Keynote Address by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu

Chögyal Namkhai Norbu’s Keynote Address and coverage of the ATMA Conference at the Rubin Museum NYC – July 25-27, 2014

July 27, 2014

Transcribed and edited by Bret Bourman and Lauri Denyer

Chögyal Namkhai Norbu delivers Keynote Address

Chögyal Namkhai Norbu delivers Keynote Address

Given at the Second International Conference on Tibetan Medicine co-presented by the American Tibetan Medical Association, Shang Shung Institute, and Shang Shung Institute School of Tibetan Medicine at the Rubin Museum of Art, New York, New York.

Good morning. I am very happy to be here with you. And I want to first of all thank the ATMA organization for successfully organizing this meeting on Tibetan medicine; this is very important. Also I want to thank all the doctors from different places for coming and participating and also the people who are participating. It is very important because Tibetan culture, not only its medicine, but in general Tibetan knowledge, and history, are really very ancient. And this has a great value for the whole globe, for all peoples, not only for Tibetans. It is important people know that the value of Tibetan knowledge, culture and particularly medicine is very important for all human beings. So this is not only for Tibetans but all traditions.

In Tibetan we say the science of the knowledge of medicine is Sowa Rigpa. Sowa means healing. Why? Because we are living in a physical body and in a physical body there are always problems, not only for Tibetans, but also for everyone. We call medicine sman in Tibetan. sman pa means doctors, (those) who are taking care of and applying that. sman (also) means (to) benefit, and is a verb in Tibetan. When we say we benefit, we do sman pa. Everyone in the human condition has body, speech and mind. Particularly body. While we are alive, we each have a body, and medicine is indispensable because our condition is composed with five elements. When the five elements are not balanced there are some problems, and we are not healthy. So there are always problems.

In the medicine, it is explained that there are the three humors, rlung, mkhris pa, bad kan, and when all are balanced there is no problem – but we are living in time, and time is change, impermanence; today is not tomorrow, tomorrow is not the day after tomorrow. The situation is always changing. When the situation changes it becomes a secondary cause of how our condition changes. For this reason, medicine is indispensable.

Particularly Tibetan medicine contains very ancient knowledge. For instance, speaking of the history of Tibet, you can look at the history of Shang Shung. When I did many years of research in the university, I studied and did research about Shang Shung. When I started that research, most people did not consider that this was something important. But my experience, when I was doing research with Professor Tucci and other westerners, was that I understood that it is very important for Tibetan cultural knowledge that we discover the source; it is not sufficient to only know what developed. So, when I did a little research I discovered that the source is Shang Shung.

In the Tibetan Buddhist or Bön tradition, when we explain the source of Tibetan cultural knowledge we say mi’u gdung drug (The Six Original Clans/Tribes): this is the origin. From where did the mi’u gdung drug originate? The Buddhist and Bön traditions each explain this in a slightly different way, but that doesn’t matter because both agree that mi’u gdung drug are the source of Tibetan cultural knowledge. Mi’u gdung drug is “between six brothers” – that is the meaning. So, the brothers in that generation of the dbra are the origin of Shang Shung. There have been writings about the mi’u gdang drug, but on other subjects, such as how the gdung developed, for example, there is no written material.

So then, there have been Bön tradition and writings about Shang Shung. When I began studying and researching Tibetan culture, the resources on the subject were insufficient. At that time, it (the study of Tibetan culture) was only a two-year study program; the subjects of the Chinese and Indian cultures were four-year programs. I discovered that the written history, knowledge and everything of Tibet’s origin were being explained to be more or less the same as that of India and China. I asked, “Why?” and they said because Tibetan knowledge and history came from China and India. I said, “No, no. I don’t believe that” That is the reason I thought it was necessary to do research into the origin of Tibetan culture. Then, I began researching the Bön tradition, because there was no Buddhist tradition at that period in Shang Shung. Some years later, some Tibetan lamas said, “Oh, Namkhai Norbu has become Bönpo.” That is not true. I was not becoming Bönpo. But it is true that to gain knowledge of Tibetan culture one must study the Bön tradition, otherwise there is nothing. Then I studied, I did research, and I wrote three volumes on the ancient history of Tibet. The first and second volumes were already translated into English and published. The third volume we are finishing. This we will finish in September (2014). There will be a presentation of this volume then. So, people who want to understand Tibetan culture and history of ancient times should read these books. For many years I did research. So, it is very useful for really knowing the value of Tibetan culture and history.

