Notes to Poem:
Physician Treating Patient

Peter Y. Chou

Commentary on Poem "Physician Treating Patient":

Is the human body like a machine
so when we're ill, a physician treats us
like a mechanic repairing broken parts

Body as Machine (1926)
Dr. Fritz Kahn (1888-1968) was a world-famous popular science writer who illustrated the form and function of the human body with spectacular, modern man-machine analogies. Fritz Kahn's books and illustrations explored the inner machinery of the human body, using metaphors of modern industrial life. Kahn turned the brain into a complex factory with light projectors, conveyor belts, secretaries and cinema screens; he showed the journeys of blood cells as locomotives encircling the globe; and he compared bones to modern building materials such as reinforced concrete. In the 1920s, his magnum opus, Das Leben des Menschen (Life of Man)— a five-volume series— was renowned as a German accomplishment of global repute. In the 1930s, his books were banned and burned by the Nazis because of his Jewish background. He escaped Germany with help from Albert Einstein, by immigrating to the U.S. where he continued his career as a bestselling author. In 2010, the Berlin Medical Historical Museum exhibited Kahn's graphic illustrations that attracted over 24,000 visitors. Photo Sources: Man as Machine (; Biology of Smell (
Fritz Kahn, "Biology of Smell" (1926)

or is our body like a plant needing
a gardener's care with sunshine & water
to bring a wilted flower back to life?

Body as Plant
The earliest metaphor for the body as plant is from Plato's Timaeus 90a (360 BC): "we are a plant not of an earthly but of a heavenly growth, raises us from earth to our kindred who are in heaven. And in this we say truly; for the divine power suspended the head and root of us from that place where the generation of the soul first began, and thus made the whole body upright." The Flemish physician Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564) wrote one of the most influential books on human anatomy. In De humani corporis fabrica (On the Structure of the Human Body) (1543), Vesalius noted that our teeth, nails, and hairs have roots; the spinal nerve is one of several with a root. In Book 3 of Fabrica, the lower portal veins were illustrated with rootlike, floral and branchlike in appearance. The heart and its surrounding tissues were rendered as a cauliflower with surrounding leaves. Vesalius' terminology reminded readers of Fabrica of the plantlike nature of the body's parts. Photo Sources: Body as Plant (; Woman watering plant (
Gardener watering flowers

Albert Schweitzer confides that physicians
have no real power in curing their patients
but it's nature doing the healing with time.

Gabon C1, 200 francs airmail stamp
issued on July 23, 1960 to honor
medical missionary Dr. Albert Schweitzer
Dr. Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) was a German-French theologian, organist, philosopher, physician, and medical missionary. He received the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize for his philosophy of "Reverence for Life", expressed in many ways, but most famously in founding and sustaining the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Lambaréné, now in Gabon, west central Africa. Schweitzer was busy at his hospital and did not deliver his Nobel Lecture until two years later in Oslo on November 4, 1954. Schweitzer is one of my early spiritual mentors. It is through him that I got to know Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who also inspired me greatly. Schweitzer delivered the Goethe Bicentennial Address in Aspen, Colorado (July 6, 1949). In reading Norman Cousins' biography Dr. Schweitzer of Lambaréné (1960), I was surprised at Schweitzer's humility saying that physicians don't heal their patients, but it's nature that is doing the real healing with time (full text). Photo Source: Gabon C1 (

He could repair skin wounds and broken bones
but when natives complain about jungle fears
Schweitzer sends them to the village witch doctor.

Dr. Schweitzer of Lambaréné
By Norman Cousins (1960)
While physicians can treat physical wounds efficiently, mental problems require a psychiatrist's care. The African witch doctor or medicine man can perform rituals, chants and incantations that is as effective as Western psychiatrists. Schweitzer understood this and treated those natives accordingly (pp. 37, 87-92, 148). Quotes on African witch doctor from book— "The rational-minded Westerner finds it easy to scoff at the hold of the fetisher over many Africans. But before we give ourselves too much credit, we ought to take into account the countless millions spent each year in America and Europe on mediums, bogus doctors, tea-leaf readers, numerologists, astrologists,... the witch doctors can point to people they have treated who have become well again. The human body has an amazing capacity for overcoming both natural illness and mistreatment by those who profess to cure... the witch doctor has had and still has vast power in many parts of Africa. And his exploits are sufficiently dramatic for him to maintain the myth of his magic." (p. 88)
Photo Source: Dr. Schweitzer of Lambaréné ( edited extensively in Photoshop (

