Oriental medicine is a big field of healing, which, unlike the essence of Zen, is a text-based discipline. It is not intended to be a value judgement. It is not an oral tradition, either. Some of the existing medical texts, which are still used by established practitioners in China and Japan, are well over 2,000 years old.
The Somon (“Questions and Answers”) is a large collection of such ancient texts. Today, you would find some of the most influential medical texts of Ancient China in the Somon.
The version of the Somon I have in front of me is a new one. It is an 2009 edition by a Japanese doctor, Seiichi Iemoto. The original Chinese texts in this edition are rich in abstraction. The recognisable patterns of the abstraction in the ancient language are still capable of conveying to the modern reader what the ancient healers intended to preserve at the time of writing.
Like the Rosetta Stone, the version created by Dr Iemoto comes in 3 tiers: (1) the ancient Chinese dating roughly from the Hellenistic period; (2) new Japanese translations with modern Japanese grammatical structure; and (3) Dr Iemoto’s new explanatory notes in Japanese.
Most of the ancient texts in the Somon do not seem to present a static system of healing. There is always some room for ‘thinking outside the box’. So, I don’t wish to call the system based on the Somon a ‘tradition’, since the abstraction in the ancient language allows oriental medicine to be flexible enough to cover both healing and mindfulness.
This is why, I think, that oriental medicine, Zen and yoga have always made bedfellows to some extent. They are not kept in different boxes. They easily overlap with each other. To start with, oriental medicine does not limit itself to the removal of illness. Prevention is better than cure. The ancients in the Far East said the same. The writers of the Somon described the art of seasonal self-care as the foundation of a balanced way of life for ‘wise people’.
What’s interesting is that the Somon describes how the state of mind influences the well-being of the human internal organs and vice versa. Anger causes the deficiency of the liver and vice versa. Too much grief causes the deficiency of the lung and vice versa. Fear causes the deficiency of the kidney and vice versa. Laughter heals the heart. The flip side of this observation leads to the ancient authors’ statement that those who suffer from the deficiency of the heart fail to laugh.
The ancient healers in China seem to have known that healthy, balanced mindfulness was the foundation of healthy internal organs. Healing and mindfulness went together.