Dr van Buren

Dr Johannes Diedericus van Buren (November 27, 1921 – May 12, 2003)

Pamela Stadlen

“Most of the early students were taught in small groups and observed him in clinic, which was an inspirational experience for patients as well as students.

During my training, in the mid-eighties, students at ICOM fought for clinics with Dr van Buren; rumours abounded of how to acquire them on the black market! It was in these clinics that students experienced a healer and master of his craft.

They were intense days, as patients with inoperable brain tumours, AIDS and cancers came to him from around the world because they believed and trusted in him. Patients felt better just by being with him, and he showed great compassion towards their suffering.

To enter his oak-panelled treatment room was like stepping across a threshold, and it was with awe that we watched his dedication to the pulse and body diagnosis, assessing both afresh every treatment.

Watching his hands gently and intuitively palpate the body, locating the points without measuring and needling with such expertise and authenticity, are images that will never fade.”


Dr van Buren was born in a Theosophical Centre in Djakarta, Indonesia, the only child of Dutch parents.

His father was a ship’s Captain, his mother a highly intelligent linguist who lectured in esoteric subjects.

He lived with them for four years, and was then sent to boarding school in Holland during his parents divorce.This was a difficult time for him, especially as during this period he had two minor operations performed with only chloroform.

With his mother’s re-marriage to an Englishman they moved between Holland and England, and when he was 14 they settled near Madras in India.

Learning the languages and history of three countries presented him with quite a challenge. These and other events helped create a self-made, independent and practical young man – qualities that were going to prove very beneficial throughout his life.

His parents and stepfather were all theosophists, which served to imbue him in eastern philosophy from the cradle. This influence permeated his life, and his profound interest in esoteric teachings led him later on to become both a priest of the Liberal Catholic Church and a Co-Freemason, 32nd degree.

It was through the President of the Theosophical Society, also Commissioner of Scouts for the Madras Province, that Dr van Buren became very active in the Scout movement.

He set up a group at his school and in his town. He also learnt the practical application of Indian philosophy from this man, especially yoga.

The Second World War broke out and at 17 he was called up to serve in the Dutch army. By 20 he was a Sergeant Major in charge of 76 men, and became an expert in anti-tank guns.

They became prisoners of the Japanese for nearly four years, and were constantly being moved around the islands of South-East Asia – the slogan amongst the men was ‘become a prisoner of war and see the east’.

He received visions of their future moves, and knew two years before they were freed how it would happen.

He and his men were mostly building aerodromes, or ‘putting hills into holes’ as he put it. The few who survived did so on what became known as a rice sandwich:

  • rice in the morning,
  • rice in the afternoon and
  • rice in the evening.

It was fortunate for Dr van Buren that he was a lifelong vegetarian. But that rice happened to be brown, with the husk that contained the Vitamin B complex, so their captors were inadvertently prolonging their life.

But eventually the men were in very poor shape and few in number as dysentery claimed their lives.

Dr van Buren found himself in what was known as the Death Barracks, and was third from the door that led to the graveyard, when he elected to try a bitter herbal remedy offered by an indigenous tribesman.

Although he had a very painful reaction, he was completely cured. Another local man showed them how to treat tropical ulcers from the sap of a tree. That same remedy also helped their malnutrition symptoms.

Weighing only 7 stone, he was liberated by the British to Singapore, sent home to India and finally repatriated to Holland.

In 1947 he chose to go to England, and began his training as a nurse, eventually becoming a senior staff nurse at the Whittington hospital in north London on the neuro-surgical ward.

From this background of western medicine came his lifelong quest to understand and translate western anatomy, physiology and pathology from a Chinese perspective.

He undertook a four-year course at the British School of Naturopathy and Osteopathy, and on completion in 1954 was taken on as an assistant to the Vice Dean, who taught him homoeopathy.

It was at this point of transition between student and practitioner that he attended a lecture in acupuncture, and thought that ‘as it had been in existence for three thousand years, there must be something in it’.

Soon after, Lavier, the well known French acupuncturist, came to this country to give to a small group of the interested, which included Dr van Buren, the fundamentals of Chinese medicine. This took only fourteen consecutive days, 9 am to 9 pm.

Were they aware that they were breaking new ground, and that two or three of them would pioneer acupuncture in the West?

It is fascinating to reflect on that small band of people listening to this material, in all likelihood utterly mesmerised, in an era when this form of medicine was so new to the West.

This initial grounding stands in stark contrast to today’s training:
four years of lectures on Chinese philosophy and pathology, point location, massage classes, clinical training, practitioner development, tai chi, qi gong, a thesis, portfolios – not to mention three years of western medicine.

