Western interest in Eastern forms of medicine such as acupuncture is widespread and growing-yet little attention has so far been given to Tibetan medicine. Tom Dummer describes its concepts and practice in a non-traditional way, thus making it more readily accessible to the western mind.
He writes form first-hand experience of observing notable Tibetan doctors at work in their practices and receiving instructing form them, to give a comprehensive account of their country’s medicine. This he assesses both in terms of the Tibetan tradition of Buddhism of which he is a follower and with the clinical insight of a practising osteopath of many years standing. Beginning with an explanation of the basic elements of Tibetan medicine he describes the relevance of certain Buddhist concepts; the Tibetan analysis of bodily functions; concepts of health and susceptibility to disease and methods of diagnosis and treatment.
In the second part of the book he analyses the similarities between Tibetan and western holistic medicine and shows how they may be practised in conjuction with each other. He considers different, specific areas of medicine, including the use of occidental herbal medicine and homoeopathy within a context of Tibetan medicine; the similarities between contemporary osteopathy and Tibetan massage based on theories of spinal centres and reflexes; and the use of Tibetan medical philosophy and Buddha dharma as a basic for counseling therapy.
Tom Dummer makes a unique contribution towards bridging the gap between Tibetan and other natural therapeutics- and towards communicating this medicine of ancient origin to the Western world.
The Land of Snows the magic conjured up by these three words is all that exemplifies the old Tibet, so ably and graphically recorded by those outstanding story-tellers, Alexandra David-Neel, Heinrich Harrer and Marco Pallis, to name but a few. Moreover, the folklore and pageantry captured the imagination, the monasteries with red-robed monks and lamas, the chortens, the gods, the mountains and demons the ritual and the mysticism so painstakingly documented by Waddell and other eminent Tibetologists and scholars.
Lhasa, the ‘Forbidden City; was the seat of the Dalai Lamas, the spiritual and temporal rulers of Tibet during fourteen incarnations. The Potala the winter residence, towering high above the city is saint and protector of Tibet, the Great Compassionate one of whom the present Dalai Lama is an emanation. His mantra, Om MANI PADME HUM, is inscribed on thousands upon thousands of mountains surfaces, rocks, ‘mani’ stones, prayer wheels and flags and was in the old Tibet constantly on everyone’s lips.
Being brutally ejected in 1959 out of the Middle Ages and into the twentieth century has been a painful and tragic experience for the Tibetan people. But good always comes out of bad, and so much potential good in the form of the rich cultural heritage of Tibet is now available for the first time in the west at least to those who are prepared to make the effort and acquire some of the untold spiritual wisdom and knowledge which is virtually there for the asking.
Within this context as and integral part of the Tibetan way of life and culture, the Emchi system of medicine is now, in the West, awaiting our full consideration and investigation. Indeed, although relatively small by comparison with the vast amount of as yet untranslated literature, sufficient is already available in European languages concerning the fundamentals to permit at least a serious study of the subject, if not the full potential application.
Here our thanks go to the amchis (doctors) whose numbers can be counted on both hands, who brought this knowledge with them they left their homeland during some of the most difficult and heroic journeys in the history of refuge migration. For me whose imagination has always been fired by adventure stories, it was a great moment in my life and, indeed, an honour, to meet personally several years ago Dr Lobsang Dolma, and to learn afterwards from Tibetan friends details of her extraordinary escape across the mountains into India, carrying her two babies on her back together with whatever belongings and ‘tools of trade’ that she could take with her. Also the dramatic escape of his Holiness The Dalai Lama and the intrepid and daring exploits of the making others who risked their lives, as did Dr Lobsang Dolma, during those dark days of 1959. The story of the refugees flight from Tibet is told vividly by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in his book Born in Tibet.
