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Best of the Web: Traditional Medicine

While most of the focus on traditional medical practices on this site has been on Traditional Chinese Medicine, and, to a lesser extent, Ayurvedic and Sioux medicine, this only scratches the surface of what’s out there. This post is intended to provide a jumping off point for some of the best resources on the web encompassing a number of ancient medical traditions from around the world.

Benefits of Traditional Approaches

Although the Chinese and Ayurvedic traditions are by far the most comprehensive, representing as they do thousands of years of continuous recorded experimentation, equivalent traditions have existed in almost every culture, and these are slowly being explored and documented. The common denominators among these traditions include not only their concurrence with Hippocrates that food is medicine, but an understanding of the human organism as an integrated physical, energetic, mental, emotional and spiritual being.

From this ancient knowledge comes not only a vast and elaborate pharmacopeia capable of addressing almost any problem the human body can come up with (see the video above for a taste of that), not only a library of other techniques, but an approach which seeks to prevent illness by supporting the immune system and strengthening the body, mind and energy system in a systematic way.


Exploring Traditional/Alternative Medicine

Because of the seeming difference in theoretical assumptions and terminology between Western and traditional medicine, exploring alternative medicine can seem like a chore. Determining whether any practitioner is competent or not is often more than a question of a degree hanging on a wall, though there are many recognised degree programs in the field. There is also the question of distinguishing between real knowledge with centuries of practical validation behind it, and worthless folklore of the type that funds poaching of rare animals for supposed aphrodisiacs. For all of these reasons, it is important to read, compare, get second opinions and at least begin to understand the theoretical underpinnings of the medicine you use. You and only you can ultimately be responsible for your health.


Traditional Chinese Medicine
Articles and information on acupuncture and all aspects of TCM.
Information and articles on the theory, practice and application of TCM. The information ranges from accessible primers for the novice to practitioner-oriented material on diagnosis and treatment.
Site of Daniel Reid, the author of some of the best practical books on health and lifestyle from a TCM perspective.
The Journal of Chinese Medicine, one of the foremost professional publications.
Site of Shou-Yu Liang, prominent and learned exponent of health qigong traditions.

Site of Robyn Landis, coauthor of the excellent traditional health primer Herbal Defense.
Site of Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, Landis’ teacher.

Other Traditions
African Networks on Ethnomedicines, a South Africa-based organisation dedicated to research into local medical knowledge on the continent of Africa. The organisation also runs a peer-reviewed journal (
Tibetan Medicine resources.
Site hosting the texts of a number of classics of the Western herbal tradition.
The Center for Traditional Medicine supports research into indigenous medical traditions of the Americas.

General Sites
In addition to an extensive range of articles on Chinese medicine, the Institute for Traditional Medicine provides information on a range of other Asian traditions, including Ayurveda, Japanese, Mongolian and Southeast Asian traditions.
The Institute of Traditional Medicine (different from above) teaches a range of traditional and integrative approaches, and provides a vast selection of links and resources.
The Centre for International Ethnomedicinal Education and Research is an umbrella organisation for research into local medicinal knowledge worldwide.

Identifying "Spiritual Life Gone Wrong"

Today we begin a two-part series on something at the very heart of the issues of our time all over the world: what happens when religion goes wrong…

In its most extreme forms, we see the results worldwide every day – radical evangelicals preaching violence against gays, a papacy in deep denial over the scale of sexual abuse in its midst, mass rioting and random killings throughout the Muslim world at the mere rumor of an anti-Islamic publication in the West, and the list goes on and on.

Those extreme forms are just symptoms, though.  They’re symptoms whose causes remain largely hidden from us as a civilization because we no longer understand a fundamental truth – not everything that passes itself off as “spiritual” is good, healthy and beneficial.  Far from it…

In fact, as a civilization we’ve become so divorced from real spiritual life that our ability to sort out false spiritual paths from healthy ones is marginal at best.  We no longer know the distinguishing criteria of each, the questions to ask or the tell-tale signs of each.  

In reality, asking most people today to distinguish real spiritual paths from false ones is about as useful as asking a Kalahari bushman for advice on your next family car.  

The Vital Importance of Spiritual Resilience

To get anywhere close to figuring out what spiritual resilience means, we first have to define the word “spiritual”, which is no simple task.  

So let’s put it this way: just as resilience itself is a path toward maximizing your potential on all levels (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual), spiritual resilience is the act of opening yourself to the deepest truths of your existence in this universe so that you can become everything you’re meant to be. 

