Tibetan medicine is an intricate art and science with a 2,500 year history of use and adaptability, integrating new knowledge only after it withstood relentless testing thus increasing its continued refinement and effectiveness.
This article is a collaboration of information gathered from multiple resources and intended as a brief survey of Tibetan medicine’s ancient history, its current development, obstacles and future collaborations. Upon review it can be seen that Tibetan medicine has always been an excellent example of personalized holistic preventive medicine that needs to be legally brought into the mainstream of integrative medicine.
Tibetan Medicines Ancient Future – a journey seeking study and practice of Tibetan medicine
Over the past fifty years there has been great effort by Tibetan doctors, scholars, political leaders and dedicated individuals to support of Tibetan medicine in an effort to preserve and bring to scholastic world awareness. This traditionally was a family based model of internships and trainings requiring one to become a monk or nun, and now has developed more and more into open institutions. This began in the 17th century with Desi Sangye Gyatso, a doctor, scholar and influential politician who founded the Chogpori Medical School in Lhasa, which continued it’s beneficial contribution of knowledge up until its collapse during the Cultural Revolution. In 1916 the 13th Dalai Lama established the Men-Tsee-Khang Clinic, school, and pharmacy in Lhasa. Later in exile the 14th Dalai Lama re-established the Men-Tsee Khang (MTK) in Dharamasala, India.
A perfect example of the journey of one seeking training in this field is our founder of Tanaduk Institute Bradley Dobos aka Thubten Lekshe who was already versed in ethnomedicine and studied the ethnobotany of the Himalayan regions at UBC before he arrived as well as several years training with Tibetan masters in the US receiving transmissions to committed spiritual practices. He wanted to further his training and began studies in 1972 in Dharmsala, India and was the first and only westerner at that time seeking training in Tibetan medicine and Men-Tsee-Khang was only in its infancy situated in a small two room wooden shack with a metal roof located on front street (there were only two streets at that time) and formal study programs had not been fully developed. Through a meeting with H.H. The Dalai Lama, arranged by Bradley’s root guru Lama Thubten Yeshe, he was able to request specific training in Tibetan medicine and that was granted and was supported by several Tibetan doctors and spiritual masters that included HH The Dalai Lama, Amala Lobsang Dolma, Yeshe Donden, Tenzin Choedrak, Ven. Lama Thubten Yeshe, Ven. Zhong Rinpoche, Geshe Rapten and many other wisdom holders of this tradition.
At that time MTK was under the administrative guidance of T.J. Tsarong who was very welcoming and supportive to my efforts in establishing individualized training in Tibetan medicine. It is note worthy that through T.J. Tsarong’s skillful guidance of providing an organized model of infrastructure that MTK began to develop into an organized institution and continues to grow today, housing an extensive medical training program, astrological study program, large pharmacies, libraries, and extensive clinics where they have begun incorporating western research methods and has become the main location for Tibetans in exile to gain medical training. Study and internships are offered in Tibet and India, but there must be more opportunities made available in the US and other countries.
Tibetan medical training is now available in the Amdo region of Tibet offering training, research and degree programs in Tibetan Medicine and the programs are very good and place graduates in collaborative programs with conventionally trained MDs at hospitals and clinics throughout Tibet, practicing integrating traditional and modern techniques to better serve their patients. In this way Tibetan medicine is showing its traditional character of adaptability by integrating the benefits western technology and treatments such as intravenous (IV) fluids, antibiotics and imaging techniques such as x-rays, MRI and ultrasound.
In other countries a few schools and institutes of Tibetan medicine are also now emerging however still not able to be licensed for legal practice in their countries. The International Shang Shung Institute for Tibetan Studies was founded in Italy by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, and the Institute has developed Kunye Tibetan Massage programs in Europe and regularly holds conferences and lectures teaching about Tibetan culture and medicine.
Integrating the spiritual principles of Tibetan Buddhist medicine with established education and health care systems
Tibetan medicine and its ability to integrate with western medicine has been a slow process but has begun to develop through the efforts of dedicated individuals and Institutes like Tanaduk research institute which began in 1977, the International Shang Shung Institute founded by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu in 1989, the New Yuthok institute established in1999 and now twenty years later along with many new efforts both inside and outside of Tibet are building alliances and doing important work to expand the knowledge of this art and science and to legally establish Tibetan medicine.
