The Philosophy of Numbers in Oriental Medicine

I am currently reading a book named “go with the flow” by Zuisei Yokoyama, which describes basic philosophies on which Oriental Medicine is based by counting from 1 to 9.  A simple concept, highlighting the symbolism and importance of numbers in medicine. Here are some of the basis of the 4,000+ year-old medicine.

Holistic Approach
In the East, the first and utmost important point is to treat the person, and not simply the disease. Since any given area can only exist or have a meaning within the context of the whole.
E.g. a large intestine cannot survive by itself, nor can it even exist without a mouth to feed it, a brain to supply information to it, a circulation system to drain it etc. It exists within its local environment (the abdominal cavity, inside a body), with its neighbouring organs (small intestine, stomach, kidney, liver…), its nervous system (brain, nerves…), its content (water, food from diet), and of course the person attach to it (their emotion, state of mind, genetics, culture, upbringing…) It seems absurd that if the large intestine is in a state of dis-ease, only it should be treated. The whole person must be taken into account.

The Eastern way to approach disease, is that one effect may have many causes, therefore what is important is to find the root of the cause, as well as finding the pattern of imbalance, thus providing a framework for treatment.

The Human Factor
Importantly, Chinese doctors do not shy away from what they call the human factor, which may be referred to as one of the aspect of what we call the placebo effect, or the power of suggestion. An aspect of this type of medicine is giving responsability to people, and empowering patients with knowledge about their own body. Furthermore, giving them ways of dealing with their situation better and get back to health.
The practitioner counts on many different methods to help them fight the illness and return to health. Apart from diagnosis and treatment, the three essential human factors are: personal contact, the power of touch and the feeling of fellowship. Doctors are trained to develop these qualities as part of their medical studies.

The Yellow Emperor
The Su Wen and Ling Shu are the two books of the foundation of Chinese Medicine, mythically said to be written by the Yellow Emperor Huangdi 28 centuries BC, that’s nearly five thousand years ago. It may have actually be written 500 years BC, but the traditions are now over 4000 years old. In part one, there is a dialogue between the Emperor and his doctor on principles of medicine, the main ailments and their treatment, using herbs and acupressure. Part two is mostly dedicated to acupuncture.
At the time, acupunture may have been performed with stone fragments, before the arrival of needles.
The five basic rules of good health are the following:
1. proper diet (according to the 5 elements of food)
2. proper sleep (according to the 4 seasons, the rhythmic sleeping pattern according to the sun)
3. proper elimination (bowel mouvement, urination and sweating)
4. proper exercise (Xi Gong, known widely in the West for one of its choreographies: Tai Chi Chuan)
5. proper sex (which should include happiness, joy and positive thinking)

With Su Wen and Ling Shu being compared to the Hippocratic Corpus, but 2000 years before Hippocrates was born, they were both based on empirical studies of humans and comparative anatomy, but are difficult to understand with the knowledge that we now have of the human body.
However, acupunture is a truly recognized form of treatment in 21st Century medicine, so the Yellow Emperor must have gotten something right…

Yin and Yang
The Universe, the Earth, and people are all made up of vital energy, which can be subdivided into Yin and Yang. The Tao theory goes that it all started, a long long time ago, when there was only Chaos.
Then obviously, and out of nowhere came Tao! The foundation of everything. All was darkness, until the day when the sun rose and started shining. Darkness is referred to as Yin, and light as Yang.
Out of the night came day, and day transforms into night: Yin and Yang are always changing, evolving: they are distinct, but cannot be separated. This is the initial principle of the dynamics of life: dual power.

The body can be divided, subdivided and again subsubdivided into yin and yang. For example the interior is yin, whereas the exterior is yang: yin is the material foundation of Yang, whilst Yang is the manifestation of inner Yin. Got it?
It’s not actually that difficult.

distinct, yet linked

Dual power: distinct, yet linked

All things have two aspects: time has night and day; species have male and female; temperature can be hot or cold; weight light or heavy. The body itself has a front and back; a lower and upper; an inner and outer. These are different, but inseparable.
Illnesses too may be categorized: weakness, slowness, coldness and under-activity are Yin; whereas forceful movement, heat, over-activity are Yang.
When one increase, the other decreases. They balance each other out. Health is an equilibrium between the two opposites. Perfect health, and perfect balance in basically unachievable, but it must be a long life goal.

Hill + inside/under + cloud

Yin: Hill + inside/under + cloud

The ideogram for Yin is actually the sum of three concepts: on the left hand side, represents a hill (roughly shaped like a B, or a German Eszett). The upside down Y a roof, which may represent staying inside, something dark, gloomy or stuffy. The squibbly bit bottom right represents a cloud.
After Chaos and darkness, came light. The hill becomes visible as light starts shining on it. What is behind the hill, the shade, which is still in the darkness, contrasts with the light starting to shine. It is Yin.

As day progresses, and the sun rises up in the sky, there is always one place that will be in the shade. As the sun goes down, all will return to darkness and Yin.

hill + sun + rays of light

Yang: hill + sun + rays of light



Yang is also made of 3 separate entities: the hill (as in Yang), which is the reference point to determine what is Yin and what is Yang in this image.
The Sun, at the top of the ideogram. Once represented as a circle with a dot in it, it transformed into the 2 squares on top of each other.
And the last one represents the rays of the sun, shining on the hill!
So it means the bright, light, sunny side of the hill: that is Yang.

Yang came out of Yin, out of darkness came light. It is impossible even to define Yin without Yang, as is Peace without War.

Except there is no value system in the Tao philosophy: neither Yin or Yang is seen as “good or bad” or “positive or negative”. To function, the Universe needs a balance of both.

And that’s how far I have gotten to so far. I am also learning how to write different ideograms, it is very interesting and helps to understand the principles behind the concept.



Filed under china

3 responses to “The Philosophy of Numbers in Oriental Medicine

  1. Margo Spencer

    I enjoyed reading your comments on the book Go With the Flow Philosophy of Numbers n Oriental medicine.
    I am interested in the Numbers side of this book.
    Numbers & their symbology fascinate me, & I do the Sacred Science of Numbers, which reveals our Individual Numbers for our Personality, Body, Mind, Spirit, Soul Consciousness etc. And am also a practitioner of Trad. Chinese Med.
    Hope you enjoy reading the rest of Go with The Flow, & please let us know more.
    Thankyou, Enjoy, & a Happy Day to You from Margo Spencer.

  2. Pingback: Internship in Tuina at the hospital of Traditional Chinese Medecine of Chendgu « In search of traditional medicine in Australasia


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