The first person with whom I studied Chinese medicine instilled in me a high regard for the pulse. The things he was able to tell people after feeling their pulses for fifteen minutes seemed like magic to me. Some time later, I studied pulse diagnosis in Tibetan medicine with various lama-doctors. There, too, pulse reading seemed to endow its practitioners with almost magical abilities of diagnosis and prognosis. Therefore, I believe I was fortunate to come across teachers who emphasized the value of pulse examination.
Nevertheless, it took me years to learn how to read the pulse. The years this required were not because of any inherent difficulty in feeling and interpreting the pulse, but were due to my own laziness and stubborn refusal to master the basics of this art. While I searched for advanced and abstruse pulse lore, I was never diligent enough to memorize all the basic facts of this discipline. In other words, I tried to jump high up in the sky without first laying an adequate foundation. As a teacher of Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is my experience that all too many of my fellow Western practitioners make the same mistake.
The impetus for writing this book is, therefore, based on my own personal experience with the pulse. It is my attempt to share with my fellow practitioners a central insight which has meant the difference between a mediocre ability to read the pulse and an ability which most of my peers consider advanced. As the reader will see, this advanced ability, to the degree that it exists, exists because of finally mastering the basics.
Because I wish the reader to concentrate on a few key points which must then be memorized to perfection, I have not tried to write an exhaustive or encyclopedic book on the pulse. Rather, this book is meant to complement and extend other books on Chinese diagnosis and pulse examination which already exist in English. This is a deliberately small book.
The terminology in this book is based on Nigel Wiseman’s Glossary of Chinese Medical Terms and Acupuncture Points, Paradigm Publications, Brookline, MA, 1990. This book is a compilation of information taken from a variety of Chinese and English language sources. A bibliography of those sources is appended at the end of this book.
During my first Tibetan language lesson, my teacher began by having me spell out the Tibetan word “easy”. At the time, it was explained to me that this was to ensure a good omen at the beginning. Looking back, I see it as a reminder that if we begin a task with the preconception that it is hard, we are less likely to persevere to the point of mastery. However, if we begin with the idea that something is easy, then we do not have to constantly fight our own preconceived notions to the contrary. I believe that too many students in the West believe that Chinese pulse examination is difficult to learn and that it takes years and years to master. Thinking thus, many of us Westerners put off mastering the basic information to the degree that information can be put into practical use in the clinic. Hence the pulse is never really mastered.
Therefore, this book has been written with one main intention in mind: to put forward the notion that Chinese pulse examination is easy if one knows the secret. That secret is mastering the basics.