Healing, in Tibetan tradition, encompasses both physical and spiritual wellbeing says TSEWANG TAMDIN, doctor of Tibetan medicine, to NARAYANI GANESH
He is personal physician to the XIV Dalai Lama for 17 years now and he works out of the Tibetan Institute of Medicine and Astrology (Men-Tsee- Khang), located in Dharamsala, established in 1961 at the initiative of the Dalai Lama.The genial and gentle Tsewang Tamdin welcomes me and serves steaming hot Loong herbal tea, for ‘calmness and relaxation.’ That’s the thing about Tibetan medicine — it’s about calming down before diagnosis, treatment and dismissal.This ancient healing system — called Bodkyi Sowa Rigpa, the healing science of Tibet — looks at you with its 3,000 year-old-eyes,full of wisdom and compassion, and is in no hurry at all.And the cost? Laughable,compared to practitioners of modern medicine. “We charge minimum, and our medicines, too, are inexpensive and completely herbs-based with absolutely no side effects.” Sounds like a dream. But then how do Tibetan medical practitioners make enough money? The good doctor says,“I don’t feel the compulsion to eat in five-star hotels or to own several properties.Our needs are simple;there is enough to go around.The main aim of Tibetan medicine is healing with the spirit of service and compassion.” The other interesting thing is that Tibetan medicine and astrology are entwined. All students of astrology study a bit of medicine and all students of medicine study a bit of astrology.“This is not about individual horoscopes,but the year-long almanac that guides various aspects of healing from growing herbs, their collection and preparation of medicine to ingesting it.
Position of planetary bodies impact the potency of herbs and their intake,” explains Tsewang Tamdin. Also, there is something called seasonal pulse in Tibetan medicine — according to the four seasons,organs pulsate. All external treatments like massages are also given taking into account the almanac and the seasons.“For example, the Golden Needle therapy that is given on top of the head will be done when the stars are favourable,” he says. Gyueshi is the fundamental text of Tibetan medicine.According to this tradition, malfunctioning of three bio-energies disturbs mind and body.These three (hot and cold disorders) are:Loong, Tripa and Baekan often generated by desire, hatred and delusion. And Tibetan medical practitioners are expected to possess six qualities: intelligence, compassion, commitment, dexterity, diligence and morality. Tibetan medicine treats patients in four stages:behaviour and lifestyle,diet, internal medicine and external therapy.“ When we apply external therapy like massage and hydrotherapy, then all these depend on the individual.And we consult the chart made by our astrology department here in Men-Tsee- Khang.It is not about individual horoscope, but sometimes we ask for date and time of birth to enable more targeted treatment.” And what is that famous ‘precious pill’? “It is a multi-component pill which the west may call as multivitamins. But it is very different; it’s a combination of multiple herbs to be taken once on a favourable day, according to your body nature, for prevention and treatment.And simultaneously, one has to avoid pungent foods like garlic and non-vegetarian items. Physical rest is recommended.So it’s a package,not just popping a pill! There is no such thing as a miracle cure. Is Tibetan medicine then very similar to Ayurveda? “Not really,” says the doctor, thought it may appear so.“Yes, it’s about holistic healing and striking a balance but there are some major differences in treatment.For example in Ayurveda, they say keep the head warm to avoid the flu and we say keep the feet warm.
In Ayurveda,radish is ‘cold’ but we see it as ‘warm’. Of course there are some similarities — all these were discussed in a seminar we held in Varanasi in 2008,with seven doctors each from Tibetan tradition and Ayurveda.The chairman of that event, Prof Harsh from Banaras Hindu University, said that perhaps 45 per cent of the two systems are different. In Tibetan tradition, suffering is believed to happen on account of variances in energy levels and their balance with the five elements.And mentally, if you are not peaceful, that also adversely impacts the body. Here, spirituality and religion can play a positive role in strengthening the mind.” According to Tsewang Tamdin,Tibetan medicine has been quite successful in treatment of diabetes, cancer, arthritis and also diseases like HIVAIDS.“ Basically Tibetan medicine taken according to advice and regulation of lifestyle can improve immunity and quality of life so much so that patients are able to recoup their energy and continue to lead normal lives despite a disease. To keep the digestive system in good working order is very important. If you neglect your digestive system, then problems arise. “We also have massage oils that are good for back and knee pain, for dryness and for cramps and to improve circulation. Wellness herbal teas have good effect.Avoid or minimise consumption of sugar.We recommend avoiding sedatives and caffeine-rich items,frozen food and over-processed food. Natural is always best.Many modern foods are part of the cause of illnesses. Food should be taken as medicine.To sum it up, moderation is the key and ignorance is the source of all suffering,” he says. Why is drinking warm water so important? “Warm water is the first medicine in the universe for the human being because it helps digest the food and detoxify; it sterilises and helps increase the metabolic rate; helps maintain digestive heat. But if you drink hot water that is stored in a flask all day — that also has limits. If you keep it in a flask for more than 24 hours, it is poison.
“And don’t top it up with fresh hot water,” says the doctor.“Always throw out the old water.” Compassion, faith and nonviolent healing play major roles in ministering to a patient. Recitations are offered to medicine buddhas. Usually, the healing buddha is depicted in blue on account of the healing properties of the Lapis Lazuli.Attitude, calmness all count at every step.Even those collecting the herbs chant as they pluck the leaves and this is usually not done by lay people — experience and training counts in identification and segregating herbs according to the seven conditions of herbs growing in that area.
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