For over 35 years, Bill Tara has
been an advocate of a Natural approach to health care.
He was vice-president of Erewhon Trading Co, one of
the first major distributors of organically grown foods
in America in the 1960s and was active in the Natural
Foods Movement in both America and Europe. He began
his educational work in the 1960s and in 1975 founded
the Community Health Foundation and the East West Centre
in London, England. This centre was the largest and
most active alternative health centre in Europe and
served as a model for other organizations worldwide.
He has submitted expert testimony to the American Congress
on diet and disease and is the author of several books
on the Macrobiotic approach to health, including Macrobiotics
and Human Behavior.
He has given seminars on natural
health care in over 20 countries and served on the faculties
Kushi Institutes, in England and America, the Kiental
Institute in Switzerland
and Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.
This is the best article that I
have read in a long time, written with much clarity
Many thanks to Bill Tara. Without teachers like him
I wouldn't be here today.
I am eternally grateful. For me, Macrobiotics was a
wonderful tool to help me regain my health and to eventually
trust fully in my own innate wisdom. For me Macrobiotic
food was a huge part of that equation, only the beginning
of this unfolding, but definitely the foundation, and
for me stays the foundation. It helped me see the other
problems or patterns that were moving me away from a
great life-actually any life at all. It's great when
science confirms parts of what I am practicing, but
I don't need that anymore.
I'd rather take my chances and
accept the responsibility for the outcome of my health
and make my own
decisions about the way that I live my life that is
free from dogma or scientifically proven evidence. I
am free to live and experience my own life. Our culture
puts so much trust in the hands of "others"
be it scientists, physicians, or politicians when many
times we "know" what is really right for us.
With the practice of Macrobiotics we become free to
think for ourselves. And live the lives we were meant
to live or not.
I fully understand and appreciate Bill's position with
regard to the limitations of science and the value
of humanistic intuition and judgement as promoted by
Ohsawa and Michio and mentioned by other
cautionary thinkers/writers like Rachel Carson.
I would like to emphasize the distinction
that Bill mentions in his article when he writes:"One
of my problems with science is the apparent lack of
interest in how discoveries are used." I believe
it is important to separate "science" from
those persons and how they apply the knowledge derived
from science. In my eyes they are unrelated. What people
do with information is matter of their nature and has
nothing to do with the information itself.
Some people, being abusive, materialistic,
or whatever you would like to call them will abuse any
knowledge whether it is from science, religion or macrobiotics.
The source of the information is irrelevant and therefore,
I believe that to blame science for the degenerative
state of the world is incorrect.
In other words, the relevance that
Bill suggests as the distinct value of macrobiotics
(with its emphasis on intuition and judgement) is, in
my opinion, a moral issue and is not an expose on the
limitations science. There is an underlying moral premise
both in what Bill writes and in the works of Ohsawa
and Michio that "living in harmony with nature"
is good and being abusive and destructive to nature
is bad with an implication that science with its limitations
is the culprit.
I believe it is incorrect to implicate
science because science is amoral and the real culprits
are those individuals that are "abusive" or
are ignorant (which is more often the case).
I do think, however, that there
is value in the distinctions that Bill points with regard
to the differences between macrobiotics and science,
or rather the development of one's intuition and judgement
versus the amoral approach of science. The difference
in approach is as sharply contrasting (and complementary)
as religion vs. science.
Another way to define science is
that it seeks to find truth that is entirely objective
and independent of the observer. In this way, scientific
knowledge seeks to eliminate the influence of the ego
by investigating the external world and recreate results
that remain consistent regardless of the individual.
The eastern wisdom that is the
basis for Ohsawa and Michio's teaching on intuition
and judgement actually seeks to do the same by investigating
our internal world. By accepting the fact that the individual
cannot escape the influence of the ego in any circumstance
the goal then becomes one of developing it further to
the point that it becomes indistinguishable from the
rest of the universe; that it disappears in complete
harmony with nature.
I see these two perspectives as
being complementary and ultimately the same. In this
way there is no right or wrong or good or bad. There
is only the subjective (appearance of the ego) vs. the
objective (the disappearance of the ego).
The problem comes however, when
we infuse our own value judgements of good and bad on,
for example, environmental destruction, food contamination
and widespread diseases and then blame science for these
problems. If we accept that they are failures of science
then we should also accept that they are failures of
macrobiotics. In other words, the failure is neither
science nor is it macrobiotics but is us and the people
that are actually involved in these matters or are ignorant
The difference that Bill mentions
with regard to the analytical view (of science) versus
the integral/ holistic view (of macrobiotics) is also,
in my opinion, not accurate. Both paradigms require
and involve both types of views and thought processes
in order to arrive at valid objective conclusions. What
is a more accurate and relevant distinction in difference
between science and macrobiotics in terms of how we
view the world is the difference between static and
Science is stereotyped as being
"static" in its description of the world,
which is incorrect, but it has that stigma, while macrobiotics,
for those that have studied it, know that it is based
on the initial premise that "everything changes."
In other words, macrobiotics is a dynamic view of the
world. But the dynamic view of the world is not specific
to macrobiotics and is found in many fields of scientific
What Ohsawa and Michio did was
to propose a larger integral vision of everything (Unique
Principle and Order of the Universe) from a dynamic
perspective, which is wonderful, but I believe should
not be promoted as being non-scientific or better-than
science. To me they are one and the same and are of
So the worlds problem may, in part,
be solved by creating a greater awareness of an integral
and dynamic view of the universe but ultimately it is
the free choice of individuals that has led us to where
we are. In time, the world's problem will become so
great that people will change and choose to solve them
by applying the knowledge that science, macrobiotics
and whatever future paradigm will have introduced. When
that happens it will not be because we have put science
in its place nor because we have better intuition.
No, it will be because the issues
become so great that they affect us on a deeply personal
level and interfere in a daily routine that we are compelled
to work together collectively to develop, establish
and enforce new moral/ethical codes and rules for living.
Or we will become extinct by our own ignorance and arrogance,
blaming things like science that have no bearing on
the source of the problems
I very much appreciated Bill's article about science
and intuition. I am basically in agreement with him
on this subject, and would just add a few points that
I hope can be useful for the discussion..
1. When Ohsawa introduced yin-yang
in the Western World, he did more than presenting
an old way of experiencing reality.He tried to merge
two different visions of reality. The ancient Chinese
philosophy viewed the world as order: in its view, health
and prosperity come from finding the correct place,
moment and way to act in the universe.
The western scientific view is
based on the cause and effect principle: a planet travels
in its orbit /because/ some force hold it there, not
because that is its correct place in the order of universe.
Ohsawa explanation of yin-yang tries to take in considerations
both sides of the story, using both order and cause
-and-effect, systemic thinking and reductionistic thinking,
intuition and intellect, at different levels. It seems
to me that science was important for Ohsawa, even fascinating.
He believed that we could develop a better and more
advanced science, using yin-yang, and that this would
have been necessary for the future of mankind.
However, it is necessary to acknowledge
that Ohsawa himself ignored many things about the traditional
Chinese wisdom. The most important one is that the ancient
Chinese sages did not develop their system on the basis
of what we now call intuition, but through the development
of a special ability we could say a special organ
- that allows us to see the reality at a deeper level,
beyond the limits of intellect and body senses.
The greatest part of the traditional
Chinese sciences came essentially from the daoist
inner alchemy, that aims at the development of a dan,
the cinnabar pill (the alchemic stone in our tradition)
able to operate beyond space and time. A dan it is something
that it is, at the same time, an instrument for understanding
reality and for interacting with it at a subtler level.
So we, as macrobiotic people, need
to be aware that we are deeply ignorant on this subject,
and that what we call intuition is still a very limited
ability compared to what the possibilities of the human
being are, and have been explored in the ancient Indian
and Chinese traditions.
2. All this does not mean that
using intuition, attributing to this word the meaning
that we usually give to it, and that Bill has made clear,
is not a very important goal. I agree that our macrobiotic
approach is essentially based on that. However, in order
to develop intuition it is not enough to eat well and
be active, as we sometimes naively believe. It is also
necessary to use our intellect completely, until its
very limits, in order to create the foundation for the
birth of the intuition.
Only at that point intellect may
be abandoned. Staying with the mystery, without yielding
to the impulse to find an explanation at any cost for
what is eluding us, after having done all the intellectual
work that we needed to do, may open the way for intuition
to arise. Too often we try to avoid to do our homework,
and so to correctly and objectively use our intellect,
hoping that our intuition can solve our problems. And
if intuition spontaneously arises, it must be checked
by facts anyway. Too often, what seems to be a nice
intuition is only a more or less deluded opinion.
With a very scientific
attitude, we need to prove or dispel our intuitions
with facts, and also this is rarely done.
Even more important, intuition
works at its best when we are completely detached by
the gain or loss that can come for us from a specific
situation. Now, detachment is not something that we
can cultivate only in the very instant in which we need
to be intuitive. Quite the contrary, only if detachment
is an attitude cultivated all along our life, intuition
can develop. This asks for a deep reflection about our
philosophy of life, and the actual way in which we implement
And finally, detachment itself
truly develops only when we completely stop lying. To
live in the truth is a prerequisite for the real development
of intuition, beyond the sporadic emergences that this
ability can make in our daily life.
If we lie, even from time to time,
it is very difficult to distinguish intuition from illusion.
Not lying, if I remember well, was the highest
qualification for health according to Ohsawa, but I
fear that it has not been the most actively pursued
in our still short macrobiotic history. We usually believe
that it is an end point, after much macrobiotic practice,
but it could be said just the opposite, that it is the
real beginning of a macrobiotic practice.
3. While the development of
intuition is the core of our macrobiotic practice,
we are living in a world based on intellectual thinking
and science. We need a way to communicate with this
world, at least if we are interested in helping to create
a future for mankind, and the scientific language is
its language. Of course yin-yang cannot be fully translated
in scientific terms, but at least some parts of this
concept, sufficient to create a dialogue, can be conveyed.
We can learn much about our shortcomings
and dogmas, in this process , and we can offer much
to the modern world in terms of a fresher and holistically
oriented approach. I recommend to the people interested
in this discussion to read this article about the emerging
field of Systems
Biology in Medicine,
and think about how much we could potentially give in
4. Facts must be addressed in the most direct way,
first hand. This means reading the scientific studies,
not articles citing the studies themselves. I've often
noticed that many macrobiotic practitioners rely on
information collected by others, and rarely make the
effort to get to the raw data.
This is of course far more difficult
to do, but reported facts are of very little use. This
is a real problem, as we have little competence in the
scientific fields, and the amount of data is overwhelming.
should our yin-yang principle assist us, making us able
to simplify and understand the complexity. In the field
of nutrition, which is the one in which we are more
involved, the following guidelines in interpreting the
data provided by one of the most respected epidemiologist
in the world can be useful for all the people
interested in learning about the results of the scientific
research : http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/media.html
Macrobiotic teaching largely ignores
and disregards nutritional science.
This is an issue with which I have many years of experience.
In my opinion macrobiotics does not go beyond science,
but almost completely disregards and often disdains
nutritional science. This is a tragedy and one of the
biggest flaws with macrobiotics.
Nutrition is a science just like biology, biochemistry,
physics, chemistry, etc. It is based on more than 100
years of careful and reproducible research. We now know,
for example, that humans have basic needs for certain
nutrients, such as vitamin B-12, calcium, iron, etc.
Ignore these laws of nature at your peril. Violate them
and your body will suffer the consequences. I ignored
one of them and learned the hard, painful way.
Where in introductory macrobiotic literature does the
reader learn of the importance of consuming adequate
amounts of, say, calcium? Where does one learn what
the RDA for calcium is? While focusing on other valuable
parts of macrobiotic teaching, many beginners ignore
these basics. What a shame.
Bill Shurtleffs's comment above
on this in-depth contribution by Bill Tara about science
and macrobiotics raised an interesting point. There
has indeed been a strange lack of macrobiotic curiosity
about why the nutritional deficiencies have happened
to people eating the macrobiotic way. The disregard
for nutritional science has been a major flaw in macrobiotics
over the years and caused repeated cases of deficiency,
which could have been avoided.
However a problem with nutritional
science is that different *experts* have different opinions.
Macrobiotic intuition can help separate the wheat from
the chaff. For example Walter Willet of Harvard University
correctly identified trans fats as a major health threat,
but he missed the point that saturated fat is actually
vital to health, not a burden. Lawrence Kushi wrote
in this forum that trans fats were the problem, but
with all his scientific background somehow missed the
harmful effect of polyunsaturated corn
oil and considered it not a problem.
On the other hand Dr. Weston A. Price, Dr. Mary Enig
and Dr. Ron Rosedale have given valuable scientific
insight into how to eat for optimal health. Their wisdom
is science at its best and provides concrete guidelines
to better understand the confusing subject of healthy
nutrition, which many long-time macrobiotic people still
do not really grasp.
Bill I found your
ideas interesting and stimulating and certainly agree
with your thoughts on intuition. Whether macrobiotics
is a science or art rather depends on your definitions.
Reading you original letter I thought you chose a definition
of science that leaned to being narrow and Newtonian.
Darwin's theory of evolution was
not quantitative, it did not attempt to measure, to
my knowledge after extensive and careful observation
Darwin developed a theory that had an intellectual integrity
that is still relevant today. Einstein with his theory
of relativity claimed we live in a fluid universe full
of change where nothing is static. Quantum physics is
all about probabilities not certainties. Pure science
teaches us that repeatable experiments are fantasy.
Science accepts you can measure light as a wave or sub
atomic particles moving in almost straight lines.
In its broadest form, science blurs
into the philosophical aspect of art. Could it be that
macrobiotics can sit comfortably somewhere in the overlap?
Carlo I was interested to read
your response regarding intuition. I have found my most
intuitive moments are when I'm doing something mundane
that distracts my mind sufficiently to stop me thinking
about the past or future.
We do not really know to what extent
sages developed their intuition. Much is written about
people like BODHIDHARMA meditated on the wall of a cave
for nine years but not on how his intuition developed
as a result. It is a constant in the teachings of Buddhism,
The Tao and Zen Buddhism that belief in doctrines and
concepts reduce our ability to be intuitive, which makes
sense to me.
I think it might be easier to be
intuitive with food than you think. We all have a lifetimes
experience in eating and associating the smell, taste
and texture of the food with the way we feel. We have
a biological memory of food and effect. With this we
experience cravings for certain foods when suffering
deficiencies. Because we have so much personal experience
with food and health we have a head start when it comes
to choosing food intuitively.
In my observation people eat pretty
well when left to eat as they feel with broad guidelines,
it is when they eat according to a concept and override
natural intuitive feelings that the risk of poor nutrition
Your point about honesty is fundamental
and is particularly relevant to macrobiotics. However,
you could also argue that honesty is easier when we
become less attached. If you are not attached to anything
you have no reason to lie to yourself or anyone.
One of the things I like about
the scientific community is that there is a level of
honesty where the limitations of the work are sought
out and acknowledged, especially in the source material.
I think just as you say it takes
a big effort to be intuitive it also requires a special
person to sift through all the experiments reading the
original reports, resolving conflicting data, trying
to extrapolate data
from isolated experiments into real life and coming
to a sensible conclusion. We should try but not underestimate
the task or be attached to the outcome.
One question that Bill's writing
poses for the nutritionists is how did people manage
before all this information existed? Some societies
fared much better than others and to what extent was
their success with food intuitive, learnt or environmental?
Some Questions About Judgement
by Bill Tara -
I thank everyone for their observations on my recent
article Macrobiotics Art or Science?
(Above) especially Carlo Guglielmo for his thoughtful
remarks. Being involved with this kind of written discussion
I realize why I prefer the face-to-face variety. There
is so much more room for subtlety and clarity when everyone
shares the same place and time. I am going to make my
comments brief. Let me begin by addressing seems to
be a misunderstanding about my article - the role of
science in macrobiotic teaching and counselling.
This is what I said:
We should consider the use of anything that we
can from science, to illuminate our understanding of
health and our ability to communicate our philosophy
and practice to the broadest audience. When we do that
we must also consider scientific information that is
critical of our thoughts or actions. This should be
true of any other way of seeing, spiritual,
artistic or philosophical not to mention common sense.
Our understanding of macrobiotics will be reflected
in our ability to appreciate, assimilate and communicate
this information in a way that is consistent with our
philosophy. Doing this will demand a spirit of non-credo
and flexibility. It will demand good judgement.
I repeated this thought in several different ways in
the article so I am at a loss as to why Bill Shurtleff
or anyone else would take offence. It does appear that
I may have tweaked a sacred cow.
The question as to whether we should use nutritional
information is a moot point - it is being used. Even
a superficial reading of articles on this web site should
more than confirm that. If Bill feels that RDAs
should be listed in a Macrobiotic book he should talk
to those who have written books on the diet and suggest
it. I cant think that anyone would object. Whatever
the diet being suggested by a counsellor, it should
be nutritionally sufficient. The question I had hoped
to raise is not a valuation of science as such but rather
the mentality behind science and its relationship
to macrobiotic thought.
I fully respect Carlos remarks but Oshawa (as
far as I can see) borrowed only what he wanted from
Traditional Chinese Medicine. I suspect he never in
a million years wanted to be a doctor of Oriental Medicine;
he was too impatient for that. Ohsawa was a revolutionary;
he wanted to stir things up. I base this on stories
told to me from people who met him in his travels in
Europe and America, as well as his own words. Anyway,
that may not be important.
The process of intuition, self-mastery and an overwhelming
love of life are not the sole domain of mystics or monks.
