Buddhist Hemorrhoids

Hemorrhoids are blood vessels that bulge out of the anus caused partly by stagnant blood flow.  This post discusses the meaning of the Chinese character for “hemorrhoid” and show its connection to, of all things, Buddhism.  “In the end”, I will also offer you a cure!

On the left is a picture of the anus, where the blood vessels bulge through the rectal wall.  The Japanese man on the right, after getting off the toilet sees blood in the toilet from his hemorrhoids, and shouts, “hemorrhoids” (痔).

The Chinese character to the right is “hemorrhoid”.
Japanese = ji
Chinese = zhì

As in my “hara” post, I will now describe the origin of this character and share some linguistic, religious and medical connections in the process!

Most Chinese characters are combination (a ligature) of other characters.  “Hemmorroid” is composed of three smaller characters.The first section is “dirt” or “ground”.  Imagine a pile of dirt.  Oh, wait, you don’t have to imagine it, I drew it for you on the right.
Now, with a little imagination,  you can see a symbolic brush strokes the Chinese used to abstractly represent that “ground” picture.
And here is the block form of the ground character .
Here I show how “ground/dirt” is part of the character for “hemorrhoid”.
The second component of the hemorrhoid character is located below the “ground” character.  This component means “measure”:

Japanese= sun
Chinese = cùn

There are several theories as to the origin of this character.

The “measure” character also means “small” or “inch”.  It does not actually mean “inch”, but instead a measurement in ancient China which is close to an inch in length.  Anyway, this pictorial predecessor of the character shows a thumb next to a hand.   The thumb is both the origin of this measure as it is for the measure of an “cun”/inch.
In classical oriental medicine, the way of finding acupuncture points on the body is to find a landmark (like a bony protuberance) and then use your thumb to layout the prescribed number of cuns to the described point.  The character later became generalized to mean “measure”.
Combining “ground” + “measure” we get this character.  Ask yourself, “What sort of  ground is carefully measured?”Yes, you are right, a holy place —  a temple.  The Jewish scriptures, for instance, tells of very careful measurements for their holy temple.  Likewise in  Japan and China, their holy grounds are carefully measured by priests to create a perfect abode for their sacred practices.Thus combining the character for “ground” and “measure” gives us the Chinese character for “temple“.

Japanese: Ji
Chinese: Sì

You will note that both “temple” and “hemorrhoid” are pronounced the same: “ji” in Japanese.

Chinese characters, as you have seen in my discussion of “Hara”, are divided into meaningful sections which are called “radicals“.  The character for hemorrhoid has a surrounding radical which is called the “illness” or “ailment” radical.  Characters using this radical usually have something to do with sickness or illness.
So, lets put “temple” and “illness” together to arrive at the grand finale:  Hemorrhoids!
Some would say that hemorrhoids had the symbol of “temple” attached to the radical for “ailment” simply to provide the sound.   But the explanation I heard from Japanese is that frequent meditation with crossed-legs caused stagnant blood and thus hemorrhoids.  Hemorrhoids are a common ailment in the Buddhist temples.
But you meditators need not despair.  There are traditional ways to both  prevent and treat hemorrhoids. The prevention measure takes  us back to my posting on “hara” where I spoke of the 腹式呼吸 (Hara Shiki Kokyū) which is Japanese for “diaphramatic breathing”.  Diaphramatic breathing increases venous flow and can help avoid hemorrhoids.Of course regular fiber and not straining during bowel movements are also helpful in avoiding hemorrhoids.  But if you are going to sit on your butt for long periods of time — in meditation, in an office cubical or in a car or truck — may I suggest also doing diaphramatic breathing.
But once you get hemorrhoids, let me teach you a Traditional Chinese Medicine technique for treating them.  Fortunately, I have no idea if this actually works but I have seen it used in many clinics. First you must find “The Hundred Meetings” (百合) point on top of your head !  That is the name of the acupuncture point on the crown of the head.  Fold both ears forward then draw a line from the tip of the folded ears across the top of the head.  Where that line crosses the center of the head, is called “The Hundred Meetings”. Since hemorrhoids are the result of stagnant blood, the treatment claims to remove the “heat” caused by the stagnant blood.  This is done by burning moxa at a point furthest from the hemorrhoids — at “The Hundred Meetings”.
Moxa” is a fine, oily fiber which comes from a plant called mugwort and burns at a low temperature rather slowly.  In fact the character for Moxa is 灸 which  is composed of a top part meaning “eternity” and a bottom part meaning “fire” — the long lasting heat.  Moxa is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine throughout the Orient.  The technique, in English, is called Moxibustion.  Here is an inviting picture from an advertisement from a medicine site showing patients how comfortable moxa can be — and, indeed, contrary to your possible imagination, it can be a pleasant experience.
Finally, it is not only Buddhists who will be prone to hemorrhoids but also you bloggers are highly prone because of long sitting habits.  So do some hara-breathing, burn mugwort on your head or better yet, get off your butt and start exercising and eat better! 🙂

triangle_end_tinySee other “Word!” posts, here.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

14 responses to “Buddhist Hemorrhoids

  1. Hahah. This is an awesome entry — I love that you spent this much time researching and writing about hemorrhoids 🙂 In all likelihood, this is a case of assigning more meaning to the character than was originally intended (I’m almost 100% the temple is for pronunciation purposes). Regardless, it made for a damn good read!

