by Kaare Bursell                                                   

Kaare (left) leads PMC discussion. We highly recommend this conference!

In the past few years several well-known and prominent members of the macrobiotic community have died of degenerative illnesses, and there are individuals who have developed degenerative conditions such as osteoporosis and cancer even after years of macrobiotic practice who are still alive. I am sure many people, both within the macrobiotic community and in the “alternative, natural healing,” community have been shocked and surprised at these developments, although I have to say it has not altogether surprised me.

I have had lengthy discussions within the macrobiotic community on what could be the possible reasons for the fact that people practicing a macrobiotic way of life, as it is presently taught, will and have developed degenerative conditions. These discussions have taken place at the This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (held bi-annually since 1980, the next being in Phoenix, March 21-24), at the Fall Health Classic and with macrobiotic friends.

I have also pondered over this question for many years, since the mid ’80’s, when I first heard of someone who had been living macrobiotically since the early ’60’s died of liver cancer, and I am taking this occasion to share some thoughts for you to chew over. 

I do not think it is axiomatic that a human being will develop degenerative illnesses no matter how he or she chooses to live their life. I have no doubt, however, that degenerative illnesses are necessarily going to develop out the way people live their lives on the earth today. The number of people with degenerative conditions is staggering, literally hundreds of millions.

As we know from our macrobiotic studies, cancer is the end-stage of the process of illness. Today, 1500 people die of cancer every day in the United States alone, that is, every 58 seconds!

So, we need to discover or ascertain what macrobiotic practice has in common with the culture as a whole, for one thing that macrobiotic practice has proven over the course of the 50 years it has been active in North America is that food/diet does not heal illness of any kind, including cancer.

Now, I am not saying here that the macrobiotic way of eating is bogus and should be abandoned. On the contrary, I believe the macrobiotic way of living as far as it applies to our daily eating is well-founded. 

However, in order to heal, it is necessary to change one’s whole life. This will include a way of eating informed by macrobiotic principles applied to the selection, preparation and cooking of our daily food.

However, this changing of one’s whole life includes changing MANY aspects of our lives, in ADDITION to changing our eating habits, including our attitudes, our emotions, our way of thinking, our knowledge of the human being, our world-view, the way we relate to other people and nature, to name some.

So, what is a common thread running through the macrobiotic community and the general culture and has been the case since the beginning of modern macrobiotics?

It is the notion that the material foundation that supports our lives is the basis for all we build on it.

There is so much evidence that world-wide culture, today, regardless of color, religious background, sex or age supports this view in the actual day-to-day practice of living. It is possible to cite many examples, from such antiquated ideas as “we are what we eat”, “the genetic blue-print”, “the atom is the building block of matter”, “the big-bang theory”, the “genetic basis of behavior” and that biotechnology will usher in a new age of ageless, illness-free living, where we can clone the best of the human race etc., etc, ad nauseam.

On looking over the past twenty years of macrobiotic teaching and practice resulting from that teaching, it is evident to me that macrobiotic principles and ideas have not been well-understood by the majority of people teaching it. Now, there are good reasons why this is the case and the main reason is that macrobiotic practice as it is now taught is not well-versed in macrobiotic principles and ideas.

Macrobiotic practice has its origins in the ancient world, with its beginnings in The Ancient Indian Culture, which is pre-historical, arising in the region we now call Tibet. This occurred after the culture of Atlantis destroyed itself through the misuse of power, which brought about the world-wide flooding documented in Immanuel Velikosvky’s book, “Earth In Upheaval”, and the continent of Atlantis sank to form what is now the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

The Ancient Indian culture was a very lofty spiritual culture and the only records we have of it, and these records are but a faint echo of the spiritual grandeur of that culture, is The Bhagavad-Gita.  In the Taittiriya of the Upanishads of The Bhagavad Gita, it is written:

“Out of Brahman, who is Self, came ether; out of ether, air; out of air, fire; out of fire, water; out of water, earth; out of earth, vegetation; out of vegetation, food; out of food, the body of man. The body of man, composed of the essence of food, is the physical sheath of the Self.