Not surprisingly, you can never become truly resilient and fulfilled as a human person if you ignore your own spiritual dimension, since that is, in reality, the deepest layer of your own being.

What I’ve called “authentic ancient traditions” in my bestseller, The 5 Pillars of Life*, are ancient, tried and proven approaches for doing exactly this.  And, contrary to what we assume, they have a boatload of evidence to back up the authenticity of their discoveries.  

Religion vs. Authentic Ancient Traditions

Here’s a short excerpt from The 5 Pillars of Life* to help you wrap your head around the differences between what we usually call “religions” and something much deeper:


All fantasies, especially that of religion, are caused by a short-circuit at the centre of the human personality.  This short-circuit, which exists between the heart which pumps blood (the circulatory system) and the spinal cord which circulates spinal fluid (the nervous system) is only repaired by ceaseless prayer in the heart.  It is only when the short-circuit is repaired that you begin to be liberated from the realm of fantasy.
– Rev. Dr. John Romanides in “Religion as a Neurobiological Illness”[i]
Startling, isn’t it?  – A world-renowned Orthodox priest and theologian calling religion a “neurobiological illness”!  But he’s right – Orthodox Christianity is not a religion in the conventional Western sense of that word.  And for that matter, neither are other authentic ancient traditions.  What Westerners conventionally call “religion” is a term that applies almost exclusively to their own approach to life as it has developed historically over the last thousand years or so.
“Religion” in the Western sense the word has a number of particular traits.  And generally speaking these traits apply to the vast majority of Western people who “practice their religion”:
  1. Religious teachings are ideological statements divorced from real life and which people subscribe to based on emotional considerations.  Teachings of authentic traditions are based on an experience of true life, and practitioners adhere to them based on observable verification.  
  1. Religion provides psychological comfort and self justification in the face of its failure to cure psycho-spiritual (noetic) illness.  Authentic traditions take you from sickness to health; religions tell you your sickness is health.
  1. Religion shifts the blame for good and evil, and for the final outcome of life, onto a deity or process (saying, for example, that illness is a punishment from God or that God decides whether to forgive you and send you to heaven or to damn you to hell).  Authentic traditions know that the Absolute Reality never does harm and that the only real danger to us in this world or hereafter comes from ourselves.
  1. Religions and authentic traditions both have a ceremonial aspect or some collective manifestation, but the religious version exists to provide psychological comfort or aesthetic pleasure, whereas the authentic version is there to lead you to self-transformation.
  1. Religion is always reduced to a compartment of life, whereas training in any authentic tradition involves every moment of life.
  1. Religion’s “transformation” of human life is limited to the superficial aspects of the personality, is often based on a tedious list of prohibitions and is geared toward social acceptability.  Religion produces nice people; authentic traditions produce extraordinary ones.
  1. Real self-transformation is not a goal of religion; the knowledge and methods required for self-transformation are absent and there is no access to a lineage of transformed people.  Life degenerates into “salvation by association” (I’m saved because I’m part of the group) and “salvation by conviction” (I’m saved because I hold a particular opinion).
  1. Religion is ignorant of the technical terminology of self-transformation and interprets it in a general and nebulous way.  The religious version of a tradition will seldom have any real idea what the authentic version is talking about, even if they use the same language.   
  1. Religion is comfort-loving and presents no real challenge to its adherents, whereas authentic traditions take you beyond your comfort zone and into realms that religion knows nothing of. 
  1.  Religion abhors mystery and tries to explain everything with concepts.  These concepts can be controlled and manipulated by a cadre of “experts” for the good of the institution, whereas transformed people – saints, immortals or bodhisattvas – are notoriously hard to control.
Given these traits of religion, it is not too surprising that Father Romanides classifies religion as a “neurobiological illness”.  What this means is that religion has its origin in the fallen state – where the neurobiological malfunction characteristic of life in the fallen world has not been healed – and that it perpetuates this unhealed state as if it were normal.  So it is not surprising that religion prevents countless millions of people from finding true fulfillment and happiness.  And like all illness, it leads to untold suffering and misery.

[i] Pages 1-3.  The order of the elements in this quotation has been slightly rearranged for the sake of clarity.  Several Orthodox writers of the twentieth century noted that the word “religion” as commonly used among peoples of  European ethnic origin does not correspond to Orthodox Christianity. 
*The 5 Pillars of Life is available on the website or through

Next time, we’ll talk about some of the real “dark side” of the religion and spirituality that’s out there now – how to identify it and avoid it.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger