains the Jogapradipika of Jayatarama). D. K. Printworld, New Delhi, India.
  • Chokevivat, Vichai and Chuthaputti, Anchalee. (2005). “The Role of Thai Traditional Medicine in Health Promotion.” Thai Ministry of Public Health, Nonthaburi, Thailand.
  • Chuthaputti, Anchalee. (2007). “National Traditional System of Medicine Recognized by the Thai Government.” Thai Ministry of Public Health, Nonthaburi, Thailand.
  • Covington, Laura. (2010). “Interview with a Reusi.” (Interview with Reusi Tevijjo Yogi). Bodhi Tree Learning Center. Richmond, USA.
  • Department of Fine Arts. “Phnom Rung Historical Park Visitors Guide.” (And displays in the Phnom Rung Museum.) Department of Fine Arts, Buriram, Thailand.
  • Evans-Wentz, W. Y. (2006). “Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines.” Pilgrims Publishing, Varanasi, India. Gharote, M. L. (Editor). (2006). “Encyclopaedia of Traditional Asanas.” The Lonavala Yoga Institute. Lonavala, India.
  • Ginsburg, Henry. (2000). “Thai Art and Culture: Historic Manuscripts from Western Collections.” University of Hawaii, Honolulu, USA.
  • Griswold, A.B. (1965). “The Rishis of Wat Po.” In Felicitation Volumes of Southeast Asian Studies Presented to His Highness Prince Dhaninivat Kromamun Bidyalabh Brindhyakorn. The Siam Society, Bangkok, Thailand.
  • H.H. Prince Dhani Nivat, “The Inscriptions of Wat Phra Jetubon,” Journal of the Siam Society. Vol. 26, Pt. 2. The Siam Society, Bangkok, Thailand.
  • Hofbauer, Rudolf. “A Medical Retrospect of Thailand.” In Journal of the Thailand Research Society, 34: 183-200. Thailand Research Society, Bangkok, Thailand.
  • Linrothe, Rob, (Editor). (2006). “Holy Madness: Portraits of Tantric Siddhas.” Rubin Museum of Art and Serindia Publications. New York and Chicago, USA.
  • Miao, Yuan. (2002). “Dancing on Rooftops with Dragons: The Yoga of Joy.” The Philosophical Research Society, Los Angeles, USA.
  • Massage School of Chiang Mai. (2006). Yogi Exercise “Lue Sri Dadton” Student Handbook. Massage School of Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
  • Matics, Kathleen Isabelle. (1978). An Historical Analysis of the Fine Arts at Wat Phra Chetuphon: A Repository of Ratanakosin Artistic Heritage, PhD Dissertation, New York University, New York, USA. Matics, K.I. (1977). “Medical Arts at Wat Pha Chetuphon: Various Rishi Statues.” In Journal of the Siam Society, 65:2: 2: 145-152. The Siam Society, Bangkok, Thailand.
  • Norbu, Chogyal Namkhai. (2008). “Yantra Yoga: The Tibetan Yoga of Movement.” Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, USA.
  • Reusi Tevijo Yogi. Personal Communication. Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Thailand.
  • Salguero, C. Pierce, (2007). “Traditional Thai Medicine: Buddhism, Animism and Ayurveda.” Hohm Press, Prescott, USA.
  • Saraswati, Swami Satyananda. (2006). “Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha.” Bihar School of Yoga, Yoga Publications Trust, Munger, India.
  • Schoeppl, Adolf. (1981). Textbook of Thai Traditional Manipulative Medicine, MPH Thesis, Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand.
  • Sheposh, Joel. (2006). Reusi Dat Ton: Thai Style Exercises, Tao Mt., Charlottesville, USA.
  • Subcharoen, Pennapa and Deewised Kunchana, (Editors). (1995). “The Hermits Art of Contorting: Thai Traditional Medicine.” The National Institute of Thai Traditional Medicine, Nontaburi, Thailand.
  • Tulku, Tarthang. (1978). “Kum Nye Relaxation: Parts 1and 2.” Dharma Publishing, Berkeley, USA. Tulku, Tarthang. (2003). “Tibetan Relaxation: Kum Nye Massage and Movement.” Duncan Baird Publications, London, UK.
  • Venerable Dhammasaro Bhikkhu. “Textbook of Basic Physical Training- Hermit Style (Rishi).” Wat Po. Bangkok, Thailand.
  • Wat Po Thai Traditional Medical School, Ruesi Dat Ton; Student Handbook. Wat Po. Bangkok, Thailand. White, David Gordon. (1996). “The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India.” University of Chicago Press, Chicago, USA.

Thai Language 

  • Ajan Pisit Benjamongkonware. (2007). “Twenty One Self Stretching Exercises (21 Ta Dat Ton).” Village Doctor Press, Bangkok, Thailand.
  • Ajan Pisit Benjamongkonware. Personal Communication. Pisit’s Massage School, Bangkok, Thailand, Ajan Kong Kaew Veera Prajak (Professor of Ancient Languages). Personal Communication. The Ancient Manuscript and Inscription Department, National Library, Bangkok, Thailand.
  • Chaya, Ooh E. (2006). “Thai Massage, Reusi Dat Ton: Therapy for Illness and Relaxation, (Nuat Thai, Reusi Dat Ton: Bam Bat Rok Pai Klie Klieat).” Pi Rim Press, Bangkok, Thailand.
  • Karen Reusi. Personal Communication via Dr. Robert Steinmetz of Wildlife Fund Thailand. Thung Yai National Park in Kanchanaburi Province, Thailand,
  • Mr. Kayat, (Editor). (1995). “Eighty Poses of Reusi Dat Ton, Wat Po (80 Ta Bat Reusi Dat Ton, Wat Po).” Pee Wa Tin Press, Bangkok, Thailand.
  • Mulaniti Health Center. (1994). “41 Poses, The Art of Self Massage for Health, (41 Ta, Sinlaba Gan Nuat Don Eng Pua Sukapap).” Mulaniti Health Center, Bangkok, Thailand.
  • Patanagit, Arun Rawee. (1994). “Body Exercise, Thai Style: Reusi Dat Ton, (Gan Brehan Rang Gie Bap Thai: Chut Reusi Dat Ton).” Petchkarat Press. Bangkok, Thailand.
  • Saw Pai Noie. (2001). “Lang Neua Chop Lang Ya.” Sai Ton Press, Bangkok, Thailand.
  • Sela Noie, Laeiat. (2000). “Amazing Thai Heritage: Reusi Dat Ton.” Dok Ya Press, Bangkok, Thailand. Subcharoen, Pennapa (Editor). (2004). “Handbook of Thai Style Exercise: 15 Basic Reusi Dat Ton Poses, (Ku Mu Gie Brehan Bap Thai Reusi Dat Ton 15 Ta).” Thai Traditional Medicine Development Foundation, Bangkok, Thailand.
  • Subcharoen, Pennapa (Editor). (2006). “One Hundred Twenty Seven Thai Style Exercises, Reusi Dat Ton (127 Ta Gie Brehan Bap Thai, Reusi Dat Ton).” Thai Traditional Medicine Development Foundation, Bangkok, Thailand.
  • Various authors commissioned by King Rama III. (1838). “The Book of Eighty Rishis Performing Posture Exercises to Cure Various Ailments (Samut Rup Reusi Dat Ton Kae Rok Tang Tang Baet Sip Rup).” (Also known as Samut Thai Kao) Housed in the National Library Bangkok, Thailand,
  • Wat Po Thai Traditional Medicine School. (1990). “Reusi Dat Ton Handbook (Dam Ra Reusi Dat Ton Wat Po).” (Reproductions from the original Samut Thai Kao). Wat Po Press, Bangkok, Thailand.
  • Wat Po Thai Traditional Medicine School. (1958). “The Book Of Medicine (Dam Ra Ya).” (Contains a Reusi Dat Ton section based on the same verses as the 1838 manuscript, Samut Thai Kao, but with completely different illustrations). Wat Po Press, Bangkok, Thailand.
  • Weerapong Chidnok, Opor Weerapun, Chanchira Wasuntarawat, Parinya Lertsinthai and Ekawee Sripariwuth. (2007). “Effect of Ruesi-Dudton-Stretching-Exercise Training to Anaerobic Fitness in Healthy Sedentary Females.” Naresuan University Journal 2007; 15 (3) 205-214. Phittsanulok, Thailand.

Daoist Contemplation and Chinese Medicine, Part 1: History and definition of contemplation in Daoist texts

Different forms of contemplative practices have been one of the key elements in Daoist tradition. This essay will appear in four parts dealing with:

1. History and definition of contemplation in Daoist texts

2. Contemplative practices and concept of body-mind

3. Contemplation and dietary practices

4. Contemplation and art of medicine

In these short essays I define contemplative practices, look historical relevance and how has it affected the development Chinese medicine and what does it has to do with ideals of art of medicine. Some concepts presented might no longer fit to current understanding of Chinese medicine, but they have played consequential role in formulation of ideas and have been influential cultural context for ancient doctors who wrote some of the foremost classics of Chinese medicine. While reading these essays please keep in mind, that heart and mind are same word (xīn 心) in Chinese.

Defining Daoist contemplation

To be able to track down history of contemplative practices we first need to be able to define what we mean by contemplation. Modern practitioners usually prefer to use trendy terms like mindfulness often defined as conscious awareness and non-judgmental acceptance. While this might work well for some forms of practices, for more historical study we have to to rely on Daoist and Chinese Buddhist terms, definitions and context.

Mindfulness research literature often takes terms sati (Pāli) and smṛti (Sanskrit), which directly translates to Chinese niàn 念, to mean contemplation and mindfulness. Niàn means memory or recollection; to think on or to reflect upon something; to read or study. In Daoist context this term can be used for studying scriptures and contemplating or holding an object or idea in mind. Sometimes this is done by concentrating on a deity.

However, most of the Daoist texts use term guān 觀 in Chinese literature. It translates to looking and observing. Very often it is used in connection with word nèi 內 which means inner or internal to denote the nature and direction of observation. Therefore nèiguān 內觀 could be translated as inner observation. Nèiguān also serves as literal translation of Buddhist concepts of vipassanā (Pāli or vipaśyanā in Sanskrit). Inner contemplation or nèiguān is set of practices where one directs his awareness within himself. In different types and stages of the practice object of awareness can be body as whole or some part like an organ. Object can be an emotion and how it is experienced within body-mind in level qì or energy. Many of these techniques concentrate on breathing. Some of the breathing meditations are similar to what is described in Buddhist Ānāpānasati Sutta (Pāli) or Ānāpānasmṛti Sūtra (Sanskrit). However Daoist practitioners often start their practice by concentrating on subtleties of breathing felt on lower abdomen instead the mindfulness of breathing itself.

The aim of contemplation has usually been, especially in Daoist practice, to be able to slowly shift ones attention to mind itself. This is usually seen as the key element of the practice in Daoist context as the “real” contemplation is apophatic in nature, striving to attain total emptiness and complete negation or detachment from desires, concepts and contents of the mind. This emptiness is obtained by silencing the mind with sustained non-interfering observation or Nèiguān. The famous Qīngjìngjīng 清靜經 explains:

能遣之者,内觀於心,心無其心;外觀於形,形無其形;遠觀於物,物無其物。三者既悟,唯見於空。觀 空以空,空無所空。所空既無,無無亦無。無無既無,湛然常寂。寂無所寂,慾豈能生?慾既不生, 即是真靜。

“These [desires] can be removed by internally contemplating the heart (mind). The heart is not this heart. Externally contemplating form. The form is not this forms. From distance contemplating things. These things are not these things. After these three have been realized and [you are] just seeing these as emptiness, contemplate this emptiness with emptiness. Emptiness does not exists in emptiness. In [this] emptiness there is still [further] non-existence. Non-existence of non-existence is also non-existing. [When] non-existence of non-existence is non-existing, there is deepest and eternal stillness. In stillness [where even] stillness does not exists, how could desires arise? When desires cannot arise, it is true peace.”

Despite the epilogue by Gě Xuán 葛玄 (164–244) who attributed the text to goddess Xīwángmǔ 西王母, in reality the text is probably written during early Tang-dynasty (618 – 907)[1]. The wording is clearly influenced by Buddhism but it gives the essential idea about contemplative practice and its apophatic nature. Following this nature we can start tracing contemplative practices through history. This nature is crucial for understanding continuation of the practice, its ideals and importance to Chinese medical and philosophical culture.

Early views and history of contemplative practices in China

Nèiguān practices that flourished in China during Tang-dynasty (618 – 907) are usually thought to have their origin in Buddhism. Buddhism started spreading to China during the 2nd century CE and one of the most well known Buddhist missionaries during the time was Ān Shìgāo 安世高 (c. 148 – 180) who translated Buddhist texts to Chinese language[2]. Among these texts there was also Ānāpānasati Sutta containing outlines of same idea used in practice of nèiguān. But even before that the practice was already well known in China. One of the oldest and synonymous expression to nèiguān is kǎonèishēn 考內身 which can be found from scripture titled Báixīn 白心 or Purifying the mind. In Báixīn there is a passage which says:

欲愛吾身,先知吾情君親六合,以考內身。以此知象,乃知行情既知行情,乃知養生。

“Desires and affections [arise from] our own body. First we understand our emotions, ruling sentiments and six harmonies by looking inside the body. Then we’ll know images after which we understand movement of emotions. By knowing movement of emotions we then understand cultivation of life (yǎngshēng).”

I translate kǎonèishēn here as looking inside the body. It might have been more easily understood by Western readers of spiritual practices, if I had translated it to inspecting inner bodies but that might be a bit stretching for context of early Daoist texts. Therefore the word body (shēn 身) needs bit clarification. The view of body in many archaic Chinese texts was much more broad than our modern use of the word. It was not just torso with four limbs but more a vessel composed of and containing different energies, spiritual influences and essence (jīng 精). It was seen intimately connected to time and world around us. I’ll come back to nature of body-mind in next part but the important thing here is that Báixīn gives advice to turn our attention into our body-minds to become aware of emotions and mental images. Báixīn also belongs to the earliest texts using term yǎngshēng or cultivating life which later formed a central concept in many medical and religious practices.