From food are born all creatures which live upon food and after death return to food. Food is the chief of all things. It is therefore said to be medicine for all diseases of the body.”

On close examination of this passage it is evident that the body of the human being is not to be confused with the human being. The physical body we see with our physical eyes is NOT the human being, it is the “physical sheath” of the human being. It is also evident that the human being is a manifestation of the Self, which IS Brahman. As such the origin of the human being is wholly spiritual, and the human being is a spiritual being, including our physical body, which is only made manifest by its “physical sheath”, which is composed of the “essence of food”.

Now, we move forward to the Ancient Chinese culture, and it the words of one of its greatest philosophers, ChuangTze: “Heaven gave you a form, Earth lent you a body, and you wear yourself out gibbering about ‘hard’ and ‘white’.”

This quote clearly shows that the human being is a spiritual being whose shape has been given to us by “Heaven” (the spiritual worlds), the material of which has been provided for by the earth (food).

In the I Ching, The Book Of Change, one of the greatest of all ancient books, comparable to the Bible, it is written, in that section of the I Ching called, “Ta Chuan/The Great Treatise”, Chapter 5, “Tao in its relation to the Light Power and the Dark Power”, verse 9:

“That aspect of it which cannot be fathomed in terms of light and dark is called spirit”.

The commentary on this verse says:

“In their alternation and reciprocal effect, the two fundamental forces serve to explain all phenomena of the world. Nonetheless, there remains something that cannot be explained in terms of the interaction of these two forces, a final why. This ultimate meaning of Tao is the spirit, the divine, the unfathomable in it, that which must be revered in silence.”

The light power refers to yang, and the dark power to yin, these are “the two fundamental forces”. Now, this passage was composed thousands of years ago, around 1800 BC, and the human being has continued to evolve since then, albeit largely unconsciously.

However, human evolution began “The Age Of Light”, as it is called, in 1879 AD, and it is now incumbent upon us to penetrate into spiritual worlds in order to discover and understand our true heritage as spiritual beings.

Thus, the truth is, the human being and the earth do NOT have a material foundation. The earth is not only a great organism but is also a lofty spiritual being, and the human being is also a spiritual being.

The human being is constituted of astral body, etheric body and physical body and the reality of the physical body is that it is ALSO spiritual. The Physical body that we see with our physical eyes is not the actual physical body itself – in the beautiful phrase of Rudolf Steiner, the material physical body we see with our physical eyes is “a gesture by the mineral kingdom that we are in the presence of a human being “.

Thus food is NOT the foundation of our physical existence – it is, rather, the palette we use, much like an artist or musician uses colors and notes to paint a picture or compose a piece of music, to fashion our physical body so that it is a fitting instrument to do our spiritual deeds on earth – work out our karma and fulfill our destiny.

Rudolf Steiner is where I suggest people practicing macrobiotic go to begin a study of self-knowledge. We first change our way of eating in order to provide a fitting physical sheath for our spiritual life to act out what we need to do on the earth. However, eating macrobiotically without taking the time and effort to understand what we are, spiritually, is not only a waste of time, it will actually bring about the opposite of what we intend – degenerative illness.

Christ made the comment that it is not fitting to put new wine into old wineskins, for if we do, either the old wineskin will burst and the new wine will be lost, or, the new wine will be spoiled by the old wineskin. The converse of this statement is putting old wine into new wineskins. Obviously, no-one would fashion a new wineskin and then pour old wine into it – what would be the point?

Let us imagine that our body, the physical sheath is the wineskin, and our spiritual life is the wine. When we change our way of eating to one informed by macrobiotic principles and practices, then we are creating a new wineskin. However, if we continue pouring old wine into it in the form of our habitual ideas and concepts and manner (emotions, feelings, attitudes etc.) of relating to the world, the ones inculcated in us by the materialistic, arid culture in which we live, we are placing into our wineskin the same destructive forces that live and manifest in modern culture.