    And speaking of reading, NOT reading on the toilet is also a good way to avoid hemorrhoids. A decent rule of thumb is that if, when you stand up, there’s a red ring around your butt, then you’re spending too much time on the toilet 🙂


  2. Thanx Zach ! Two days and no comments on this post after so much work -- I was getting disheartened. My wife thinks the bloody toilet cartoon probably scared folks away. And BTW, it didn’t take any “research” — all that stuff is in my head (no, I didn’t just pull it out of my …)

    I agree, it is probably 当て字 (not sure what the Chinese word is). But I seriously heard that explanation a lot. It is as if 当て字 take on a retro-folk-etymology.

    Finally, “reading on the can” — I never got into that. But then, unlike a lot of poor blokes, I have never had trouble getting the job done!

  3. atimetorend

    Few people care about Japanese and Chinese linguistics.

    I am interested in Japanese linguistics, but have not had time to read your post.

  4. How does one burn Moxa on their head without setting their hair on fire? 😉

  5. @ atimetorend: ah, shucks, you are still around. Thanx. Hope the post helps you — as you sit on your butt, like me, for much of the day!

    @ Mike :
    Great question. The size of the piece of moxa is only about as big as 1-2 grains of rice. The hair is separated in a part and the moxa placed gently on a clear landing site. It then will only burn a few hairs — no more than normally fall out each hour.

    Believe it or not, it is a unique feeling — but you actually have to be right on HyakuE (the Meeting of the Hundred). You live close, tell me if you want me to visit you with my moxa!!

  6. I have an advantage in that I’m pretty sure the HyakuE is clear. 😉

    I do suffer from hemorrhoids from time to time, I’m sure due to me sitting on my butt at work all day and then sitting on my butt for most of the evening. My weight can’t help either, but I’m working to change that.

    I’ve recently upped my fiber intake and need to focus more on the diaphramatic breathing. I’m a tad skeptical of the moxa and acupuncture/pressure in general, but find it interesting. I may change my mind, but appreciate the offer.

    Now grabbing a beer/coffee/tea/water I’d be up for. 😉

  7. Ed

    Hmmm… well, by the time I got here to comment there were quite a few comments. Originally I just found it to be a pain in the ass… :-} My approach to zazen has always been: quit doing zazen before the hemorrhoids begin.

  8. @ Ed
    Your body scanning skills must be highly refined to perceive exactly when the rectal superficial veins are beginning to bulge. Given my lack of yogic skills, I find that using a Zen timer and exercise work better, . 🙂
    What do you Chiros do for hemorrhoids in your patients?

  9. Ed

    @Sabio… I was referring to macro-management of time spent sitting. I just never saw the point of too much zazen. The point being that “true-seeing” or Awakeness is already a fact. So no amount of sitting gets you there. You already are there. So, much to the chagrin of my zen friends and probably my teacher, Steve, I stayed away from the retreats…
    Regarding chiropractic treatment of hemorrhoids, in general we are on board with diet and daily habits. So if a patient eats a very poor diet we would try to help them change and then modify offending activities. Acupuncture can be helpful as well as potato suppositories according to some. If there is nerve root irritation spinal adjusting can be helpful. My health philosophy is: “you have what you have because you are who you are”. :-}

  10. I’m so torn, S, between commenting here or on the tobacco/religion post.

    Both are just wonderful. Well done, sir. Well done. I want to draw silly parallels with all sorts of things — the Protestant work-ethic, the modern religion of digestive-cleansing, the “red devil” inside all of us, the meditation practitioner vs the couch potato, the indulgent smoker and the use of indulgences in religion…

    Ahh, life is so perverse, so convoluted, and so grand…

  11. @ Andrew : glad it triggered your manic pleasant associations!

  12. Earnest

    From one painful blob in one’s butt can come extraordinary diversity of thought. This literary gem should be published more broadly. Sabio I am deeply impressed that you came up with all this having never had to experience one yourself.

  13. @ Earnest
    Why thank you. But if that last statement was really a question in disguise, the answer is: “No, not yet” — but lordy I have seen more than a man should ever have to see”. 🙂

  14. Jim

    Potato suppositories Ed (11/8/2010)? I hope they are small potatoes. :-\

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