There is an anecdote that has been passed down over the centuries that, even if apocryphal, conveys a lesson that is still relevant to any student of the healing arts today, in spite of the intervening years that have passed since first it was told.
The tale concerns four apprentices on the verge of completing their studies in herbal medicine, under the tutelage of a famous doctor.
One day the Master summoned the four apprentices and, without revealing the nature of the test he had in mind, sent them into the forest with the request that they each bring him something completely without applicable medicinal value. He gave them three days in which to complete their quest.
Within just a few hours the first of the apprentices returned, clutching a handful of rocks. He was followed shortly thereafter by the second and third apprentices in quick succession; the first carrying a pile of bones and the second a vial with some drops of poison from a viper.
When the fourth apprentice failed to appear after several hours, the Master said they would await his return before pronouncing judgement on how well they had done in the completion of their task.
It wasn’t until the end of the third day, right as the sun was about to set, that the fourth apprentice came running to where the Master and his fellow apprentices waited for his return.
Dirty, bedraggled and panting the final apprentice threw himself at his Master’s feet in obvious exhaustion.
The Master, noting his empty hands asked him “Have you completed the task I assigned to you?”
With a stricken look on his face the student replied “No Master. I did my best but could not find anything that met the criteria. Everything I observed had valuable healing properties. Everywhere I look ed I could find nothing that didn’t partake of life and therefore possess intrinsic medicinal properties, even if I don’t know all of what they were. I’m sorry Master, I have failed.” and saying this, the student hung his head in shame.
Smiling broadly, the Master said “In the many years that I’ve been teaching students such as yourselves I have rarely received the correct answer to this particular riddle. So few, in fact, that it has become more of a rhetorical question and a lesson unto itself rather than a test of my students’ knowledge.”
“Rocks and minerals can be ground to powder, heated and applied to a cut or wound as a suture, the bones can be used as tools for the preperation of herbs and poultices or for massage applications, from the serpen’t venom one may extract an antidote against that very venom.” looking at the fourth apprentice he said “You have done very well my young apprentice. Not even I know every medicinal property of every object or creature in nature, but recognizing the limits of one’s own knowledge does not limit the infinte resources at nature’s disposal. Everything that partakes of life does indeed have intrinsic value for the practitioner of the healing arts. Through study, careful observation and meditative contemplation we reveal these properties and are ourselves revealed by them.”
Catching his gaze with a twinkle in his eye, the Master bowed to his student, showing great deference and respect. The other three apprentices hurriedly did the same, seeing with awe the true respect the Master was showing to the fourth apprentice.
Gladdened in his heart to see his Master so happy with him, still the apprentice felt humbled by his admission that there were still as yet undiscovered properties and applications in the natural world, things even the Master himself was ignorant of.
In that moment a resolve hardened in the heart of the apprentice. He vowed to himself that he would extend the boundaries of what was known. That he would honor his Master, the teaching lineage handed to him from earlier pioneers, and those that would come after; his future descendents on the path, linked through the ages by their commitment to the healing arts and the imperative to add to the collective body of knowledge and pass it, with due reverance, to the next generation.
It is said that this apprentice grew up to become Jivaka Kumar, revered healer, personal physician to Siddhartha Gautama and founder of both Ayurveda and what we have come to call Thai Massage.
At the root of the acquisiton of knowledge there is a patnership, of sorts, struck inside of ourselves. It’s a bargain between curiosity, humility and uncritical observation whereinwhich they work together to slake the thirst of a mind eager for knowledge.
Jivaka Kumar is the archetypal incarnation of this spirit. Invoking this prescriptive mindset, what the Toaists refer to as the “uncarved block”, greatly eases the aspirant’s passage into initiation. It allows us to observe and inquire without assumptions, secure in the knowledge of the interconnectedness of all things, and trusting in their nature’s ultimate revelation.
Our goal then, as students, is to locate this capacity within ourselves and nurture it. Through this we become vessels, not only for knowledge from the past, but also for knowledge yet to be discovered. It is by this process that the lineage’s survival and growth is honored and assured and our responsibility to it’s legacy fulfilled.
The perpetuation of this tradition is our thanks to Dr. Jivaka Kumar, the founder of our revered modality and the body of collective knowledge we are so gifted to receive.
The core philosophy of the Thai Massage modality is identical to the central focus of inspiration and devotion in Buddhism; what are referred to as "The Triple Gem", "The Three Treasures" and "The Three Refuges". Having originated in Buddhist temples and monasteries, Thai Massage incorporated and exemplified the qualities of the three gems while providing the opportunity to relieve the suffering of others. As a way to both pay respect to the lineage as well as to increase the depth of their knowledge of the practice, Thai Massage practitioners still study and give reverence to "The Triple Gem" today. The names of the individual gems are Buddha, Dhamma (or Darma) and Sangha.
Buddha, in this context, refers not to "The Buddha" (i.e Siddhartha Gautema) but to it's earlier meaning of "Enlightened One" or "Awakened One". Siddhartha was considered such a person and was so gifted in manifesting and articulating the attributes of enlightenment that his name has become synonymous with he word itself. According to the Buddhist philosophy, everyone has the capacity to achieve personal enlightenment or an incarnate expression of one's perfected self. Surrendering to Buddha, in this context, means to surrender to one's own highest potential as a being and commit to the cultivation of that ideal.
Dhamma (Darma in sanskrit) refers to Truth, eternal and absolute. That which is objectively so at the root of reality beyond one's usual ability to causally experience. Dhamma is traditionally divided into three parts; the Dhamma we study, the Dhamma we practice and the Dhamma that we realize. When we surrender to Dhamma we are giving ourselves the opportunity to be present in the moment and allow ourselves the courage and strength to experience that moment for what it is, whatever that might be.
Sangha literally means "community" or "assembly" but in the traditional context was usually applied to a group of people united by a spiritual philosophy or undertaking. Often specifically used to refer to a community of disciples, it can be used to describe any assembly of people united by a common purpose or goal. When we talk about surrendering to Sangha we refer to letting go of that which divides us from our collective goals and from our community's undertaking. We also pay respects to those of our community that have gone before us, laying the foundation for the community we are a part of. Surrendering to Sangha means humility and pride in being part of a lineage and a servant of it's continuity.