10 November 2005

LIfe-force in Hahnemann's thought and in Judaism

The life force is an essential concept in homeopathy. According to Hahnemann: "in health, a spirit-like force 'enlivens' an individual; the rational spirit is free to use the self as an instrument to achieve the higher purpose of existence" (9). It is not clear to me thus far if the life force, in Hahnemann's view, tends towards the higher purpose of life or if this is something that completely comes from the rational spirit. I expect this is something that will become more clear to me as I have the opportunity to become familiar with Hahnehann's thought.

In Judaic thought (as I understand it) "life force" is more or less synomonous with "soul". The soul is conceptualized as having five levels of progressive refinement:
  • The first level, NEFESH, is very subjective and focused on self; this subjectiveness blurs awareness of G@D***
  • The next level, RUACH, is described as emotional awareness
  • NESHAMA, the third level, represents passive creative imagination and active creative thought.
  • On the fourth level, CHAYYIAH, life experience is connected to G@D
  • On the fifth level, YECHIDAH, the soul is unified with G@D ^^^
The soul is felt to be given by G@D (which is the ultimate good), and with refinement the soul becomes progressively able to appreciate this good. The purpose of existence on a human plane is to create a receptacle for G@D on the physical plane.

In Hahnemann's thought, since the disease, the medicine, and the life force are all active on the same plane, the way to influence the life force and heal the suffering life force is through medication. The medicine is stronger than the disease, but resonates with a similar pattern. When the medicine is administered, it grabs and subsumes the disease like a larger flame would subsume a smaller flame. The medicine is not self-perpetuating and its resonance will die away, taking the disease which it has subsumed with it and leaving the life force of the individual to function normally.

The flame analogy has been used in Judiasm to describe the connection between the soul and G@D. In proverbs, 20:27 it is written: "A light from G@D is the soul of man, revealing all man's innermost parts." A jew is commanded to love G@D with all one's heart, all one's soul, and all one's resources. This is accomplished through patterns of individual and group behavior and prayer. Examples of behavior:
  • ceasing from labor and experiencing a day of rest, peace, and enjoyment one day a week
  • guarding speech to avoid saying bad things about other people (because speech has creative power)
  • making blessings before and after eating
Examples of some individual prayers include;
  • upon arising: "I give thanks before you, living and eternal ruler, for you have returned with me my NISHMATI with compassion, abundant is your faithfulness!"
  • upon putting on the prayer shawl: "I am ready to wrap my body in the prayer shawl, so may be wrapped NISHMATI and my organs and sinews in the illumination of the prayer shawl...rescued may my NAFSHI, my RUHI, my NISHMATI and my prayer be from the external forces...."
  • as part of the morning prayers: "My G@D the NESHAMA you have placed within me is pure. You created it, you fashioned it, you breathed it into me, you safeguard it within me, and you will eventually take it from me and restore it to me in the time to come. All the time that the soul is within me I give thanks before you G@D and the got of my ancestor, master of all works, lord of all souls. Blessed are you who restores souls to the bodies that are dead."
There are probably parallels between the mechanism of homeopathic homeopathic medicine in transformation of the life force as described by Hahnemann's and some very ancient Judaic healing practices. This would be a great topic for further exploration as I go through my training.

***(I'm writing G@D with a symbol "@" in place of the "O", because Jews don't believe that the concept of G@D can be expressed by anything having the limitations inherent in a single human-uttered word. Jews therefore have a practice of not saying or writing the word, lest we begin to accept G@D as a principle limited by the word "GOD". Very pious people will just say "ha-shem" (translation--"the name") when they want to refer to G@D. I have found this to be a very nice practice for getting rid of any pre-conceived notions one has about G@D)

(This is from Mishnah Rabbah, Genesis 14:11 by way of Rabbi Gershon Winkler in "The Soul of the Matter, Judaica Press, Brooklyn, NY, 1981, p7).

How are symptoms used in homeopathy?

Symptoms must be present in order to use a homeopathic approach (aphorism 13). Each homeopathic medicine will cause particular symptoms in healthy people, and this disease-engendering power" indicates the particular medicine's particular "disease-curing power" (20, 21). A medicine which causes a particular symptom complex in healthy individuals is given to an ill individual exhibiting this symptom complex. When illness is cured (and "integrity" of the life force is restored), the symptoms disappear (12).

"Disease" in Homeopathy vs. Allopathy

Hahnemann writes quite disparingly (and entertainingly) of the "calamatious art" of "allopathy". He coined this term for the standard academic form of medicine practiced in the Western world during his lifetime, 1755-1843. He write that the goal of "allopathic" medicine is to supress symptoms with medicines that oppose them. This is in contrast to "homeopathy", which treats disease with medicines which would create symptoms similar to those a particular disease in a healthy individual. Hahnemann faults "allopaths" for losing site of the goal of "curing" the patient in their quest to intellectually understand the cause of the disease, and for failing to see that superficial symptoms as the result of an underlying process. He characterizes the allopathic conception of disease as a wholly material one which fails to grasp and adress underlying dynamic processes.

It is easy to share Hahnemann's disgust with the crude medical techniques of his time such as bloodletting and the use of hazardous substances such as mercury in high concentrations. It is problematic, however, to operate under the assumption that medicine has not evolved over the past 150 years and to therefore generalize Hahnemann's descriptions of "allopathic" medicine to conventional medicine as practiced today. As a fairly recently trained and practicing MD, while some of Hahnemann's descriptions strike a familiar note, it is difficult for me to see medicine in such a black and white way. I'm not sure that "allopathy" as described by Hahnemann actually exists today in practice. The most striking similarity for me is medicine's preoccupation with describing disease processes intellectually and sometimes losing site of the goal of curing the patient.

Hahnemann describes disease as a (aphorism #s in parentheses) a "spirit-like force" (16) which works through a "morbific agent inimical to life" (11) "disturbing" (8), "mistuning" (10) and causing the life force to "suffer" (7). A disease "disturbs health (4), leads to "irregular functioning and symptoms (11), and prevents the "rational spirit" from using the self "as an instrument to achieve higher purpose of existence (9). Diseases are "not separate from the living whole"(13). They do not have "absolute power", but only affect individuals who are "exactly and sufficiently disposed ...to be assailed (31) In addition, they are weaker than properly chosen and diluted homeopathic medicines(27).

Some of what Hahnemann describes as techniques of the physician such as "removing obstacles to recovery" (3) and taking into account, "constitution, character, occupation, lifestyle, relationships, age, activities" (5) are not the sole providence of homeopathy. Good lifestyle practices like a healthy diet and physical activity do not create disease in healthy people and are therefore not homeopathic and are utilized by many types of clinicians. Similarly, a good clinician would take many characteristics of the patient into account during diagnosis and treatment, but a non-homeopath would use this information differently than a homeopath.