Friday, February 24, 2012

Daniel Reid's Handbook of Chinese Healing Herbs

In his excellent introduction to traditional Chinese herbal lore, A Handbook of Chinese Healing Herbs, Daniel P. Reid writes:
Modern Western medicine subscribes to the "single agent" theory of disease, whereby every disease is blamed on a specific external pathogen that invades the body from outside. Disease is thus attacked with knives, radiation, and powerful chemical agents designed to "kill" the alleged invader, and in the process these weapons often lay waste to the internal organs, impair immune response, and deplete vital energies, thereby sowing the seeds of even more severe ailments later.

Traditional Chinese medicine takes a different approach. It traces the root cause of all disease to critical imbalances and deficiencies among the various internal energies that govern and regulate the whole body. Whenever such states of imbalance or deficiencies are left unchecked for too long, they eventually give rise to serious malfunctions in the body's biochemistry and internal organ systems, and that in turn impairs immunity, lowers resistance, and creates the conditions of vulnerability which permit germs, toxins, parasites, and other pathogens to gain a foothold in the body. [. . .]

Rather than treating the disease, as modern medicine does, the traditional Chinese physician treats the patient by correcting the critical imbalances in his or her energy system that opened the door to disease in the first place. 4-5.
This passage provides an excellent description of two very different paradigms or frameworks for viewing the human body and its ailments. The rest of the book delves into a selection of plants and remedies that herbalists in China have used for thousands of years to preserve or restore the balance of energy that is conducive to health.

Interestingly, as author Daniel Reid points out, tradition credits the legendary benefactor Shen Nung with discovering herbal medicine over 5,000 years ago (3). Also known as Shennong ("The Divine Farmer") and the "Emperor of the Five Grains," Shen Nung is described as having tasted 365 different plants and describing their properties -- a number which already indicates some connection to matters celestial as well (not surprising, since Chinese medicine asserts as a fundamental tenet that the harmonies which govern the universe are the same as those which govern the human body).

He is also credited with being the first to teach mankind the use of the plow and the basics of agriculture, an Osirian function which he shares with other Osirian figures around the world, including Viracocha / Quetzlcoatl in Central and South America, and the Oannes / Nommo figures in Sumer, Babylon, and the traditions of the Dogon of Africa (sometimes the Osirian figure is described as teaching the arts of agriculture to mankind, and sometimes as teaching people not to eat one another). The fact that Shen Nung apparently met an untimely death (in some accounts, by eating poisonous herbs) and that he is somehow associated with the Yellow Emperor (Huangdi or Huang-ti) are also Osirian or Saturnian connections (see brief discussion in this previous post, which points to the extensive evidence examined by Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend in Hamlet's Mill).

Another fascinating aspect of Mr. Reid's book on Chinese herbal medicine is his decision to limit the discussion to 108 herbs. He writes:
There are over 2,000 items listed in Chinese herbal pharmacopeias, but only about 300 are used in general practice, of which less than one hundred are regarded as indispensable in formulating the most popular prescriptions. In order to provide more detailed information on the most important and therapeutically useful herbs, we have limited our selection for this book to 108 plants. The number 108 is highly auspicious in Taoism as well as Buddhism, and the mala (rosary) used in mantra and meditation practice in both traditions consists of 108 beads. So we present the 108 herbs described in this book as a sort of "rosary of remedies" for the reader's own health practices. 9 - 10.
As many readers will immediately recognize, the number 108 is a critical precessional number, found in the most ancient myths and monuments around the world, as well as in other Chinese arts including many martial arts.

The resonances between the legends of Osiris and the Yellow Emperor and Shen Nung, as well as the prominent use of precessional numbers such as 72 and 108 in both ancient Egypt and ancient China suggests either very ancient contact between the two cultures, or contact with some common civilizational ancestor (see here and here for more detail on the connections between Osiris and precession). These connections are fascinating and bear further investigation, although this direction of investigation runs counter to conventional orthodox history as taught in most centers of academia today.

For a previous post discussing the important work of author Daniel Reid, as well as an amazing and touching account of his friendship with the great John Blofeld, see this previous post on "A heartfelt portrait of John Blofeld from Daniel P. Reid."