Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Healing the Spirit with Acupuncture

In ancient times there were three levels of healing: physical, mental, and spiritual. The treatment and prevention of physical disease was considered to be the lowest level.

Throughout over 9 years of study, training and clinical practice in Asian healing systems including Shiatsu, acupressure, acupuncture, herbology, Chinese diet, Tai-chi Ch'uan, Ch'i-kung and martial arts, I have sought an explanation as to how healing occurs on the higher levels within our bodies. While acupuncture has such a well developed theoretical basis for the treatment and prevention of physical complaints, why isn't this true on the mental and spiritual levels as well? For well over five years, during which time I learned to read Classical Chinese, I immersed myself in researching everything from Taoist philosophy to the first acupuncture texts written 150 years before Christ to hundreds of books and articles by Western Asian scholars about the old culture that produced these healing systems and how the highest levels of body, mind, spirit integration could be accessed.

Body, Mind, and Spirit in Acupuncture

A thousand titles later, I stumbled upon a clue that tied all of this research together. It was only a paragraph in the earliest Chinese pharmacopoeia written in 132 AD, paraphrasing another paragraph in China's first written text on acupuncture, the Simple Questions of the Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine of 150 BC. Here was what I was looking for. It said that in ancient times there were three levels of healing: physical, mental, and spiritual. These two texts considered the treatment and prevention of physical disease to be the lowest level. All of the acupuncture styles that I had studied seemed to have this level down pat. In contrast, the current practice of Western medicine, although it excels in treating the most extreme cases of physical disorders, is only in its extreme infancy in preventing them, in most cases hardly going beyond well informed common sense.

The middle level, according to these old texts, treated and prevented mental problems. Here it was. The answer to my question was getting clearer: physical problems on the lowest level, mental problems on the middle level. The highest, and most spiritual level in these texts was more of a problem, however. This level is supposed to treat ming, which can be translated as either Mandate, Destiny, or Fate. The idea is that if a person has a correct relationship with Destiny, good health on the mental and physical levels is a side effect. In contrast, if a person does not have such a relationship, they get sick no matter what else they do or don't do.

Of course no mention was made as to how one was to go about this level of healing. The term ming was not used on the spiritual level in any acupuncture texts that I was aware of. Apparently the discussion was dropped for another two thousand years, taken for granted, or forgotten. The only direct reference to ming is that it is the most important energy center in the body and is accessible through an acupuncture point called the "Gate of Destiny."


It seemed as though my big discovery was also a big problem. As a morally responsible acupuncturist and teacher, how was I supposed to provide acupuncture service at this highest level if I didn't even know what it was? Or, determined as I was, how could I find out how to do it? In my attempt to answer this second question, I turned to my thousands of pages of meticulously organized research notes for the answer.

To my surprise, I found that in the historical period during and prior to the printing of the first acupuncture texts, the most important philosophical and political doctrine of the day was what was called the Mandate of Heaven, t'ien-ming, and was concerned with the divine rights of kings. This doctrine stated that the emperor, as Son of Heaven, could only keep the throne through correct action, moral and otherwise. On all levels, the emperor was supposed to be the intermediary between Heaven and Earth, which in turn stood for the invisible and visible worlds of spirit and matter.

In ancient China, the correct function of the emperor was to spontaneously channel the spiritual forces of Heaven down into the Earth for the good of all, t'ien-hsia chih li. By doing so, the emperor received the "Mandate" of Heaven which resonated with a universal cosmic order that brought blessings onto the Earth. In contrast, when and if the emperor went out of this alignment. Heaven would begin the process of realignment by sending down progressively more challenging circumstances until the emperor realized the error of his ways, or until someone else with the moral force necessary to maintain this alignment took over in his stead.

