The Library

The library at The Naga Center might not look so big.  But in that sweet room sits what I believe is the largest traditional Thai medicine library in the world outside of Thailand.  It's no small thing.  When I lived in Thailand, my teacher entrusted me with most of his library, and I mailed home a quarter of a ton of books; this collection occupies one wall of the library.  Many of these books are extremely hard to find medical texts.  Most of them are in Thai, and quite a few are in archaic medical Thai, such that only a small handful of people in the world will be able to read them.  Sadly I am not one of those people; but my teacher is, and when he comes to teach he frequently spends time going through and translating bits of these old texts. 

Along the other walls of the library is an assortment of English language medical texts ranging from the common Thai massage sequence books (yes, I have supported each of you out there who has written a book on Thai bodywork), to books on the medicinal herbs of Thailand.  There is one shelf devoted to books on Buddhism, another to Thai language studies, and even a little corner of the room occupied by western medical books including anatomy and physiology books, and western herbal therapies.  Oh, and there is also a spot for children's books including many Jātaka tales.

It's a medicine library.  Sometimes I go in there and find myself overwhelmed by how much I still have to read.  Other times, most of the time, I'm comforted by the presence of these papery tombs of knowledge.  I look at the wall of Thai language books and I hope that someday a gifted translator with Thai medical know how, will hunker down in there and turn them into texts available in English.  I thumb through books that I cannot read, looking at diagrams and drawings of strange plants, stumbling along with my kindergarten Thai reading abilities, knowing it is not enough for real comprehension. I fear fire.  Most of these volumes are irreplaceable, and I feel the weight of being their caretaker.

Unlike Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, Thai medicine has not really been studied in the west.  Other than a handful of books on massage techniques, and the few more theory based books put out by myself and Pierce Salguero, there is very little written in English or other western languages.  Westerners are fond of saying that Thai medical knowledge doesn't really exist; that it is all borrowed from other countries, or that all knowledge was lost with the destruction of Ayutthaya.  I've heard people say there is almost nothing written even in Thai.  Yet here I have a wall containing a quarter ton of texts, all of them on the subject of Thai medicine; ranging from herbal therapies to deep visceral manipulations, and from magical spirit medicine to basic food nutrition.  The fact that they have not yet been translated into English does not mean that the knowledge isn't there.  It sits waiting like a secret in plain sight.

When you come to take a class at The Naga Center, I encourage you to sit in the library.  I encourage you to peek inside some of these mysterious old books.  And if you happen to be able to read archaic medical Thai, with the comprehension of one who practices medicine, I invite you to take up residence in the library.  I'll make you muffins and tea.