Ti­betan medicine touted as a hos­pi­tal turns 100

China Daily (Canada) - - TIBET - By PALDEN NYIMA and DAQIONG in Lhasa

To cel­e­brate the 100th an­niver­sary of a Ti­betan hos­pi­tal, more than 400 schol­ars and ex­perts from home and abroad gath­ered in Lhasa, cap­i­tal of South­west China’s Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion, to at­tend the first in­ter­na­tional fo­rum on tra­di­tional Ti­betan medicine.

Men-Tsee-Khang, also known as the Ti­betan Med­i­cal and As­tro In­sti­tute, was founded in 1916 and was for­mally named Ti­bet Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion Hos­pi­tal of Tra­di­tional Ti­betan Medicine in 1980. It held the fo­rum on Sept 13, as a part of the Third China Ti­bet In­ter­na­tional Tourism and Cul­ture Expo, which was held in Lhasa between Sept 10 and 16.

Ti­betan medicine, or Sowa Rigpa in Ti­betan, is more than 2,000 years old and has been in­flu­enced by tra­di­tional Chi­nese, In­dian and Ara­bic medicine.

Sim­i­lar to tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine and in sharp con­trast to bio­med­i­cine, Ti­betan medicine, which is mainly prac­ticed in Ti­bet and the Hi­malayan re­gion, uses herbs, min­er­als, and some­times in­sects and an­i­mals to treat af­flic­tions. It is par­tic­u­larly well known for its treat­ment of di­ges­tive, car­dio­vas­cu­lar and rheuma­toid ail­ments.

Ti­betan medicine can be traced back to its roots in the re­gion’s monas­ter­ies and, even to this day, many of the most renowned doc­tors are of­ten high monks. The prac­tice uses a pa­tient’s urine to di­ag­nose ail­ments, with the color, con­sis­tency, scent and sed­i­ment of urine used to help dic­tate treat­ment.

Stephan Kloos, a re­searcher at the Aus­trian Academy of Sciences, said Men-TseeKhang has been cru­cial to the de­vel­op­ment of Ti­betan medicine, as gen­er­a­tions of Ti­betan medics have passed through its doors.

He pre­sented a the­sis en­ti­tled “Ti­betan Med­i­cal Ed­u­ca­tion Out­side China” to the fo­rum.

Ac­cord­ing to Stephan Kloos, Ti­betan medicine crossed the Hi­malayas long ago and has been spread­ing world­wide, be­ing taught in col­leges and in­sti­tu­tions in In­dia, Mon­go­lia, Bhutan and Nepal, with var­i­ous train­ing pro­grams and in­sti­tu­tions es­tab­lished in Western coun­tries.

“From its be­gin­ning, Ti­betan medicine as we know it to­day has been an in­ter­na­tional as­sem­blage, in­cor­po­rat­ing the best med­i­cal knowl­edge from China, In­dia and Per­sia into a uniquely Ti­betan frame­work, and then re­ex­port­ing it along with Ti­betan Bud­dhism through vast parts of In­ner Asia,” Kloos said.

“Its very strength, re­silience and dy­namism de­rive from the cen­turies of ex­changes between prac­ti­tion­ers and schol­ars from di­verse back­grounds.

Damdin­suren Nat­sag­dorj, a pro­fes­sor at Otoch Man­ramba Uni­ver­sity of Mon­go­lia, said that Mon­go­lian and Ti­betan prac­ti­tion­ers have been study­ing in each other’s coun­tries for more than 1,000 years. “There is a very close re­la­tion­ship between tra­di­tional Mon­go­lian medicine and Ti­betan medicine.”

Ti­betan medicine was added to China’s In­tan­gi­ble Cul­tural Her­itage list in 2006. The an­cient prac­tice has also won the sup­port of the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion, ac­cord­ing to Nat­sag­dorj.

Phuntsog Wangmo, direc­tor of the In­ter­na­tional Shang Shung School of the Ti­betan Medicine, pre­sented a the­sis en­ti­tled “Ti­betan Stud­ies Over­all and Par­tic­u­larly Ti­betan Medicine De­vel­op­ment in the Western World” to the fo­rum.

“Over­all Ti­betan Medicine as a tra­di­tional medicine is not stan­dard­ized in many coun­tries. How­ever, in coun­tries like Germany and Switzer­land, it is not a pro­hib­ited prac­tice,” Phuntsog Wangmo said.

She also said the num­ber of Ti­betan medicine or­ga­ni­za­tions and clin­ics is ris­ing in Western coun­tries, such as the United States.

Founded by Ch­ogyal Namkhai Norbu in Italy in 1980, the Shang Shung In­sti­tute is ded­i­cated to spread­ing knowl­edge of Ti­betan medicine and Ti­betan cul­ture. It has branches in the US, Ar­gentina, Aus­tralia, Spain, Venezuela and Rus­sia. The in­sti­tute has worked with many uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges around the world.

It has been work­ing with the Ti­betan Med­i­cal Col­lege of Qing­hai Uni­ver­sity, with both sides agree­ing to op­er­ate stu­dent ex­change pro­grams.

From its be­gin­ning, Ti­betan medicine... has been an in­ter­na­tional as­sem­blage.”

Saroj Dhi­tal, the founder of Pub­lic Health Concern Trust of Nepal, said Ti­betan medicine has just started to grow in Nepal.

“The very pur­pose of my com­ing is to start some kind of co­op­er­a­tion in Ti­betan medicine, es­pe­cially in the trans-Hi­malayan re­gion,” Saroj Dhi­tal said.

Dhi­tal op­er­ates two hos­pi­tals in Nepal, and he plans to open Ti­betan medicine ser­vices in one of his hos­pi­tals in the near future.

“There are Ti­betan med­i­cal prac­tices in dif­fer­ent parts of Nepal, and most of them are in the monas­ter­ies which are prac­tic­ing Ti­betan Bud­dhism,” Dhi­tal said.

At the Ti­betan Medicine Com­mit­tee’s an­nual con­fer­ence in Au­gust, Har­vard Uni­ver­sity’s Janet Gy­atso ex­pressed her amaze­ment and op­ti­mism about the de­vel­op­ment of Ti­betan medicine.

Vin­canne Adams, from UCSF School of Medicine, said the big­gest chal­lenge is ex­pos­ing Western medics to Ti­betan med­i­cal the­ory, which is dif­fi­cult to ex­plain in a Western con­text.

More should be done to pro­mote Ti­betan medicine on the in­ter­na­tional stage and to at­tract students to this branch of medicine, she added.

Tawni Tid­well, a PhD can­di­date at the an­thro­pol­ogy depart­ment of Emory Uni­ver­sity, said Ti­betan medicine is not only con­cerned with the body, but also the mind, and it “is needed in the world (to­day)”.

“Ti­betan medicine has treat­ments for af­flic­tions that Western medicine does not un­der­stand,” he said.

“As more new and com­pli­cated diseases emerge that Western medicine can­not treat — in par­tic­u­lar, chronic diseases — Ti­betan medicine could take a (lead­ing) role,” Kloos said.

Xin­hua con­trib­uted to the story.

Con­tact the writers at palden_ny­ima@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

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