CONFLATING CORONA VIRUS CAUSE AND CURE
When a new disease appears and spreads fast, fear and confusion proliferate even faster.
What to do, when the new corona virus is able to manifest anywhere and everywhere?
A first step is for those who may be able to help to keep level-headed, and not yield to the pervasive panic or, worse, cash in by peddling nonsensical and ineffective “cures.” Worst of all would be to propose as treatment the same ingestion of animal parts that caused this animal disease to become a human disease in the first place. That conflates and confuses cause and cure.
That worst of scenarios is happening now in China, while in Tibet, leading practitioners of traditional healing have gone the opposite way, saying bluntly that Tibetan sowa rigpa does not have corona virus cures, and don’t be fooled by anyone who says they do.
The contrast is acute, in a moment when the temptation to monetise panic is at its height. Tibetan emchi healers are saying firmly there is no silver bullet; Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is making a fortune prescribing the gallstones of slaughtered cattle as an effective remedy for SARS and corona virus, plus respiratory symptomatic relief provide by other herbs.
Top TCM formulation for corona virus is Angong Niuhuang, a concoction including bovine bezoars, aggregates of inedible or undigested material found in the gastrointestinal tract. For many centuries, bezoars have been found in the digestive tracts of both humans and animals. In Europe, as in China, they seemed not only mysterious but had magical properties attributed to them. Europe outgrew its fascination with bezoars in the 16th century, through a horrifying experiment. “In the 1500s, the famous surgeon Ambroise Paré tested the healing properties of a bezoar stone. A cook in the king’s court had been caught stealing fine silver and was sentenced to death by hanging. As an alternative, the cook was granted the opportunity to receive a poison followed by a bezoar as a potential antidote under the supervision of Paré. It was agreed that if the cook survived the poison, his life would be spared. The cook lived for only 7 hours.” Bezoars lost their magic, but not in China.
Second ingredient in angong niuhang is rhino horn. Yes, you read that right. After so many decades of efforts to protect rhinos from imminent extinction, advocates of TCM still insist rhino horn has specific medicinal properties: “Sedation, Anticonvulsion, Antipyretic, Anti-inflammatory, Antiviral, Cardiotonic, Antiplatelet, Aggregation.” This 2014 team of endocrinologists of the official, government funded China Academy of Chinese Medical Science in Beijing goes on to suggest angong niuhang is likely to be effective as a treatment for the most serious of central nervous system crises such as stroke, coma and brain trauma.
As well as bovine bezoars and rhino horn, angong niuhang also contains plant based ingredients including Radix scutellariae, Coptidis rhizome, Cape jasmine, Borneol and Cucurma. However, there is one further animal ingredient: musk. Its curative properties are listed as Double-acting role in regulating the Central Nervous System, anti-inflammatory, Antiplatelet aggregation and Cardiotonic.
Musk fragrance requires the slaughter of musk deer for their musk glands, though musk oil can be manufactured synthetically. Of the several musk oils, one is civetone, produced naturally by the Himalayan civet, a small mammal native to Bhutan.
All evidence of the cause of corona virus infections in humans points to palm civets, sold illegally in the Wuhan wet market for all conceivable kinds of meat, as the transmitter of the disease. Civets, kept alive in cages until being sold to consumers, next to bats, first caught the corona virus from the bats, and then became the vectors transmitting it to humans, where it now proliferates uncontrolled.
So we come full circle. The cure is also the cause of the corona virus disease. We live in degenerate times, when panicked people reach for something, anything that supposedly protects and cures them, even if it is actually the very vector infecting humans.
This lunacy is abetted by China’s championing of TCM as a deep and effective tradition, with Chinese characteristics, meriting official support. TCM researchers have shamelessly touted traditional recipes as effective in treating earlier corona viruses including SARS.
“On Jan. 25, the State Administration of Traditional Chinese medicine dispatched 25 teams of Chinese healers to Wuhan”, in the hope of demonstrating TCM is effective. Demand for rhino horn, musk deer glands and civet musk glands, as well as bovine bezoars is rocketing. The logic is simple: “If traditional Chinese medicine was not effective, the Chinese people would already be destroyed.” Today there are more Han Chinese than ever; proof that TCM works. The same logic presumes that minorities, such as Tibetans, must inevitably assimilate and become just like the successful and numerous Han.
