Disposition – A natural or acquired habit or characteristic tendency in a person or thing.

The first thing I learned in school regarding herbal medicine had to do with the structure of the Shen Nong Ben Cao, the Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica. Written sometime around 150 AD, it is one of the oldest herbal medicine books in existence, and is the locus classicus for Chinese herbal medicine. The book is not organized by disease, or by complex theories. It is simply divided into three sections, according to the actions of the herbs, literally translated as Superior Class, Middle Class, and Inferior Class. They were taught to me as Destiny, Disposition, and Disease.

Disease it just as it sounds. This means giving medicine that treats a certain condition. This is important, is considered to be the most basic type of medical treatment, and comprises almost all of western pharmaceutics. Destiny refers to how we relate to what is given (Once again another entire topic. We believe in the West that we have control over almost everything, including our health. The Chinese have built in room for the notions of working with what we have, that very little is under our control, and that how we relate to what we are given is a fundamental issue regarding one’s health). This category of herbs describes treatment based on how our illness deeply affects us. But it is the Middle Class which is the topic of this article. The following quote regarding disposition is from the Qian zuo du, an ancient Daoist text:

“That which has physical appearance is generated by that which has no physical appearance. Hence there are the stages tai yi, tai chu, tai shi, and tai su. Tai yi is the stage when the Qi has not appeared yet. Tai chu is the stage when the Qi begins its presence. Tai shi is the stage when the physical appearance begins its presence. Tai su is the stage when the disposition of a person begins its presence. Once the Qi, the physical appearance and the disposition of a person are complete, this is where illness can emerge from.”Tags

My own understanding of this is that it is, in fact, our disposition which makes us sick. How could it be any other way, than that we become sick according to who we are? I was taught that the original character for illness in Chinese symbolizes the wheel of a horse drawn carriage, and implies, through endless circling around and around, habituation. Our acquired habits and characteristic tendencies define our personality. This is our disposition. It means our reactivity, and it is the middle ground between our physical disease and the transformation that occurs as a result of having it (see Interpretation in the article on Causality). The Qian zuo du states further in this vein that “Tai su is the beginning of zhi, constitution.” Disposition is the basis for constitution. Constitution can have many meanings in Chinese medicine, and one of them is a model for describing the path of transformation a person is apt to take, the reactivity that will be expressed along the way, and the symptoms they are likely to express. The Five Element theory can be one model of constitution, so that a person may be constitutionally Metal, for example.

The reason I like this topic is because it addresses the problem of the personality. The personality is the aspect of ourselves that we think of a being “me”. It is a collection of our beliefs, experiences, and again, acquired characteristics. Acquired is the key term, since this implies there is some other aspect which does the acquiring. This aspect refers to our true nature, that part of us that is unobscured by the conditioning of the world. How we react to and display that conditioning is our disposition. Our disposition is a key to our true inner nature.