Báixīn dates back to 285 – 235 B.C. being from last period of Jìxià Academy (Jìxià xuégōng 稷下學宮)[3]. It is included in collection of political and philosophical texts named Guǎnzǐ 管子. The collection contains three other meditative texts namely Xīnshù shàng 心術上, Xīnshù xià 心術下 and Nèiyè 內業. Both Xīnshù texts speak of emptiness of the heart or mind. “Empty it (mind) from desires and Shén (Spirit) enters its domain. Clean from impure and Shén will remain in its place.” (《心術上》:虛其欲,神將入舍。掃除不潔,神乃留處。)

Xīnshù texts expand the ideas presented in older text called Nèiyè and transform individual meditation practice to fit the fields of economics and politics. They advocate importance of contemplative mindfulness practice to rulers and bureaucrats. The ideal ruler must remain detached from confusion of emotions and doubts. Their mind must remain clear in order to rule efficiently. Xīnshù xià states that:

心安,是國安也。心治,是國治也。… 治心在於中,治言出於口,治事加於民;故功作而民從,則 百姓治矣。

“When mind is peaceful nation is at peace. When mind is governed nation is [under] governance…When governed mind stays at its center and controlled words come out of mouth then governed actions are guiding the subjects. Thus good results are achieved and people will follow. In this way the common people are governed.”

Many texts from Huáng-Lǎo School promote contemplation to gain understanding of laws of governing people and contemplation was seen as a mean to understand universal way or law which also controlled the society. This discourse is highly interesting when we compare it to modern mindfulness movement and especially mindful leadership where we see similar claims and uses. Meditative texts of Guǎnzǐ do not demand worship, divination or other ritualistic techniques. They are plain and simple self cultivation practices written by the literati to other members of ruling class of their time. The fact that these texts were included in highly political text collection gives us an impression that these practices were wide spread and not known only in religious circles. This is especially evident as many of the texts in Guǎnzǐ belong to strict Legalist school that saw tradition and softer values as weakness to be cut down[4].

The Guǎnzǐ collection also includes scripture called Nèiyè 內業 or Internal practice, which is probably the oldest of surviving Chinese meditation manuals and dates back to circa 325 B.C. The poetic style of Nèiyè suggests oral tradition and therefore even older origin.[3] Nèiyè presents very clear and plain description of meditation. Its themes are similar to many Tang-dynasty meditation texts and Nèiyè defines connection of man to universe, reason for contemplation, different attitudes and key elements for practice. The text begins with idea how human being is connected to cosmos:

凡物之精,比則為生下生五穀,上為列星。流於天地之間,謂之鬼神,藏於胸中,謂之聖人。

“From the essence of every being comes their life. Below it gives birth to five grains, above forms the constellations. Its flow between heaven and earth we call as spirits and gods. When it is stored within center of chest we call him a sage.”

During writing of Nèiyè the idea of essence (jīng 精) was still developing. The essence was seen as something having nature of divinity or spirit. Later it became described more substantial and bit liquid like as in texts like Huángdì Nèijīng Sùwèn 黃帝內經素問. The concept of Jīng-Shén 精神, which is usually translated as life-force or vigor it still retained its early intangibility. Some of the early texts see essence as one of the “bodily spirits” or shén.

The text proceeds defining how all the sorrows arise from the heart and they are ended with the heart. The heart was seen to effect everyone around us, bringing with it our fortunes or misfortunes. Only cultivation of the heart was seen as means for real moral development and thus Nèiyè states that:

賞不足以勸善,刑不足以懲過。氣意得而天下服。心意定而天下聽。

“Rewards are not sufficient to encourage virtue, nor punishments enough for disciplining. [Only] when qi-mind is obtained, that what is under the heaven will be subjugated. Only when heart-mind is stopped that what is under the heaven will obey.”

Same idea of shedding false morals, ethical values and empty rituals and replacing them by true nature was recurring theme in even earlier Zhuāngzǐ 莊子.

Author(s) of Nèiyè also pondered how or what in the mind can observe itself:

何謂解之,在於心安。我心治,官乃治。我心安,官乃安。治之者心也,安之者心也;心以藏心,心之中又有心焉。彼心之心,音以先言,音然後形,形然後言。言然後使,使然後治。不治必亂,亂乃死。

“How to explain that which is in peaceful heart? [When] I (ego) and heart are regulated, officials (organs) are regulated. [When] I and heart are at peace, officials are in peace. One regulating them is heart. One pacifying them is heart. There is heart hidden within heart. In the center of the heart there is another heart! This heart within heart is the voice before the words. From the voice follow forms, from the form follow the words. From the words follow actions and from the actions follow governing. [From that which] is not governed follows chaos and from the chaos follows death.”

As non-controlled mind was seen as main reason for chaos and destruction the often emphasized benefit from cultivation was freedom from internal conflict and outer catastrophes. In Nèiyè this freedom is describes thus:

中無惑意,外無邪菑,心全於中,形全於外。不逢天菑,不遇人害,謂之聖人。

“Without confusing thoughts within, one is externally without evil and disasters. Heart maintained in the center and form is maintained externally. [Thus one does] not encounter heavenly calamities nor face human troubles [therefore] we call him a sage.”

Freedom from human suffering later became exaggerated more and more until it became immortality and total untouchability during Han-dynasty and was still aim of contemplative practitioners during Tang-dynasty. See for example text called Preserving Shén and refining Qì.
The themes of freedom, emptiness and cultivation of heart were also present in many other writings of the time, but were often less instructive and more ambiguous in their poetic or prosaic expression. Of these texts Dàodéjīng 道德經 and Zhuāngzǐ are famous examples. Zhuāngzǐ for example describes fasting of the heart in following quote:

回曰:「敢問心齋。」仲尼曰:「若一志,无聽之以耳而聽之以心,无聽之以心而聽之以氣。聽止於耳,心止於符。氣也者,虛而待物者也。唯道集虛。虛者,心齋也。」

“[Yán] Huí said: Could I ask about fasting of mind?
Zhòng Ní answered: When having singular will, you’ll not hear with ears but you hear them with heart. When not hearing with heart you’ll hear them with qì. Hearing stops to listening with ears. Heart stops to symbols. The Qì is emptiness that receives things. Only Dào gathers in emptiness. Emptiness is fasting of the heart.”

Dàodéjīng as the best known Daoist text has collected many different translations around it. The text describes contemplation in its 16th chapter:

致虛極,守靜篤。萬物並作,吾以觀復。夫物芸芸,各復歸其根。歸根曰靜,是謂復命。復命曰常,知常曰明。不知常,妄作凶。知常容,容乃公,公乃天,天乃道,道乃久,沒身不殆。

“Reaching the utmost emptiness and guarding stillness and honesty, 10 000 things are working in union. Contemplating this, I’ll return. Countless humans and beings all return to their root. Returning to the root is called stillness. It is also described as returning to life (fù mìng is literally returning the destiny). Returning to life is called eternity. Knowing eternity is called enlightenment. Not knowing eternity [you just] arrogantly cause disasters. By knowing eternal you’ll accept. From accepting follows fairness. From fairness follows completion. From completion follows heavenly and from heavenly follows Dào. From Dào follows continuation and [then even] disappearance of body is not fatal.”

Considering this particular chapter we have to take into account that Dàodéjīng, as we now read it, was edited by Wáng Bì during early third century. The chapter found from the Mǎwángduī excavation, dating to second century B.C.[5] is very similar but a century older Guōdiàn[6] version does not mention contemplation at all. The importance of observing with empty mind is prominent in many other chapters as well.

Taking into account textual evidence about these contemplative practices and the idea of using them for returning to original state or to finding true nature had clearly been already developed before end of Warring States period. The Chinese still remained isolated from India centuries after writing the meditative texts of Guǎnzǐ or Dàodéjīng and Zhuāngzì. It was only at the first and second centuries during which trading of goods and thoughts between China and India really begun. If we consider the possible dating of historical Buddha to be somewhere around the commonly agreed 566–486 B.C.[7], it is hardly likely that Buddhist influence at the time could have induced such a wide spread of contemplative ideology in China. Buddhist tradition speaks of teachers Ārāḍa Kālāmalta ja Uddaka Rāmaputta as well reputed teachers, so we can say that these practices were also more wide spread in India during that time. But with lack of active trade routes, cultural exchange and having textual sources showing more wide spread cultural use of the contemplative ideas in China, we may conclude that it is highly likely that contemplative practices were developed independently in China and the Buddhist influences merged to Chinese contemplative ideologies and practices only later.

Rise of Buddhism in China however sparked new interest in contemplative practices. Old texts were edited, new texts were written and older classics were interpreted from viewpoint more fitting to contemplative practices. Zuòwàng lùn 坐忘論, which quotes heavily on Dàodéjīng and Zhuāngzǐ, is good example of reinterpreting older scriptures. The spread of Buddhism also influenced other areas of practices like dietary taboos and ethical codes. What remained the same was apophatic nature of contemplative practice. To quote a Tang-dynasty text called Nèiguānjīng 內觀經 – Classic of inner contemplation:

道也者,不可言傳口授而得之。常虛心靜神,道自來居。

“Dào cannot be put to words. By mouth it cannot be given or obtained. [By having] constantly empty heart and tranquil spirit, Dào naturally returns to its residence.”

 

References

  1. Verellen Franciscus and Schipper Kristofer. The Taoist Canon: A Historical Companion to the Daozang. University Of Chicago Press, 2005.
  2. Greene Eric M. Healing breaths and rotting bones: On the relationship between buddhist and chinese meditation practices during the eastern han and three kingdoms period. Journal of Chinese Religions, 4(2):145–184, 3 2014. (www)
  3. Roth Harold D. Daoism in the guanzi. In book Liu Xiaogan (editor), Dao Companion to Daoist Philosophy, pages 265–280. Springer, 2015.
  4. Rickett Allyn W. Guanzi: Political, Economic, and Philosophical Essays from Early China. Princeton University Press, 1998.
  5. Harper Donald. Early Chinese Medical Literature. Routledge, 1997.
  6. Meyer Dirk. Meaning-Construction in Warring States Philosophical Discourse: A Discussion of the Palaeographic Materials from Tomb Guōdiàn One. Doctoral thesis, Leiden University, 2008. (www)
  7. Heinz Bechert, editor. The Dating o fthe Historical Buddha. Die Datierung des Historischen Buddha. Symposien zur Buddhismusforschung, IV, 1, 1991. (www)

Wikipedia, We have a problem

In a nutshell: Acupuncture has been increasingly embraced by conventional care as an efficacious treatment for a variety of conditions. Evidence of this support comes from recommendations for acupuncture in numerous medical guidelines, Cochrane systematic reviews demonstrating clinical effectiveness, and an explosion of research interest into acupuncture’s effectiveness and mechanisms of action.

All of this support notwithstanding, the article devoted to acupuncture on Wikipedia, the most accessed source of medical information on the internet and supposedly an unbiased source of curated information that anyone who follows Wikipedia’s policies can edit, reflects a somewhat different perspective. The page, controlled by a group of staunch anti-acupuncture ‘pseudoskeptics’ – insists that the mainstream support for acupuncture from the medical and scientific community doesn’t exist, even when it is presented to them, and presents their subjective minority opinion as the dominant one. They mainly do this by a) ignoring high-quality sources that contradict their perspective and b) systematically intimidating, bullying and banning anyone who dares to say otherwise. This state of affairs is problematic on many levels, not least of which because it directly impedes access to informed health care choice. I’m hopeful that an open discussion of the evidence and my own recent (and short!) experience as a Wikipedia editor before being indefinitely banned for challenging their version of consensus can result in an improvement to the Wikipedia article vis-à-vis how well it reflects objective reality and better enforcement of Wikipedia’s anti-bullying guidelines.

Making the case for acupuncture’s mainstream support

The pejorative designation of ‘pseudoscience’ is defined by Wikipedia in reference to what is perceived as scientific and medical consensus. To say that ‘acupuncture is pseudoscience’, as the Wikipedia article flatly states, is to say that acupuncture enjoys little to no mainstream medical and scientific support. The administrators and (remaining) editors of the Acupuncture article on Wikipedia have claimed just that. Sure, acupuncture does have some fans, but these people are universally gullible morons who wouldn’t know a null hypothesis if it poked them in the eye, so their argument goes. Anyone with a medical degree and two brain cells to rub together will concur that acupuncture is woo-tastic, pseudo-scientific quackery.

Of course, any statement about what scientific consensus does or does not show needs to be backed by suitable references and Wikipedia provides specific guidance on what it considers to be  Reliable medical sources (or MEDRS, as they’re known in Wiki-speak):

“Ideal sources for biomedical information include: review articles (especially systematic reviews) published in reputable medical journals; academic and professional books written by experts in the relevant fields and from respected publishers; and guidelines or position statements from national or international expert bodies.”

In other words, one can reliably demonstrate that acupuncture enjoys mainstream scientific and medical support (and does not meet Wikipedia’s definition of pseudoscience) by providing review articles and position statements by expert bodies.

So what do medically reliable sources say on the subject of mainstream medical support for acupuncture?

Acupuncture is recommended in conventional medical guidelines

According to Tgeorgescu, who holds a Masters in Philosophy, is a Member of the Dutch Society against Quackery and long-time Wikipedia enforcer, not only is there no mainstream scientific support for acupuncture (reference not provided), but providing evidence that there is support is grounds for being banned from Wikipedia.

Medical guidelines produced by medical and clinical organisations constitute one of the most direct types of evidence we have to assess ‘medical consensus.’ Acupuncture is recommended by the following mainstream Medical Guidelines and Organisations

  • The World Health Organisation has developed a list of 27 conditions for which it recommends acupuncture after its evidence review1
  • The Joint Commission, which accredits more than 21,000 health care organizations and programs in the United States and globally, recommends acupuncture as a first-line treatment in the management of pain
  • The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) guideline on Non-invasive treatments for Low Back Pain found acupuncture to be amongst the most effective treatments 2
  • The Joint Clinical Practice Guideline from the American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society on the Diagnosis and Treatment of Low Back Pain recommends acupuncture 3
  • The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends acupuncture4 for a variety of pain conditions
  • The American college of occupational and environmental medicine’s practice guidelines recommend acupuncture5
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – National Institutes of Health Guidance on Low Back Pain recommend acupuncture6
  • The State of Colorado Division of Workers’ Compensation Medical Treatment Guidelines for Low Back Pain recommends acupuncture7
  • The Institute for Health Economics Evidence-Informed Primary Care Management of Low Back Pain Alberta, Canada recommend a course of acupuncture for chronic low back pain 8
  • Scotland’s National Clinical Guideline for the Management of chronic pain recommends acupuncture for low back pain and osteoarthritis, characterising the strength of the evidence as Grade A (the highest support available)9
  • The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends a course of acupuncture for the prevention of migraines and tension-type headaches. In fact, acupuncture is the only treatment recommended for the prevention of tension-type headaches.
  • The 4th Edition of “Acute Pain Management: Scientific Evidence,” Produced by the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists and Faculty of Pain Medicine, found Level I evidence for acupuncture for five different clinical indications 10

Wow, the WHO, the AHRQ, NICE and the Joint Commission, pretty much the ‘who’s who’ of prestigious mainstream medical consensus building institutions, all recommend acupuncture? I mean, a couple of acupuncture-recommending guidelines would have been sufficient to demonstrate that the ‘pseudoscience’ designation was controversial and the Wikipedia article needs to be changed to reflect this undisputed reality; the number and strength of the recommendations here are vastly surplus to requirement for that purpose. Sure, there are a few guidelines recommending against acupuncture11, but these guidelines simply provide support of another opinion and obviously don’t negate the existence of all the guidelines clearly supporting acupuncture.

