Monday, September 7, 2015

Mystic, Shaman, Oracle, Priest (MYSHOP) - a book review

A joint review with the Chinese medicine scholar & friend Dr. Phil Garrison
about Dr. Michael Saso's newly released book 

Pecheva: Based on many years of in-depth study and profound experience of several different spiritual traditions, the new book by Professor Michael Saso, Mystic, Shaman, Oracle, Priest (MYSHOP), provides many high-level insights and discloses some rare details about the spiritual practices described therein. It is written sincerely, in a unique multi-layered style, with many interesting personal anecdotes interspersed between the various spiritual teachings.

1d. Yamada Eitai Ozasu Goma
Yamada Eitai Sama offering the Goma (Agni-hotra) fire rite
   The author takes us on a sacred journey, where we encounter practicing Daoist masters from China and Taiwan, Buddhist monks in Tibet and Japan, and an assortment of other priests, mystics, mediums and spiritual healers from around the world. Readers will experience a Piegan-Blackfoot medicine dance in Montana and sacred Cham dances in Tibet, meet a charismatic mudang shaman in Korea and danggi trance mediums in Taiwan, perform the Agni-Hotra fire rite in Japan, and survey sacred heiau sites in Hawai'i with a Kahuna.
Garrison: Professor Saso's engaging narrative style brings the reader on a cross-cultural pilgrimage. Beginning with the author's own experiences as a Jesuit novice in California, we travel with him to different parts of the world to encounter masters from different faiths and traditions.
Daoist Master Zhuang
Daoist Master Zhuang

   I was particularly captivated by the section on Daoism, since I visited Long Hu Shan several years ago while in China. Those who have read The Teachings of Daoist Master Zhuang will feel right at home, as we are once again transported to Zhuang's residence in Taiwan. In addition to containing transcriptions of the author's conversations with Zhuang, this section also chronicles Professor Saso's quest to return a number of sacred texts to their rightful monasteries. These texts were smuggled out of China and brought to Taiwan by Lin Rumei in 1868-1869. The task was appointed to Lin by the 61st Celestial Master of Long Hu Shan monastery, who had a prophetic vision that the texts would be destroyed if they remained in China. The texts eventually made their way to Master Zhuang's maternal grandfather, and they were passed down to Zhuang, whose dying request was that Professor Saso return them to their monastic homes in China. We travel with the author on his historic quest, visiting the monasteries and monks at Mao Shan, Long Hu Shan, and Wu Dang Shan.

Pecheva: To those who are interested in the Yijing (Book of Changes), MYSHOP discloses details that are seldom found elsewhere. Professor Saso provides a thorough explanation of how the principles of the Yijing are used in Daoist meditation and ritual — from the sacred Daoist dance of the eight trigrams (the “steps of Yu”), to the four coded mantic words in the Yijing (元亨利贞) and their relation to the four stages of Daoist meditation, to the eight trigrams as the eight steps of cyclical change in Nature.

Garrison: The four coded mantic words in the Yijing were fascinating to me. I was particularly intrigued by this section, because all four words occur in the first two hexagrams: Qian (pure yang) and Kun (pure yin). Moreover, the meanings of these four words closely correspond to the four seasons which, themselves, are a tangible expression of the ebb and flow of yin and yang. Although many scholars have written about the seasonal aspects of the Yijing, the explanation of the four coded mantic words is unique to MYSHOP. The fact that the first two hexagrams contain all four mantic code words is particularly significant...almost as though the hexagrams themselves are speaking to us and revealing their secrets! In Professor Saso's words: “The Yijing uses the 64 simple statements, written at the beginning of each hexagram, as a coded way to respond to external change, and keep our hearts in harmony with nature (p. 59).”

