As the first Japanese man to be certified in India to practice Ayurveda, Hiroo Komine has been studying the Indian holistic healing system for the past two decades, treating hundreds of people. More recently, he has expanded his scope of interest to biohacking. Makery met him at Dinacon in Panama.
The principles of the Digital Naturalism Conference (Dinacon), held this year in Gamboa, Panama, are: interact with the natural environment, exchange with other “Dinasaurs” and create on site. This is the applied concept of “Digital Naturalism” as defined by Andy Quitmeyer, instigator of Dinacon and host of this extraordinary summer camp on the edge of the jungle, where one hundred artists-technologists-researchers-scientists crossed paths at various times throughout the month of August 2019. Among the Dinasaurs, Makery met Hiroo Komine. Interview.
Makery: How did you first get interested in Ayurveda?
Hiroo Komine: I came across it when I was around 22. I was studying in the United States, environmental science. At that time you think about life, what’s up with life, etc. I was interested in buddhism, philosophy in general. My grandpa was a buddhist monk, and I was introduced to meditation quite young, like at 19, so I had some inclination toward an Indian hippie vibe. Also I was in Vermont, where there are lots of hippies from New England prep schools—smoking lots of pot, talking about philosophy, being stoned, all that. Back at that time Indian philosophy, especially buddhism, fascinated me, then I found Ayurveda in a book.
It’s something that has a practical application on a solid understanding of life—at least from an Indian point of view, not that I buy everything blindly. Also for the treatment aspect, it just made sense to me. The state of disease and state of health is not black and white, like one day all of a sudden you become sick, it’s a gradual change, every day, how you live, how you think, how you relate, how you see things, how you hear things, how you wake up and do things. So you can apply solid theory to practical everyday living, which expands and develops into all this treatment aspect.
Now I’ve been doing this for the past 20 years, and as I get older, my understanding of life and of a lot of other things changes. So my understanding of Ayurveda also changes. Nowadays it gives me really wonderful insight about the human body and anatomy and each function, how we are kind of mutant. We have other living beings living inside us, like our DNA, we share a lot of things in common. So the physiology of our bodies gives different insights that Western medicine does not. Anything that influences your metabolism can be considered to be Ayurvedic.
How do you personally interpret Ayurveda?
In the classic sense, anything that’s good for your life, anything that’s good for you as well as for others around you, also anything that’s bad for you and for others, and how you utilize all those things to make yourself healthy and others healthy, is Ayurvedic. For me, in a clinical setting, I don’t really go outside the classical understanding. In places like Dinacon I experiment, play around, that’s also Ayurvedic for me. The honey stuff is classic. In a clinical setting I stick with the classical recipe more, so instead of using simple honey, we already have the classical formulation that contains the honey, and I tend to use that. But if nothing is available, or if the patient doesn’t have the certain honey formulation eye drop, then I use any honey.
Anything can be medicine according to Ayurveda. Even what you see or what you hear, if applied. Indian people tend to define things, very rikutsuppoi (理屈っぽい logical). They always come up with reason and definition, kind of like the opposite of Japanese language, which can be really vague. Indian language is very definitive, squarish thinking.
So I have this eczema problem…
If we approach it thoroughly, first we need to adjust the diet, focus on the bitter things, like for the blood purifier. According to Ayurveda, the skin consists of four major tissues: lymph, blood, muscle, skin born from muscle tissue. When they do not develop properly, you get skin lesions, then the blood becomes impure. The reason you get that is that’s how your metabolism is adjusted, from what you eat, the first link is the lymph, then the body fluid is made, then that in turn becomes the blood, the mixture of the balance in the blood. So the root consists of how you digest, how you turn food into the blood. For that you have to fix your digestion, adjust how you eat, what you eat, when to eat, how you chew, also your psychological state. When you tense so much, your digestion goes sluggish. You have to teach yourself how to relax, distance yourself from stressful thoughts.