So the most respected conventional medical organisations in the world, after rigorous scientific review, have created consensus time and again around recommending acupuncture for a variety of treatments. These guidelines ubiquitously steer clear of evaluating or recommending Angel Healing, Reiki, or Crystal therapy (no disrespect). The very existence of these guidelines automatically renders the statement “acupuncture is pseudoscience” completely invalid. They provide indisputable evidence that meaningful parts of the mainstream medical community recommend acupuncture. While one is welcome to discuss the quality or methods of the guideline development, one cannot dispute their existence.

Cochrane Reviews

According to Hob, every single Cochrane Review of acupuncture performed has found no significant difference between Acupuncture and sham (no reference provided). In reality, a number of Cochrane reviews have found acupuncture to be superior to sham (for example, migraine, tension-type headache). These reviews are referenced on the Wikipedia acupuncture page and on the very talk page where Hob has written his comment but Hob seems to prefer to ignore their existance.

While the guidelines listed above are surplus to requirement for demonstrating meaningful mainstream consensus for acupuncture’s recommendation, Cochrane Reviews are considered amongst the highest levels of evidence in medicine and provide additional high-quality support.

  • Cochrane Systematic Review published in April, found that for the prevention of tension-type headaches, acupuncture was more effective than usual care and pain medication (48% of those who received acupuncture vs 19% of those who received meds had a positive response) and acupuncture was more efficacious than sham (50% of acupuncture recipients vs 43% of patients who received sham acupuncture had a positive response)12
  • Another Cochrane Review for Acupuncture in the treatment of Migraines found that acupuncture is far more effective than usual care and also more effective than sham needling.13
  • Acupuncture was found to be superior to sham, waitlist and physical therapy for peripheral joint osteoarthritis14
  • Acupuncture is superior to usual care in the treatment of fibromyalgia 15
  • Acupuncture is superior to usual care for cancer-related pain and auricular (ear) acupuncture was found to be superior to placebo for chronic neuropathic pain related to cancer16
  • Acupuncture was found to be superior to anti-spasmodic drugs, which themselves have been shown to be better than placebo, in the treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Mechanism research

According to Hob Gadling, long-time Wiki-editor, admin, and fighter of Pseudoscience, ‘acupuncture is clearly a magic practice and has neither a viable mechanism nor evidence on its side” (references not provided). When provided high-quality evidence of mechanism (peer-reviewed evidence syntheses) and efficacy (for example, Cochrane Reviews), he has failed to address these but maintains his opinion: definitely pseudoscience. And not only does he think it’s pseudoscience but according to him, this is also the medical and scientific consensus (reference not provided).

  • The International Review of Neurobiology published a 363-page evidence review of acupuncture’s mechanisms and clinical areas where acupuncture has strong evidence of effectiveness. The IRN only publishes reviews on conventional and mainstream medical neurological subjects 17
  • A recent review published in the Neuroscientist has summarised the evidence for acupuncture’s effects through purinergic signalling.18 It notes: “The seminal hypothesis of Geoffrey Burnstock and the astounding findings of Maiken Nedergaard on the involvement of purinergic signaling in the beneficial effects of acupuncture fertilized the field and led to an intensification of research on acupurines.” Incidentally, Wikipedia tells us that the “The Neuroscientist is a peer-reviewed academic journal that publishes papers in the field of Neurology . . . aimed at basic neuroscientists (sic), neurologists, neurosurgeons, and psychiatrists in research, academic, and clinical settings, reviewing new and emerging basic and clinical neuroscience research. The journal evaluates key trends in molecular, cellular, developmental, behavioral systems, and cognitive neuroscience in a disease-relevant format.” The article must have forgotten to mention its studies of quackery and pseudoscience.

A recent review by Dr Thomas Lundeberg, a neurologist and Professor at the Karolinska Institute, one of the top medical schools in the world, and Irene Lund, adjunct at the Karolinska Institute’s department of Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, summarises acupunctures mechanisms thusly:

“The effects of acupuncture may be attributed to:

1) Peripheral effects (release of adenosine and nitric oxide, NO, by axonal and dorsal root reflexes).
2) Spinal effects (modulation of sympathetic tone and motor reflexes)
Modulation of endogenous descending pain inhibitory and facilitatory systems
3) Change in the functional connectivity of the brain. Activation or deactivation of:
a) limbic structures involved in stress/illness responses
b) the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal, HPA, axis
c) the prefrontal and frontal cortices.
4) Restoration of the default mode state.
5) Modulation of parasympathetic activity.
6) Activation of the reward and mirror systems
7) Modulation of activation of the immune system
8) Expectation, attention, conditioning and extinction of conditioned responses”19

Increasing use in Mainstream settings

Acupuncture has been used in the US military for over a decade and its use is expanding. 8 out of the top 10 rated cancer hospitals in the United States offer acupuncture treatment on site. Following trials that showed that acupuncture was twice as effective as usual care for low back pain relief, it is covered by national health insurance in Germany.

Ok, so there clearly are mainstream medical researchers and health-care policy makers from some of the most respected institutions in the world who do officially endorse acupuncture, as suitably demonstrated above. Surely when presented with all of this evidence, the pseudo-Skeptical admins would have to concede despite their own personal feelings that significant parts of the mainstream medical establishment do recommend acupuncture . . .

“Acupuncture is Pseudoscience,” says Wikipedia

Acupuncture clearly enjoys a staggering amount of mainstream scientific support. So how does one decide exactly what pseudoscience is?

Well, Wikipedia has a specific policy on when it is appropriate to apply the label. We find this policy under the content guideline on something called “Fringe Theories.”

“We use the term fringe theory in a very broad sense to describe an idea that departs significantly from the prevailing views or mainstream views in its particular field. For example, fringe theories in science depart significantly from mainstream science and have little or no scientific support.”

In other words, whether or not a theory is ‘fringe’ depends on the ‘prevailing’ or ‘mainstream’ views of the field. If a theory (or treatment) enjoys mainstream scientific support, it neither fringe nor pseudoscience. Wikipedia’s guidance on the matter goes even further to articulate what can and cannot be branded with the unfortunate mark of pseudoscience. The guidance describes the grand ‘spectrum of fringe theories’ thusly:

“Not all pseudoscience and fringe theories are alike.” Oh, no. “In addition, there is an approximate demarcation between pseudoscience and questionable science, and they merit careful treatment.

  • Pseudoscience: Proposals that, while purporting to be scientific, are obviously bogus may be so labeled and categorized as such without more justification. For example, since the universal scientific view is that perpetual motion is impossible, any purported perpetual motion mechanism (e.g. Stanley Meyer’s water fuel cell) may be treated as pseudoscience. Proposals which are generally considered pseudoscience by the scientific community, such as astrology, may properly contain that information and may be categorized as pseudoscience.
  • Questionable science: Hypotheses which have a substantial following but which critics describe as pseudoscience, may contain information to that effect; however it should not be described as unambiguously pseudoscientific while a reasonable amount of academic debate still exists on this point.”

Taking into account all of the medical guidelines, position papers, Cochrane reviews and increasing research interest, acupuncture very clearly falls into the latter category. Yes, acupuncture does court a small but vocal group of detractors – these groups are usually distinguishable by a variant of the word ‘Skeptic’ in their title (as in Guerilla Skepticism on Wikipedia, a group devoted to training and sending groups of self-styled ‘Skeptics’ to edit Wikipedia articles to be more in line with their particular world-view), a most ironic use of the word ‘Science’ in their name (as in Science-Based Medicine) and can be seen to frequently use terms like ‘woo’ and ‘quackery,’ which are almost entirely absent from the vocabulary of the majority of those involved with healthcare and scientific research. They almost exclusively reference narrative opinion pieces by other Skeptics, such as this cherry-picking tired old hag, who’s seen more action than a brothel in a seaport, rather than primary or valid secondary sources such as Cochrane, displaying an embarrassing lack of familiarity with Ye Olde Evidence Hierarchy. These groups engage, according to the mainstream medical community, in something called ‘pseudoskepticism‘ and are to rational scientific inquiry what religious extremists are to mainstream religion and spirituality.

Denial: Not Just a River in Egypt

Having been presented with Wikipedia-appropriate high-quality medical references, including the medical guidelines, systematic reviews, and mechanism research syntheses listed above, how does this reliable information about acupuncture mesh with the skeptical world-view? Well, it doesn’t.

So how do the admins on the acupuncture page justify continuing to present their view as the undisputed consensus view in the face of so much evidence to the contrary? I’ve observed a number of well-worn patterns, here are the most common:

Label supporters of Acupuncture as Idiots

According to user ‘Hob Gadling’:

“Acupuncture is clearly a magic practice and has neither a viable mechanism nor evidence on its side. Still, it is used by lots of folks who do not know how to tell valid methods from superstition. Those people clearly do not agree that acupuncture is pseudoscience, but the situation is exactly the same as with other pseudosciences: their proponents do not agree that they are pseudoscientists. We get that all the time, for instance from Intelligent Design proponents.” 5:07, 14 December 2016 (UTC)

Yes, superstitious folks unfamiliar with valid research methods, like those morons at Harvard, the utter simpletons found at The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the irredeemable idiots over at the Mayo Clinic all recommend acupuncture.

User ‘Guy’ tells us: “At this point everyone other than the pathological believers is basically ready to move on. The great tragedy of science: the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by ugly fact. Guy 23:18, 15 December 2016 (UTC)”

Fascinating. And yet, according to the recent study produced by Harvard and IBM, “Acupuncture research has grown markedly in the past two decades, with a 2-fold higher growth rate than for biomedical research overall. Both the increases in the proportion of RCTs and the impact factor of journals support that the quality of published research has improved. . . These findings provide a context for analyzing strengths and gaps in the current state of acupuncture research, and for informing a comprehensive strategy for further advancing the field.”20 Looks like the ‘pathological believers’ at Harvard are developing a comprehensive strategy to further advance acupuncture.

“. . . Of course, your statements do not become true by repeating them. Acupuncture is not “mainstream”, and you will not find a reliable source that says it is. . . –Hob Gadling 21:28, 14 December 2016 (UTC)

Difficult to know quite how to respond, given that we had already presented dozens of very reliable sources that said just that (my mistake for thinking that repetition would somehow help the reality sink in).

“It’s implausible, there’s no remotely plausible mechanism, most of the claims made for it are patent nonsense, it’s practiced by people who for the most part have absolutely no valid medical training and do not use any kind of infection control techniques, and it shows absolutely no sign of getting its house in order . . . Guy 09:05, 22 December 2016 (UTC)

Fact-check: Globally, the majority of those who practice acupuncture are licensed doctors with medical degrees, including over 35,000 MDs outside of South East Asia.

Invent your own evidence

“Science is not done by majority vote, it is done by data and their publication in scientific journals. Gather all the Cochrane meta-analyses done about acupuncture and show that they agree that acupuncture is better than placebo, and you win. You can’t because they all say the opposite, so you lose. Bye. —Hob Gadling 23:20, 13 December 2016 (UTC)”

Fact check: Multiple Cochrane reviews show that acupuncture is better than sham acupuncture and much better than usual care. But because the public are being misinformed about their healthcare choices by a source they mistakenly trust, you’re right, we all lose.

User Alexbrn tells us: “the enlightened basis of what we do is the real world: scientific plausibility, common sense & reason. Acupuncture boosters, Bigfoot spotters, 9/11 conspiracists, cultists etc. don’t like this but it’s their problem with reality which causes friction, not Wikipedia itself. If exceptionally strong sources appear, then we can follow them: until then, Wikipedia shall take a properly skeptical stance.” 09:56, 29 October 2016 (UTC)

“I think it is fair to say by now that there is no robust evidence that acupuncture works for anything, and any area where the balance of P=0.05 is still positive, is an artifact.” Guy 20:24, 14 December 2016 (UTC)

“there is no good evidence it works for most conditions, and all we have left are a handful of conditions where counting the papers shows a majority passing P=0.05 on subjective endpoints (which is entirely consistent with the expected 5% false positive rate inherent in P=0.05) . . .” Guy 09:05, 22 December 2016 (UTC)

Translation: the Cochrane Reviews that demonstrate that acupuncture is superior to sham and usual care are wrong. Because Guy says so. Of course, all of the high-quality reviews of medical interventions ever gathered have an equal chance of being wrong – any of these results could equally be ‘artifacts.’ Thus using Guy’s logic, we would chuck out everything we think we know about medical science. Guy is happy to delete the entire corpus of medical knowledge in order to maintain the view that acupuncture doesn’t work, demonstrating what lengths people are willing to go to in order to protect a cherished belief.

“However there are ample sources in this article that acupuncture is pseudoscience and that it has no scientific base whatsoever. Carl Fredrik 00:23, 16 December 2016 (UTC)”

“”Wikipedia is heavily biased for mainstream science” (or mainstream anything) is exactly how I’d expect an encyclopedia to work. On science subjects, Wikipedia should present articles with a balance that is supported by reliable peer-reviewed sources that exercise proper editorial control and are based on accepted scientific method – mainstream science by definition. (talk) 08:23, 21 December 2016 (UTC)” says User “Boing! said Zebedee”, while failing to acknowledge the panoply of reliable peer-reviewed sources that exercise proper editorial control and are based on accepted scientific method supporting acupuncture’s efficacy.

