The recent history of acupuncture according to the philosophy of stems and branches begins with a memorable person, Dr. J.D. van Buren (November 27th 1921 – May 12th 2003) who was responsible for reconstructing this form of acupuncture singlehandedly.
Dr. van Buren , who was of Dutch parentage, was born in the Theosophical Centre in Batavia in the former Dutch-Indies. His mother was a gifted linguist and gave lectures on esoteric topics. During the period in which his parents separated, he moved to the Netherlands, where he stayed in a boarding school. His mother got remarried to a British man who was also active in the Theosophical movement. Initially the Van Buren’s moved backwards and forwards between Holland and the United Kingdom until he was 14, when they settled in Madras in British India. Partly thanks to these early migrations to and from the East and partly to the continuous exposure to the esoteric concepts of the Theosophical Society of his mother and stepfather, oriental philosophy was the main staple of his educational nourishment. In Madras, the president of the theosophical society taught him the practical application of Indian philosophy, particularly Yoga. These influences permeated his entire life and remained the driving force in his later explorations of Chinese acupuncture.
In 1947, after WW II, J.D. van Buren moved to England and in the following years he obtained qualifications in nursing, naturopathy, osteopathy and homeopathy. One of his first introductions to Chinese Acupuncture was an intensive seminar with Dr. Jacques Lavier, the well-known French acupuncturist who was one of the first westerners responsible for introducing Chinese medicine in Europe. Many of the later pioneers of acupuncture in the West were present at this seminar, including Dr. J.R. Worsley, who later founded the five elements school.
Dr. van Buren continued his studies in acupuncture on his own, keenly observing the patients in his osteopathic clinic in order to understand the theoretical concepts of Chinese medicine. Only much later did he begin to use needles.
In 1972 he went to Taiwan and obtained a Doctorate in acupuncture from the Chinese master Wu Wei Ping. In 1974, during a study trip to Korea, he was given a text on the traditional teachings of the Heavenly Stems and the Earthly Branches, a doctrine that due to communism had virtually disappeared in mainland China. This text was written by the Sino-Korean Dr. Chang Bin Li and turned out to expose the roots of Chinese philosophy in a way which was very compatible with the esoteric leanings in Dr. van Buren’s mind.
It is to his great credit that from then onwards Dr. Van Buren dedicated his life to converting these theories to practical applications and reinventing a system of acupuncture. As a clinical practitioner he was second to none, approaching his patients with great compassion and successfully treating many people who suffered from almost untreatable disorders.
Dr. van Buren founded acupuncture schools in the Netherlands, England, Norway and Australia. The schools in the Netherlands and England operated under the name of ICOM. ICOM in the UK is still running courses to the present day. Many prominent names from the current acupuncture world started with Dr. van Buren, e.g. Leon Hammer, Peter Firebrace, Joan Duveen, Peter van Kervel, Peter Deadman, Giovanni Macioca and Roisin Golding, to name just a few.
Up to the present day, Joan Duveen and Peter van Kervel in particular have continued to spread the teaching of Stems and Branches and thus carry the torch of the late Dr. van Buren’s legacy. In 1988, they founded Study Centre PaKua in the Netherlands for this purpose, as well as for promoting the study of Chinese philosophy in relationship to the practice of medicine.
Today, Study Centre PaKua is run by people from the next generation of acupuncturists who trained under Duveen and Kervel. In the year 2010 the aims of PaKua have not, in essence, changed much compared to its starting point in the 1980s, but the context in which we give shape to these objectives calls for a new orientation. The start of the story of this form of acupuncture reflected a time of pioneering, the subsequent period was about the preservation, clarification and transferability of its application. Now we feel that it is also about making the proper place for Stems and Branches within the whole of Chinese philosophy visible once again to the broader TCM community. We see the currently renewed interest in the classical sources of TCM as an open invitation to share and make available this particular part of those sources. In addition, we want to invite each TCM practitioner and those who practice Stems and Branches acupuncture in particular, to partake in this task.