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Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda

Review: Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda. Svoboda, Robert and Arnie Lade. 1998. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited. Pp. 152. Rs. 150/-.
by D.P. Agrawal & Lalit Tiwari

Traditional Chinese and Ayurveda medicine constitute the two major legacies for health and healing from the ancient world. However, one distinction between the two is found in the fact that traditional Chinese medicine, as introduced to the West during the 70s and 80s, has a more physico-materialistic focus.

In both North America and Europe the past few years have seen a dramatic rise of interest in Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, and these two traditional medicine systems are now established as ‘Alternative Medicine Systems’.

This book named Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda, written by Robert Svoboda and Arnie Lade, tries to convey to the reader a basic understanding of Indian and Chinese traditional medicine systems. In fact, they deal with both, Ayurveda and Chinese medicine, in the light of their own concepts of ideology, health and illness in this book.

This book is divided into three parts. The first and second sections deal with the basic theories and practice of Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, while the third section consists of a comparative study of both medicine systems, including an outline of what we know of their historical relationship with each other.

Part I contains nine small chapters on Chinese medicine system. In the first chapter, the writers deal with the origin and development of Chinese medicine system. They say, “description of some aspects of early medical practice in China are found in the Historical Memoirs (Shi ji), which is the first book in a series of dynastic records written about 500 BC. Subsequent works especially of the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) laid the groundwork for the medicine system. Three texts of this period stand out, the first is the Classic of Difficult Issues (Nan Jing) ; the second major work is, Discussion of Cold Induced Disorders (Shan Han Lung); while the third is China’s first materia medicaShen Nong’s Materia Medica (Shen Nong Ben Cao)”.

In the next two chapters, the authors describe the Tao and Yin-Yang philosophy and the concept of five elements. In Chinese philosophy Tao is denoted as the unmanifest source of creation that gives rise to the supreme ultimate from which the universe unfolds. In the passive state the Tao is empty and non-reactive, while in active state the Tao is seen as a universal progenitor, which creates reality and keeps it together, functioning, vitalized. The terms Yin and Yang refer to the principle of the inherent duality. Five elements are the main base of Chinese medicine system: wood, earth, fire, metal, and water. In this chapter the authors also describe the five elements which control the cycles.

“The Essential Substance” is the next chapter of this book where the writers describe the five essential substances that form the basis for the development and maintenance of the human body: Qi, Blood (xue), Essence (jing), Sprit (shen) and Fluids (jin ye). The authors inform us that these five substances have a dynamic relationship, supporting and nurturing each other for the benefit of the whole organism. Chinese medicine lays paramount stress on understanding the relationship of the organs (zang fu) with the various signs and symptoms manifest in the physical, emotional and mental levels of existence.

The authors describe the Chinese organ theory in the next chapter of this book. According to them Chinese medicine in general recognized the functions and patterns of ten organs which are: liver, heart, spleen, lung, kidneys (Yin organ), gallbladder, small intestine, stomach, large intestine, bladder (Yang organ), whose relationships are based upon correspondence with the Yin-Yang and five element theories. The next chapter deals with the Meridian system of Chinese medicine. The Meridian system has specifically four major functions: (1) to promote communication between the internal organs and the exterior of the body, and to connect the individual to the rhythms of the biosphere and the celestial sphere; (2) to regulate and harmonize the Yin and Yang as seen in the activities of the organs and substance; (3) to distribute Qi from the organ to the body; and (4) to protect the body by creating a protective shield. They describe these four functions in detail in this chapter. In Chinese medicine system illnesses are classified according to their origin from external or internal cause. When pathogenic forces disturb the body’s equilibrium and harmony, the diseases are caused and the writers describe these concepts in their next chapter. In next two chapters, they deal with the diagnosis and therapeutics such as acupuncture, moxibustion, massage, etc.

Part II of this book is devoted to Indian medicine system, Ayurveda, and contains ten chapters. The first chapter of Part II describes the origins and development of Ayurveda. The authors deal with the Indian ancient texts like Charak SamhitaSushruta Samhita, etc in this chapter. Second chapter describes the Sankhya philosophy of Ayurveda. They also draw a detailed diagram, in which this philosophy is summarized. The basis of Ayurveda is the three doshas (humours), which are vata (air), pitta (bile) and kapha (phlegm). The authors summarize the principles, the effects on the body and concepts of these three humors in their next two chapters. They discuss the three doshas, the elements from which they arise, increase and decrease in the body according to the properties (qualities) of the body; qualities, which we derive from our food, drink and our environment, and through our intrinsic chemistry. In the next chapter, the authors describe the body channels and their flow. The body possesses many channels (strotamsi) such as large and small, through which nutrients and waste move. According to the authors fourteen channels are primary channels of the human body; three of them deal with nutrition from outside, seven deal with tissue nutrition; and remaining channels deal with the elimination of wastes. In the next two chapters, the writers describe the human anatomy, body structure and constitution, respectively, according to the Ayurvedic texts. Ayurveda is basically a humoural medical system and conceives of three essential humours, which cause disease if they become imbalanced. The Ayurvedic concept of disease is discussed in the next chapter. The diseases are divided into three categories: endogenous, exogenous and mental. Next two chapters are devoted to the Ayurvedic concepts of ‘Diagnosis’ and ‘Treatment’.

Part III of this book is very interesting as it deals with the comparison between the Indian and Chinese medicine systems. Part III has a total of ten chapters in which the authors compare these two ancient medicine systems through their origin, historical points of view, energetic-physiological point of view, consciousness, concepts of diseases, diagnosis and treatments etc. At the end, the authors concede that Ayurveda and Chinese medicine systems are both living systems of medicine with ancient roots, the oldest continuously practiced and recorded medical traditions in the world. Fundamental to both systems is the belief that an individual who lives according to the nature’s laws remains healthy. The Chinese medicine system follows the concepts of Tao, Yin and Yang and the five elements, while Ayurveda is based on the Sankhya philosophy and follows the theory of Doshas, five elements, and the three attributes to explain their vision of the natural order. The authors believe that basically these themes of two different medicine paradigms are similar. Another common feature of both medical systems is the belief in an essential life force, called Prana by the Indians and Qi by the Chinese.

The authors of this book have done a really good job of comparing these two ancient traditional medical systems in a relatively brief book. Its very well illustrated also. The book contains two different appendixes, first is the ‘Comparison of Some Important Medicinal Substances’; and second is ‘The Use of Vital Points in Asia’. The first appendix is very important as in this section the authors compare some important medicinal substances, such as plants, between Ayurveda and Chinese medical system.

At the end, we would like to recommend that it’s a very educative and informative book for those interested in ancient Oriental medical sciences.