Writing this book has been an act of faith, as indeed has been my role in the original founding of the study Group for Tibetan Medicine and my attempts to organize t and maintain it as a valid point of reference for the accumulation and dissemination of knowledge about Tibetan medicine. I am eternally grateful to the few colleagues and friends, Dr Elisabeth Finckh and Miss Marianne Winder, together with Riki Hyde-Chambers of the Tibet society (UK), who have all three, sustained my efforts during the past few years. Also to Mr Gyatso Tshering of the library of Tibetan works and Archive din Dharamsala and above all to his Holiness the Dalai Lama who so graciously agreed to be our patron and who is a constant inspiration to us all.
When it was first suggested that I should write a book on Tibetan medicine particularly with a view to relating it to other forms of medicine my reaction was totally negative. What could I pretend to know about the subject? Subsequent reflection and talking with friends and colleagues persuaded me to the contrary. Apparently by chance and certainly not by design, some forty years ago I had found myself as a student of herbal medicine. Again within the same context of seemingly no choice (my life has always been like that) I served for some fifteen years as the Hon. General-Secretary of IFPNT (International Federation of Practitioners of Natural Therapeutics) where I was in constant contact with the various disciplines of what is now called ‘complementary medicine’. I realized that my knowledge of this was considerable. When I think about it in the light of what I have learned during my relatively brief contact with Tibetan medicine, I realize that many western practitioners of other medicines are in approaches to healing. Moreover practitioners of other medicines are in a way practising Tibetan medicine through their holistic approaches to healing. Moreover, I’ am sure that most of them have never heard of the subject and know little or nothing about the Buddha Dharma.
Although for most of my professional life I have been both practising and teaching osteopathy as a primary therapy, I realize now that my initial training osteopathy as a primary therapy, I realize now that my initial training herbal medicine and my early interest in the healing properties of plants was in fact a stepping stone towards Tibetan medicine. In 1977 I decided to go to India and learn all I could as quickly as possible. My imagination had been fired.
I have heard it said that it takes several lifetimes to become a practitioner o Tibetan medicine. if this is so it would seem that perhaps I am indeed fortunate in already having had at least two lives in one! It is this aspect of Tibetan Buddhism, i.e. karma and rebirth, plus the implied elements of timelessness and familiarity, which have always fascinated me. For instance, when I first set foot in Dharamsala, the hill station in North West India which is now an important Tibetan refugee settlement and headquarters of His holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in exile, Bingo that was it! it registered so strongly, the old familiar feeling ‘I’ve been here before’. My mind flashed back to my childhood and I remembered vividly as if it were even today-the birthday present when I was but three years old–the picture book with Tibetan lamas and monks and the monastery with the great shrine room perched on a mountain top! Now I was here in real life, perhaps not with the same mountain top, but certainly with the same mountains before my very eyes. A mere association-reflex the cynical behaviourist might say. Maybe, but that does not necessarily explain the strong fascination and affinity that years later, my parents assured me I had for these sights at the age or three. Nor does it fully account for my spontaneous reaction of having been more before and the feeling that I had come home.
Constant prodding from colleagues and friends and particularly Riki Hyde-Chambers convinced me that I must do what do what I in the first place had decided was an almost impossible task i,e. write a book on Tibetan medicine. Hopefully, I have managed to write it in such a way that it will have the widest possible appeal Finally, bearing in mind that it is such an erudite subject it could so easily end up as a dry-as-dust old tome, I have tried hard to avoid this at all costs even to the point of being mildly anecdotal. The fact that I am primarily a clinician and not an academic probably weight in my favour. Indeed it is my earnest hope that I shall be able to fulfil all the requirements usually demanded of a useful and helpful book. Mercifully it is not solely dealing with the technicalities of Tibetan medicine per se and I hope dear readers to fire your imaginations and inspire you in the direction of further and far more serious study. If, at the same time, I have presented you with a minimum of factual data so that you will at least ne reasonably informed, hopefully entertained and certainly not bored then the whole exercise will have been a success and everyone will be happy.
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