Olivier Lejus concludes his series on how Eastern therapies view the influence of emotions.
In last month's column we looked at the concept of emotions in Ayurvedic medicine. This month, I would like to conclude this topic with an overview of Tibetan medicine which is heavily influenced by the spiritual principles of Buddhism.
In Tibetan medicine three main systems control all the body's functions. According to this approach, these three systems of the body were created at different stages of our development by an interaction between the mind and the physical elements which occurred in the womb before our birth.
Each of us is closely connected to one of the three humors, lhung (wind), tippa (bile) and bheygan (phlegm).
The first humor, lhung (wind) is related to the circulation of essential substances in the body, and its emotional component is attachment, desire and materialism.
The second system, tippa or bile, is connected with the liver function, and our metabolism. Its emotional component is expressed through aggression, hatred or anger.
The last of these three systems, bheygan or phlegm, provides the body's lubrification, and facilitates the digestive process; its emotional component manifests as ignorance.
In Tibetan medicine, the body is the physical expression of mental energies which are generated by the brain. Thus Tibetan medicine believes there is a strong psychosomatic relationship in many forms of illness.
Tibetan medicine recognises that hatred, anger, and aggression, as well as ignorance and a materialistic view of the world, are the root of our suffering. As we improve our attitudes and reduce our anger, lust and greed, our humoral imbalances improve.
In Buddhism and Tibetan Medicine, it is through study and spiritual practices such as meditation that we can develop an understanding and awareness to eventually transcend our discontent and discover inner peace.
The concept of karma is that every action sows its seed in our mind and will eventually ripen in accordance to its nature. As such, no experience is seen as without cause. Consequently, whatever we do, think, or say has an effect.
One of the foundations of Buddhist teachings is called the four noble truths.
The first principle is the acceptance of suffering, the acknowledgement that pain, sickness and death are part of the eternal cycle of life. This leads us to the concept of impermanence, the acknowledgment that everything we experience, whether good or bad, will eventually pass.
In order to reach happiness, we must realise that a lot of our discontent is the result of our refusing to let go of good or bad memories. We must recognise that change is essential to life, and adapting to changes in life is essential for survival and happiness.
The second truth is that suffering is the result of our constant craving for material and physical pleasures. It is only by recognising that greed enslaves us that we will be free to discover compassion and generosity.
The third noble truth in Buddhism is that suffering will end through the cessation of all negative emotions. Such emotions are those that create some unhappiness and that, in the long run, result in negative actions. Those actions ultimately lead us to harm others, which in return brings pain or suffering to ourselves. One of the strongest negative emotions we routinely experience is anger - unfortunately increasingly common due to the stressful conditions in which we live.
Nevertheless, even anger can sometimes have a positive effect and be transformed into a positive emotion. A case in point is trying to help someone close to us who unfortunately doesn't heed our warning about his or her actions. Due to compassionate motivation, our anger may in this case be useful because it gives us extra energy to act quickly to protect these people from harming themselves.
Unfortunately, anger can gradually develop into hatred, which is extremely damaging for the person feeling this emotion as they are always the one who suffers the most.
Ultimately, to improve our wellbeing, we must come to realise that everything we experience in life can have the potential to create frustration or dissatisfaction in us. Unfortunately, experiences are part of reality and existence. So this leaves us with only one option - to change our own attitude.
A perfect example is the experience of having an enemy. This can be acknowledged as something that affects our mental peace and makes us profoundly unhappy. In contrast, we can regard it as an opportunity to practise patience and tolerance. If we take this viewpoint, we can then look on our enemy as our greatest teacher.
We can apply this same principle to any factors that cause discontent in our lives. By thinking along these lines we can eventually reduce our negative emotions and reach a state of inner peace of mind.
Tibetan medicine teaches us that one of the most effective means to help us overcome the force of negative emotions is to cultivate their opposites, which are the positive qualities of love and compassion.
Realistically, this will not come overnight. But with steady practice we will soon experience changes in our emotional behaviour to reach a state of calmness and serenity, and a happier and healthier life.
Olivier Lejus MHSc (TCM), BHSc (acup.) is an accredited acupuncturist practising in Sydney.