Ikkyu, the great 15th c. koan master 
Pecheva: In addition to the Daoist tradition, Michael Saso's book explores the works of Teresa de Avila, Juan de la Cruz, Ignatius of Loyola, Lao Zi, Farid ud-Din Attar, Moses de Leon, and others. With deep respect to all sacred teachings, the author points out that apophatic (no-word, no-judgement) prayer and meditation is shared by many faiths and traditions, and represents the best path to inner—and world—peace. Professor Saso defines “the basic structure of a universally valid apophatic path (p. 35),” as:

1. Cleansing all negative words and judgement
2. Filling the mind with sacred images
3. Emptying the mind of all images
4. Union with Transcendent, absolute presence

Garrison: It is also noteworthy that the author includes a few caveats for potential travelers of the apophatic path. He acknowledges the commercialization of certain spiritual practices in the West, and the rise of “meditation-for-profit” teachers. He dispels the myths surrounding popular Western ideas like “The Dao of Sex,” and reminds would-be “shamans” that shamanic initiation traditionally comes in the form of a near-death experience, or prolonged periods of intense suffering. In the world of MYSHOP, spirituality cannot be bought, or learned from a weekend course—perhaps the hardest lesson to accept in our modern society of instant gratification.  In the author's own words:
"Sometimes I think that China does much more to preserve its minority cultures and languages than does the United States. The various ethnic cultures of Yunnan, the Muosuo, Nakhi, Pumi, Aini, Miao-Hmong, Yao-Mien, and others, all maintain their own unique languages and cultures. Their languages are taught in the universities of China. In the Pacific Northwest of the United States, only the Crow and Kootenai languages seem to be intact. Medicine and so-called shaman practices have survived better in popular movies and fiction". (p. 158).
The climax of the "deer dance", celebrated at Ta-er-si monastery, Qinghai, north Tibet
  Let us hope that the experiences and wisdom of Professor Michael Saso will inspire future generations to keep these practices alive in their authentic, non-commodified, form.

Pecheva: On a deeper level, Mystic, Shaman, Oracle, Priest serves as a mantra that brings wisdom, light and blessings to its readers. The deep wisdom it contains encourages the reader to practice apophatic meditation and be at peace with oneself, humanity, and the world.  

Special thanks to Professor Michael Saso for providing the photos that appear alongside this review.

The book can be ordered directly from the author and his website:


                                                 About Guest Blogger Dr. Phil Garrison  

Dr. Phil Garrison, DAOM, earned his master's degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from Five Branches University (Santa Cruz, CA), with a focus on the Han-dynasty medical classics. In 2014, he completed his doctoral work at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine (San Diego, CA), where his doctoral research focused on the Huang Di Nei Jing. Dr. Garrison is a former Herbal Consultant at K’an Herb Company (Santa Cruz, CA) and a former Instructor of Chinese Herbalism at Five Branches University (Santa Cruz, CA). He currently practices Chinese herbalism in the San Diego area, is the Chief Science Officer at Immortality Alchemy, and teaches Chinese medical classics in the doctoral program at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine. You can read Dr. Phil Garrison's blog with many unique articles and interviews at the link here:

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The Teachings of Daoist Master Zhuang - a book review

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Daoist advice on the refugee issues around the world

The Daoist advice on the refugee issues around the world:
"Relieve people in distress as speedily as you must release a fish from a dry rill.
Save people from danger as quickly as you must free a sparrow from a tight noose!

Compassionate and kind, the state government must be devoted to the salvation of the people. Let your heart be impartial, tolerant and wide!"


 -- excerpt from "Scripture of Hidden Retributions by Imperial Lord Wen Chang" 


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Visiting Baan Hom Samunphrai Thai Medicine School

In the "Sweet-smelling flower" district (Saraphi) of Chiang Mai
Is the House of sweet smelling herb
Where lives doctor Homprang,
Collecting sweet-smelling herbs and  
teaching students how to heal with them. 

    Last month, during my stay in Thailand, I had the opportunity to visit Baan Hom Samunphrai - a well-known Thai medicine school located in Chiang Mai. The director, Homprang Chaleekanha, grew up in a small village on the Thai-Burmese border and first learned Thai folk medicine from her grandmother who was the herbalist, doctor and midwife for the local community.  It is a truly unique experience, a knowledge accumulated for centuries and passed orally from generation to generation.  

    D-r Homprang is among the first Thai Traditional Medicine Healers to be fully accredited by the government. To pass the governmental exams is not easy. Many folk healers in Thailand experience great difficulties with these exams as they include questions related to modern medicine and science. Also, a folk healer may know how a certain herb looks when it's fresh, but may not be able to recognize it in a dry form or to know its scientific name.  Now d-r Homprang is frequently visited by Western botanists and herbalists, Chinese medicine profesionals and massage therapists from around the world.

  During my talk with d-r Homprang,  I was impressed by her vast knowledge and openness to share with the others, her unpretentious attitude, inner strength and charisma. 