“The comparison is to the point: although propagated by quackademics, both therapeutic touch and acupuncture lack mainstream scientific support. That’s the reality of mainstream science. So, if you claim that they have lots of mainstream scientific support, that’s a mystification.” Tgeorgescu 20:51, 21 December 2016 (UTC)

Sure, Tgeorgescu, I have ‘mystified’ over a dozen medical guidelines into existence. I’m just that good.

It only works for pain

A user called ‘Roxy the dog’, who agrees that acupuncture is pseudoscience, decisively breaks out from the pack and acknowledges the existence of the scientific resources that elucidate some of acupuncture’s biological mechanisms. His/her comment: “Doesn’t the hatted list of ‘sources’ demonstrate a pain response, and nothing more? 12:37, 15 December 2016 (UTC)”

User ‘Alexbrn’, ferociously anti-acupuncture, shares a similar sentiment: “Really? Isn’t it rather that they’re pretty much firmly decided that acupuncture is ineffective overall, with a possible exception in one area: pain relief? 17:07, 14 December 2016 (UTC)”

Yeah, because that would be useless. An effective treatment for pain. Roxy and Alex agree that acupuncture lacks any useful function whatsoever and that it be branded as “pseudoscience” because all it does is provide efficacious pain relief <facepalm>.

When all else fails, silence your critics

As a new editor, I thought that presenting new high-quality medical references to the discussion on acupuncture’s Talk page in order to ensure that the article reflected the most up to date scientific perspective would be appreciated. Boy was I wrong.

“@Ellaqmentry: You have done absolutely nothing right. A cursory inspection of the talk page archives should have shown you that your arguments have been made and rejected for years. . . if you persist in making those comments, you are likely to become another (editor banned from Acupuncture) . . .” — Arthur Rubin 16:57, 19 December 2016 (UTC)

In response to these comments, I asked Arthur to please not bully me. He responded by vandalising my user page, removing the ‘new user’ tag I had put there so that folks would know I was new to the community.

“You have to take into account that Wikipedia is heavily biased for mainstream science. Those who manifestly work against this bias are subjected to discretionary sanctions.” Tgeorgescu 23:02, 20 December 2016 (UTC)

“Let me put it simply: if you continue to claim that acupuncture has mainstream scientific validation, you have no future as an Wikipedia editor.” Tgeorgescu 21:05, 21 December 2016 (UTC)

“To reiterate and clarify: if you continue to claim that acupuncture has mainstream scientific validation, you have no future as an Wikipedia editor. That is true not “regardless of whether or not it actually has”, it is true because it hasn’t. . . ” Guy 23:04, 21 December 2016 (UTC)

We Follow the Sources

So what’s the other side of this coin? How do the acupuncture article admins justify branding acupuncture pseudoscience according to indisputable medical consensus in the face of so much evidence to the contrary? The comments you are about to read were made with the benefit of the above research references.

The Acu-Wiki admins have provided two sources that they feel prove without a shadow of a doubt that the medical and scientific consensus pretty much unanimously agree that acupuncture is pseudoscience: the first is an introductory undergraduate textbook for non-science majors.21 The second is a primer on science in education.22 Neither of these sources is peer-reviewed, referenced or bills itself as a representation of scientific or medical consensus.

But let’s hear what the pseudoskeptical admins say about the strength of their sources. In each of the following, the author is referring to these two non-medical, non-referenced, non-peer-reviewed books.

“No, those sources are fine.” 19:26, 29 October 2016 (UTC) Says Carl Fredrik, a 4th year medical student, when questioned about their validity.

User Someguy1221 was slightly more circumspect about the sources supporting acupuncture as pseudoscience: “We subject sources on the side of pseudoscience and pseudomedicine, such as acupuncture, to a far higher degree of scrutiny than we do sources on the side of actual science and medicine. Some sources used in the article may not meet the strict criteria of MEDRS, but no one cares, because these do not say anything controversial – if we were to exclude them in exchange for actual MEDRS-compliant sources, the article content would not change significantly. But articles that find something promising in acupuncture and appear on their face to be MEDRS compliant, on the other hand, are basically universally found to have serious problems that invalidate their reliability.” 08:50, 29 October 2016 (UTC)

Translation: because there’s nothing controversial about saying that acupuncture is pseudoscience (aside from the fact that Wikipedia editors have been arguing about this since 2001) we do not have to use appropriate references to support the statement. Conversely, high quality, appropriate references supporting acupuncture’s acceptance or efficacy are flawed because they support acupuncture. Ah, Someguy1221, your head sounds like a fascinating place to live.

But by far the largest advocate of ‘the sources,’ Alexbrn, who has a PhD in English but no scientific or medical background to speak of, was downright exuberant about the strength of the aforementioned sources.

“Most of these dodgy areas have studies trying to validate them (cf homeopathy and osteopathy). As far as pseudoscience goes, we have two excellent sources that address the categorisation and are explicit. Acupuncture is pseudoscience. Wikipedia reflects such sources. “Alexbrn 12:32, 15 December 2016 (UTC)

“Incorrect. Both sources, which are strong WP:MEDRS23 assert that acupuncture is pseudoscience. We follow such sources, not the musings of random WP:SPA wikipedia editors. Alexbrn 14:42, 15 December 2016 (UTC)

“Whatever way you look at it, reliably-published medical books (referring to the two non-medical books above) which specifically consider the non-scientific are the best possible sources available. To find sources on the question of acupuncture and its relation to pseudoscience, try searching collections with the search terms “acupuncture” and “pseudoscience” maybe? All you are doing is producing fallacious arguments and hand-waving. Stick to following sources and all shall be well. Alexbrn 15:01, 15 December 2016 (UTC)”

“More hand-waving and fallacy. We have two top-rate sources that are bang on topic, and they are explicit in what they say. No amount of trying to question how they came to be, to personalize the matter, or to big up your own credentials is remotely relevant to the formation of consensus here, which is based exclusively on the WP:PAG. Wikipedia reflects what the best sources say; they say acupuncture is pseudoscience, so Wikipedia shall too. It’s really very simple. The only thing that might give pause is an equally strong source which explicitly considered the pseudoscience categorisation and rejects it.” Alexbrn 15:52, 15 December 2016 (UTC)

“This “majority view” stuff is baloney. The sources we have which consider the pseudoscience question place acupuncture in that category. Show me sources that consider the question which don’t. Lots of nonsenses are studied at Masters level and beyond: homeopathy, ayurveda, cranial therapy … these novel arguments are irrelevant in any case since we follow the sources.” Alexbrn 15:56, 15 December 2016 (UTC)

“Luckily we have excellent sources which directly consider acupuncture’s relationship to pseudoscience. They tell us it is pseudoscience – Wikipedia accordingly follows because that is the way this place works.” Alexbrn 16:27, 15 December 2016 (UTC)

“Besides, my personal opinion counts for nothing: what matters is what our good sources say on the pseudoscience question. Here, they’re nice and clear.” Alexbrn 18:01, 15 December 2016 (UTC)

“On pseudoscience, all the sources we have agree, and nobody has produced any RS (reliable sources) in opposition . . . ” Alexbrn 18:50, 15 December 2016 (UTC)

And, my personal favourite:

“We’re citing two high-quality medical textbooks focusing directly on the topic of pseudoscience. Despite the fact we don’t need such super-strength sources, we have them and we use them. We reflect what our sources say; OTOH the “personal” WP:PROFRINGE preference here is yours.” 10:26, 29 October 2016 (UTC)

Super-strength, high-quality medical textbooks. Wow. I think the only accurate descriptor in that sentiment is “books”. It was shortly after this discussion about the super-strength medical textbooks that Alexbrn would recommend on the administrator forum that I be indefinitely banned from editing on Wikipedia and the community, already having banned anyone else of a different opinion, would agree.

Wikipedia, the Encyclopedia that anyone can edit, so long as you don’t violate consensus.

But surely with Wikipedia being the ‘Free Encyclopedia’ that anyone can edit, the contents of the acupuncture page reflects the consensus opinion of the global community of English-speaking editors who have participated in its development. If there were reasonable evidence that the contents were incorrect, one could just present this and have it changed, no?

Sadly this is not the case.

13 December 2016: I created my first and only editor account on Wikipedia.

13 – 19 December 2016: I made a total of 20 comments on Wikipedia’s acupuncture discussion page. I made no edits to the Acupuncture article itself. My comments were respectful, relevant, and referenced.

19 December 2016: An administrator who goes by Someguy1221, created a new notice in the administrator’s noticeboard accusing me of being a “Sock-puppet”, which is when an editor who has been banned from editing creates a new account to circumvent the ban.

According to Wikipedia’s policy on accusing someone of this type of misconduct:

“Before opening an investigation, you need good reason to suspect sock puppetry.

Evidence is required. When you open the investigation, you must immediately provide evidence that the suspected sock puppets are connected . . . You must provide this evidence in a clear way. Vaguely worded submissions will not be investigated. You need to actually show why your suspicion that the accounts are connected is reasonable.”

No evidence was provided for his allegation that I’m a Sock, which is a violation of Wikipedia’s policy on making such an accusation.

Someguys1221 also accused me of being a “Point of View Pusher,” which is where someone makes an ‘aggressive’ presentation of a particular point of view in a Wikipedia article; I never made a single edit to any Wikipedia article, aggressive or otherwise.

For my alleged crimes, Someguy1221 recommended that I be indefinitely banned from using Wikipedia or Topic banned from participating in the editing of the Acupuncture article.

19 December 2016: Guy, a Wikipedia administrator who disagreed with my perspective on acupuncture’s mainstream support, indefinitely blocked me from editing Wikipedia articles. Given his involvement in the discussion, this was a clear violation of Wikipedia’s policies which state that admins who are involved should not do the blocking. After this, he had another administrator block me instead.

Since this time, I have been indefinitely banned from editing any part of the Wikipedia project, even though I have not violated a single one of Wikipedia’s policies in either letter or spirit. It seems that simply making the argument that acupuncture enjoys mainstream medical support is sufficient grounds for being banned from editing Wikipedia.

Unfortunately, my experience of being banned for providing high-quality evidence that acupuncture enjoys mainstream support is not an isolated incident. A Wikipedia editor who goes by the username A1candidate provided the following contribution. Following this contribution, he/she was also banned from editing the acupuncture article.

“Acupuncture should not be classified as fringe science because

  1. The American Heart Association‘s consensus statement says that acupuncture’s mechanism of effect appears to be through sensory mechanoreceptor and nociceptor stimulation induced by “connective tissues being wound around the needle”.[1]
  2. Britain’s National Health Service says that acupuncture is used in the majority of pain clinics and hospices in the UK and it is “based on scientific evidence that shows the treatment can stimulate nerves under the skin and in muscle tissue”.[2]
  3. Cancer Research UK says that “medical research has shown that acupuncture works by stimulating nerves to release the body’s own natural chemicals.” [3]
  4. The New England Journal of Medicine says that “some physiological phenomena associated with acupuncture have been identified” [4]
  5. Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine says that “the emerging acceptance of acupuncture results in part from its widespread availability and use in the United States today, even within the walls of major medical centers where it is used as an ancillary approach to pain management” Chapter e2, Page 5, McGraw-Hill, 2011, ISBN 978007174890224

Additionally, on 16 December, a long-time editor called LesVegas was also banned from editing the acupuncture page. The reason given? That he had repeatedly tagged the acupuncture article as violating Wikipedia’s neutral point of view policies – specifically, because it incorrectly refers to acupuncture as pseudoscience.

More recently, an editor called LesVegas posted a comment to the page of Jim Wales, founder of Wikipedia, asking the following:

“. . .I can’t help but wonder if your strong and necessary response to some pseudoscience pushers has, unwittingly, emboldened a group of editors who see it as their mission to disparage all fields they deem pseudoscience. Take a look at the Acupuncture article, for instance. In the lede it says that “acupuncture is a pseudoscience”, definitively as if it came from the Mouth of God (and not merely the opinions of a couple of scientific authors.) Since there are numerous Cochrane Reviews which show acupuncture’s efficacy for various conditions, as well as WHO, NHS and NIH consensus statements about acupuncture’s efficacy for certain conditions, how can such a statement fall within our neutrality guidelines? Of course the entire scientific community hasn’t established the consensus that acupuncture is pseudoscience. States don’t have licensing boards for obvious pseudoscience, nor do scientists publish hundreds if not thousands of studies on obvious pseudoscience each year like they do with acupuncture . . . Whenever high-quality systematic reviews or meta-analyses show acupuncture in a positive light, they are rejected or deleted by these same editors who cherry-pick their own reviews and give them prominence . . . Do you believe articles like Acupuncture, which give QuackWatch more prominence than the NIH, fall within the spirit of this project? LesVegas (talk) 01:09, 16 December 2016 (UTC)”

Hours after posting this, LesVegas was indefinitely banned from editing the acupuncture article or anything remotely related to it.

Indisputably Pseudoscience? There’s No Contest

While every issue has multiple perspectives, what’s amazing is how woefully lopsided this particular debate is. The view expressed by the Wikipedia admins, which they are systematically bullying and banning Wikipedia compliant editors to defend, is one backed by un-referenced, easily disproven, error-prone opinions and fabrications. The majority of the remaining Wikipedia ‘community,’ after banning dissenters, appears to have no background in medicine or medical research. The crux of their argument relies on denying the existence of dozens of documents that demonstrate medical consensus in favour of acupuncture that clearly do exist. And this behaviour is from individuals claiming to speak on behalf of scientific rigour and rationality! It would be quite funny if it didn’t actually cause serious, systematic harm by steering people away from one of the most effective and safest treatment options ever studied. Meanwhile, as opposed to other areas of medicine, where topic experts are encouraged to participate if not relied upon for accuracy, acupuncture researchers and medical professionals who use this intervention and are versed on the literature are discouraged and banned from editing.

While Jimmy Wales and other decision-makers at Wikipedia have historically been anti-complementary medicine, the maintenance of the perspective that acupuncture is incontrovertibly pseudoscience in the face of so much evidence to the contrary comes at a steep price. It depends on censorship, denialism, and the compromising of every standard for judging scientific consensus and efficacy, not to mention escalating violations of Wikipedia’s own policies of conduct. The silly thing is that real scientists and the most rational people regularly update their theories on how things work based on new evidence. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, the acupuncture article will benefit from these rational perspectives.

