Georges Soulié de Morant, author of L’acuponcture chinoise, was a great advocate of the benefits and necessities of pulse diagnosis. His work led to the first successful European acculturation of acupuncture in the 1950s, and he believed knowledge of the pulses to be absolutely essential for the practice of true acupuncture: a medicine based on addressing a patient’s root condition, rather than one focused primarily on his ensuing symptoms. Soulié de Morant felt quite strongly that practitioners who only applied memorized formulae, and who treated only apparent problems, were not practicing true acupuncture.
The Normal pulse is the most sensitive, reliable, existing indicator of good health. Of all diagnostic modalities, the pulse can give us the most precise picture of even the most subtle and complex deviation from this standard of health. The pulse record is an instant picture of the current status of a person’s voyage, from birth to death. Clinically, it preserves us from the distracting and fruitless pursuit of symptoms, and keeps us focused on the reality of the individual’s condition and being. In addition, the pulse gives information about the events in a person’s life that have created this deviation from the Normal. This information can allow our patient the opportunity to change his life and habits, or encourage him to adapt to his constitutional deficits in the direction of health. The precision of the diagnosis permits a rational therapeutic regime for the patient, and is a tool for prognostication and prevention.
When practiced with dedication, quiet patience and consistency, an attunement to pulse qualities is an ongoing meditation: a training ground for awareness, and an awakening into total focus and concentration. As such, pulse diagnosis is an opportunity for practitioners to obtain the ultimate satisfaction of being one with their patients, one with themselves, one with the diagnostic process, and perhaps one with the universal forces that are expressed through the pulse.
Knowledge of Chinese pulse diagnosis has diminished steadily, at least since the onset of the Qing dynasty, and especially during recent centuries. Consequently, its capacity to perceive the earliest stages of patterns of disharmony and the process of disease has been sharply curtailed. Increasingly, Chinese medicine has lost the ability to serve its highest purposes, especially the power to predict, and thereby prevent, illness. Explanations proffered have included the influence of the West, and the gradual deterioration of an old civilization, weakened and dominated by foreign, less highly-developed cultures.
However, a much more important reason for the decline is that the world has changed in remarkable ways since the eighteenth century, and Chinese pulse diagnosis has not kept pace. In the past three centuries, the Industrial and Information Revolutions have made demands on every aspect of our physiology, and especially on our nervous systems. These demands have been remarkably sudden, and cataclysmic. For the previous ten thousand years, homo sapiens has been evolving in a remarkably stable, slowly changing cultural environment. We were subject only to the forces of Nature – hot, cold and wind, fire, earthquakes and flood – and the need to find and defend adequate food and shelter.
While the human organism – genus and species – has been relatively constant over the past fifty thousand years, the stresses to which it is now subject have changed dramatically and extremely during these past three centuries.
Currently, most modern pulse diagnosis relies on information gathered in a largely agrarian culture, expressed in a largely archaic language that is almost incomprehensible to the 20th-century practitioner. What is available today is material passed down 1900 years, from civilizations whose daily life is so variant from our own that the information is often no longer clinically relevant.
In the late 1950s, the Chinese government set up an experiment in which many well known masters of Chinese pulse diagnosis were asked to examine a patient. Their findings varied widely, and, as a result, pulse diagnosis was judged to be an unreliable scientific diagnostic tool. Others have questioned its reliability due to the wide variety of pulse methods within the Chinese tradition, and because, in other systems where the pulse is used (Ayurveda, Tibetan medicine), the pulse positions vary greatly from those used in China. What is difficult to contemplate and absorb, is that each of the Chinese masters who failed the government test was correct, as was each different pulse system. They provided different information, not contradictory information.
One aspect of the totality of living organisms is their function as broadcast systems. These systems can be accessed on an infinite number of bands of the electromagnetic spectrum, and their messages can be linked in endless ways. In some cultures, there are pulse systems that leave out the part of the pulse we use entirely, and instead begin further up the arm. Who knows how many models have come and gone, and what accidents of history have retained some methods and lost others? There is strong evidence that the ancient Hebrews had a very sophisticated pulse system based on sound, as did the Iranians. They may have exchanged information while the Jews were exiled in Babylonia.
No one diagnostic system, by itself, is so highly developed that it can access the myriad messages being broadcast by a human organism. No single theoretical model of existence is capable of encompassing all reality. Each pulse system has developed within the framework of its culture, and that culture’s associated medical theoretical model, to achieve a limited perspective of the whole. A pulse diagnosis system based on a Five Element model will be seeking different information, and making different interpretations of what it finds, than one founded on an Eight Principle model, or one such as the Ayurvedic, which is operating within the system of fire, water, earth, air, and ether.
Each individual system is providing us with different, but equally valid, information. Collectively, pulse diagnosis is a reliable source of vital diagnostic data, and a profoundly effective system of preventive medicine.