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Dorjee advocates for Tibetan practices in Western medicine

October 6, 2010

Emily Baer
The Dartmouth
October 5, 2010

Western medical institutions largely have
eschewed Tibetan medical practices such as blood
letting, medicinal baths and sinus steam
treatment because of differences in methods of
treatment evaluation, according to Dorjee,
Director of the Qinghai Tibetan Medical Research
Institute and Vice President of the Qinghai
Province Tibetan Medical Hospital. In a lecture
Monday, "Science Between Tradition and Modernity:
Clinical Research and Tibetan Medicine," Dorjee
said that he is committed to determining how to
evaluate and promote Tibetan medicine in the Western world.

Dorjee -- who goes by one name, as is common in
Tibet -- said Western medical standards cannot
adequately evaluate Tibetan treatment outcomes.
This discrepancy could explain the relative
scarcity of Tibetan medicine in the United States
compared to China and Southeast Asia, Dorjee said.

As an example, Dorjee cited a recent study of 160
rheumatoid arthritis patients performed by the
Qinghai Province Tibetan Medical Hospital. While
the study found that the hospital’s treatments
were effective 90 percent of the time according
to Tibetan standards, a Western rheumatoid
arthritis index indicated that the patients’ conditions had worsened.

"It’s hard, because the U.S. has a lot of
restrictions," Dorjee said. "Measuring the
effectiveness of Tibetan medicine with a
different [Western] yardstick may not work."

Dorjee added that he was interested in having
Dartmouth students come to Tibetan hospitals to address the differences.

Tibetan medical practice dates back to the second
century A.D., but its development peaked during
the 17th century with the creation of a text
known as the Crystal Mirror, Dorjee said. The
theories and pharmacology enumerated in the book
are still in use today, according to Dorjee.

Tibetan medicine is based upon the delicate
relationship between the five elements: earth,
water, fire, wind and space; three Nyi-pas: wind,
bile and phlegm; and two temperatures: hot and
cold, according to Dorjee. Treatments are
prescribed to re-establish equilibrium of the
elements, Nyi-pas and temperatures, he said.

Spirituality plays a significant role in Tibetan
medicine, which is linked to Buddhism, and
psychotherapy is a major treatment method, Dorjee
said. He added that external treatment -- such as
surgery, blood letting and acupuncture -- are
used as a last option after journaling, behavior treatment and oral medicine.

Audience member William Rasmussen said he
attended the lecture in order to observe the
similarities between Tibetan medicine and
Ayurvedic medicine, his own area of study.
Ayurveda, a traditional form of Indian medicine,
is more prevalent than Tibetan medicine in the
United States, according to Rasmussen.

"The nice thing about Tibetan and Ayurvedic
medicine is that they look at the body, mind and
spirit," Rasmussen said. "The advantage of that
is that you often get to the core of the problem
rather than simply addressing the symptoms."

The Qinghai Province Tibetan Medical Hospital,
the largest hospital of Tibetan medicine, uses a
variety of methods to address patients’ needs,
according to Dorjee. Diagnostic methods include
pulse reading and urine analysis, while treatment
ranges from golden needle acupuncture to
medicinal bathing used to treat rheumatoid
arthritis and psoriasis, among other ailments.
Dorjee spoke about the observable benefits of
such medical treatments on the patients in his hospital.

Anthropology professor Sienna Craig said she will
be looking for student involvement in a project
she is beginning with Dorjee’s support. Craig is
currently studying the way science is translated
across cultures through a study of Hepatitis B in Tibetans.

"Tibetan medicine is still scientific -- it’s
just a different system," Craig said.

The research institute and medical hospital that
Dorjee directs are part of the larger Arura
Group, whose mission is the preservation and
continued study of Tibetan medicine. Other
divisions of Arura include the Tibetan Medicine
Culture Museum, the Shang Shung Institute and the Arura pharmaceutical company.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
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