Wai Khruu ไหว้ครู honour/pay respect to the teacher

The front of the lecture hall in the grounds of a hospital in Chiang Mai is adorned by a long table laden with offerings of all kinds. An otherwise utilitarian space large enough to hold some 200 people has been transformed by the table bearing offerings on the raised dais at the front of the hall. There are garlands of gardenia, Indian marigolds strewn loosely and in piles, and lotus flowers are poking out of small brass urns; the perfume is overwhelming. Pyramids of limes, bananas and hot-pink dragon fruit are piled on the offering plates. There are coconut and sago desserts, pumpkin and coconut balls, and rice flour cakes all beautifully presented on plates in patterns and decorated with carved flowers. Incense sprouts from every possible flower arrangement and yellow temple candles stand among the many brightly colored floral arrangements and sweet–meats. There are fresh herbs such as ginger (khing ขิง Zingiber officinalis), cassumar ginger (phlaii ไพล Zingiber cassumar) and decorative glass jars of dried and powdered herbs, including cinnamon (opchoei อบเชย Cinnamomum zeylandicum). On a raised altar, there is an image of the Buddha (head and shoulders above all others as is usual: this is a way of expressing his pre-eminent status), the hermit (ruesi ฤษี the ascetic figure closely associated with healing and wisdom) and Jivaka Komarpaj, (ชีวกโกมารภัจจ์) the Buddha’s physician and the head of the Thai healing pantheon. Continue reading Wai Khruu ไหว้ครู honour/pay respect to the teacher

International Workshop May 8-10, 2015: Developing an interdisciplinary and multilingual digital knowledge base on Tibetan medical formulas with a focus on stress-related ‘wind’ (rlung) disorders

This report first appeared in the IASTAM newsletter: http://iastam.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/IASTAM-newsletter-Summer-2016.pdf

The three-day long workshop brought together international expert physicians and scholars of Tibetan medicine – medical anthropologists, historians, (ethno)botanists, pharmacologists, pharmacists – working with and/or on Tibetan medicine, and also experts in Chinese medicine, as well as IT specialists. The aim was to discuss and contribute toward how an interdisciplinary and multilingual digital knowledge base should look like that could be used in the future as an analytic tool for documenting and analysing Tibetan medical formulas. Processes of cultural translation are intrinsic to such translations between different languages, medical concepts of health and disease, and disciplinary approaches and interests, and therefore are often vexed and problematic.

Prepared by a one-month-long pilot study by visiting scholar-physician of Tibetan medicine, Dr Cairang Nanjia from the Tibetan Medical College, Qinghai University, PRC, and the author of this report, at the time a Wellcome Trust research fellow at EASTmedicine, University of Westminster (2012-2015), this ensuing workshop proved a fruitful platform for discussing some of the outcomes and issues involved in such a complex endeavour. Both pilot project and workshop were co-funded by the British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant combined with private funds by The Sino-British Fellowship Trust. Asian workshop participants were supported by an additional IASTAM fund. The author would like to express her gratitude to these foundations and to IASTAM that made this encounter between scholars from different disciplines truly special and fruitful. This included scholars who rarely discuss their different interests and approaches, physicians-cum-pharmacists from Asia, and pharmaceutical producers focusing on Tibetan formulas.

We focused on a particular Tibetan formula complex containing the main ingredient eaglewood (Lat. different types of Aquillaria; Tib. a ga ru or a gar)—in the following Agar-formulas (Agar 8, Agar 15, Agar 20, Agar 35, Sogdzin 11). These were chosen as case studies for they are usually prescribed in relation to specific classifications of ‘wind’ (Tib. rlung) disorders that can be correlated with what we understand as classic ‘stress’ symptoms, such as insomnia and depression.

Dr Cairang Nanjia began the inquiry by documenting Agar-formulas in Tibetan medical, botanical and pharmacological texts used at present in Amdo, the Tibetan populated parts of Qinghai and Gansu provinces of China, focusing also on their structure, single ingredients and relations to each other. The author related her ethnographic material on different styles of production and prescription practices of Agar-formulas in both China and parts of Europe, and both Cairang and Schrempf co-developed, together with advice from IT specialist Kapetanios a possible multi-level digital knowledge base structure of synonyms and homonyms in order to deal with the complexity of different languages, concepts and terminologies. The preliminary results were presented at the workshop for discussion.

Workshop participants used different sources and analysed them following up on specific questions, such as which texts are important for understanding Tibetan materia medica and formulae and by whom they are produced, prescribed and used today; which ingredients are we actually talking about in a formula; how and why are certain rare or endangered materia medica ingredients in a formula substituted; why and how does a formula work; what is its local, regional, botanical identification; what are ’wind’ (Tib. rlung) disorders in Tibetan medicine and how can one correlate them with biomedical diseases related to ’stress’ (let alone trying to define the fluid concept and the Tibetan dynamic of ’wind’, or what does stress mean to body and mind). Complex issues without doubt constantly required our own translation exercises between Tibetan, English and Chinese languages.

Sources used and topics addressed by the workshop participants ranged from analysing Tibetan historical medical and botanical texts to develop a feasible structure for​ Tibetan formulas (Czaja) to Chinese publications on minority medicines and how information on their materia medica is collected in China (Springer); how the seminal Tibetan medical text, the Four Tantras or rGyud bzhi explains the classification and treatment of rlung disorders (Cuomu); how specific rlung disorders, specially ‘heart wind’ (Tib. snying rlung) and ‘life sustaining wind’ (Tib. srog ’dzin rlung), are taught to Tibetan medical students in Xining (Sanjijia); presenting his experiences as a physician-cum-pharmacist by the eminent co-founder and teacher at the Tibetan medical hospital in Xining (Dr Nyima); how Agar-compounds in their various forms and styles are prescribed in both Asian and European contexts (Schrempf); presenting patient case studies and related prescription practices for ‘wind’ disorders in the UK (Millard) in which, however, no Agar-compounds were used; asking socio-cultural and ethno- as well as medical botanical questions about the difficulties in identifying plant names, such as Aquillaria agallocha (van der Valk, Allkin, Leon); demonstrating salient issues of sustainability of materia medica growing in Ladkah (Padma Gurmet); demonstrating the life work for Tibetan medicine by the eminent scholar and teacher Akong Rinpoche in both his home area of Kham and the UK, focusing on the sustainability of medical plants (Sweeney); how to understand Tibetan materia medica and formulas in relation to TCM while both address stress-related symptoms (Ploberger); how the pharmaceutical company Padma AG has created and adapted the Tibetan formula Sogdzin 11 into Padma Nervotonin (Schwabl and Vennos); and, last but not least, what a digital data base can offer if one is interested in mapping drugs across time and space (Stanley-Baker, Chen Shi-Pei, Brent Haoyang Ho).

The aim of the workshop was to relate and analyse formula and substitution patterns, culturally distinct ideas of efficacy and safety and different disease categories/body images in relation to ways of diagnosing, formulating/producing, prescribing and using these chosen Tibetan formulas. Only careful translations will allow to properly correlate different concepts of Tibetan, Chinese and bio-medicine, keeping regional, national and global regulatory regimes in mind. It would desirable if in the future we could pursue an integrative and synthesising approach to Tibetan Medicine with a sensitivity to various interpretations in this multi-lingual endeavour, as well as trying to correlate different disciplines and practices.

The aim would be to explore careful and meaningful ways of representing Tibetan cultural and medical knowledge and develop suitable key search terms in different semantic networks in order to make such a digital knowledge base a useful tool for researchers and practitioners alike.

For more information concerning the EASTmedicine research group and the workshop, see the group’s website at https://www.westminster.ac.uk/eastmedicine-research-group

 

Efficacy and safety of “Yahom” as a traditional Thai herbal therapy: A systematic review.

Efficacy and safety of “Yahom” as a traditional Thai herbal therapy: A systematic review.

J Ethnopharmacol. 2016 Dec 06;:

Authors: Chootip K, Chaiyakunapruk N, Soonthornchareonnon N, Scholfield CN, Fuangchan A

Abstract
ETHNOPHARMACOLOGICAL RELEVANCE: Yahom is a traditional Thai medicine used to treat syncope and abdominal discomfort.
AIM OF THE STUDY: This study aimed to systematically review all available evidence which purports to support these claims.
MATERIAL AND METHODS: The systematic review accorded with the Cochrane Collaboration framework and PRISMA reporting. Databases including MEDLINE, Excerpta Medica Database (EMBASE), Cochrane library database, and Google Scholar were searched by keywords, Yahom and Ya-hom. Pharmacological and toxicity data from non-animal and animal studies were included.
RESULTS: Twenty-four articles: 2 on in vitro cell lines or bacteria, 3 in vitro cell-free, 5 in vitro animal, 13 in vivo and 1 human mainly reported (A) Cardiovascular effects (i) transient hypotension (0.2-0.8g/kg, intravenous injection (i.v.)), increased cerebral blood flow (2g/kg, single oral) and vascular dilatation/relaxation (ii) elevated blood pressure (BP) (0.2-0.8g/kg, i.v. or 2-4g/kg oral) and vasocontraction. Single Yahom doses (3g) given to healthy volunteers had no effect on cutaneous blood flow, ECG or systolic BP although marginally increased diastolic BP was claimed. (B) Yahom (2-4g/kg) completely inhibited gastric acid secretion evoked by gastric secretagogues. (C) Toxicity: Chronic oral doses of selected Yahoms to rodents (0.001-1g/kg) supports its status as generally regarded as safe.
CONCLUSIONS: Most studies supported declared objectives relating to perceived Yahom actions, but lacked background demonstrating clinical efficacy, and mechanistic data that would validate conclusions. Our study suggests that research into traditional medicinal herbs needs underpinning by appropriate clinical interventions and pharmacovigilance, thereby optimising efficacy and minimizing toxicity by combining traditional wisdom and modern testing.

PMID: 27939421 [PubMed – as supplied by publisher]

From secret knowledge to science: creating modern practitioners

“My initial interest in traditional healing in Thailand began with a trip to Thailand that was billed as a study tour of Northern Thailand Healers. It was advertised in a professional journal. I travelled with a pair of old friends (one of whom had previously lived in Thailand for 3 years and spoke some Northern Thai). We drove from Chiang Mai into the hill-tribe villages north west of Chiang Mai in what is called the upper north of Chiang Mai Province. It was late March and early April, the hottest driest time of year in that part of Thailand. The heat was intense, and the terrain mountainous and jungle-covered. There was a lot of dust and smoke. At that time of year smoke from the burning off associated with forestry and swidden agriculture obstructed our vision, gave us all chronic coughs and didn’t let us appreciate the full beauty of these mountain landscapes. We visited a variety of different hill-tribe practitioners (Hmong, Lisu, Black Lahu, Red Lahu and Karen) and some local Northern Thai practitioners who worked in Chiang Mai Province. It was a tourist package but had been advertised in a professional journal as a study tour and most of the small group of eight people were naturopaths or had a broader interest in traditional healing practices.

My memories of the trip are of my intense frustration at not being able to talk to the healers we visited and at the speed of the tour (it was a whistle-stop travel experience). There was a sense too, of peering briefly at a range of practitioners and practices that I realized even then I wanted to know much more about. I disliked the sensation of being a tourist in relation to traditional medicine and in many ways felt myself to be interacting with healers who practiced in a different cultural tradition, but with whom I felt an affinity. For many people these traditional healers may have been exotic but as a herbalist and naturopath I recognized in these traditional medical practices, similar kinds of understandings of the body, health and treatment to those found in ‘traditional herbal medicine’. Ideas about health and well-being were couched in terms of balance. Descriptions of patients and plants as hot and cold, and foods as medicines, were familiar to me from my own herbal tradition. Health in Thailand is considered a fragile, daily balance in which the environment, family and social relationships, emotions, spirits, karma and magic all feature. Patients speak of being dry and hot, of their medicines as cooling and refreshing and describe foods as strengthening. Folk healers talked about illness in terms of blood (lueat เลือด), poison (phit พิษ) and karma (kam กรรม). There were also features of the medical tradition that were quite unfamiliar to me like the use incantations (khaa thaa คาถา) to potentize medicines and to secure beneficial outcomes.

The other main memory I have from this trip was of managing somehow to have a fruitful conversation with the mo tam yae (หมอตำแย midwife) at a Lisu village where my herbal colleague and I shared birthing lore. Needless to say they were far more experienced in this area than we were. We spoke through the village headman, a youngish Thai man who spoke English, had a university education and had returned to his Lisu village home, which was unusual. We talked about everything from the use of roses for skin treatment to the use of ice-cubes for moving mal-positioned foetuses. Even now (14 years later) I wonder about whether this information has been used by the midwives. Did these bits of knowledge slip into practice in this Lisu village? Have these fragments of information and practice entered into Lisu traditions, in the way that the adoption of Hopi ear candles has permeated Australian naturopathic practice? ” (Hunter, 2014 (unpublished thesis): p.39-41)

This is a fragment from the thesis I subsequently wrote about the modernization and professionalization of traditional medicine in Thailand. I went on to spend a year in Thailand (in 2009 and 2010) doing ethnographic fieldwork as part of a PhD in medical anthropology at the University of Melbourne. I lived with, talked to and befriended many traditional medicine practitioners in Chiang Mai. I immersed myself in their world of students, classes, rituals and in the conferences which took place during my time there. I did my research not as a total outsider (despite my obvious whiteness and very basic command of Thai) but as a herbalist and teacher from another tradition. What I wrote about in my thesis was the way in which traditional medicine practitioners were now able to choose between learning from a teacher (khruu ครู) or going to university. As you can imagine the difference between becoming an apprentice and becoming a university student is considerable.

What I explored in my thesis was the changing landscape of traditional medicine education in Thailand. Folk healers established their knowledge through a sense of vocation by apprenticing themselves to a teacher, a process which linked them to a lineage of knowledge and teachers extending to Shivaka Kormarpaj, the Buddha’s physician and the Father of Healing in the Thai tradition. This method of learning was  an oral tradition. Students learnt by watching and working with their teacher; learning how to recognise plants, how to make medicines and observing how their teacher treated patients and gradually absorbing the healing traditions which had been passed down over centuries. The healing practices were taught in the context of the Buddhist culture they were drawn from. Healing rituals, use of magic and incantation were all part of healing practices. Rituals, beliefs and practices were local and the healing traditions of Thailand vary considerably from region to region.