Good sleep is one way, meditation is another approach. It’s a good method, easier said than done, but it’s about all the thoughts, your interpretation of the things that happen in life, your reaction to a given situation. They say you can choose how to interpret, the meaning of life. Also once you get stressful thoughts, they come back in your mind from time to time. Meditation is developing the mental muscle to distance yourself, to not get too much involved to the extent that your breathing becomes shallow and you tense up your muscles. That changes how you digest and how you metabolize your body… So one thing is dietary instruction, also medicine-wise, we prescribe blood purifier, anti-stress, immunal moderator to balance out the immunity and some kind of purgative to make the blood impurities go away.
Has the condition been with you for several years? I don’t remember how many atopic eczema patients I’ve had, probably 30 or 40, and out of them, maybe 10 had really good results. But if it’s with the patient for decades and decades, since they were born, it can be difficult. We can reduce it, but it’s going to come back. In very few cases, say 5%, it just doesn’t work. Actually there have been cases where the skin condition got worse. It’s part of the risk. It’s something human beings do, nothing is perfect. What we are facing is not like, you do this and it will heal this condition. You can’t really expect how nature is going to be, right? Human physiology is pathologically facing nature, we just have to accept it. But most patients don’t buy this argument. They’re paying the money, they’re spending the time… But at least if things do not go well, we can keep doing things until the symptoms subside to some extent. Skin conditions are very common.
How do you at least try to live Ayurvedically?
I have my own issues. I’ve been suffering from recurring alcohol addiction, it kicks in maybe a third of the year. Two-thirds of the year I’m really solid, I’ll wake up early and do meditation and yoga and be really stable. But because of the way I grew up, I guess, I don’t really know what caused me to be unable to bear being sober when I was young. I always got nervous seeing people, surrounded by lots of people, I needed to be drunk. My counselor said it was because the way I was raised in my family situation, my defense mechanism, something like that.
So I have my own issues, it’s part of my own life journey. But because that’s part of my life, I can channelize or empathize with people who have similar tendencies. I’m usually quite honest about my own issues, so even in my practical setting, sometimes I just tell them, yeah I do have issues, basically tell them a lot of things honestly. Some people like it, some find me to be not trustworthy. That’s ok. I don’t have to be perfect for every single person. Most patients were glad they came to me. In my practice I don’t go outside of Ayurveda because it stabilizes me, I know this is the place I can come back to.
So I have these not-so-Ayurvedic things going on in my life, how do I take it? For me, at least, I’m casually Ayurvedic on a personal level. Not that I do that to other people, but I’m not so much an Ayurvedic fascist—like yoga fascist, Ayurvedic fascist, everything has to be like this and that. It’s not that you have to follow everything. I feel that you can experience for yourself and decide on your own if it’s good for you or not.
What’s the connection between Ayurveda and biohacking?
I’ve been interested in the scenes of biohacking and making things, empowering people, the alternative independent approach… and I always liked punk rock when I was young. I think it was around 2010-11 that I happened to come across biohacking, how people are making medicines on their own.
I was working in a Japanese hospital, because my Indian license is now accepted in Japan. But in Japan you have to run the hospital, there’s always the money aspect involved, which I do not deny, but… I went to an Indian hospital for training, not working there, living in India, finished my studies and intern training in India, then after that went back to Japan to work in a Japanese hospital. Once every one or two years I go back to India for further training. That’s how my life has been for the last ten years. So in this Japanese hospital setting, you have to charge, and Ayurvedic treatment is expensive in Japan, not covered by national insurance. Like purgation treatment, if I do it in Japan, the hospital will charge the patient ¥120,000 [US$1,125], it’s a lot. It’s much cheaper in India. I always had a problem with those prices, that was in my mind at that time, and then I discovered biohacking. I always wanted to put Ayurveda and biohacking and the autonomous, anarchist kind of scenes together.