Thus, it is not surprising that people practicing a macrobiotic way of life have been developing degenerative illnesses. This is to be expected as long as we find the concepts and ideas of modern science to be valid with regard to spiritual life – that is, understanding human, animal and plant life and their origin.

Rudolf Steiner says, at the end of one lecture “so, to summarize, we may say from nutrition through healing to culture and civilization” (in “Man as Symphony of The Creative Word”).

On another occasion, when he was asked why is it that after 20+ years of teaching anthroposophy all over Europe from 1890 – 1915 that there had been no noticeable rejuvenation of cultural life in Europe – in the arts, education, politics etc, which one would have expected to happen, he responded, after a long silence – “this is a question of nutrition”.

On another occasion he says, “the future of medicine must take as its starting point the processes of digestion and metabolism and deduce from there how disease in the widest sense arises” (which, by the way, is what I have done in my book , which you can purchase from my website).

Thus, Steiner, like all authentic spiritual teachers, well understood the necessity of proper nutrition in spiritual life and you can read a handy summation of his teaching on this subject in two books written by one of his students, Dr Gerhardt Schmidt MD – they are “The Dynamics of Nutrition” and “The Essentials of Nutrition”, both published by Biodynamic Literature.

25 years ago it was my hope that macrobiotic ideas and practices would find a wide audience in the world. In fact, I was naïve enough to think the modern medical science would have no trouble in confirming the truth of macrobiotic practice as one that is a sound foundation for developing a healthy body and soul, and by extension a healthy culture- in politics, education, agriculture, business etc.

However, the spirit behind our rapidly disintegrating Western decaying, arid culture has proved too much for people to resist. And the ‘spirit ‘ of our rapidly disintegrating Western civilization  is materialism.

What do I mean by materialism? Materialism is the grotesque notion that all that exists is what we can count, measure and weigh and that life is made of atoms and molecules which function according to the laws of physics and chemistry.

Materialism insists, among other things, that the totality of human being IS the PHYSICAL BODY. Thus we have such absurd ideas as “healing foods”, and “the chemical basis of emotions” and the “genetic basis of life”. These are illusory and terminally wrong ideas and concepts.

Thus the macrobiotic movement has basically faded into the background or self-destructed because macrobiotic people, by and large, did not change their minds; they did not self-reflect and as a result, like most of society, became infected by the spirit of materialism. They therefore have developed the same degenerative illnesses that the general culture experiences.

Furthermore, in the past 25 years, the insistent infection of materialism into the souls of the general population, closing around their hearts in an icy grip, meant that less and less people became attracted to macrobiotics and have gone wholesale into nutraceuticals, vitamin and mineral supplements, colloidal silver, phyto-pharmaceuticals, anti-oxidants, blue-green algae, magnets etc., etc., ad infinitum (you can bet your life that another ‘flavor of the month” will be making its appearance at a “natural” food store near you shortly).

 If we develop our understanding of yin and yang and the Five Transformation Theory as applied to understanding how to cook, and we do our own cooking, practice self-diagnosis in order to make the principles work for us; if we do this, AS WELL AS change our way of thinking to get past the illusion of materialism, then we can heal ourselves of any symptom of any illness, degenerative or not.

However, we cannot get rid of disease by any means – the fact of the matter is that we are all subject to the forces of disease as long as we have a physical body as a “gesture of the mineral kingdom”. But we also have available to us the forces of healing because we are spiritual beings. However, as I hope I have made clear, as long as we think materialistically, we cannot heal in the true sense. 

- Kaare Bursell

Link: The Alchemycal Pages

“The macrobiotic way of life recommended by the ancient wise people and practiced widely for physical, mental and spiritual development consists of the following arts; the way of eating, the way of breathing, and the way of daily life. Because a human being is part of his environment, and has evolved through biological development covering more than three billion years on this planet, his physical, mental and spiritual conditions are based upon what he consumes from his natural environment and his food. The way of eating is the most essential factor for his development.”

Michio Kushi, THE BOOK OF DO-IN (ISBN 0-87040-382-6)

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