Politicians and advertisers act on the premise that perception is stronger than truth. For example, look at the methods and resources used to sway public opinion on a daily basis. Why do we have heated debates and constant inundation through the various media outlets on matters of style? Can we not link cause to effects and delineate facts, plain and simple? How does this apply to medical choices?
Traditional medicine with deep roots in ancient cultures has evolved with small variations but meets the test of time and the scrutiny of modern science. While modern science cannot always explain HOW traditional medicine works, it can state unequivocally that it does indeed have efficacy within certain parameters. The Eclectic physicians of the 19th and early 20th centuries promoted many theories, attempting to employ scientific terminology to explain the “how” of their medicine. When their reasoning fell short they were not overly upset and continued to practice. This is because they were more concerned with what actually worked in clinical practice than how it worked. One of the basic principals which united the Eclectic movement was “use what works, and discard that which does not work”. The Eclectics primarily used indigenous North American herbs they learned about from aboriginal peoples. They also employed pharmaceutical extracts of herbs, with dosage schedules ranging from massive to homeopathic. Imagine what it would be like if Canadian physicians were trained in the use of these remedies and treatment styles and could move freely between modalities without censure by their governing bodies. Alas, information overload has moved education toward specialization and few can even comprehend the complete scope of any one style of medicine. With the advent of the Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) movement we have opened a path and begun to build bridges between seemingly conflicting healing methods. Naturopathic schools attempt to address this issue head-on by teaching multiple modalities but fall short since time does not allow for the various disciplines to be taught and learned in depth. CAM practice shows very slow progress due to the demand for answers to the “how” questions posed by orthodox practitioners as well as for empirical results gained through laboratory testing and other experiments. In the 7th century, Tibet called for a multi-year convocation of medical practitioners. Healers from China, Mongolia, India, Persia, and Burma congregated and shared their knowledge and understanding. Persian medicine can be traced back through Islam to Greek and Egyptian roots. All of the represented traditions were deeply rooted and rich in healing wisdom. The Tibetan culture with its shamanic tradition existing in a Buddhist theocratic state assimilated elements of various healing traditions to become what is now Tibetan medicine. What did they extrapolate from the other traditions? They simply saw what worked, and made it part of their own practice. An elaborate Tibetan-Buddhist cosmo-psychology and religion provided the “how”. Modern scholars have yet to penetrate beyond the surface of this arcane Tibetan understanding.
Where does this leave us? Together we must begin to adopt an attitude of openness, forgoing orthodoxy and medical dogmatism. We must be willing to judge treatments by their outcomes and merits, and realize that no explanation of “how” will satisfy everyone equally. What are the facts concerning disease, mortality and treatments? Are our resources being applied wisely; that is, are we achieving results that will speak for themselves under the light of close examination? How much of the “benefits of modern medicine” is merely perception, well-nourished by drug companies via every form of media? From a practical standpoint, do better hygiene and nutrition not make up the greater share of the standard of health we experience in these modern times?
If, in each century, a decade-long convocation for enlightened understanding was staged such as the one held in Tibet in the 7th century we would presently be in our 15th centennial. The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that traditional medicine is the “peopleπs medicine” and already serves the majority of the public. If we value the wisdom of traditional medicine (which is intrinsically holistic) and allow it to cross-pollinate with modern scientific understanding we can produce a healing system which would well serve the people of the 21st century. Individuals have the right to choose healing traditions and practitioners with which they feel in harmony. Practitioners in turn have the right to implement the materia medica they were trained to use. Treatments which are effective will live on, and the understanding of how they work will come to light over time. Supporting herbalism and professional herbalists is one important step everyone can take to help secure a healthy future for our medical system.