This return to rhino horn and musk glands has official blessing: “In its treatment plan for the coronavirus released on February 5, the National Health Commission recommended traditional Chinese medicine remedies that could be used with antiretroviral H.I.V. drugs like Lopinavir and Ritonavir. The national health department suggested trying the Peaceful Palace Bovine Pill (angong niuhang) for severe symptoms such as wheezing and respiratory distress.”
Meanwhile, in Tibet leading sowa rigpa practitioners have been forthright in saying sorig does not have a cure for a disease newly arrived in humans. Dr. Thubten Phuntsok, physician of Tibetan medicine and professor emeritus of Tibetan Studies at the Southwest Minzu University in Chengdu, has warned Tibetan society to take practical precautions, not panic, and not fall for anyone claiming sowa rigpa has remedies.
In keeping with a long Tibetan traditions of impassioned remonstration, often poetically expressed, Thubten Phuntsok asserts that “the efficacy of traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicine and religion has not been established,” and that, without taking standard preventive hygiene measures, “one’s own devotion, faith, mantra recitations, and medicinal amulets will have no effect at all.”
Thubten Phuntsok singles out one of the most famous and potent of Tibetan medicines, the Black-9 pill, which traditionally includes musk, as having no value in treating a virus new to the human species. In his cartoon and his caption, he could not be more direct:
“In places devoid of
contagious disease, the Black-9 Pill is being sold.
The wallets of the Tibetan people empty, while physicians grow rich.
If the disease does arrive, go to the western hospital.
Tibetan medicine has no cure for this new virus.”
As corona virus infections spread to Tibet, and panic grew even more infectious, Thubten Phuntsok took to verse as a modern mahasiddha, taking aim squarely at colleagues cashing in on the confusion and anxiety whipped up by social media. Like the gur and doha spontaneous songs of realisation, sung by the mahasiddhas revered by Tibetans, he urges us all to come to our senses, cease milling about, circling aimlessly in confusion, do what is needful, and stay mindful:
“If You Have Honour,
Do Not Exploit This Opportunity to Sell Medicine
by Thubten Phuntsok
Tibetan medicine does
Contagious diseases, neither new nor old. This is indisputable.
In these desperate times,
In order to protect the lives of our nation,
Have dispensed this Black-9 Pill, a medicine for nyen spirits,
To all Tibetan people.
To raise the price of
the Black-9 Pill,
This cheap, convenient medicine,
By a factor of nine, however, is not so well-meaning.
If you have honour,
dispense your medicines.
If you have compassion, donate your medicines.
To exploit this opportunity,
And sell your medicine, however, is an act of evil.
Both a beautiful face
Are of great value on this earth.
To distort cause and effect
In the pursuit of money, however, is an act of deception.
These days, does the
Even contain musk? You know the truth.
If there were even just a little musk
In a Black-9 Pill, wouldn’t the price tag
Be three hundred renminbi? You know the truth.
Thus, Tibetan physicians,
Take advantage of this opportunity for spiritual practice;
Donate medicines throughout the Tibetan lands;
And your good motivation will be praised by all.
Thubten Phuntsok, the vagabond physician from Pelpung in the east, appeals to the physicians of Tibet who sell their medicines while the dangerous and contagious disease, the coronavirus, is on the Central Plain of China. 28 January 2020.”
Translation by William A. McGrath. Inevitably, this translation loses much of the poetic nature of Thubten Phuntsok’s exemplary remonstration, and reminder that sowa rigpa is a spiritual practice embedded in Tibetan Buddhism, not a wealth accumulation transaction. McGrath’s deep insights into sowa rigpa are available online.
 Katharine Eng, and Marsha Kay, Gastrointestinal Bezoars: History and Current Treatment Paradigms, Gastroenterology and Hepatology, v.8(11); 2012 Nov; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3966178/
 Yu Guo, Shaohua Yan, Lipeng Xu, Gexin Zhu, Xiaotong Yu, and Xiaolin Tong, Use of Angong Niuhuang in Treating Central Nervous System Diseases and Related Research; Evidence-Based Complementary and , Alternative Medicine, Volume 2014, downloadable from https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2014/346918/
 Chih-ChunWen,Lie-FenShyur, Jia-TsrongJan, Po-HuangLiang, Chih-JungKuo, PalanisamyArulselvan, Jin-BinWu, Sheng-ChuKuo, Ning-SunYang; Traditional Chinese medicine herbal extracts of Cibotium barometz, Gentiana scabra, Dioscorea batatas, Cassia tora, and Taxillus chinensis inhibit SARS-CoV replication; Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, Volume 1, Issue 1, October–December 2011, Pages 41-50 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2225411016300554