How, in our modern age, does acupuncture fare in the Western world? What can we say about this movement of Oriental ideology into Occidental culture? One significant issue relates to the absence, in Western medicine, of a concept of energy comparable to that upon which Oriental medicine rests so heavily. In the West, energy enters our thinking in disconnected ways as a metabolic concept. The energy force described in Oriental medicine has no counterpart in our system, with the exception of the relatively undeveloped work of Wilhelm Reich, Alexander Lowen, and John Pierrakos. However, their ideas have been rejected by all but a few in the Western world. In the West, therefore, we have considerable difficulty in seriously entertaining a medicine built around something we cannot measure with our tools and devices.
This conceptual block has inspired many in the West and in the People’s Republic of China to abandon the energy concepts defined by ancient law, and to Westernize acupuncture. Subsequent explanations of acupuncture’s mechanism have involved colloidal solutions, the autonomic nervous system, neuro-inhibition, pain walls, and endorphins. In the pursuit of a modern explanation for the effectiveness of Chinese medicine, there is currently a frontal assault on every measurable human chemical and physical unit by clinical, experimental laboratory science, especially in the People’s Republic of China. In North Korea in the 1960s, and again in South Korea and elsewhere from around the year 2000, tests using radioactive di-azo dyes have been used in an attempt to confirm the existence of meridians (the result of these tests is now known to science as the primo vascular system). The concept of energy that has given acupuncture its internal consistency, and given all of life a meaningful core, is being quickly and quietly expunged, in part by the efforts of Western medical science to prove its existence.
Sadly, the law of the Five Phases, universal laws of the Tao, concepts of yin and yang, and most of the acupuncture points, are quickly following ‘qi energy’ into obscurity. We are obliged by the prestige and power of Western science to confirm the validity of phenomena according to its own specific standards and techniques. In the West, we know only what registers on our machines. If we cannot measure, we cannot know. We have limited the parameters of our knowledge to the sensitivity of our mechanical devices.
There is a basic conflict between technology and art in the healing process. Technology insists that the healer must not be important to the healing process, as a test of the validity of the healing system. However, in a healing system in which the movement and balance of energy is the critical factor in sickness and health, the energy of the healer enters significantly into the system as a positive or negative force. With regard to acupuncture, Denis Lawson-Wood stated: “It is therapeutically significant what is going on in the practitioner’s mind. In other words, the practitioner’s intention has great influence upon the quality and polarity treatment he will, in fact, administer.”
That importance of the healer to the medicine denotes acupuncture as an art. As such, there will be little of the verifiable data that is so indispensable to the scientific model. The spirit of man, the energy of nature, and the knowledge of nature’s ways are the healing powers of Oriental medicine.
The modern scientific institution will test, and then apply, only what is verifiable by reproducible and statistically-significant experiment. For this reason, I believe that Chinese medicine will pass again through a period of great difficulty and devaluation by the establishment on its long historical journey. Oriental medicine is at a crossroads, as is mankind. One way leads to extinction; the other, which I believe is being increasingly chosen by the people who need medicine, if not by the people who practice it, leads to a new and profound spiritual reunion of man with heaven and earth.