Grasping the Donkey’s Tail: Unraveling Mysteries from the Classics of Oriental Medicine

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Through an in-depth examination of some difficult, often misunderstood classical texts of Oriental medicine, the author offers clear instruction for effective acupuncture practice. Specific discussions of Daoism and pulse diagnosis make this an innovative and essential text for acupuncturists and Chinese medicine students and practitioners.

A scholarly yet practical account for modern clinicians of some of the key difficult questions arising from obscure passages in the classics of Chinese medicine. This book offers an interpretation of crucial sections from the classical Chinese texts which have continued to puzzle Western clinicians, and serves as a basis for more effective acupuncture treatments.

The author discusses Sasang medicine interpretations of specific phenomena, showing where Korean medicine diverged from Chinese, and how the two traditions can inform each other, and the modern acupuncturist. Elsewhere, he discusses the Daoist roots of Chinese medicine, the fundamental differences between Oriental and Western medical approaches, as well as various important issues in pulse diagnosis, all of which have practical application for modern clinicians and students.

There comes a time in the life of an acupuncturist when she or he will start to ponder: what I am actually trying to do with my treatments? Am I trying to fix a mechanism, expel a disease, help the client regulate their body and mind? And possibly there comes a time when the question clients often ask – 'Why me? My friend does all the same things, and does not get the same symptoms' – starts to nag at us. This is when we may turn from studying useful tips and strategies to trying to understand the nature of health and disease. And this is when Dr. Peter Eckman's new book can open up a whole new world and inspire us to continue with our investigation.

Grasping the Donkey's Tail: Unraveling Mysteries from the Classics of Oriental Medicine consists of seven chapters, each one exploring a particular issue from one of the classics of Chinese medicine and philosophy: Yi Jing, Dao De Jing, Huai Nan Zi, Su Wen, Ling Shu, Nan Jing and Mai Jing. The title of the book initiates a humorous dialogue with other scholars of Oriental medicine, evoking in particular two well-known books: Grasping the Wind by Ellis, Wiseman and Boss and Chasing the Dragon's Tail by Manaka with Itaya and Birch. But the donkey does not immediately come to mind as an animal that encompasses the poetry and mysticism of the Orient?

In the preface, the author tells a story about how on a trip to Madrid he saw the statue of Don Quixote (tall and thin, idealistic, looking up and into the distance) and Sancho Panza (sturdy, down to earth, following him on a donkey). Suddenly, Peter says, he had a feeling of something missing. The statue was a representation of Heaven and Earth, but where was the human, the link between the two? That was when the author felt the urge to grasp the tail of the donkey to add the missing link. This was also the moment when the book that had been gestating in Dr. Eckman's mind finally took shape

Grasping the Donkey's Tail, as Charles Buck points out in his foreword, is the result of many years of study of Oriental medicine and clinical practice in acupuncture. Written in an enjoyable and elegant style, the book presents the author's ideas on health and disease based on thorough knowledge of the classics. Dr. Eckman is an acupuncturist, a teacher and a scholar of Oriental medicine who has been in practice for 40 years. His initial acquaintance with acupuncture happened when, as a newly qualified doctor, he started working in a Korean acupuncture centre in Los Angeles. In 1973 practising acupuncture without being a medical doctor was illegal in California, and Dr. Eckman was invited to perform the needling while his Korean teachers would establish the Oriental diagnosis and tell him which points to use. Impressed with the results, Dr. Eckman started studying Oriental medicine, primarily acupuncture. Since then his teachers have included, among others, Tae Woo Yoo, Kuon Dowon, J.R. Worsley, Paul Nogier, Maurice Mussat, Sorimachi Taiichi and Jeffrey Yuen. He also studied classical Chinese with Claude Larre. Dr. Eckman is the author of In the Footsteps of the Yellow Em-peror: Tracing the History of Traditional Acupuncture, a characteristically distinctive explora-tion of the paths by which Oriental medicine made its way to the West, and The Compleat Acupuncturist, in which he presents his unique method of constitutional and conditional pulse diagnosis.

In Grasping the Donkey's Tail Dr. Eckman focuses on points in the classics that he regards as having been widely misinterpreted or neglected. He argues that the correct interpretation of these is vital for understanding health and disease, and should underpin clinical practice. In the chapter on Yi Jing (The Classic of Changes), the author shows how the medical tradition developed differently in China and Korea. The chapter on Dao De Jing (The Way and Its Power) deals with transformation as the core process of Daoist medicine, and the concept of scientific research as not being limited to the reductionist method typical of modern Western science. In the chapter on Huai Nan Zi the author explores the concept of resonance (Gan Ying) as the central idea behind the transformation and healing.

The chapters on Su Wen (Simple Questions) and Ling Shu (Spiritual Pivot) look at the ancient method of pulse diagnosis: comparing the carotid and the radial pulses. In the chapter on Nan Jing (The Classic of Changes) the author continues his exploration of pulse examination, particularly the energetic changes that are reflected in the pulse through the day. Here he introduces the ideas of archaic acupuncture by Igor Simonov and shows how they are based on this classic. He then discusses chapter 50 of Nan Jing which he sees as 'laying the theoretical groundwork for understanding the difference between constitutional and conditional aspects of diagnosis in Oriental medicine.' Dr. Eckman explains his 'constellational' interpretation of physiology, pathology, diagnosis and treatment formulation, where the root cause of disease can be identified through the diagnosis of the constitution (using the pulse), and where the systematic relationship between various organ systems needs to be taken into account when developing treatment. In the chapter on Mai Jing (The Pulse Classic) the author further discusses the topic of constitutional and conditional pulse diagnosis.

Putting it all together, we arrive at the question we started with: what are we actually trying to do with acupuncture? Dr. Eckman's answer is as follows: 'It is my conviction that the ultimate goal of any medical intervention should be to help return each person to their original nature, which I have been calling their constitution.' Dr. Eckman's understanding is that each individual is born with a certain order of dominance of the zangfu organs, which is his or her constitutional imbalance. This imbalance is not pathological, but the natural state of each one of us. So, the aim of the treatment is not to achieve a perfect energetic balance, but to help the person to return to that relative imbalance that for the individual in question is actually his/her state of health. In Dr. Eckman's method, pulse diagnosis is the main tool to determine the constitution.

This is a dense book, the 151 pages filled with information and ideas. It is a book to come back to, to reflect on, to inspire one's own research and investigation. Grasping the Donkey's Tail raises questions about the nature of health, disease, acupuncture and the human's place between Heaven and Earth, that will be interesting for practitioners of any style of acupuncture who are interested in how the classics can be relevant for contemporary practice.

Olga Fedina

More Information
Author Peter Eckman
Publication Date 1 Sep 2017
Publisher Singing Dragon
Number of Pages 152
Book Format Paperback
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