So medicine is the same. We say, “Oh, Tibetan medicine comes from India, Ayurveda.” We have many books translated at that period on Tibetan medicine, in the Tengyur for example. But the source is not Ayurveda. Dr. Thubten Phuntsog has studied this original Bön tradition of medicine very thoroughly. It is very important to know that, in ancient times, Tibetan medicine came from Shang Shung. But then later, connections with the Ayurvedic tradition of India developed, and also with Chinese medicine, and then there were many encounters in many historical epochs, of which there are records. Tibetan medicine has developed very perfectly, combining many traditions, not only that of Shang Shung. So, it is very important we are learning more and continually developing this knowledge of Tibetan medicine, particularly in the Western world.

Some people think this is not a traditional medicine in the Western world. But it is important that we consider the function of medicine: it is for healing a person. If someone has a very heavy illness, almost dying, the desire of that person is to be cured or to overcome the illness, and it doesn’t matter if the method is Western or Eastern medicine, Tibetan or Indian, etc. – no one is choosing (cures) on that basis. So if there are benefits or knowledge, integrating Tibetan medicine and Western medicine, this is something very important, and we must develop that way.

So I am very happy to be here with you. Many of you are expert doctors who have already had a lot of experience with the Western world, and many of who are working and living in the Western world. So working according to the situation is very important. Regarding medicine, history, or knowledge of any kind, we should work with circumstances. Working with the times, and in correspondence with the situation at hand is very important, and this is also important for living and developing. Otherwise, if we keep doing everything in a traditional way, and we are limited that way, we can’t develop anything, and medicine is also like that.

For example, there is illness today – there are many illnesses – explained by Tibetan medicine as gdon can (with provocation) and gdon med (without provocation). gdon can – what does it mean? It means there is negative provocation. It’s part of that illness. When we are studying a gdon can illness for example, we see that the doctor needs to know something special, be an expert in doing practice, mantra or rituals for controlling that negativity, otherwise that illness would be incurable with medicine.

For example, I have my personal experience. When I had the illness of cancer, during that period I spent a long time in New York. So, I thought first, ‘Oh, I have that illness of cancer, this is the time of my death, my life is finished.’ When I was with my teacher Changchub Dorje, my Dzogchen Master, one day some local people asked my teacher’s advice, and then at the end asked, “Oh, how long can I live?” And my teacher gave a very precise reply, and he gave advice, but I never had the courage to ask my teacher that, also I did not have this kind of attitude. But then I thought, ‘Oh, I want to ask also.’ Then, when these people went away, I told my Teacher, ‘Oh, they asked you the length of their life, and you gave them (the answer), please give me also (the answer to) how long I can live.’ Then, he gave me precisely the year to which I could live, the year – I wrote it down and I remembered that.

When I had this illness of cancer, it corresponded very precisely with that year, and I thought also that my Teacher had said the length of my life would be that, so my life was finished, really. And I had only the idea of dying and that is all. I went into the hospital having little idea that I could live longer. When I had passed two or three days in the hospital, I thought, ‘Sometimes when I go around giving teachings etc, there is a practice of Red Garuda, a terma teaching of Adzom Drugpa, and it is says it is particularly good for curing cancer.’ But we had no cancer in ancient times explained particularly as cancer. But this teaching says very precisely the action mantra for curing cancer and to do visualization like so and chant this mantra. And I received this transmission from the son of Adzom Drugpa. I remembered that. I gave transmission to these people who had the illness of cancer. Some people said the doctor only gave them six months to live. And I gave them this practice, and at least two or three people did this practice intensively and they overcame this problem; at least two or three people told me that they had overcome that. Then I thought, maybe I want to do this practice also; maybe if they overcame it, I could also. I started to do a little practice but I thought maybe it’s not sufficient because my life is already finished.

