Otto Hanus

Understanding and change

Basic elements of Tibetan Medical Philosophy in Art-Therapy

My encounter with Tibetan philosophy of medicine in connection with art therapy goes back to the year 1965. At that time a meditation without an object (Mahamudra) resulted in a strange drawing (Picture 1). My questions referring to this picture – what is it, where does it come from, what does it mean? – were the beginning of a humanely orientated art therapy, which is based on Tibetan medical philosophy. According to my phenomenological studies the following summary version does not completely correspond with current interpretations.

Picture 1

Tibetan medicine is based on philosophical and cosmological thinking, the basis of this being the three universal principles: Chi, Schara, Badgan and their manifestations. The conventional presentations of these three principles are in the form of air, gall and slime which are analogous to spirit, life and matter (logic of resemblance). By distilling the underlying functions out of these simple images we get a differentiated message: the Chi principle of structuring and shaping; Schara, the principle of movement and transformation and Badgan, the principle of persistence and solidity. (Diagram 1).

Diagram 1

According to Tibetan medical philosophy these three parts of the universal principles are again subdivided into three further aspects, so that there is a Chi-, Schara- and Badgan-aspect of Chi- , Schara- and Badgan principles. All nine variations of these aspects appear in forms of various phenomena (forms of manifestation). According to this concept the whole universe in its various appearances can be understood as a diversity of manifestations of these principles and their aspects (diagram 2). This also applies to the human being who is composed of spiritual, psychic and material processes. The human spiritual processes find their expression in the cognitive processes of speech, thought and imagination. Psychic processes are realized in emotive proceedings through feelings, emotions and sensations. Material processes appear in all functions concerning the body. According to nomenclature cognitive, psychic and physical manifestations are based on structuring, moving and solidifying phenomena.

Diagram 2

A vertical model of the pattern of this nine-fold structure (diagram 3) shows the so-called stages of existence or creation (levels of manifestations) in which those phenomena appear. Creation starts at stage zero of the senseless space-time. It solidifies in the first stage of cosmic enlightenment and culminates at the seventh stage of the spirit and psyche. From here in the eighth stage abstract, logical, ethical, moral and transcendental phenomena unfold which pervade existence.

In Tibetan medicine illness is considered to be a disturbance of the functional balance (homeostasis) of the three universal principles and their aspects. Healing happens when the functional balance is re-established. Medicine is chosen according to these principles. Everything that helps to influence this balance is called medicine. In this context “medicine” is summed up as a “means for healing”. These means are not only material (Badgan), but also include dynamic (Schara) and spiritual (Chi) medicine. Consequently, medically and philosophically based treatment might be based on material, psychic and spiritual remedies. In everyday Western understanding, medicine includes material products only. At this point we leave the principle of the material manifestation of medicine and enter the area of non-material phenomena and their application in therapy.

Diagram 3

In the traditional practise of Tibetan medicine there are five forms of treatment: diet; medicine made from plants, animals, minerals and metallic substances; physical treatments (massage, spas, blood-letting, moxa, cupping, etc.); instructions for changes in behaviour and habits; rituals for exorcism. The choice of treatment inclusive of all the substances to be used, as well as the time of the day or year when it is to take place, results from the correlation to the model of Chi-Schara-Badgan theory. Extreme forms of psychic and spiritual disturbances are explained by phenomena of obsession. Means of exorcism help to free the patient of his obsession. Only after almost twenty years of study has the Tibetan healer learnt the necessary knowledge about ana-logical causality. They say that only then will he have enough understanding of the relationships to be able to apply them in practice.

The medical philosophical teachings include a sphere of demoniac and non-demoniac spirits, as well as a functional understanding of spiritual and psychic matters. The possibilities for reason and change i.e. for change as a result of understanding, are found in the higher levels of the Chi-Schara-Badgan aspects. In order to use them you need suitable structures to stimu-late processes that lead to structure, solution, transformation and stabilization (diagram 4).

Diagram 4

They aim at causing reactions which influence the abstract world of thought, the psychic and emotive world and the materialization in a physically orientated real world of action and behaviour. At this stage a method is used that is based on the following aspects: rational and emotive Art-Therapy. The rational works with possibilities of the logical and ana-logical thinking and imagination. The emotive deals with emotions, feelings, the world of moods and most of all, the function of the differentiating perception. The art enables realization in forms of creative processes of materialization (Diagram 5).

Diagram 5

The basis of rational and emotive art therapy is the non-representative picture. There are many common aspects between meditations without objects and non-representative pictures. In both cases external objects (things) are withdrawn from the perception which is instead directed towards internal phenomena that always appear in form of qualities and/or processes. The self of a human being, for example, does not exist as a representative object or painting. It is a complex of functions. These are present at every moment of perception in the form of current momentary impressions. It is possible to express these impressions directly in a non- representative picture. In meditation without objects it is also important to separate perception from both outside and inside images until you reach the experience of non-representative self- awareness. Every attempt to express these impressions in the form of an object (e.g. in the form of a flower, a tree or any other representative picture) would not be an immediate view, nor direct perception, but associative reification, which is not the self. The self is not a tree. It is a temporary (but eventually recurring) experience of qualities. In rational and emotive art therapy the creative projection of such a non-representative experience of the self is called egogram.

Within the framework of the Chi-Schara-and Badgan teaching the non-representative picture is the manifestation of a process in which all aspects are involved. The task of drawing ones sense of self as a non-representative picture initiates a process where intuitive and an-logical thinking, differentiating feelings and creative manifestations are crossed with each other and thus result in the non-representative picture. Let me illustrate this correlation with a simple example. Try to create a tender feeling (for instance through an appropriate memory). As soon as you are aware of this feeling draw an angular and hard line. Two experiences are possible. Either the line is not hard and angular, or it is, but then Your feeling has completely changed in the moment of drawing.

The concept of rational and emotive art therapy is trying to create transformation by means of understanding for those who have lost the experience of being whole. The extent to which manifestations accomplished within a particular micro-system of the spirit-mind image improve understanding of their macro-system, or social reality of life, will depend on each individual’s responsibility for their own carmic potential.

© Otto Hanus 2000

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