By contrast modern university training has been established through a process of drawing together material in a formal educational curriculum. It draws on written sources and because it is taught in a modern educational institution it has been grafted onto a scientific base. Students acquire a formal education which emphasizes the scientific rationale for using plants and massage. They learn about plant medicines using pharmacology and chemistry as the lens through which they understand their properties and uses. They are trained to work in a modern health system and to work with nurses, doctors and pharmacists. In short they are trained to be modern health professionals.

I’ll write more about what these changes in the education of Thai traditional medicine practitioners mean in my next piece.

 

An Excerpt from Fascicle Twenty-Nine of Huilin’s Yiqie jing yinyi 一切經音義, Pronunciations and Meanings for All [Buddhist] Scriptures

An Excerpt from Fascicle Twenty-Nine of Huilin’s Yiqie jing yinyi 一切經音義, Pronunciations and Meanings for All [Buddhist] Scriptures[1]

Translated and introduced by Robban Toleno

The following lexical entries come from the Yiqie jing yinyi, a hundred-fascicle guide to the language of Buddhist scriptures that was compiled in 807 by the Buddhist monk Huilin 慧琳 (737-820). Huilin’s philological work builds upon the earlier efforts of the monk Xuanying 玄應 (d.u.). The organization of this reading aid follows the chapters of whatever scripture is under scrutiny. In the excerpt below, Huilin has listed words from the ninth fascicle of the Jin’guangming zuishengwang jing 金光明最勝王經, Sutra of the Most Excellent King of Golden Light[2], which was translated to Chinese in 703 by Yijing (635-713). Much of Huilin’s notation concerns the proper forms and pronunciations of characters. Because the meanings of Chinese words often depended on pronunciation rather than inherent semantic values of characters[3], and because Chinese Buddhists often chanted their scriptures, guidance on the pronunciation of obscure vocabulary had a practical significance. Philological study helped keep chanting in unison, reduced scribal errors in the copying of sutras, and aided readers in interpreting scriptures. Huilin relies on a number of lexical works that predate the arrival of Buddhist writings, effectively grounding the philological study of Buddhist scriptures in a classical vein of Chinese knowledge production stretching back to ancient writings. These lexical notes contain a wealth of information for linguists working to reconstruct the pronunciations of Middle Chinese, which differed considerably from those of modern Mandarin.[4] They also demonstrate that Chinese Buddhist scholar-monks such as Huilin were well versed in practical forms of knowledge including natural history and medicine.

 

Ninth Fascicle of the Jinguangming zuishengwang jing, Sutra of the Most Excellent King of Golden Light

金光明最勝王經卷第九

 

匱乏[5] The first [character’s pronunciation] combines gwijH 逵 and hwijH 位. The Shuowen [jiezi says that] 匱 [means] a box. Derived from 匚, the pronunciation of which is pjang 方, and kjw+jH 貴 for the tone. The latter [character’s pronunciation] combines bjom 凡 and pjop 法. The Shuowen cites the Chunqiu zhuan, saying that [匱乏] is properly interpreted [to mean] lacking (乏). Fa 乏 means paucity.

匱乏(上逵位反。說文匱匣也。從匚,匚音方,貴聲。下凡法反。說文引春秋傳曰:反正為乏。乏少也)。

 

金翅[6] [The second character] combines the sounds syij 尸 and tsyijH 至. Also known as “kae-lju-la” (transliteration of Skt. garua) or ‘dragon-window’, this is the Gold-Winged King of Birds[7], the eater of dragons. Ancient writings render [the character 翅] as 翄 or [羽+氏].

金翅(尸至反,一名加婁羅,一名龍䆫,即金翅鳥王也,食龍者。古文作翄亦作[羽*氏]也)。

 

滋繁[8] The first [character’s] pronunciation is tsij 諮 and its proper form comes from 水 and 並, with two 玄. When today it is rendered 茲, this is a vernacular form of the character. The latter [character] is pronounced byon 煩, with the tone of khawX 考; [its form] derives from 敏, with hejH 系 for the tone.[9]

滋繁(上音諮,正體從水並二玄,今作茲時俗字也。下音煩,考聲也,從敏,系聲也)。

 

老耄[10] The latter [character’s pronunciation] combines maw 毛 and pawH 報. The Liji annotated by Zheng reads, “Mao [means] senile and forgetful.” In ancient writings it derives from 蒿 and is rendered [蒿 over 老]. The Gujin zhengzi derives it from 老 with maw 毛 for the tone. The Zishu‘s having it [老 over 鬼] is a vernacular form of the character.[11]

老耄(下毛報反,鄭注禮記云:耄惛忘也。古文從蒿作[蒿/老] ,古今正字從老,毛聲,字書有作[老/鬼]俗字也)。

 

痰癊[12] The first [character’s] pronunciation is dam 談; the second is a combination of ‘im 陰 and kimH 禁. Note that the characters for 痰癊 do not have a definitive form. An illness of the breath located in the diaphragm. Bodily fluid that congeals and does not disperse due to a shortness of breath, and which like tendon glue (a collagen/gelatin product) does not sever when stretched. Its name is dam ‘imH 痰癊 and among the root [causes] of the four [types of] illness, this one can cause a hundred illnesses, all of which are ailments of the diaphragm.

痰癊(上音談,下陰禁反。案痰癊字無定體。[凶/月]鬲中氣病也。津液因氣疑結不散,如筋膠引挽不斷。名為痰癊,四病根本之中此一能生百病,皆上焦之疾也)。

 

鹹醋[13] The first [character’s] pronunciation is heam 咸. The “Hongfan” [chapter of the Shangshu] says of water that it trickles downward and becomes salty (鹹). The Erya says saltiness is bitter. Annotation [of the Erya] by Guo says bitter is great saltiness. The Shuowen [says] 鹹 [is pronounced] haem 銜 and is the flavor of the northern regions. [The character] derives from 鹵 with heam 咸 for the tone and luX 鹵 for the sound. The Lujing‘s use of 酉 to make 醎 is erroneous, as this is not a proper form [of the character]. The latter [character in the headword] combines tshang 倉 and kuH 固, [having the same] tone as khawX 考, and refers to vinegar. The Jixun [gives] swan 酸 [for 鹹酸, salty and sour].[14] This character (酸) is not proper, and according to the customary meanings and pronunciations [given] in scriptures, the character tshuH 醋 [associated with] fermented bean sauces is [to be] used. The wordbooks of the various philologists of recent generations are in agreement on the above pronunciation.[15] The Shuowen and [other] ancient wordbooks have since former times held that the construction 醋 is pronounced the same as dzak 昨. Where the [Jixun] says, “A guest pours (tsyak 酌) wine with the host,” this corresponds with the [second] character in dzyuw tsak 酬酢 (to toast with wine), the pronunciation of which combines dzang 藏 and lak 洛 and means to toast reciprocally with wine. If we rely on [information in] the Shuowen, the seven wordbooks Yupian, Gujin zhengzi, Wenzi dianshuo, Guangya, Qieyun, Zitong, and Zilin have both tsjangH 醬 (fermented bean sauces) and 醋 as derived from dzraeH 乍 to form tsak 酢 (the return toast of a guest to a host). Orthodox physicians [have] the character 酢 deriving from 乍. The Shuowen says it is verified. The Cangjiepian [has] 酸. The custom today is to revert to using the pronunciation dzak 昨. [I] still do not know which of the two forms is right, in the past or today, so for now I am writing both [solutions] together here.

鹹醋(上音咸。洪範云水曰:潤下潤下作鹹。尒雅云鹹苦也。郭注云苦即大鹹也。說文鹹銜也北方味也。從鹵,咸聲,鹵音。魯經從酉作醎誤也,非正體。下倉固反,考聲,云醋䤈也。集訓酸也。此字非正,且依經義音之俗用醬醋字也。近代切韻諸家字書並同上音。說文及古字書從昔作醋者並音為昨。訓云客酌主人酒也,是相酬酢字也,音藏洛反,獻酬也。若依說文,玉篇、古今正字、文字典說、廣雅、切韻、字統、字林七本字書醬醋字並從乍作酢。音倉固反。正醫酢字從乍也。說文云驗也。蒼頡篇酸也。今俗用却音為昨。未知二體今古孰是,今並書之也)。

 

甛膩[16] The first [character’s pronunciation] is a combination of drip[17] 䐑 (M. zhé) and yem 閻. The Guangya [says it means] sweet. The Shuowen [says it means] tasty 美, deriving from a sweet (甘) tongue (舌), which if formed into 甜 also means the same. The latter [character] is a combination of nrij 尼 and trjeH 智. The Chuci annotated by Wang Yi says that 膩 means oily. The Shuowen [gives] [月+㔾] (perhaps a variant of chì [月+匕], meaning an oily/slick appearance), [saying] it is derived from 肉 (meat) with nyijH 貳 for the tone, and is not derived from 月 (moon).

甛膩(上䐑閻反,廣雅甛甘也。說文美也,從甘舌,或作甜亦通。下尼智反,王逸注楚辭云膩滑也。說文[夗-夕+月]也,從肉,貳聲,從月非也)。

 

鍼刺[18] The first [character’s pronunciation] combines tsyip 執 and nyimH 任. The Guangya [says] 鍼 also [means] to prick (刺). The Liji says married women wear on the right side of the waist a needle tube and silk thread. The Shuowen accordingly [refers to] sewing. The Yupian [gives] the patching of clothes. Vernacular usage makes 針 based on 十, which not only accords with the times but is moreover in [common] use. The proper [form] derives from 金 (metal) and 箴 (needle), with simplification of the phonetic [element of the character, i.e., 箴 becoming 咸]. Pronunciation of the latter [character] 刺 [in the headword] is a combination of tsheng 青 and yek 亦, and also of tshjeX 此 and sijH 四. The two pronunciations are both acceptable for the proper form of the character. The Shuowen [says that 刺 means] to meet with injury. Gu Yewang[19] writes that [it means] needle-sharp and piercing into human flesh,[20] and says that the Gujin zhengzi [has it] derived from 刀 with tshjeH 朿 for the tone, 朿 being pronounced tshijH 次.[21] Deriving it from 朿 is not correct. Where scriptures have it derived from 夹 to make 刾, this is a vernacular character form.

鍼刺(上執任反。廣雅鍼亦刺也。禮記婦右佩鍼管線纊,說文所以縫也。玉篇綴衣也。俗用從十作針,亦順時,且用也。正從金從箴,省聲。下刺音青亦反,又此四反,二音並通正體字也。說文直傷也。顧野王云銳鑱人(=入)人肉中曰古今正字從刀,朿聲,朿音次,從朿者非也。經從夹作刾俗字也)。

 

鼻梁㩻[22] The last [character’s] pronunciation is khi 欺. Gu Yewang writes that 㩻 [means] slanted and not straight. The Shuowen [says it means] 陋 (provincial, inferior),[23] and that it derives from ngjwe 危, with tsye 支 for the tone. Others have it derived from 山 to make 崎; still others have it derived from 器 to make [器+支]. These are all ancient characters. Where scriptural writings derives it from 奇 to make 攲, this is not right. Sun Qingzi (the philosopher Xunzi) wrote that the ancestral shrine of Duke Huan had in it a ’tilting vessel’ (㩻器), which slanted when empty, overturned when full, and [remained] level when filled to the middle, in conformity with [the way] people [are].

鼻梁㩻(下音欺顧野王云㩻傾側不正也。說文陋也,從危,支聲。或從山作崎,或從器作[器+支] ,皆古字也。經文從奇作攲非也。孫卿子曰桓公廟有㩻器焉,虛則㩻,滿則覆,中則平,以誡於人也)。

 

餌藥[24] Combining nyi 而 and tsyiH 志, [餌] is a falling-tone character (去聲字).[25] The Cangjiepian says that 餌 is food. Gu Yewang says that in general everything that is eaten is called 餌. The Gujin zhengzi [says it refers to] cakes. The Shuowen derives it from [弓+畐+弓] to make [耳 over 弓+畐+弓], [defining it as] pastries.[26] Deriving it from [弓+畐+弓] with nyiX 耳 for the tone is an ancient character. Today it is derived from 食 to make 餌. The Zhouli annotated by Zheng Xuan (127-200) writes that what is steamed together is called pjengX 餅 (cakes and other products made from flour). The Zishu says it is 餻 (cakes or pastry).[27] The Shuowen derives it from 食 (food) with nyiX 耳 for the tone.

餌藥(而志反,去聲字也。蒼頡篇云餌食也。顧野王云凡所食皆曰餌。古今正字餅也。說文從[弼-百+(幅-巾)]作[耳/(弼-百+(幅-巾))]粉餅也,從[弼-百+(幅-巾)]耳聲古字也。今從食作餌。鄭玄注周禮云合蒸曰餅。字書云糕也。說文從食耳聲也)。

 

豺狼[28] The first [character] is pronounced dzrea 柴 [and] is the name of a rural animal. The Kuodi zhi says that the shape of dholes is like that of dogs but smaller, that they like to move in groups, and that they are a social animal. There is a [status] difference between the high and the low. Slave (i.e., low status) dholes will often move on ahead [of the group] and hunt down a bird or deer, and, not daring to start eating first, will keep guard, waiting for the leading dhole. The leading dhole arrives later but eats first, and only when it is satiated and abandons the remaining meat will the slave dholes commence eating together. The “Yueling” chapter of the Liji says that in the moon of the autumn season (the ninth month of the lunar calendar), dholes make sacrificial offerings of animals. The latter [character of the headword] is pronounced lang 郎. It is a wild animal. The deserts of the northern lands abound with this animal. They often live in dens [near] rivers and marshes. The Shuowen says wolves resemble dogs, with a pointed head and white forehead that is protruding in the front and wide in the back, the ears rising up vertically, the mouth square, the tail usually hanging downward, [and the fur] a bluish yellow or white color. They are exceedingly strong––donkeys, horses, people, and domestic animals all suffer harm. The Erya says of wolves that the males are called xwan 貛 (“badgers”), the females[29] lang 狼, and their young 獥 (M. jiào[30]), and that they are incomparably strong and fast. [狼] is a phono-semantic character (i.e., with one part providing a sound and another indicating something about the meaning). The pronunciation of 貛 is xwan 歡.