When Tibetan medical doctors are able to integrate and collaborate with Western medical hospitals and research facilities, then it is firmly believed great progress in treatment will benefit all aspects of patient health care and a boon to the advancement of cooperative integrative medicine. Tibetan Buddhist spiritual practices and applied methods provide a deep understanding of diseases found difficult to treat in Western medicine, such as diabetes, cancer, and mental disturbances, but without systems of acceptance and frameworks for interactions between clinical trails and educational systems it is very difficult for integration of both health sciences to move forward together.
In clinic research Amchi Lekshe has found bio medical applications for many Tibetan medicines that extend beyond what was traditionally known and so he feels it is important to continue research into the properties and strengths of Tibetan herbal formulas. There has been extensive research conducted covering the ecology and botanical strengths of Tibetan regions by C.P. Kala and others, however there are many pharmaceutical potentials to be discovered and revealed through translations and clinical trials. Most botanical research is money driven with research only centered around finding active constituents within specific botanical ingredients in hopes of development of revolutionary drugs that can be patented for bigger profits. Another downside is that isolation process and will jeopardize the original healing aspects of a formula by developing standardized version using only the selected recognized active compounds. Tibetan botanical formulas are very special using combinations of up to 108 or more ingredients, and gains its unique abilities and strengths because of the combined synergy and not just the active components of the star players.
More translation of Tibetan medical texts is needed!
There is an extremely large catalog of manuscripts and documents such as commentaries, practice handbooks, herbal identification monographs and texts, herbal formula transcripts that have not been translated. There only exist a very few number of qualified translators for Tibetan Dharma texts and even fewer translators of Tibetan medical texts. Special insight snd training is needed and as with the Tibetan Buddhist Dharmic literary language, the medical texts are filled with deep verses, often poetic and cryptic, that without expert explanation, or at least extensive translator training, can result in poor or potential dangerous mis-understandings. For this reason an endeavor to have spiritual trained translators is extremely important to bring support to.
Tanaduk Institute’s history of promoting Tibetan medicine and future developments
Tanaduk Botanical Research Institute of Tibetan Medicine was founded in 1975 by Amchi Thubten Lekshe and in 1977 opened Tenzing Momo Apothecary & Tanaduk Institute Clinic of Tibetan Medicine in Seattle, Wa. He and members of Tanaduk institute began developing a dialogue between Allopathic doctors, Naturopathic clinics, research labs and sharing intellectual materials, research and resources with the goal of finding the most affective synergy in cooperative patient treatments.
Through alliance and collaboration with Western medical traditions, Tibetan medicine is beginning to be able to express its principles in a clear and beneficial way that is beginning to be understood. The work Amchi Lekshe began by seeding the way in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s by arranging for the advanced physicians of H.H. The Dalai Lama’s Institute of Tibetan Medicine ( Men-Tsee-Khang ) to lecture and teach seminars, workshops and two and three week symposiums on Tibetan medicine at universities, colleges, hospitals and clinics. He created, promoted and inspired conditions for collaborative alliances with MD’s, ND’s to explore and develop integrative treatment using traditional Tibetan medicine principles and practices.
Because more clinical research is ongoing, interest world wide is growing and transparency of knowledge about Tibetan spiritual medical practices and healing principles is increasing and fruitful alliances are being made. Ultimately Tibetan medicine will be recognized at a national and governmental level, garnering support for additional research, development and growth and the practitioners will be able to be licensed to legally practice in the US and in other countries.
It is imperative that governments, educational and medical organizations recognize Tibetan medicine as a viable and beneficial health care system with centuries of solid history of use with very real potential for contributing substantially to integrative health care.
The Present Future
“Tibetan medicine has only in recent years had the opportunity to be found as very complementary to Western medical treatments and through continued collaboration and research mutual trust will continue to develop between health care disciplines. There are many hard working Tibetan Doctors and interested students, but there still exist many challenges, ranging from the need for Governmental recognition, legality and support, to essential needs such as translations of texts and the ability for students to gain valuable knowledge in clinic and hospital settings. However with Institutions such as Tanaduk Institute, The Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition and more recently the Shang Shung Institute for the Preservation of Tibetan Culture and The European Association for Predictive, Preventive and Personalized Medicine, the New Yuthok Institute and several others, it is hopeful that access for training will become more available and many great achievements made possible.”
~ Tenzin W. – Tanaduk Botanical Research Institute of Tibetan Medicine