At NUNM, we learn Western medicine as part of our Classical Chinese Medicine education. Part of that is simply because a working knowledge of biomedicine is necessary for licensure. Part of it is because it’s good to be able to talk to Western physicians and Western educated patients about things that they can easily understand. Part of it, for some people, is more than that. Our Western classes are, for the most part, taught by Naturopaths. These are folks who are already in deep dialogue with contemporary Western medicine since they represent both its past and its future. So it is natural for them to try to help us see how Chinese medicine and Western medicine theory can come into conversation.
This has been the effort of integrators in Chinese medicine for a long time. A slapdash and ill-informed effort to accelerate the conversation resulted in TCM, narrowly defined. The idea is interesting, truly. In theory, we are all talking about the same thing just emphasizing different portions and using different language. In the West, I think we are particularly interested in explaining Chinese medicine concepts through our own language because we seem to have such a hard time understanding other people’s languages. Materialism and dualism are powerful mind altering substances, to be sure – they make the mind cloudy.
But what, really, is the potential benefit of describing Chinese medicine concepts in Western medicine terms – and vice versa? What could be gained by melding these two medicines together? I already know the dangers. The most persistent danger and the one that has been most roundly realized is the possibility that Western medicine will come to dominate the relationship. In this way, Chinese medical professionals will be mandated to learn well everything in Western medicine – Chinese medical research will be required to meet Western standards. The parts of Chinese medical theory and practice that don’t fit easily into a Western context will be discarded. The reverse will not be true. Or, at least, it hasn’t been.
So what is to be gained by this relationship and how can we avoid, or counteract, the negative forces inherent in it? I’d love to hear your thoughts. I am well aware that there are examples of good interactions between the two medicines and I’d like to hear your stories concerning them.