I was not very concentrated. But then, a few days later, I had an idea: Many years ago I had gone to Maratika in Nepal, a place of Guru Padmasambhava. And at that time I had received a teaching in my dream of a Mandarava practice, a long life practice. Then I wrote this down. And then later, when I arrived in Italy, I did this practice. Also I gave it to some of my students. And in this practice I wrote it down as saying that even if the life is consumed, at least seven more years can be lived. I thought maybe, even if I had finished tshe tshad (the lifespan), still there is a possibility that, if I do this practice, there could be seven years more, and maybe I should do this practice. I concentrated on the essence of this practice. Then, after 20 days of doing this practice, the doctors said the illness had completely disappeared. The doctors were very satisfied because they thought their medicine and research was fantastic. In the New York Times there were two or three articles, and I became an example for them. So then, I had a lot of confidence later.

And I think that it is very important to understand that in Tibetan medicine there are gdon can and gdon med; these we must distinguish well. If there is gdon can– any kind of provocation – it is very important that we do a kind of practice, because in medicine there are many kinds of practice – for example Garuda etc. – for controlling negative provocations. We combine medicine with everything we are taking, like therapy; everything is becoming active when there is controlled energy. If we don’t control the energy, the gdon can medicine would not be successful. For that reason, I have this idea that gdon can and gdon med are very important for doctors and we should distinguish them, and the necessity for their use.

So my time is up, I am really very happy to be with you.

 

Questions:

 

Q. Rinpoche, can you mention a moment with Professor Tucci that was most meaningful to you?

ChNN. When Professor Tucci invited me, he had been to Tibet seven times and had the largest collection of Tibetan books. And he was doing a lot of research. When I heard these things I felt convinced to go to Italy.

Before, I had almost gone to Japan; a professor had invited me, and it seemed interesting, but I had not yet decided to go there. When I was with Professor Tucci I was very interested in learning how to do research. I had studied many things but I had no idea how to do research, or how important doing research is, no idea. Working with Professor Tucci, I automatically learned how to do research, what it means and how important it is. Then later, when I was at the university, I tried to develop that.

Q. Big question, any way you want to answer would be wonderful. Can you talk a little about Dzogchen and medicine practice?

ChNN: The meaning of Dzogchen is our real condition. The purpose of Dzogchen teaching is for discovering our real condition. This is not only in Dzogchen but all teachings – in Sutra, also in Tantra, the final goal is discovering our real nature, being in our real nature – but the characteristic of the Dzogchen teaching is going directly into that. How are our aspects of body, speech and mind, and how are they related to what are called our three vajras, nature of body, speech and mind? That is, how are they related when we speak of them in the Sutra teaching, in the Vajrayana teaching, the final condition of which is Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, Nirmanakaya. All are related to that, and for discovering that and being in that state, definitely. In Dzogchen this is called realization. So there are many aspects, the base, the path, and fruit – then slowly, slowly this can develop.

When talking about medicine, medicine in the teaching is also very important. We can really understand the sense of medicine, for example, in that the name of Buddha Shakyamuni is “Great Physician.” This is one of the names of the Buddha Shakyamuni. This doesn’t mean the Buddha is diagnosing illnesses, giving medicine etc. But it relates to the meaning in Tibetan of ring rgyu (long distance cause of disease, or the 3 poisons) and nye rgyu (short distance cause of disease, 3 humors). ring rgyu means the original cause is the three emotions. nye rgyu means disordered rlung, mkhris pa, bad kan. Why disordered? Because they are related with the three emotions: attachment, ignorance and anger. So these are the original bases of illness. Buddha’s teaching is for overcoming that.

Therefore menpa chenpo means having total knowledge of that. Even though our doctors are not menpa chenpo, but menpa, who are healing, even though not Buddhas, they are following that path, doing benefits for others. We know how illness is related to rlung, mkhris pa, bad kan, and that is related with body, speech and mind in the relative condition. So, this is the principle of medicine and we are working that way. Sometimes we say, “Oh, we are doing medicine,” also practice, mantras, also medicine Buddha mantra, etc.

