11 October 2010

About the Inner Classic

When I went back to acupuncture school for a doctoral program, we were assigned readings from the Inner Classic, our main source text of acupuncture. This 2500 year old book was impenetrable before. My teacher, Dr Li, Yu-tang, asked us simple questions about how a short passage related to our clinical experience.

After struggling with various translations, I found that the one by Wu & Wu was accurate, despite the slightly rough English. To write papers and really get ideas, it was the only one in paperback that made sense. Translations by Tran are excellent and complete in French. They are only now being made into English. They are too expensive for most of my students, but worth it. Henry Lu's new version of the Nei and Nan Jings is exciting and a favorite at my college. However its size and cost puts it out of reach.

For all reliable versions, this roadmap will help. The Nei Jing is seemingly random topics. They may have been intuitively organized at first, but over time the chapter organization was re-created by guesswork. Despite this challenge, the brilliance of this text only grows with age.

The Han dynasty Systematic Classic of Acupuncture/Jia Yi Jing is organized by sections and chapters. There is an excellent translation by Blue Poppy Press that is affordable and clear. However both scholars and students are slow to adopt this book. Some of the ideas are different from the Nei Jing.

Due to the continued popularity of the Nei Jing, this roadmap will help with its biggest problem: the organization.

My hope is that the document of Nei Jing Topics, just posted, will be a kind of open-source software. I encourage others to correct, add to, and distribute this. Please let me know what you find.

When giving classes and talks on acupuncture, people are most excited about this spreadsheet.

Acupuncture is the 'mechanism of action' for Chinese herbs, nutrition, Qigong--all of it. It may lead to a better understanding of homeopathy and all energy medicines. Homeopathy struggles on this very issue: it provides good outcomes in rigorous studies, but the lack of a tenable mechanism limits its current acceptance in some communities. Acupuncture classics also provide the link to the psyche, psychology, soul and internal medicine for many developed manual practices, such as chiropractic and osteopathy. In the latter, very developed and skilled manual methods for manipulating organs have no discussion on what moving an organ means to the mind, psychology or psyche. The acupuncture classics had significant writings on diagnosing organ positions and size, but did not offer treatment. In this age, we can put the two together.

Later writings on Chinese herbs assumed that readers had not just read the Nei Jing, but memorized it --knew it by heart. Herb texts like the Shang Han Lun don't talk much about psychology and the Spirit, perhaps because it was already covered in the Inner Classic.

In TCM programs, it is rare to devote classes to the classics. My teachers in Nanjing were discouraged from spending too much time on it. TCM programs in the US have few, if any classes on these classics. As a result, the doctoral program I was in was surprised by the lack of understanding by practitioners of these texts. We need to start studying them from the beginning, as difficult as it first seems. It is simply a unique language. A text such as by Maciocia can be understood on the first reading, while a translated classic may need three. In college, I found philosphy texts needed six readings for me to start to understand them. The classics were clearer than Hume or Descartes for me. The fact that they are harder than a newspaper seems to dissuade many students.

Knowing classical Chinese is ultimate and necessary. Most of my students will not attain that. We have some students who self-taught themselves Chinese while going through our program. They had enough training from our several teachers with that to take it to completion. Their translations are fearless and unique, in their own voice.

We all need to start somewhere. There are an increasing number of translations in English. Reading them will fire an interest to go further. Not all of us will have the need, interest or capacity for learning classical Chinese. We do what we can. My experience in this field is: you can do a lot with a little.

The Nei Jing is a bold description of the architecture of the soul --Soular Architecture. It can revive medicine's focus on the body as machine. Systems Theory in biology is the other link to rescue us from viewing the body as a mere machine. Between the two, we will see more of the whole picture.

Classical Chinese acupuncture is a gift to the world.

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