Now I'm at a "Minds & Medicines" seminar
at Stanford listening to Dr. Victoria Sweet
talking about her book God's Hotel

Dr. Victoria Sweet
I left Foothill College Middlefield Lab at 4 pm and took Bus #35, Bus #22, and Palm Express Bus to the Stanford Oval. I got to Anthropology Department's Building 50 next to Memorial Church just in time for the 5:30 pm talk. The "Cultures, Minds and Medicines" Seminar in Conference Room 51A was packed with around 50 people. I found an empty seat at the long table to better take notes. Prof. Tanya Marie Luhrmann introduced Dr. Victoria Sweet, telling us that she studied at Stanford as well as her father and grandfather. Her book recounts her observations at San Francisco's Laguna Honda Hospital and also her spiritual pilgrimage to Santiago in Spain. Before her talk, Dr. Sweet asked me whether we've met before. I told her that until yesterday, I had no idea who she was or her book. I was fascinated by her article in the Wall Street Journal about Hildegard von Bingen, because I too was inspired by this 12th century mystic-nun.
God's Hotel (2012)
Photo Sources: Dr. Victoria Sweet (; God's Hotel (

how she went to Laguna Honda Hospital
for two-months and remained for 20 years
practicing slow medicine and patient care.

Laguna Honda Hospital (San Francisco)
In her talk, Victoria Sweet said that she didn't think of herself as a natural doctor, and was not interested in touching sick people. At the end of her senior year at Stanford, she read Carl Gustav Jung's autobiography Memoirs, Dreams, Reflections (1963), and decided to become a Jungian psychiatrist. Laguna Honda Hospital provides long term care and rehabilitation services to seniors and adults with disabilities in San Francisco, CA. In the early 1990s, they offered her a 2-months position as Admitting Doctor. This 62-acres hospital had a bell tower with turrets, wards like the Middle Ages. The 1170 patients were tough and hardy with every disease you could imagaine. They were the fattest and skinnest, nicest and meanest. It was a challenge to take care of them that she stayed on for 20 years. She learned that medicine is a personal relationship between physician and patient. Photo source: Laguna Honda Hospital (

She learned from the 12th century mystic nun
Hildegard von Bingen about viriditas
"greening power" & brewed her herbs to treat

Illumination from the Liber Scivias
showing Hildegard receiving a vision
& dictating to her scribe and secretary
Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) was a German writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, Benedictine abbess, visionary, and polymath. She wrote botanical and medicinal texts, as well as letters, liturgical songs, and poems, while supervising brilliant miniature illuminations. Hildegard also wrote Physica, a natural sciences text, and Causae et Curae. Hildegard was well known for her healing powers involving practical application of tinctures, herbs, and precious stones. Hildegard described the natural world around her, the cosmos, animals, plants, stones, and minerals. She combined these elements with a theological notion ultimately derived from Genesis: all things put on earth are for the use of humans. She is particularly interested in the healing properties of plants, animals, and stones, though she also questions God's effect on man's health. One example of her healing powers was curing the blind with use of Rhine water. Photo source: Hildegard von Bingen (; O Noblissima Viriditas (
Hildegard von Bingen's music
O Noblissima Viriditas
Choral Songs (1996)

those patients at Laguna and they got well
because she listened closely to their pains
and problems that speeded up their healing.

