Different approaches to body, mind and soul in West and East

Submitted by Noll Andreas on Sat, 02/14/2009 - 09:16
Noll Andreas's picture
TitleDifferent approaches to body, mind and soul in West and East
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsNoll, A., & Noll A.
Conference NameDaoism Conference Hongkong 2007
Date Published2007
Keywordsbody, mind and soul in West and East
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Different approaches to Body, Mind and Soul in West and East

Summary:

Globalisation, international networking and the increased possibilities of receiving informations are the reasons for the search of the own in the foreign in culture, philosophy and medicine. Modern Western people are claiming more from life than wealth - the feeling of sadness and anger, fright and a loss of orientations are their constant companions. Thus they are looking for solution in their ownphilosophies of life, health and death - but they don´t find answers, not even in the roots of their historical life. So they search in the foreign and unknown, and there Daoism seems to be what Western people are longing for: A world view that is uniting body and soul.  But due to the different origin of thoughts in each cultur every system requires different ways of approach.

1

Systems of Thinking and Transmission

Different systems of thinking influenced China and the Western World, - especially Europe during the last 2500 years. Although there were several contacts between the two worlds via the Silk Road and sometimes important mutual influences took place in both directions, the development of philosophy and culture followed different routes up to the 16th century when deeper contacts as well as the chance of confrontations began.

In East and West different ideas of life, death and health were the results of their systems of thought. More than two milleniums the Chinese way of thinking assimilate different thoughts and philosophies. Whereas in Europe a more or less homogenous system of philosophy and religion exists since 2500 years that thoughts deeply influences the thinking of everybody in Western countries up to today.

While in China the written language was a continuum for transmitting ideas over thousands of years, the transmission in Western countries went through very different languages from Egyptian over Greek, Latin, and Arabian to the nowaday German, English or Chinese language. Each act of translating was an act of interpreting and possibly falsifying too.

Not only are the languages of China and Europa fundamentally different in their structure they are as well a mirror of the different structures of their thinking.

1.1

China

China was up to the beginning of the 20th century deeply influenced by Confucinanism, Daoism and Buddhism. These philosophies or religious systems did exist largely parallel at the same time and seemed to be mutually permeable for each other.

The confrontation with Western philosophy and thoughts started in the 16th century with the beginning of Christian mission in China. They tried to combine the recently in Europe grown new thoughts of this era with the newly discovered Chinese world. The idea, that heart and brain are the supreme parts of man deeply influenced their explanation of the Chinese view of human being. And up to today many practitioner s of Chinese Medicine in Western countries are following this hierarchic order, trying to treat the soul via the heart according to Western ideas. And not looking in similar ways to the other organs with their “souls” Hun, Po, Yi and Zhi in the non-hierchic network of all functions of the human being.

According to the Chinese view of the human being, heaven, man and earth are the sources of Qi, and the human being has to cultivate Qi to obtain health and longevity. As long as there is Qi, flowing through a network of channels, received and transformed by the organs, there is life and health, and the visible and non visible functions and structures of the human being are in harmonious interaction. Each function and structure depends on each other, everything is embedded in a non-hierarchic network.

Neijing Lingshu chapter 8 contains an important discussion of the fundamental concepts of Chinese medicine: shen (spirit), hun (soul), po (bodily soul), yi (purpose), zhi (will), si (thought), lü (reflection) and zhi (wisdom).

1.2

The West

Like China is deeply influenced by Daoism, Cofucianism and Buddhism, as mentioned above, Western countries are influenced by Christianity in the ideas of illness and health.

The development of Western philosophy and thinking systems evolved nearly at the same time in Greek as the Eastern philosophical traditions started in China.

Aristoteles stated, that no condition of the soul could be affected without the body. Nevertheless, there is among the functions or affections none that could exist without the body. It is clear that the states of the soul are the forms (logos) realized in matter. Thus, properties or functions are inseparable from the bodies. So the condition of the soul cannot be regarded as separable from the physical matter. These ideas were very close to the view of Chinese philosophers.

Nevertheless Platon was the founder of a system of thoughts, that became the root of Western ideas and survived through all cultural, social and political changes. Platon proclaimed the idea of separation of body and soul. But he stated not only the separate existence, but the dominance of the soul over the body. Muscels, bones, sensory perceptions were “products” of our soul. This view of the human being has been accepted by the Christian religion as well as by modern psychotherapy. This separation, constructed more than 2500 years ago, is nowadays an important cause for the dissatisfaction with the Western medicine.

The “father of church”Augustinus postulated in the 4th century C.E. the eternity and the unchangeablity as God himself, and founded a fixed and dogmatic way of thinking over thousands of years. Unlike in Buddhism or Daoism for example the change and the new were not important and not wanted.

With Protestantism the development of capitalism met its requirements in the Europe of the 16th century: only the human being, who is successful in his life, is in the favour of God. Praying and working – that was and is the ideology of Protestantism -  in the centuries after the reformation these people were persecuted and emigrated therefore from the mostly catholic Europe to America.

The Christian view of the human being in general was strictly based on the belief, that the body itself is bad, dirty and sinful, although originally the body was the image of God himself. The eternal soul is striving to God and the eternal life after corporeal death.

Enlightment

The enlightment of the 17th/18th century postulated the emancipated citizen, who is only following his reason. This was the cause for turning away from all forms of religions and metaphysics in the West, but in the same way a growing search for the sense of life in Eastern traditions, done for example by Hegel and Leibnitz took place.

Based on this models of thinking the modern natural sciences started their stormy development. Being exempted from the bonds of the catholic Christian religion, but nevertheless rooted in the Western way of thinking they created with causal-analytic methods enormous progress. But trying to transmit this method to medicine seems to be wrong. In medicine religious and metaphysical thinking and belief are still in use, athough this is refused by the scientific medicine.

The psychoanalysis by S.Freud and other psychological modells –beginning in the 19th century - created the development of one medicine for the soul and another for the body, and it caused an pathologisation of the movements of the separated soul too. But this also made, that more and more people became interested in systems of healings which managed to unite body and soul like the TCM.

1.3

Synthesis

Globalisation, international networking and the increased possibilities of receiving informations are the reason for the search of the own in the foreign. Even if the foreign is allways the unknown and very often the threatening and possible dangerous, it is just because of his unclearness and its alien character that it is very useful to resolve the problems which are rooted in the own, not satisfying world.

Daoism could offer the western world a new perspective of life: the cultivation of Qi covers new ways for health and prevention of diseases. And a new view of the human being as well. The thinking in Yinyang categories enables a new orientation: there is nothing in the life or in the world, which presents only one side- each thing is included in the other, nothing is independent, everything flows and changes.

Prof. (Univ. Chengdu/China)

Andreas A.Noll

Elisenstr.5

Germany-80335 München

www.praxis-noll.de

info@praxis-noll.de