   D-r Homprang
says that one of the principles in Thai medicine is to never take medicine after sunset. Except cases of immergency, all medicinal herbs are taken only during the day, i.e. after sunrise and before sunset. 
   Another interesting point is that while seeing the patient and making the diagnosis, the Thai medicine healers in the past took into consideration the astrological chart of the patient. By doing this, the healer could try to improve the overall balance of the elements with the use of herbs and other methods.  
  There is no moxibustion in Thai medicine, however the hot herbal compresses and the herbal steam baths play an important role in the healing and are frequently used.  Fresh ginger rhizome, turmeric root, galangal rhizome, camphor crystals, tamarind leaves, kaffir lime, eucalyptus leaves and lemon grass are some of the main ingredients. They all are very aromatic and penetrate into the body rendering wonderful healing effect.  

     The Thai oil massage involves the use of a huge variety of oils from fruits, flowers, seeds and herbs, each possessing its specific healing properties. "The sesame oil goes deeper in the body than the other oils. That is why it is used in the treatment of broken bones." - explains d-r Homprang. - "In our herbal compresses we sometimes also add sesame seeds to strengthen the bones and cure joint problems."

the altar with the statues of Buddha and Shivaga Komarapaj 
in the study hall ("sala") at Baan Hom Samunphrai
      At the beginning of each and every treatment, the Thai medicine practitioners recite a prayer to invoke the spirit of Shivaga Komarapaj , known in India as Jivaka Kumar Bhaccha - Buddha's personal doctor, called "the father of Buddhist medicine". Cultivating Metta (Loving Kindness) and respect toward the patients and the world is part of the traditional medical education in Thailand.
   "Before you start the work, first say a mantra for protection. Thai massage always begins with a pray. With the special mantra, you pay respect to the spirits in the patient's body. If there are any outside spirits that invaded the body, with this mantra you kindly ask them to leave. It will also protect the healer as well." -  explains d-r Homprang. 

D-r Homprang shows to my friend Dani the body diagram
in the Thai Therapeutic Massage course notebook.
"You must work with love! 
The root of Thai massage is within Thai culture -
- you have to do it slowly, with love, respect and patience." 
-- says d-r Homprang
D-r Homprang has students from different parts of the world.  One of them, Teune van der Wildt,  is an experienced yoga instructor and Thai medicine practitioner from Belgium. Currently he is doing 6-month internship with d-r Homprang at Baan Hom Samunphrai. 

On the photo: Teune pressing a point useful for all lumbar related issues (BL 40 wei zhong in Chinese medicine) during the Advanced Therapeutic Thai Massage class. He welcomes everyone to the yoga retreat he is organizing in early August:
10-day yoga retreat in August at Baan Hom Samunphrai

Christopher talking about the symbolism of the Boddhi tree and its heart-shaped leaves.

Christopher Woodman, the husband of d-r Homprang, is an American poet, who has studied at some of the most prestigious universities in the West -  Yale, Columbia and Cambridge; has been Chairman of the Cambridge Buddhist Society and worked with Akong Rimpoche and Chogyam Trungpa at Samye Ling  - the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the West. With all his rich experience, creative mind and talents, he prefers to remain humble and says that he is still an amateur in everything.  
You can read some of his poems here:

  Christopher shows us the shrine of Ganesha. You can see that in this statue Ganesha has a broken tusk.  Where did it go? - one may ask. Well, as Christopher explains, the broken tusk is now used as a pestle for crushing fresh herbs in the mortar at the school:
"He holds a mortar in his left hand and a pestle in his right in order to prepare herbal medicines for sufferers. The pestle is, in fact, Ganesha's broken right tusk which he willingly sacrifices for our well-being. And he often writes with it too, helpful words, needless to say -- for openness, generosity and encouragement are his gifts."
  My group of friends enjoyed the beautiful garden at Baan Hom Samunphrai. Some of them had a herbal steam bath, while others relaxed near the fountain and read Christopher's poetry.
Enjoying delicious vegan lunch at Baan Hom Samunphrai

    Baan Hom Samunphrai is definitely a place where one wants to visit again and again, to learn more and enjoy the wonderful garden, the excellent food and the company of good friends.
Here posting the website and the contact details of d-r Homprang and Christopher:

tel.  053-817-362 (English),  tel.  081.885.1429 (d-r Homprang - direct)

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