So in 2016, I went to Spain. There’s a group there called GynePunk. In Spain there are a lot of refugees, they tend to be foreigners with no legal status in Europe, they can’t really go to a regular hospital. Many of them have to work in the sex industry, they contract STDs, vaginal infections, etc. GynePunk tries to make accessible medicine from a hackerspace approach, trying to create a simple version of diagnostic tools using 3D printers connected to a webcam attached to the tools to assess STDs. So I was fascinated with GynePunk. I contacted them, and they told me they would have a conference called Hack the Earth [read Makery’s 2019 report], so I attended there and shared an Ayurvedic classical recipe for STD like vaginal infection. Basically, you make bean paste mixed with pepper and turmeric then make a wick, insert into the vagina where it’s infected, so that it burns and kills the infection. It’s only a local treatment. All these infections, you always need to approach them with diet and stress management and holistic treatment, plus on top of that you give the local treatment. So I shared it, that was my goal: to give accessible Ayurvedic treatment in this sort of hackerspace scene.
Now you are living a nomadic life, touring biohacking events around the world?
I left my work at the hospital in Japan [in December 2018]. I was just going to travel around, going to different hackerspaces. Dinacon is the first stop in my travels. After that I’m going to the States for Please Try This At Home—queer biohacking, putting in computer chips to make yourself like a grinder cyborg, transhumanism or whatever, in Pittsburg. Then the Bio Summit at MIT. Also I want to go to Counter Culture Labs in Oakland, like I met Tiare and Ramy and everyone from there. Then I’m traveling down to Brazil. I know this one Brazilian guy in Japan researching Japanese biohackerspaces. He said he’ll be in Brazil and can take me around different hackerspaces, show me different projects. There’s one project where you hack the yeast, consume the yeast, it makes a certain secretion that’s good for diabetes or something. I’m interested in seeing those people. After that I’m going to Peru, will stay at the shaman place for ritualistic healing with ayahuasca. I heard that they really deconstruct your psyche, hopefully I can pinpoint the root entanglements of whatever and just break it apart. So I’m going to go there.
And then eventually back to Japan?
I really don’t know. I’d rather stay abroad. People are more accepting. Somewhere I feel happy. I tend to feel happy, I guess. I do not have a really good relationship with my mother and father, and they’re getting old, my sister is in the States, I want to make it right before they die… Also one thing I wanted to do in Japan is stay with the traditional bear hunters in the north, in Yamagata. I went to meet them last spring, they said, come over. But I have to stay there longer to accompany them for their hunting. I’m not interested in the actual killing, I don’t like blood, I’m interested in how they procure medicinal substances from their surroundings, not only bears. They harvest bear bile, they kill the bear and eat it. Sometimes the bears attack people. These hunters can survive independently without much help from towns below. But older generations who are in their seventies, sixties, fifties, tend to utilize Western medicine more. The younger generations are interested in recultivating traditional values, I think it’s possible for them. I met one of the hunters, he goes to the mountains, picks mushrooms, even a species considered to be poisonous, and he tried to eat it by soaking it in salt. He tries to eat everything, weird snakes, I find it hilarious.
In Ayurveda, lots of recipes use animal fluids, parts and biles, of course. Biles you put in the eyes, I believe it’s going to be super painful, to treat psychosis, like electric shocks. Giving strong stimulus to the eyes generates lots of impulses. I don’t know the logic behind using bile. Maybe it’s a known scientific ritualistic religious folk medicine kind of thinking. It hasn’t had any scientific validation. But there’s a recipe. I just find it fascinating, all these things around you, you just don’t imagine you can use them for medicine.
Even in Ayurveda there’s an anti-ageing branch, to slow your ageing process and live a healthy longer life. In one treatment, you go through all this purification therapy, and after the purification therapy is all done, you live with a cow, the ones that produce milk, naked, up in the mountains, and drink the cow milk directly from the udder. The cow must feel that you are her calf, so she produces different hormones, I’m guessing that was the idea. In the classics they say you can live for one thousand years. I don’t want to live for one thousand years, that’s way too much for me.