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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Tibetan Rx: From Himalayan lotus to precious cordyceps

December 17, 2008

Shanghai Daily
2008-12-16
Author:Yao Minji
 
 
TRADITIONAL Tibetan medicine emphasizes the importance of internal balance among three functions. It attributes ill health to "three poisons of the mind" - ignorance, attachment and aversion, writes Yao Minji.
 
As people increasingly seek alternative, holistic and traditional healing arts, ancient Tibetan medicine with its links to Buddhism is acquiring a following.
 
Practitioners of Tibetan medicine are currently in Shanghai at the "Lucky Khatag" (white scarf offering) exhibition of many aspects of culture from the Tibet Autonomous Region and other Tibetan areas in China.
 
"Tibetan medicine came to Shanghai long time ago, but this is the first time that doctors of Tibetan medicine have come here in an exhibition of healing arts," says Nyima Cering, president of Tibetan Traditional Medical College in Lhasa, capital of Tibet.
 
Doctors at the exhibition diagnose and prescribe for visitors who seek advice.
 
The exhibition includes more than 300 items from Tibetan families, temples and monasteries and features demonstrations of mandala sand painting and thangka. Dancing, singing, musical performances and chanting from lamaseries are on offer.
 
The cultural show runs through Sunday at the Shanghai East Asia Exhibition Hall. It is the first time in Shanghai so many authentic Tibetan items have been displayed, organizers say. It will tour the country through 2010.
 
The Tibetan Traditional Medical College is the only college specialized in Tibetan medicine and the only one in China to offer a master's degree in Tibetan medicine.
 
Tibetan herbal medicine like aweto (cordyceps, a fungus known as dong chong xia cao, meaning winter worm, summer grass), snow saussurea (Himalayan snow lotus) and crocus sativus (saffron crocus) are available in most pharmacies and many people around China use these medicines regularly to maintain and regulate health. Aweto and crocus are among the most popular gifts from Tibet.
 
"The manufacturing process and crafts of Tibetan medicine are very mature, rare in traditional medical systems. We have more than 4,000 medical books and more than 9,000 distinct prescriptions," says Nyima.
 
As with traditional Chinese medicine, Tibetan medicine utilizes only natural plants, and they are grown in the mountains.
 
"Around the world people are more and more concerned about the side effects of chemical medicines and many people don't take synthetic medicine any more," says Nyima. "So Tibetan medicine will definitely receive more attention in the near future."
 
Compared with the purely natural prescriptions, the doctors of Tibetan medicine and their methods of diagnosis are less known outside the Tibetan region.
 
The medical system has 2,300 years of recorded history, based on many more years of accumulated empirical knowledge and intuition about the nature of health and illness.
 
The original system is based on "Ghy Zhi" ("The Four Medical Texts"), a text derived from the "Medicine Buddha," one of the Buddha's manifestations.
 
Embracing Buddhist belief, Tibetan medicine attributes the cause of all illnesses to "three poisons" of the mind ?? ignorance, attachment, and aversion. Today, many doctors of Tibetan medicine are Tibetan monks.
 
The system later incorporated elements of ancient medical systems from India, Persia, Greece and China. Today, doctors of Tibetan medicine still practice in India, Nepal, Bhutan, Mongolia, and elsewhere.
 
Like TCM, Tibetan medicine also emphasizes the importance of internal balance. While TCM emphasizes the balance of yin and yang in the body to maintain health, Tibetan medicine stresses the balance among three functions, rLung, mKhris-pa, Bad-kan.
 
rLung is the ability to circulate physical and nonphysical elements, like blood, energy, thoughts; mKhris-pa is the body's heat and source of many functions such as metabolism and liver function; Bad-kan is the body's coldness and source of many other functions such as digestion, movement of muscle and joints and mental activity.
 
Some aspects of Tibetan medicine are similar to those of TCM, such as pulse analysis, dietary therapy, medicines of natural herbs and minerals, acupuncture and moxibustion.
 
Differences are also distinctive.
 
"Although some methods seem similar, the medical theory is completely different," says Nyima, president of the Tibetan medical college.
 
Tibetan medicine recognizes 77 acupuncture points on a human body, and TCM has no fixed number of points, some of them can move, he observes. Tibetan medicine analyzes urine while TCM does not, he adds.
 
"Although TCM and Tibetan medicine both use pulse analysis, Tibetan medicine is stricter in regulating doctors to use their left hand to test the patient's right hand's pulse," he says.
 
He also says that Tibetan medicine is much milder than modern Western medicine. Tibetan medicine counts 360 bones in the body while Western anatomy counts 206.
 
Tibetan medicine includes very specific dietary therapy and even specifies the material used to make eating vessels and utensils ?? metals, wood, jade, stone. It also details what kind of exercises to perform, how many and how much clothing to wear every day.
 
In ancient times, Tibetan medicine was taught by a master, by an elder to a younger relative and by lamas in monasteries. Those who studied medicine in the temples also needed to study Buddhism.
 
Today, students at the Tibetan Traditional Medical College in Lhasa take a variety of course, just like students majoring in other subjects in other schools. They take English and computer science.
 
"As long as you know the Tibetan language, you can study Tibetan medicine," says Nyima. "It is not only open to Tibetan students."
 
 
"Lucky Khatag" exhibition
Date: through December 21
Venue: Shanghai East Asia Exhibition Hall, 666 Tianyaoqiao Rd
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
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