豺狼(上音柴。山獸名也。括地志云豺形似狗而小,好羣行,義獸也。有良賤之異。豺奴常先行獵得禽鹿等物,不敢前食,守待豺郎。豺郎後至先食,飽棄餘肉,豺奴方始共食。禮記月令云季秋之月豺乃祭獸。下音郎。野獸也。北地沙漠多饒此獸。常居川澤穴處。說文狼似犬,銳頭白額高前廣後,耳聳竪,口方,尾常垂下,青黃色或白色。甚有力,驢馬人皆遭害。爾雅曰狼,牡貛,牡狼,其子獥,絕有力迅。形聲字。 貛音歡也)。

 

狐玃[31] The first [character’s] pronunciation is hu 胡. Above, I already explained 野狐 (wild foxes). The latter [character’s pronunciation] is a combination of kju 俱 and ngjak[32] 籰 (M. yuè). The Erya annotated by Guo says that the jue 玃 is like the macaque only larger, bluish-black in color, and that it is able to seize and carry off humans, from which it gets its name.[33] Looking back [over the written record], this type of category is exceedingly common. Each has a different name. The Shuowen says it is a female monkey. Another name [for it] is naw 獶, a character with the form (a semantic indicator) on the left and the sound on the right. The pronunciation of 獶 is a combination of nu 奴 and taw 刀.

狐玃(上音胡。前已釋野狐也。下俱籰反。郭注爾雅云玃似獼猴而大,倉黑色,能[玃-(目*目)+賏]持人,故以為名。好顧眄此等種類甚多。各別異名。說文母猴也。一名獶,左形右聲字也。獶音奴刀反)。

 

鵰鷲[34] The first [character’s] pronunciation is tew 彫. The latter [character’s pronunciation] is dzjuwH 就. Because the third fascicle of the [Yiqie] yinyi on the Da bore jing (Skt. Mahāprajñāpāramitā-sūtra) already has an explanation [on this], I will not reiterate.[35]

鵰鷲(上音彫也。下音就。前大般若經音義第三卷已具釋文,繁不述)。

 

宛轉[36] The first [character’s pronunciation] is a combination of ‘jwon 冤 and hjwonX 遠. The Shuowen says 宛轉 [means] wo 臥 (resting, reposed). [The first character] deriving from xi 夕 (evening), [it means] resting (臥), temperate (有節). It derives from 夕 and 卪(= jié 節). Scriptures also have it derived from 女 (woman) to make ‘jwonX 婉 (gentle), [but that] is not this usage.

宛轉(上冤遠反。說文宛轉臥也。從夕,臥,有節也。從夕從卪。經又從女作婉,非此用也)。

 

欲涸[37] A combination of ha 何 and kak 各 [constitutes the second character’s pronunciation]. The Guangya says that 涸 [means] to be exhausted. The Guoyu annotated by Jia says that 涸 [means] to be used up. The Shuowen says that water dries up (涸). It derives from water 水, with kuH 固 for the tone.

欲涸(何各反。廣雅涸盡也。賈注國語云涸竭也。說文水涸也。從水固聲也)。

 

象廄[38] The first is the proper form of the character 象. The latter [character’s pronunciation] is a combination of kjuw 鳩 and hjuwH 又. The Shuowen [says these are] lodgings for elephants and horses. The Zhouli says 214 horses make up one jiu 厩 (stable).[39] Derived from 广 and 段. The pronunciation of 广 is ngjaemX 儼. The pronunciation of kjwieX 𣪘 is the same as [what was given] above.

象廄(上正體象字也。下鳩又反。說文象馬舍也。周禮曰馬二百一十四匹為一厩。從广段,广音儼。𣪘音同上也)。

 

皮囊[40] [The second character is] a combination of nak 諾 and lang 郎. Explanatory notes in the [Qieyun[41]] say that it is a bag with a base. It derives from [襄-〦], which derives from hwonH 㯻 (to tie up), simplified to [襄-〦] and pronounced nreang[42] 儜 (M. níng). 㯻 is pronounced hwonH 溷.

皮囊(諾郎反。韻詮云有底袋也。從[襄-〦]從㯻省[襄-〦] ,音儜。㯻音溷)。

 

循岸[43] The pronunciation of 循 is zwin 巡. Zwin 循 (“to follow the course of”) developed from 行 (walking).

循岸(循音巡,循由行也)。

 

睡寤[44] The first [character’s pronunciation] combines dzywe 垂 and lwijH 淚 and means sleep. The latter [character’s] pronunciation is mjuH 悟 and means to fall asleep. [It] derives from mjuwngH 㝱, economizing by deriving from [only] 爿.

睡寤(上垂淚反,眠也。下音悟,睡覺也。從㝱省從爿也)。

 

References

Baxter, William H. and Laurent Sagart. Old Chinese: A New Reconstruction. New York: Oxford, 2014.

Dictionary of Chinese Character Variants => Taiwan Ministry of Education. Yitizi zidian 異體字字典, http://dict2.variants.moe.edu.tw/variants/rbt/home.do; accessed November 2016.

Kroll, Paul W. A Student’s Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese. Leiden / Boston: Brill, 2015.

Kwan, Tze-wan. “Abstract Concept Formation in Archaic Chinese Script Forms: Some Humboldtian Perspectives.” Philosophy East and West 61, no. 3 (2011): 409–52.

McDonald, Edward. “Getting Over the Walls of Discourse: “Character Fetishization” in Chinese Studies.” The Journal of Asian Studies 68, no. 4 (2009): 1189–213.

Muller, A. Charles, ed. Digital Dictionary of Buddhism. http://buddhismdict.net/ddb. Edition of 2016-08-28.

SAT => SAT Daizōkyō Text Database 大正新脩藏經テキストデータベース , http://21dzk.l.u-tokyo.ac.jp/SAT/satdb2015.php; accessed November 2016.

T. => Taishō shinshū daizōkyō 大正新脩大藏經, Taishō-Era Newly Revised Tripitaka, the digitized text of which can be accessed through CBETA or SAT.

Notes

[1]           T. 2128, v.54, 502c07-503a16.

[2]           Skt. Suvara-prabhāsôttama-sūtra. Yijing’s translation is T. 665, v.16, beginning on 403a04. For detailed notes regarding this sutra and its various editions, see Michael Radich, “Jinguangming jing 金光明經,” in Muller, Digital Dictionary of Buddhism, http://www.buddhism-dict.net.ezproxy.cul.columbia.edu/cgi-bin/xpr-ddb.pl?91.xml+id(‘b91d1-5149-660e-7d93’).

[3]           The compound qīqū is a good example of a word that can be represented with different character sets (崎嶇, 陭䧢, and 㩻䧢) and still mean the same thing. On the ideograph/logograph debate over what constitutes a word in premodern Chinese, see McDonald, “Getting over the Walls of Discourse” and Kwan, “Abstract Concept Formation in Archaic Chinese Script Forms.”

[4]           For an example of how Huilin’s work has been useful to linguists, see Baxter and Sagart, Old Chinese, 114.

[5]           MC gwijH bjop / M. guìfá; Skt. vaikalya; poverty. Huilin’s lexical notes include pronunciation glosses based on Middle Chinese (MC), which differs from modern Mandarin Chinese (M.) pronunciations. Where pronunciation is mentioned, I provide first Middle Chinese and then Mandarin readings, giving the Mandarin tone only for the headword and for instances where the body text discusses tonal values. The Middle Chinese readings are from Kroll, A Student’s Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese, 53, which are based on Baxter and Sagart’s reconstructions. In some cases I have inferred Middle Chinese readings from the fanqie 反切 explanations provided by Huilin, if I cannot otherwise find a reconstruction. Because the logic of some of his explanations does not work there is a good likelihood of errors, whether entering from Huilin’s judgment or dialect, from problems with our modern-day reconstructions, or from my own carelessness. The traditional tonal system of Middle Chinese is indicated as follows: an unmarked (no X, H, or k) final position indicates a píng 平 tone; -X in the final position indicates a shǎng 上 tone, -H a 去 tone, and -p, -t, or -k in the final position a 入 tone. I find this notation cumbersome, but follow it because it is in use. See Baxter and Sagart, Old Chinese, 14.

[6]           MC kim syeH / M. jīnchì; Skt. garua; a kind of mythical super bird like a roc.

[7]           An alternative reading has 王 as 正. The statement would then read that, of the different names for this bird type, jinchiniao 金翅鳥, or Gold Winged Birds, is the proper one.

[8]           MC tsi bjon / M. zīfán; proliferate.

[9]           Even after comparing Middle Chinese reconstructions, the logic of this statement is not clear.

[10]         MC khawX mawH / M. lǎomào; an elderly person; senile.

[11]         This text is probably the Ganlu zishu 干祿字書, by Yan Yuansun 顔元孫 (jinshi ca. 685-688).

[12]         MC dam ‘imH / M. tányìn; phlegm.

[13]         MC hen tshuH / M. xiáncù; salty and sour.

[14]         The identity of this work is not clear, as “jixun,” which appears to mean an anthology for training purposes, is likely an abbreviation of a longer title.

[15]         Wordbooks 字書 are semantically organized word lists, such as the Erya.

[16]         MC dem nrijH / M. tiánnì; sweet, sweet and fatty. A character variant is used which cannot be represented digitally: 肉*(武-止+(二/貝)). Having confirmed this variant (see A03366) in the Dictionary of Chinese Character Variants (異體字字典) maintained by the Taiwan Ministry of Education (http://dict2.variants.moe.edu.tw/variants/rbt/home.do), I use the standard form.

[17]         Inferring the reconstruction from 直葉切, as given in the Shuowen jiezi, accessed through the Dictionary of Chinese Character Variants.

[18]         MC tsyim tshjeH / M. zhēncì; pricking with needles; acupuncture.

[19]         Author of the Yupian and other works. He lived 518-581 CE.

[20]         Reading the first 人 as 入, since this appears to be a transcription error.

[21]         Discrepancies like this show the tentative nature of our knowledge of Middle Chinese reconstructions.

[22]         MC bjij ljang khje / M. bíliáng qī; “the bridge of the nose is slanting.”

[23]         Although this is the character appearing in the print and digital editions of the Taishō Buddhist canon, it appears to be an error, whether by Huilin or by a later scribe. The Shuowen gives khju / 䧢, meaning slanted. This character occurs in the compound qīqū, meaning steep (as in a road or hillside), and variously represented as 崎嶇, 陭䧢, and 㩻䧢.

[24]         MC nyiX yak / M. ěryào; to take medicine. Despite Huilin’s discussion here about cakes and pastries, historical sources use this compound as verb+object, meaning to eat medicine.

[25]         Huilin would have it pronounced nyiH.

[26]         “Powder cakes.” These are a type of small pastry made from powdered ingredients lightly bound together.

[27]         Following the Taishō print edition. The digitized canon shows 糕.

[28]         MC dzreaj lang / M. cháiláng; dholes (Asian wild dog) and wolves.

[29]         The Taishō print edition and corresponding digital text is in error here. The second 牡 should read pin 牝, a female animal.

[30]         The Middle Chinese is not clear for this character, which seems to have had multiple phonetic readings through its history.

[31]         MC hu kyak / M. hújué; foxes and apes.

[32]         Inferring the reconstruction from 玉縛切, as given in the Shuowen jiezi.

[33]         Reading 倉黑 as 蒼黑 and [玃-(目*目)+賏] as kjak / jue 攫, which appears to be the implied meaning.

[34]         MC tew dzjuwH / M. diāojiù; eagles and vultures.

[35]         Huilin provides explanations in several places, e.g. T54 n2128, 334b20-21.

[36]         MC ‘jwonX trjwenX / M. wǎnzhuǎn; resting, reposed; in some contexts it has the nuance of being supple, accommodating.

[37]         MC yowk hak / M. yùhé; desires dry up.

[38]         MC zjangX kjuwH / M. xiàngjiù; elephant stables.

[39]         Three characters have entered modern usage as acceptable variants for the word kjuwH / jiù, “stable”: 廄, 厩, and 廐.

[40]         MC bje nang / M. pínáng; leather bag.

[41]         Or perhaps this refers to another rime dictionary.

[42]         Inferring from 女耕切, as given in the Yupian and Guangyun.

[43]         MC zwin nganH / M. xún’àn; to follow the course of a riverbank.

[44]         MC dzyweH nguH / M. shuìwù; to sleep and wake.

Pharmacognostic specification of Zanthoxylum limonella (Dennst.) Alston: Fruits and seeds in Thailand.

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Pharmacognostic specification of Zanthoxylum limonella (Dennst.) Alston: Fruits and seeds in Thailand.

J Adv Pharm Technol Res. 2016 Oct-Dec;7(4):134-138

Authors: Charoensup R, Duangyod T, Phuneerub P, Singharachai C

Abstract
Zanthoxylum limonella (Dennst.) Alston. (Rutaceae) or Ma-khwaen is one of the medicinal plants in Thai traditional medicine. To investigate the pharmacognostic specifications and chemical constituents of Z. limonella fruits and seeds. Fruits and seeds of Z. limonella were collected from 15 sources throughout Thailand; then examined the pharmacognostic specification following WHO guideline of quality control method for medicinal plant materials. Microscopic determination of Z. limonella powders demonstrated fragment of mesocarp, fragment of brown vitta, oil glands, fragment of endocarp, and endosperm containing oil globule, trichome and pale brown stone cells. Stomatal index and pellucid dots in mm(2) were 19.87 and 4.2 respectively. Physico-chemical parameters unveiled that loss on drying, water content, total ash, and acid-insoluble ash should be not >17.90%, 9.18%, 4.50%, and 0.60% of dried weight respectively; while ethanol, water, and hexane extractive values and volatile oil content should be not <2.24%, 2.27%, 1.57% and 9.63% of dried weight respectively. Rf values of thin-layer chromatographic fingerprint of Z. limonella fruits and seeds ethanolic extract were 0.38, 0.45, 0.90, and 0.97 detected ultraviolet (UV) light 254 nm, 0.30, 0.44, 0.67, and 0.77 detected UV light 366 nm, and 0.24, 0.73, 0.78, and 0.93 detected 10% sulfuric acid. There are three main chemical compounds in Z. limonella oil including limonene (43.63%), (+)-sabinene (16.72%), and terpinen-4-ol (10.95%). The result gained from pharmacognostic specifications and chemical fingerprints could be used as standardization data of Z. limonella fruits and seeds to apply or provide for guarantee of quality.