Nightingale Ward, Laguna Honda Hospital
After studying Chinese medicine and Hindu ayurvedic medicine, Dr. Sweet stumbled upon Hildegard von Bingen's Medicine at Stanford's Green Library. This treatise on medicine was written around 1161 and catalogs 47 diseases according to causes, symptoms, and treatments. Dr. Sweet wrote a thesis on Hildegard's medicinal works and received a Ph.D. in medical history. She used Hildegard's approach of viriditas and even brewed Hildegard's herbal recipes to treat her patients at Laguna Hospital. One day, she saw Dr. Curtis rushing to the Rehabilation Ward with a pair of sneakers. A patient recovering from a stroke was still in a wheelchair. He should have been released three weeks ago, but Medicad didn't approve getting him a pair of shoes. Dr. Curtis rushed to Wal-Mart and bought him a size 9 running shoes for $16.99 to give him. Dr. Sweet said "It never occurred to me to buy those shoes for him." As Dr. Curtis rushed off he said "we have to care for the patient." Photo source: Laguna Honda Hospital

She quoted Dr. Francis Peabody's talk
to Harvard students "the secret of the care
of the patient is in caring for the patient."

Dr. Francis W. Peabody
Francis W. Peabody entered medical school in 1903 and almost at once was recognized as an extraordinary human being. After a varied and exciting indoctrination in his profession, including responsibility for children ill with the dreaded poliomyelitis, an extensive medical trip to China, and an unintended role in the start of the Bolshevik Russian Revolution, he became the enormously successful chief of a new Harvard unit at the Boston City Hospital. The expectations for a long productive life were snuffed out by cancer six years later when he was only 45. Gifted in many spheres and possessed of great courage, his especial compassion and wisdom in patient care have made Francis Peabody's short life an inspiring legend for all time, an essential message for anyone who practices medicine, and an uplifting experience for any patient. Dr. Peabody's lecture "The Care of the Patient" to Harvard Medical students (October 21, 1925) closed with these words— "the secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient." (The Caring Physician; Book Review)
Photo source: Dr. Francis W. Peabody (

After her talk, I'm thinking of Buddha
the greatest physician whose 8-Fold Path
ends suffering, that Emptiness brings bliss.

Buddha at Kamakura
(563 BC-483 BC)
When I first read about Buddha's Four Noble Truths that life is suffering. Suffering comes from excessive desires and cravings. To end suffering, cease the cravings. The remedy is his Eight-Fold Path: Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Concentration, Right Mindfulness, Right Thought, Right Understanding. I realized that when a physician treats a patient, he or she diagnose the illness and prescribes medication to end the illness. Since Buddha diagnosed our suffering comes from desires and cravings, his prescription is the 8-Fold Path that will end suffering. By practicing meditation and mindfulness, we realize that our true nature is not the body but Emptiness. We can say that Buddha is the greatest physician since he not only ends our pain, but brings us bliss when we realize our true nature. The sculptor Galen Sharp has published a recent book What Am I? A Study in Non-Volitional Living (2012) that will bring us to a higher dimension when we have a sense of wonder and adventure. He was inspired by the books of the Irish sage Terence Gray aka Wei Wu Wei (Archive) as I have done upon reading his Open Secret in the Cornell Stacks. Photo Sources: Kamakura Buddha (

that our body is a mysterious miracle—
a sacred shrine, home of the Real Self—
wonder of wonders filled with rainbow light.

Body as Rainbow Light
Alex Grey, Heart on Fire

If we tabulate the enzymes, hormones, DNA, and neurotransmitters in the human body, the cost will exceed the "six million dollar man". When we look at the myriad of protein interactions and chemical reactions in our body to sustain life, it is truly a miracle. Saint Paul says "your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which you have of God" (I. Corinthians 6.19). Christ tells us "The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light." (Matthew 6.22). Plato has discovered the organ in his soul that "outweighs ten thousand eyes, for by it alone is reality beheld." (Republic, VII.527e). Master Zi Sheng Wang gave a lecture "Tibetan Qigong" at Stanford (4/20/2005). He told us that when his Master Khenpo Munsel died in a cave (1994), nothing remained of his body except rainbow light. After his talk, Master Wang gave three copies of his Chinese book to the students. As I was sitting in the first row, he gave me a copy and autographed it. There are 14 pages of colored photos in the book with many showing auras of Master Wang during qigong healing. It's interesting to learn that our Real Self is not this temporal body but the eternal Spirit filled with rainbow light.
Rainbow Body of Light
Tibetan Jalus
Photo Sources: Heart of Fire (; Rainbow Body of Light (

— Peter Y. Chou
    Mountain View, 12-6-2012

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