Yin Yang In Classical Texts is the fourteenth book to be published by Monkey Press in the series that aims to engender familiarity with ancient philosophical and medical texts which are the very foundation of Chinese medicine. This is the second book to be published since the passing of Father Larre in 2001 and is an edited transcript of two seminars held in London by Elizabeth Rochat de la Vallee in 2005, with a foreword written by Sandra Hill. The book is divided into three sections. The first section is concerned with yin yang in philosophical texts, the second with yin yang and cosmogenesis, and the third with yin yang in medical texts. Yin Yang In Classical Texts takes us back to the very beginning of our studies in Chinese medicine and promises an opportunity to revisit, and explore in greater depth, the fundamental principles that inform our practice.
The first two sections give numerous examples of yin yang in early philosophical texts. Most of the references in these sections are to Daoist texts, namely, Zhuangzi, Laozi, and Huainanzi. Each of the selected quotes is followed by a commentary by the author, whose wonderful use of language, which for me is the real strength of the book, paints poetic images of the interplay between yin yang, and make the texts come alive. For example, commenting on the Mawangdui Manuscripts she says, ‘It is never a classification as such that is made by yin and yang, but a way to describe the modality of the relationship between two things, or two beings; so we are looking at the movement uniting them, and creating a kind of rhythm between them... yin yang describe the kind of qi operating behind phenomena...they are a pattern for all relationships, organisation and rules for transmutation and transformation within phenomenon’.
The third section of the book is concerned with yin yang in medical texts. Five chapters from Neijing Suwen are the source material here, and particular emphasis is placed on the interplay between heaven and earth and living in accordance with the seasons. This is the strongest section of the book and gives many examples of how teachings from Neijing Suwen still inform modern practice. Two statements made in this section have particular relevance to recent debates concerning the treatment of shen. A quote from The Great Commentary To The Yijing reads, ‘That which is unfathomable by the yin and yang is called the shen (spirits)’. How can we begin to treat that which is unfathomable? The author states, ‘The problem is that some people divinize the spirits to such an extent that they become unreal...The vital spirits are all that I am, but the presence of the spirits is dependent on the balance of the yin yang.’ We are reminded that our concern is with the yin and the yang - the blood and the qi. If, ultimately, we can harmonise the yin yang, then the spirits will be present.
My only difficulty with the book lies in its narrow choice of source material. Certain quotes, from a certain group of texts, provide the source material for the discussion, which might lead us to believe that yin yang is more relevant to certain schools of classical thought than others. The book provides no wider context for the, mainly Daoist, texts, and in this way lacks a rigorous historical perspective. Confucian thought is afforded very little space. Having said this, the selected quotes, and more significantly the author’s illuminating comments, do give fresh insights into a theory that we employ every time we treat a patient. Despite the book’s shortcomings in terms of historical analysis, Yin Yang In Classical Texts is extremely good, as all of the Monkey Press books are, in communicating something of the essence and spirit of Chinese medicine. Its inclusion of discussions concerning the influence of human beings on our environment have particular relevance to our time.
Neil Quinton studied acupuncture at the College of Integrated Chinese Medicine in the UK and Chinese herbal medicine at the London College of Traditional Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Since graduating he has undertaken further studies in written and spoken Chinese, and has a special interest in the treatment of psychiatric complaints with acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine.