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The concept of “shen” is a fundamental part of traditional Chinese medicine. “Shen” is considered to be one of the three treasures that forms life: Jing, the essence, Qi, the life-force, and “Shen, which is usually translated as the “spirit.” “Shen” embodies consciousness, mind, or thought.
It is “shen” that raises the consciousness of human beings above that of other living creatures.
The earliest discourse on “shen” is in the ancient Chinese medical text—Huangdi Neijing or the Yellow Emperor’s Book of Internal Classic—in the section called, “The Root of Spirit.”
According to historical texts, the Yellow Emperor asked a question, which was answered by the chief physician—Qíbó—beginning with these words.
“Heaven abides so that we have virtue. Earth abides so that we have qi. When virtue flows and qi is blended, there is life.”
Senior Lecturer and Dean of the European School of Acupuncture, Elisabeth Rochat De La Vallée says the concept of “shen” is expressed in the relationship of the traditional Chinese medicine or TCM practitioner with the patient.
[Elisabeth Rochat De La Vallée, Senior Lecturer and Dean of European School of Acupuncture]: “So, what is shen is when you are a (TCM) practitioner, what is important is the relationship with the patient. It’s a lot of things. You’re supposed to know your job, to know the techniques, to know how to make the diagnosis, and so on. That’s the very basis. But on the other hand, what’s also important is that you are a human being treating another human being, and so there is a lot to the relationship.”
Rochat, in Australia to give a lecture on “Shen in Chinese Religion and Medicine,” says in ancient China cultivating oneself is key to the doctor-patient relationship.
[Elisabeth Rochat De La Vallée, Dean and Senior Lecturer of European School of Acupuncture]: “The relationship is just given whatever it is, …. and so you have to cultivate yourself as a human being to be more and more in the kind of righteousness, or in a kind of natural order in yourself, in a kind of harmony with yourself and with the universe.”
Rochat, who lectures on Chinese classical and medical texts, says (quote), “in ancient China, to take care of people is part of the harmony of the world and “shen” is expressed in the harmony.”
Rochat says the embodiment of compassion in “shen” in traditional Chinese medicine is a Buddhist approach. She refers to the legendary Chinese doctor, Sun Simiao, who was known for the meticulous care for his patients.
[Elisabeth Rochat De La Vallée, Dean and Senior Lecturer of European School of Acupuncture]: “That is more a Buddhist approach. Depends if you take compassion as just something shared in humankind or with a specific Buddhist approach… we find compassion for instance as one of the main things from the practitioner (of Chinese medicine), in the writing of the Chinese doctors who were Buddhists… there is a very famous one from the sixth or seventh century AD—Sun Simiao. And he was a Buddhist and he wrote about the relationship between the practitioner and the patient, and of course compassion for him is at the core of the relation.”
Sun believed practicing medicine is an art of compassion. He was dedicated to the care of women and children.
Sun is remembered for his writings on medical ethics titled, the “Sincerity and Devotion of Great Doctors.” Today, it is considered the “Chinese Hippocratic Oath”—an essential reading for students of traditional Chinese medicine.
By Margaret Trey, PhD Interviews by Philippa Rayment in Melbourne