At this point in my research I realized that the symbolism of this political doctrine carried over into acupuncture by implying some sort of correct relation between the sacred inner world of every person, symbolized by Heaven, and the mundane events of everyday life, symbolized by Earth. Furthermore, the correctness of this relationship depended upon the moral integrity and power of the conscious spirit, shen in Chinese, residing deep within the Heart, as symbolized by the emperor, the ruler of the personality, body and mind.

The idea of embracing Destiny in the highest level of acupuncture gives a needed perspective on health care issues as we go into the twenty first century. This is especially applicable to the issues of insurance coverage and the integration of Western medicine with what is being euphemistically called complementary medicine, which includes acupuncture. The duality, at worst, or polarity, at best, between these two systems vie with one another in an integration that could just as easily be forced by political and economic factors as it could be for medical ones. A real integration calls for an adjustment, not only in health care techniques, but also in world view. Individual freedom, as well as freedom in the medical community at large is at stake here. Only a system which allows for the complete freedom of choice in either direction will be the system that will truly benefit the common good. As the saying goes, only the common good is truly the good of all!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Yes, nice post! I have delved into the same topic myself. Lovely to know someone else out there is ploughing into this fascinating and hidden subject!

    There does indeed seem to be a total lack of Chinese medical literature on Ming, the mandate or objective nature, and also Xing, our subjective nature and what we ought to be.

    Zhu Xi, the Neo-Confucian scholar living around 1000 ago (see Joseph Adler's translations here http://www2.kenyon.edu/Depts/Religion/Fac/Adler/writings.htm), defined both Ming and Xing as the two aspects of Li (pattern, order, principle, law) by which Qi takes form. Without Li, Qi cannot exist, as energy needs a pattern in which to move. These are terms used often in Neo-Confucian writings, but are totally missing (according to my research) from Chinese medicine. Chinese medicine only seems to pay attention to Qi, but the real spiritual aspect of Chinese medicine is about allowing the Xing to express Ming.

    Furthermore, the Hun, the spirit (or motivation) of the Liver, holds the blueprint of our lives (Destiny), which can be said to be our personal Li, our Xing. Just as the acorn has within it the blueprint or lifeplan to become an oak tree, should the appropriate conditions permit, so we have a lifeplan that will express itself should the appropriate conditions permit. It is inherent within us! So the Liver holds the blueprint, but it is accessed by the Heart, by the Shen (the Heart's spirit or motivation), which can be labelled as consciousness and vitality.

    So my research on the spiritual (Heaven - Tian) aspect of Chinese medicine has come to the current conclusion that health of the Liver is fundamental to the Nourishing our Destiny, as only when the Hun has free expression can our Destiny truly find manifestation in the world. And it is accessed by bringing our consciousness to it, by bringing our vitality to it, by encouraging it to come into consciousness.

    And once we become aware of our Destiny, of what it is that we truly want to be or do in the world, what impression we want to leave in the world before we die, it is up to us to create it. It is the deepest longing of our Hearts and will bring the greatest satisfaction, meaning and motivation to our lives. It is our Purpose, the reason we chose to live this life.

    Health of the Liver can be augmented by balancing emotions, using greater wisdom in what medication to take, avoiding recreational drugs (there are, however, mind-altering substances which can be used for spiritual development), not eating too much fried and spicy food, and supporting the Kidneys.

    Finally, I have found that the symbols of Daoism and Chinese medicine, in particular the Taijitu (Yin Yang symbol) and circled pentagram of the 5 Elements (and to a lesser extent the trigrams and hexagrams of the Yijing - I Ching), and their implied geometries, act as tools by which we can integrate the Dao within ourselves in a profound and permanent way. My website is slowly being updated with this information in detail...

    George Monkhouse LicAc MBAcC

  3. Acupuncture is not only the oldest medical system in the world but it is the most commonly used.It is a safe, effective and drug free therapy that can address a wide variety of ailments.
    acupuncture for pain chicago

  4. Acupuncture Treatments is very useful for relief pain.There are many other advantages also like use for Back-pain.thanks for sharing your experience with us. Virginia Beach Acupuncture