Benefits of Studying the TCM classics

This question is often asked by practitioners and students. It is a valid question and this short article will explore the benefits of studying the TCM classics. First, what are the TCM classics will be described, then why they are important, and last but not least, what's in it for you.

What are the TCM classics?
This is nearly impossible to explain in a short paragraph, but lets try it anyway.
TCM classics are Chinese medical texts written roughly before the twentieth century. These texts were written by great TCM doctors of their time, and the texts had, and still have, a great impact on the field of TCM.
Well known classics are for example:

  • the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (classic of the divine farmer),
  • the Huang Di Nei Jing (classic of the Yellow Emperor), which consists of the Su Wen (simple questions) and Ling Shu (spiritual pivot),
  • the Shang Han Lun (on cold damage),
  • the Jin Gui Yao Lüe (prescriptions of the golden coffer),
  • the Nan Jing (difficult issues),
  • the Gang Mu Ben Cao Jing (materia medica of Li Shizhen),
  • the Wen Bing Xue (classic of warm diseases).

These texts describe in great detail TCM theory and clinical experiences. Don’t be confused by the poetic titles, these books are practical clinical references.

In western countries the word classic often has a negative connotation. Classic means something ancient, covered in dust, or dug up by an archeologist, and are not used for a long time.
This is not true for the TCM classics. The TCM classics are created a long time ago and are still used today.
For example the Shang Han Lun was written by Zhang Zhongjing around 215 AD. The next 1800 years or so many scholars and great doctors used, tested, commented on, explored, and preserved this classic. Formulas described in the Shang Han Lun belong to the best tested formulas in the world. These formulas are still used today to treat modern diseases. Many 'modern' herbal formulas that we are using today are derived from the formulas defined by Zhang Zhongjing.

Daoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism logically influenced TCM. For example, Sun Simiao is a good example and his approach is clearly reflected in his ideas about treating patients (for those who are not familiar with this, a list is included in the addendum). Sun Simiao also contributed an important text on medical ethics called On the Absolute Sincerity of Great Physicians (Dayi Jingcheng) which is sometimes called the Chinese Hippocratic Oath.
In Daoist, Buddhist, and Confucianist circles you will notice that they have great respect for the classic texts. For the simple reason that they have proven to work and that they benefit many people.
This is demonstrated, for example, by the buddhist masters who achieved great realizations, even today. Of course, one has to work hard to achieve these great realizations. It is not something you can order through the internet; order before 9:00 p.m. and receive it the next day by postal mail.
However, the latter is often why most western practitioners and students often don’t achieve great results. I.e. workshops that teach you ‘for this complaint, needle these points; for that complaint give these pills’ do not stimulate you to reach for your inner potential. And if the learned tricks don’t work anymore, another course is followed hoping that it will reveal successful techniques that can be applied quickly.
Yes, it is true that studying TCM classics is not always easy. But, it makes you think, ponder, and stretch your mind.
You will discover the mechanisms behind the complaints, and see how everything is connected. And, maybe more important, it will touch your heart.

Why are they important?
As they say, "the water is the purest at the source." The above mentioned TCM classic texts are the roots of TCM. Without strong roots a tree will never grow strong and beautiful. The same is true for your TCM knowledge. Without a strong fundament of proven knowledge, you can never become a great doctor. Did you notice that all great TCM doctors in China, past and present, have studied the TCM classics? Interesting!

What most of us seem to forget is that all masters started as a beginner - just like us. They all made the first step of their journey through the TCM classics.
As prof. dr. Wang Xinlu former president of the Shandong university of TCM and current vice-president of the Chinese TCM society puts it: "The classics of TCM are a treasure, which a nation spent thousands of years collecting and thousands devoted their lives developing it. It is worth for anyone of us to spend our life-time studying it, enjoying it and preserving it!"
In our new brochure you can read more.

So, what's in it for me?
Quite a lot actually. You get access to thousands of years of proven and tested clinical knowledge which you can use to benefit your patients, even today.
As most practitioners have noticed, after they have studied the classics and applied what they have learned in their clinic, their clinical results improved significantly.
Indeed, while studying classics you have to do some pondering. Your brain embarks on a journey which will let it think. Most western students often want instant success without too much effort; a result of our current search-engine-based culture. However, if you put in the effort of studying these classics texts, the results will be most rewarding and last much longer than quick superficial success.
So far, we have never met a person who did regret to have studied the TCM classics. It is a journey of a life time. And even if you read the same text over and over again, you will still discover new things.
These texts are somehow 'layered' and your brain will need several passes to process the profound meaning which these texts contain. Knowledge and wisdom needs to ripen.
As dr. Yue Mei Zhong, when he was 81 years of age, said: “Every year I spent one and a half month studying the Shang Han Lun and Jin Gui Yao Lüe word by word, and every time I read it I was excited because of the new knowledge I gained from it.”

That is why our motto is: classical TCM is real TCM - You Make the Difference, We Provide the Knowledge.

I want to leave you with one thing to ponder about: TCM chooses you.

23 January 2012 - the year of the water dragon,
Kris Oosting


Sun Simiao (± 650) - Whenever a great physician treats patients:

  • He/She has to be mentally calm.
  • Should not give way to wishes and desires.
  • Develop first a marked attitude of compassion.
  • Commit to take effort to save every living creature.
  • Should not pay attention to status, wealth, or age,
  • Neither whether a person is attractive or unattractive.
  • Whether he is an enemy or friend,
  • Whether Chinese or foreigner,
  • Whether educated or uneducated.
  • He/She should meet everyone on equal ground.
  • Should ignore all consequences.
  • Not to ponder over own fortune or misfortune.
  • Preserve life and have compassion for it.
  • Should look upon those who have come to grief as if he himself had been struck, and should sympathize with them deep in his heart.
  • Neither dangerous mountain passes nor the time of day.
  • Neither weather conditions nor hunger, thirst nor fatigue should keep him from helping wholeheartedly.
  • According to the reputations of medicine, it is not permissible to be talkative and make provocative speeches,
  • To make fun of others and raise one’s voice, to decide over right and wrong,
  • And to discuss other people and their business.
  • Finally, it is inappropriate to emphasize one’s reputation, to belittle the rest of the physicians, and to praise one’s own virtue.

How profound he was. These rules are still valid today!


Sun Simiao (581-682 A.D.)

Source: unknown.

More can be found in the article: Sun Simiao - Author of the Earliest Chinese Encyclopedia for Clinical Practice.


More References for You to Look at

Daoist Classics
The Taoist Classics Volume 1, 2, 3, and 4 of Thomas Cleary (Shambala).
These volumes cover the following texts:

  • Tao Te Ching
  • Chuang-tzu
  • Wen-tzu
  • The book of leadership & strategy
  • Sex, health, and longlife
  • Understanding reality
  • The inner teachings of Taoism
  • The book of balance and harmony
  • Practical Taoism
  • Vitality, energy, spirit
  • The secret of the golden flower
  • Immortal sisters
  • Awakening to the Tao
  • The Taoist I Ching
  • I Ching mandalas

There are many Buddhist texts that are valuable to study. An example of an accessible text is:

Path to Enlightenment by Geshe Acharya Thubten Loden. Tushita Publications Melbourne.


The Analects. Chinese Library of Classics. Hunan People's Publishing House, Foreign Languages Press.