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Why is it significant to look at Daoist and Buddhist five-element paradigms together?

Updated: Feb 29, 2020

Tibetan Buddhist mandala - or map - of reality

depicting the five wisdoms as colors:

yellow, red, green, blue (black), and white.

The five-element paradigm - or cosmology - is thousands of years old and was widely known throughout Asia, from Korea to China, India, and southeast Asia. As a theory, it is foundational to Ayurvedic medicine, Chinese medicine, Tibetan medicine, and Tibetan Buddhism, to name a few traditions. Of the medical systems within the discipline of Chinese medicine, the classical Five-Element Acupuncture tradition has preserved an unparalleled depth of understanding about the five elements. It tells us a great deal about physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health and well-being. It describes how we manifest and maintain healthy ego, and the necessity of doing so. From this tradition we gain singular insight into diversity of experience, stages of development, and cycles of experience. The science of acupuncture translates this knowledge into a comprehensive medical discipline.

Tibetan Buddhism is an equally sophisticated cosmology. This is a five-wisdom tradition born of an exacting, scholarly examination of reality derived from the centuries-old discipline of meditation. It provides essential knowledge about how we know and experience ourselves and reality with profound insight into the complexity of mind. The five-wisdom tradition articulates our path of growth from ego and cyclical experience to becoming fully conscious, or awake, human beings.

At different points in history, particularly the period between 1,200 to 800 years ago, the Chinese Daoist and Tibetan Buddhist traditions enjoyed tremendous cross-fertilization. Tibetan meditation masters and scholars were valued teachers to the Emperors at imperial Chinese courts. While both traditions have taken root in the west in the last 50 years, as of yet they remain separate and distinct disciplines here.

The knowledge I have gained from study and practice within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition provides continual practical insight to my five-element acupuncture work with patients. The courses I teach reflect my intention to pass these insights to a new generation of acupuncture practitioners.

According to the Tibetan five-wisdom tradition,

the order in which the elements dissolve after death.

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