PMID: 27833892 [PubMed – in process]

Nestorian Christianity in the Tang Dynasty

This is a syndicated post that first appeared at: http://huayanzang.blogspot.com/2016/10/nestorian-christianity-in-tang-dynasty.html

Nestorian Christianity in the Tang Dynasty

As of late I’ve been reading about the Nestorian Christian (Jingjiao 景教) community that thrived in China from the early seventh to mid-ninth century. Their church was, it seems, largely responsible for transmitting Hellenistic astrology and even some Near Eastern occult practices into China, hence my present interest. Their active influence in Chinese religious history during this period is not always recognized, especially in Buddhist Studies. There are several documents from their movement preserved in Chinese, in addition to two steles that were unearthed in Chang’an and Luoyang, thus we know a fair amount about their church.

Nestorianism as a Christian movement initially developed in the fifth century starting from Nestorios (c.381–c.451), who was bishop of Constantinople between 428–431. The primary doctrine of Nestorianism is that Christ was comprised of two separate persons, one human and one divine. This was rejected as heretical by their opponents. The Nestorian bishops were condemned at the Council of Ephesus in 431. The result was an eastward spread of the Nestorian movement. It eventually spread all across the Near East and Central Asia before reaching China in the year 635 when a mission led by Aluoben 阿羅夲 (also rendered as 阿羅本) arrived in the capital Chang’an 長安. His name in Chinese might have been a transliteration of ‘Abraham’. This mission occurred towards the final years of the Sassanian dynasty (224–650), and was shortly after the first Arab invasions of Iran starting in 633.1 This leads me to wonder if these early Christians in China might have been refugees.

By the late eighth century the Nestorian Christian community was thriving in China. We know this from a famous stele that was erected in the year 781, often called the ‘Nestorian Stele’ 大秦景教流行中國碑. The stele inscription describes the first Christian mission to China, some basic Christian doctrines and the names of clergymen in Chinese with parallel Syriac and Persian names written in Syriac script. It interestingly also provides dates according to the Chinese, Greek and Persian calendars. The text is composed in very elegant literary Chinese and was clearly written with elites in mind judging from its grammar and use of refined vocabulary.

The inscription on the stele was composed by a certain cleric named Adam 景淨 from Daqin-si 大秦寺. In one Buddhist source, to which we will return shortly, Adam is also identified as a ‘Persian monk’ 波斯僧.2 ‘Daqin-si’ referred to a Nestorian Christian church, but in this case refers to the one in Chang’an. Normally, Buddhist monasteries are indicated by the suffix –si 寺 (temple), but throughout the Tang dynasty (618–907), Nestorian churches were also designated with this suffix. There were such churches in both capitals (Chang’an and Luoyang). They were originally called ‘Persian temples’ 波斯寺 due to the original missionaries in 635 having come from Persia, though in 745 an imperial edict had them renamed to Daqin-si. The following edict records this.

天寶四載九月詔曰:波斯經教,出自大秦,傳習而來,久行中國。爰初建寺,因以為名,將欲示人。必修其本。其兩京波斯寺,宜改為大秦寺。天下諸府郡置者,亦準此。

In lunar month nine of year four [745] in reign era Tianbao the following edict was issued. The scriptural teachings of Persia came from Daqin, and long have they been transmitted in China. They were named [as Persian temples] when they were first built so as to show people [their origin]. It is necessary to revise their origin. The Persian temples in the two capitals should be renamed to ‘Daqin temples’. All prefectures and counties in which [such temples] are present will also follow suit.3

The ‘Daqin’ 大秦 (‘Great Qin’) in the name of the church is interesting as this term originally referred to the Roman empire in the early centuries CE, or more specifically its eastern territories, in particular Alexandria. In the eighth century, however, it does not appear to refer to the Byzantine empire, but rather to the Levant in general. The evidence to support this assertion is actually found in the stele from 781 as it provides the following hint:

神天宣慶,室女誕聖於大秦;㬌宿告祥,波斯覩耀以来貢。

The angel [Gabriel] proclaimed good tidings. The Virgin gave birth to the Sage in Daqin. The luminous asterism indicated a portent. The Persians witnessed the brilliance and came to pay tribute.

This of course is referring to the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. In light of this and the otherwise nebulous understanding of Daqin as being “west of the Western sea ​(i.e., the Caspian Sea),” I am convinced that ‘Daqin’ refers to the general geographic region of the Levant. It seems that Nestorians arriving in China all identified as either from Persia or Daqin, which is instructive since these territories were under the rule of the caliphates. They did not, so far as I know, identify as coming from Arabia. The word for Arabia in Chinese in this period was Dashi 大食, its Middle Chinese pronunciation reconstructed as dâiᶜ dźjək(Schuessler IPA). This is most certainly derived from Middle Persian word tāzīk / tāzīg, ‘Arab’.4 One might imagine Nestorian Christians in China identifying their ethnicity as Syrian, Persian or Sogdian, but never Arab even when they had been born under a caliphate.

Incidentally, later on ‘Daqin’ was changed to ‘Fulin’ 拂菻. In Middle Chinese this is reconstructed as pʰjuət *ljəmᴮ (Schuessler IPA). This appears to be a transliteration of an Iranian pronunciation of ‘Rome’, such Sogdian frwn and brwn, or Middle Persian hrōm. How do we know that this refers to Byzantium specifically? The New History of the Tang 新唐書, the revised history of the Tang dynasty compiled in 1060, states the following.

拂菻,古大秦也,居西海上,一曰海西國。去京師四萬里,在苫西,北直突厥可薩部,西瀕海,有遲散城,東南接波斯。

Fulin in former times was Daqin. It is located on the western sea. One [account] calls it the ‘Country on the Western Sea’. It is forty-thousand li from the capital [of Chang’an]. It is west of *Shan. To the north it meets the Turkish Khanate. To the west it approaches the sea, where there is *Alexandria.5 To the southeast it meets Persia.

The name Shan 苫 here most likely refers to Damascus. Its Middle-Chinese pronunciation is reconstructed as syem (Baxter-Sagart 2011). This seems to correspond to al-Shām, the Arabic name for Syria. A Chinese writer named Du Huan 杜環 travelled to the Abbasid Caliphate and returned to China in 762. His travelogue, the Jingxing ji 經行記, states that “the country of *Shan is on the western frontier of the Arab [state]” (苫國在大食西界).

The Byzantine Empire c. 867

This change in name from Daqin to Fulin appears to reflect the ongoing loss of territory of the Byzantium empire. The Levant in the ninth century was no longer under the control of Byzantium state. Chinese scholars only possessed an approximate conception of the Near East’s political and physical geography, which helps to explain why Alexandria is erroneously placed at its western side. Nevertheless, it is quite clear that Fulin is a transliteration of an Iranian pronunciation of ‘Rome’. Nestorians initially identified themselves as having come from Persia. Later they identified as hailing from ‘Daqin’, a general term for the Levant, likely as a result of the demise of the Sassanian state by the mid-seventh century. Finally, at some point in the ninth century it seems that ‘Daqin’ was understood to be the former territories of ‘Rome’ occupied by the Arabs.

Returning back to Nestorianism in China, I want to discuss its interaction with Buddhism. There is an account of the aforementioned clergyman Adam translating a Buddhist text with the Buddhist monk Prajñā 般若.

請譯佛經。乃與大秦寺波斯僧景淨,依胡本六波羅蜜經譯成七卷。時為般若不閑胡語,復未解唐言,景淨不識梵文,復未明釋教。雖稱傳譯未獲半珠。… 察其所譯理昧詞疎。且夫,釋氏伽藍,大秦僧寺,居止既別,行法全乖。景淨應傳彌尸訶教,沙門釋子弘闡佛經,欲使教法區分,人無濫涉。

They requested he [Prajñā] translate Buddhist scriptures. Together with the Persian monk Adam of Daqin-si, he translated the *[Mahāyāna-naya-]ṣaṭ-pāramitā-sūtra in seven fascicles based on a Sogdian edition. At the time Prajñā did not understand Sogdian or Chinese, while Adam understood neither Sanskrit nor Buddhism. Although they were said to have translated it, they had yet to obtain the half-pearls [i.e., ascertain the meaning]. … Upon investigating what had been translated, the reasoning was found to be unclear and the vocabulary off. The Buddhist monastery and Daqin church were to keep their residences separate and their practices entirely apart. Adam should transmit the teachings of the Messiah, while Buddhists shall propagate Buddhist scriptures, so as to keep the doctrines separate, and the peoples from excessive intermingling.6

This accounts suggests to me that while the state authorities respected both religions, they desired to keep them separate. In light of the elegant Chinese that Adam composed for the stele of 781, we can infer that he was quite learned in the Chinese classics, and therefore likely mingled with aristocrats in the capital. In such circles eminent Buddhist monks and Daoist priests were also active, thus there were many opportunities for elite religious thinkers to interact.

Another interesting fact about Nestorianism in China is that their clerics are on record as having practiced medicine in China. As to the type of medicine they practiced, I have reason to believe that it was actually Greek. Returning to the travelogue by Du Huan, he gives the following interesting account.

其大秦善醫眼及痢,或未病先見,或開腦出蟲。

The Daqin are adept in treating eyes and dysentery. Some can foresee illness before symptoms emerge. Some can perform trephinations and remove parasites.

The New History of the Tang also mentions such medical practices in Byzantium.

有善醫能開腦出蟲以愈目眚。

There are skilled physicians capable of performing trephinations and removing parasites to heal eye diseases.

Cranial surgery of this type was well known in ancient Greek medicine. As Arani and others note, “Cranial trepanation was first recorded by Hippocrates (460–355 BC).”7 This surgery was apparently performed in China as early as the late years of Emperor Gaozong 高宗 (r. 649 – 27 December 683). There is a story recorded in the Old Book of Tang 舊唐書, compiled in 945, and elsewhere that a cranial operation was performed on Gaozong.

上苦頭重不可忍,侍醫秦鳴鶴曰:「刺頭微出血,可愈。」天后帷中言曰:「此可斬,欲刺血於人主首耶!」上曰:「吾苦頭重,出血未必不佳。」即刺百會,上曰:「吾眼明矣。」

The Emperor was suffering intolerable headaches. His retainer physician Qin Minghe said, “It could be healed by piercing the head and drawing a bit of blood.” The Empress [Wu Zetian] behind a screen said, “He should be beheaded, wanting to draw blood from the leader of men!” The Emperor said, “My headaches are severe. Drawing blood is not necessarily bad.” The crown of the skull was pierced. The Emperor said, “My eyes has cleared up!”

The name Qin Minghe 秦鳴鶴 here possibly indicates a foreigner. The surname Qin could be derived from Daqin and in light of the surgery he performed he was likely from abroad. Huang (2002) and others attempt to identify him as an immigrant Nestorian clergyman.8 Although this is not certain, there are still other accounts that confirms the presence of Nestorian physicians in Tang China. In year 28 of reign era Kaiyuan 開元 (740), the clergyman Chongyi 僧崇一healed the younger brother of Emperor Xuanzong 玄宗 (r. 712–756).9 A report by Li Deyu 李德裕 (787–849) states that a certain Daqin cleric proficient in optometry (醫眼大秦僧一人) was present in Chengdu 成都 at one point.10

It is therefore clear that Nestorian clergyman did in fact practice medicine in China during the Tang dynasty, and moreover they most likely brought with them Greek medical techniques. They also introduced other foreign sciences and arts, such as astronomy and astrology. In 1980 in Xi’an the tombstone of a court astronomer was discovered. His name was Li Su 李素 (743–817) and he is identified as a Persian. It seems that he was a Christian clergyman from the community of Persians resident in Guangzhou. Sometime between 766–779 he was summoned to the court to work in the bureau of astronomy. Later his ‘courtesy name’ 字 of Wen Zhen 文貞 alongside the corresponding name ‘Luka’ in Syriac appears on the list of Christian clergymen on the stele of 781.11 Although not immediately clear from his biographical information, he likely practiced Hellenistic astronomy in light of his ethnic and religious backgrounds. Earlier ‘foreign’ court astronomers, such as Gautama Siddhārtha, employed and even translated Indian astronomy. Li Su as a replacement for Gautama Siddhārtha was likely functioning as a ‘second opinion’ at court in matters related to astronomy and calendrical science, providing a perspective based on foreign methods.

Nestorian clergymen clearly played important roles throughout the Tang dynasty. They were eliminated in China as an institution and religion in 845 when Emperor Wuzong 武宗 (840–846), a Daoist zealot, initiated a purge of foreign religions. Buddhism, Manichaeism and Christianity were, at least in the capital region, rapidly dismantled and their assets liquidated. Buddhist sangha members were defrocked, while Manichean priests were put to death.12 Christianity was to a large part eliminated as a major religion in China until several centuries later under the Mongols.

2《大唐貞元續開元釋教錄》卷1:「大秦寺波斯僧景淨」(CBETA, T55, no. 2156, p. 756, a20-21)

3 This is reported in fasc. 49 of the Tang huiyao 唐會要.
4 There were many ethnically Iranian persons in Tang China, including those identifying themselves as Persians, but also Sogdians and Bukharans.
5 Chisan 遲散 here refers to Alexandria. This is geographically problematic, but the Chinese understanding of the Near East was pieced together from multiple, often chronologically disparate, sources. See Yu Taishan, “China and the Ancient Mediterranean World: A Survey of Ancient Chinese Sources,” Sino-Platonic Papers 242 (2013): 34. http://sino-platonic.org/complete/spp242_china_mediterranean.pdf
6《貞元新定釋教目錄》卷17 . CBETA, T55, no. 2157, p. 892, a7-15.
8 Huang Lanlan 黃蘭蘭, “Tangdai Qin Minghe wei jingyi kao” 唐代秦鳴鶴為景醫考, Zhongshan Daxue xuebao 中山大學學報 42, no. 5 (2002): 61–67.
Jiu Tang shu 舊唐書 (fasc. 95).
10 See fasc. 703 of the Quan Tang wen 全唐文.
11 Rong Xinjiang 榮新江, “Yi ge shi Tangchao de Bosi Jingjiao jiazu” 一個仕唐朝的波斯景教家族, in Zhonggu Zhongguo yu wailai wenming 中古中國與外來文明 (Beijing: Sanlian Shudian, 2001), 255–257.
12 This is recorded in the journal of Japanese monk Ennin 圓仁 (794-864):【四月】中旬 敕下,令殺天下摩尼師。剃髮,令着袈裟,作沙門形而殺之。摩尼師即迴鶻所崇重也。