These qualities exist in ordinary people all over the
world. People totally unschooled in science and outside
the contemporary information grid. Fishermen, jungle
dwellers, housewives and poets all can have insights
into the working of the world that are profound in their
depth of understanding.
I think that Oshawa recognized this and tried to refine
centuries of tradition and folk wisdom into a contemporary
package. His impression was that many of these systems
had calcified with time. If, on occasion, he threw the
baby out with the bath water, its up to us to
make it right.
Phiya Kushi makes several comments that I need to address
here. I believe that science, as well as politics, religion
and corporations need to be called to account on the
way their products, research or ideas are used. Phiya
says, What people do with the information (scientific
studies) is a matter of their nature and has nothing
to do with the information itself. This is one
of the ways that science protects itself. It reminds
me of the National Rife Association who say that, Guns
dont kill people, people do. The British
comedian Eddie Izzard has pointed out, The gun
Science (including medicine and nutrition) is a cultural
artefact that reflects held beliefs in economics, religion
or politics. For example, the traditional medical systems
of India, Tibet and China depend on a particular mindset
reflecting their religions and social customs. It is
common in early history that religion was the guiding
force, Galileo found out the hard way. In contemporary
society this is not the case. The primary influence
of science is the corporate economy.
Research finds its funding under the corporate
umbrella of the defence industry, the pharmaceutical
industry or the food industry or any industrial application
that might apply. Those forces dictate what is researched,
what is looked for and how to turn that information
into profit. To say that the driving force behind any
enterprise is not present in its physical reality is
naive at best. To pretend that scientific objectivity
rules and makes science beyond ethical concerns, (Phiya
uses the word amoral which is a funny slip),
is really a recipe for disaster.
This is readily observed in Nutritional science. Nutritionists
are the leading apologists and handmaidens of the food
industry. They will usually say what they are paid to
say. That will change when enough people stop being
led astray, start using common sense and yes, intuition.
The basic ideas need to be challenged if change is to
come. The dangers inherent in the modern diet are a
direct result of a scientific/corporate mentality.
The major positive changes in attitudes concerning food
did not generate out of the scientific community. These
changes have been responses to grassroots movements.
The scientific community attacked organic foods, natural
foods, soya foods, vegetarians and macrobiotics for
years (and still do). These popular trends were pursued
in spite of nutritional science, not in response to
it. The fact that these influences still exist and have
a degree of popular acceptance is due to philosophical,
moral, and environmental and health concerns outside
the bounds of science.
Of course there are brave nutritionists, Doctors and
health professionals who speak against the corporate
food empires but those who are in direct employ by those
very industries vastly outweigh them. Steve Acuff mentions
several of these early pioneers and they are to be respected.
They generally did not receive respect from their professional
associates. It is an illustration of my point that the
consciousness of these men and women is what separates
them from the pack. Should we demand a higher ethical
standard from science? Absolutely.
Let me close with two quotes from Phiya and my comments
on them. Here is what he says.
the relevance that Bill suggests as
the distinct value of macrobiotics (with its emphasis
on intuition and judgement) is in my opinion, a moral
issue and is not an expose on the limitations of science.
There is an underlying moral premise both in what Bill
writes and in the works of Ohsawa and Michio that living
in harmony with nature is good and being abusive
and destructive to nature is bad with an implication
that science with its limitations is the culprit.
Phiya goes on to assert that, there is a problem when
we infuse our own value judgements of good and bad on,
for example, environmental destruction, food contamination
and widespread diseases and then blame science for these
Phiya is right about blame it serves little purpose.
It is definitely a case of bad judgement from everyone
involved, including all of us. It is not science that
is to blame but it is often the myopic vision of scientific
materialism that deflects attention from a larger vision
of life on the planet.
Phiya is right in saying that it is a moral issue. We
all make choices everyday even if our choice is to make
no choice. I feel that macrobiotics has often fallen
down by not creating a solid ethical stand on social
issues. It is not enough to hide behind some pseudo
Oriental non-attachment philosophy or to put ourselves
above the fray.
My life decision is to constantly strive to live
in harmony with nature. I often fail spectacularly
but I admit freely that I think that is a good thing
to keep pursuing. I am not ashamed to say that I believe
that the destruction of the environment, economic injustice
and food contamination are bad things.
Yes indeed bad things. We can talk about egos
and subjective or objective reality all we want but
I will still come down firmly on the side of a healthy
planet. It is the game I choose to play an exercise
of my own freedom. Of course its a value judgement
one that I am happy to live with.
Adios, till next time, Bill Tara