East and West Integration – not simply an integration of “pre-modern East” with “modern West”.

A little speculation written out hastily – I may do some research and fact checking and turn this into an article at some point.

In my studies it’s occurred to me that we may be making a false assumption that may involve confusing Cultural/Perspectival differences for structural/level differences. I’m guessing this may be a common error due to our cultural and linguistic biases. I’ve been thinking about medicine but am wondering if there might be other examples.

     East and West integration(example acupuncture plus science = integrative medicine) is NOT simply pre-modern (Eastern) and modern (Western) coming together. Eastern traditions have their own primary focus and lenses and have developed (in terms of levels) as well. This can be seen if one accesses some of the research that is occurring in India, China, and Japan on subtle energies that is never published in English language or European journals The idea that we’re taking a pre-modern tradition (Eastern) and up-dating with modern science (Western) is a bit flawed. There are of course practitioners and researchers at all “levels”. It might be more accurate to think that we’re taking another model for understanding physiology, one that is process/function based versus structural and anatomical. The Former is increasing our understanding of patterns and interconnectedness of the body (mind-spirit-environment) that has been neglected in the latter. Science however, is adding extensive detail, and quantitative understanding at many levels (from the atomic and up). It could be argued, however that the Eastern understanding of processes (for example the 5 elements) provides more insight and therapeutic leverage in the clinic than does the physicians understanding of the atomic and molecular constituents of a drug, etc. As integrative physiology emerges we begin to pay more attention to the network – realizing that a change in one place necessarily creates a cascade of events, that nothing occurs in isolation. This is foundational to Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine but is just emerging as science begins to attempt synthesis of the details it gained through a century of reductionism.

Furthermore, pre-modern influences are just as strong in western medicine as they are in Eastern. From a historical and developmental perspective (LL and UL) the development of Ayurvedic, Chinese and Tibetan medicine should be seen within the philosophical and theological context within which it is embedded. From the Upanishads (Ayurveda) and the early Taoist texts, and forward to the first Tibetan medical texts around the period of the works of Shankarnanda and Nagarjuna. The development of these medical texts was at the leading edge of human structure-stages and state-stages in the East. The great medical theorists of the West were all heavily influence by Arabic medicine and European medicine lagged well behind.  The emergence of allopathy in the 19th century, brought in reductionist and materialist tools and perspectives, but also limitations. The 4 quadrants which one can spot in many Eastern medical texts were reduced to 1 (the same can be said of zones), and thinking became linear instead of systems oriented.

Pre-modern influences are just as strong in western medicine as they are in Eastern, and I think the obstacles and weaknesses of western pre-modern and modern medicine are far more glaring than the very comprehensive and coherent paradigms of Eastern medicine who are highly internally consistent and based on thousands of years of experiences. Western medicine is too liable to get carried away by new theories as it is not grounded by a foundational paradigm (lack of context for checking theories)- Evolutionary Medicine is taking a significant step in the right direction. As anyone involved in medical research will know well the reductionist understanding (of a chemical, or lab results in petri dish or animal tests) are often misleading and positive results often disappoint in the long-run. Part of this is the inherent flaw of clinical trials that fails to take into account individual variation – Eastern medicine matches specific remedies to specific individuals and their unique constitution and symptom patterns. As a result treatment is targeted with much greater precision leading to often improved results. Treatment also address the terrain that lead to vulnerability tot the development of the pathology, a critical component often absent from Western medicine. The few trials that have worked with constitutional medicine on its own terms (there’s a few involving acupuncture) showed dramatic results (individualized treatment > standardized Chinese medicine treatment > western only treatment). We are moving towards this with genetic medicine and understanding of SNP’s and so forth and assays for drug metabolism, and determination of cancer types and so on. However the offering of the East – which is a paradigm which can consistently speak of and apply the same patterns, processes, insights and language along the whole spectrum from the subtle to the gross — may be on of the greatest gifts Eastern medicine has to offer. Taking into account spiritual, mental, emotional, physiological, and environmental and social aspects of the patient will allow for a synergistic integration of psychological, physical, social, relational, and environmental facets of the treatment.


About owenokie

I'm a Clinical Herbalist, Wilderness Therapist and HeartMath Provider living in Scotland and am also studying Buddhist Psychotherapy.
This entry was posted in acupuncture, ayurveda, body mind spirit, herbal medicine, integral medicine, integrative physiology, tibetan medicine, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to East and West Integration – not simply an integration of “pre-modern East” with “modern West”.

  1. cougcub says:

    I don’t know much about this yet, but have enrolled at the East West School of Planetary Herbology with Michael Tierran to learn more. Based on the cursory reading I’ve done so far though, I absolutely agree with your writing here. Take care!


  2. owenokie says:

    A very good place to start! Good luck with that adventure and with your product making as well.Owen.


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