Waiting to see if this article I wrote will be picked up and published. I forwarded it to a few well-established Buddhist Magazines around the USA. As it rests here for now, let me know what you think!
copyright Joshua Jayintoh 2015
First Steps of Thai:
Traditional Ethics in the Making of a Thai Massage Doctors
We have all heard of the modus operandi in the west where physicians swear upon some version of the Hippocratic Oath as the basis for offering medical assistance, as well as for ethical accountability. In the old days, a person’s ‘word’ was their bond. I feel it is safe to say that I am not the only one who has been treated by a doctor or therapist whom I thought could improve their bedside manner, not to mention pondered over whether or not they solely possessed financial motives while assisting me. As the commercial social paradigm perseveres in driving us towards its adjudged version of abundance and achievement, I see the counterweight quest for whole health is growing paramount. Whomever we consider ourselves to be, we are all susceptible to illness and death. In receiving good medicine from a good doctor, let us take a look as what traditional, moral qualifications a Thai Doctor was required to possess.
Ancient Buddhist medical practices passed down through the ages from its homeland in Northern India and migrated to other lands. One such place was Thailand. The influence of Buddhism, and thus Buddhist medical practices, on Thailand has impacted the people and land since before its recorded formation. The Thai term given to massage therapists in Thailand is หมอนวด ‘Maw Nuad’, literally translated “Doctor (of) Massage”, owing to the fact that Thais revere qualified masseurs as doctors and expect them to act as such. Traditionally, as well as in current accordance with the Thai Ministry of Public Health, นวดไทย ‘Thai Massage’ is seen as an integral sub-sect of แพทย์แผนไทยโบราณ ‘Traditional Thai Medicine’.
In the Buddhist medical tradition of old, aspiring doctors would spend upwards of seven years in training in order to become a qualified doctor of medicine. As a standard, the first few years were spent cultivating ethical behavior, until it became second-nature in their everyday life. They would not only study spiritual texts on moral conduct, such as Shantideva’s Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra, but become proficient at putting them into practice. Doctors-to-be would read through the scriptures of the Sanskrit or Pali Buddhist Canon every day. This proceeded in conjunction with putting medical manuscripts to memory; e.g. the rGyud-bzhi ‘Four Tantras’ if in the Tibetan tradition, the คัมภีร์เวชศึกษา ‘khampi-wetchasueksa’1 and แพทย์ศาสตร์สงเคราะห์ ‘phaet-saat-songkroh’ if in the Thai tradition. To help inspire, as well as remind the practitioners of their accountability to the tradition, many would receive some type of initiation upon which they would take up vows and moral practices. An example of practices would be to regularly hold and practices the following five disciplines, or training exercises, known as the pañca-sīlāni in Pali:
1. Refrain from killing any sentient being
2. Refrain from stealing
3. Refrain from sexual misconduct [e.g. adultery, those in chastity or underaged]
4. Refrain from lying [false, divisive, harsh, and gossip / idle chatter]
5. Refrain from becoming intoxicated; i.e. alcohol, drugs
As the Thai medical profession evolved surrounded by its social and political environment, what remained constant was the perfecting of the Brahmavihāras, also known as the ‘Four Immeasureables’. Masters considered the Brahmavihāras to be the pillars of one’s practice because should a practitioner genuinely follow them then they would automatically follow the rest of the established ethical code expected of Traditional Thai Doctors. A common thread in the modern Thai Massage world is the practice of Mettā-bhāvanā, the “spreading (or distribution) of loving-kindness”. This is but one quarter of the Brahmavihāras, a fact which aspiring Thai Masseurs ought to remember. The four Brahmavihāras are comprised of:
What these eight factors do is to remind us of the true intention and purpose of the medical profession: to remove the sufferings of sentient beings. If we are good therapists or doctors, practice well, and train ourselves well then people will want to come to us because we are good at what we do and we have genuine hearts with our offerings. Word- of-mouth is activated and spread, cyberneticly and physically. These eight factors are not telling us that we have to be poor or meek. In fact, traditionally it is important for the client-patient to not just offer something of value in exchange for a doctor’s aid, but to give them their full trust. Without the offering, the exchange becomes unbalanced and unfair, to both parties. The grey area of ‘what is equal exchange?’ is where the exploitations take place.
For these reasons, students are required to learn and observe a set code of conduct. The following is a translation of ten regulations from Thai to contemporary English used by the famed ‘Wat Po’ Chetupon School of Traditional Medicine in Bangkok2:
In service, Joshua Jayintoh
1 an english translation now exists of this text and is within the book: Jacobsen, N. Salguero, CP. Wells, T. Thai Herbal Medicine. Scotland: Findhorn Press, 2013. Second Edition.
2 I personally translated these ten codes while I was studying at the Chetupon School of Traditional Medicine in Bangkok.