Dr van Buren continued studying on his own, while observing patients very carefully in his osteopathic clinic, and only much later did he begin using the needle.

He went to Taiwan in 1972 and attained a Doctorate from Wu Wei Ping, a Chinese Master.
Again, this was another marathon – for ten days, all day and even during some nights he was woken to treat a patient.

In 1974 in Korea he was given a text on the traditional teachings of Stems and Branches, the roots of the philosophy behind Chinese medicine, which emanated from China but was banned under communism.

A man called Chang Bin Li wrote this book, and Dr van Buren set about developing the practical side, in order to treat patients more effectively and preventatively. The preservation and application of this material became the driving force of his life; he continued researching it rigorously, even until the beginning of this year.

In between these two forays to the east, groups of students in various countries asked him to teach them, and he subsequently founded colleges of acupuncture in England, Holland, Norway and Australia.

So began another chapter of his life: as he traversed the hemispheres hundreds of students from around the world availed themselves of his knowledge and encouragement, many going on to become eminent practitioners, scholars and teachers. On hearing of his passing, many sent moving testimonials.

Dr Leon Hammer was a former student:

‘I somehow thought of Dr van Buren as someone who would survive me, and perhaps the passage of all time. Such was the power of his presence in my life and memory.

I followed this dedicated master of the medicine for four years during my frequent and extended trips to his clinic, and later to his school that came into being two years later. His work and his mind fascinated me.

He worked ceaselessly to explore the aspects of the medicine that were suited to his perspective of life. That perspective was invaluable. He shared his knowledge with me generously and without stint.

The principles and practice I received from him continue to work for me and for others to whom I feel privileged to likewise inform. He opened his home, his mind and his heart for which I am everlastingly grateful. For me he will always be an heroic figure.’

Another graduate who moved with Dr van Buren from the class in Kenilworth to his college at Gerard’s Cross in the early seventies, was Dr Gideon Ron, from Israel:

‘Being there, in the first year that the International College of Oriental Medicine was established, gave us the privilege of taking part in the creation of this new baby. Studying and working with Dick in those days taught us a lot about his friendly and fatherly character. He treated us with care and affection while we were taking our first steps in such a new (and old) field. In his own special way, he showed us The Way, and implanted in each one of us the love for Chinese medicine.’

And from another more recent graduate, Roni Sapir, who now runs his own acupuncture college in Israel:

‘To live without you is a lesson. Your style of teaching was not understood by many, but we all knew that behind those quiet moments that you were famous for, there was a lot of energy, the energy that if one day we would be able to listen to, we would get the answer that is right for each of us. There is a Chinese saying, ‘bi yan zi jiao’ ‘conclusion of silence’.

Now I can understand that your way of teaching is the right way and it is the only one that gives the person the possibility to be who he is. To be connected to his inner being and to act from his inner being, the being that has been given to us by Heaven and made us human through the interaction with Earth.

Your way of being and not being, guiding but not forcing, and looking but not interfering, is to be able to let go, for me it is to know the heavenly laws that guide the Earth. The Chinese say Tian jing di yi – meaning, ‘The old heavenly texts give rise to earthly justice’. That is Dr van Buren for me for ever.’

Most of the early students were taught in small groups and observed him in clinic, which was an inspirational experience for patients as well as students.

During my training, in the mid-eighties, students at ICOM fought for clinics with Dr van Buren; rumours abounded of how to acquire them on the black market! It was in these clinics that students experienced a healer and master of his craft.

They were intense days, as patients with inoperable brain tumours, AIDS and cancers came to him from around the world because they believed and trusted in him. Patients felt better just by being with him, and he showed great compassion towards their suffering.

To enter his oak-panelled treatment room was like stepping across a threshold, and it was with awe that we watched his dedication to the pulse and body diagnosis, assessing both afresh every treatment.

Watching his hands gently and intuitively palpate the body, locating the points without measuring and needling with such expertise and authenticity, are images that will never fade.

Practitioners at all stages of development rang from around the world to seek guidance on problematic cases. A consultant and mentor to many has been lost.

Dr van Buren was very much his own man, and was not impressed with class or status. He was tough and uncompromising with himself, and this was clearly shown through the way he coped with his own ill health over the last few years.

He refused all intervention by western medicine, aligning his physical self with his philosophy.

One can only reflect in awe at the conscious and courageous exit he took from this world, at home, with his devoted partner and companion, Pauline van Buren.

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