But the most important principle is knowledge, knowing the root, or origin, understanding how the relative condition is disordered and how we can coordinate it. For example, in Tibetan medicine we say dman lhag log – there are many important things – or something that does not correspond within our condition, or having too little, or too much, or contrary rlung, mkhris pa, bad kan, etc. So, when we are studying medicine we can understand these things more.

Q. Thank you. You mentioned Ayurveda and Indian and Bön in the menla tradition, can you say what are the unique Bön influences in the tradition?

ChNN: I think the characteristics of Tibetan medicine are related more to its origins – and, if for example, you are checking and reading, etc, you can ask Dr. Thupten Phuntsog. He has read books on the origins of Tibetan medicine, and it really is something concrete. But the second most influential one is, of course, the Ayurveda tradition, because Tibetan medicine is very developed and includes also Chinese, Tajik tradition – many traditions are combined together. When you read the history of this medicine there are all these explanations, from the different generations of the Tibetan kings.

 

A Report on the Second International Conference on Tibetan Medicine

by Lauri Denyer and Bret Bourman

Entire group together with Chögyal Namkhai Norbu of Tibetan physician presenters and attendees, graduates and current Tibetan Medical students with Shang Shung Institute, ATMA and Shang Shung Institute Board members, and friend the Venerable Lama Khempo Pema (at Rinpoche's right)

Entire group together with Chögyal Namkhai Norbu of Tibetan physician presenters and attendees, graduates and current Tibetan Medical students with Shang Shung Institute, ATMA and Shang Shung Institute Board members, and friend the Venerable Lama Khempo Pema (at Rinpoche’s right)

 

On July 25, 26, and 27th of 2014, ATMA gathered together a group of distinguished Tibetan doctors from China, India and the US for the second international conference on Tibetan medicine entitled “Ancient Medicine for Modern Life – Tibetan Solutions for Stress Management, Chronic Illness, and Mental Health, and Assembly on the Standardization of Tibetan Medicine.”

The conference was co presented by ATMA, Shang Shung Institute and the SSI School of Tibetan Medicine. It was hosted by the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City in concurrence with its exhibition, Bodies in Balance, the Art of Tibetan Medicine, which included an extensive exhibit of rare thangkas, medical texts and tools, and other related artifacts. The exhibit also generated a luxurious and informative exhibition catalog edited by Theresia Hofer with the same title. The Rubin Museum’s theatre was filled as TM conference participants and audience were seated for the first and subsequent sessions throughout the weekend.

Dr. Gerry Steinberg, Board of ATMA, gives the opening address

Dr. Gerry Steinberg, Board of ATMA, gives the opening address

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ATMA, the American Tibetan Medical Association, was founded in 2007 to promote, develop and support the practice of Tibetan medicine in the US. The standardization of Tibetan medicine in the West is an important step in the process of obtaining recognition for Tibetan medicine as a healthcare option.  The TM Conference was a milestone event toward that end, and the great deal of effort that went into making it possible was rewarded, Dr Phuntsog Wangmo said, “in every way.” She was very happy with all the results, which were the support and keynote address given by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, the participation of so many illustrious doctors, their support and ratification of the proposed standardizations of Tibetan medicine, the welcomed suggestions for improvements, and the successful collaboration between the Rubin Museum of Art, SSI, SSI’s STM and ATMA.

The three founders of ATMA (from left to right) Dr. Kunchok Gyaltsan, Dr. Kalzang Yangdron, Dr. Phuntsog Wangmo, the Director of the International Shang Shung Institute's Tibetan Medical School

The three founders of ATMA (from left to right) Dr. Kunchok Gyaltsan, Dr. Kalzang Yangdron, Dr. Phuntsog Wangmo, the Director of the International Shang Shung Institute’s Tibetan Medical School

I was frankly bowled over as I listened to the doctors at the conference. One gets used to the familiar, and the near and dear are often taken for granted in their activities. Seeing Dr. Wangmo at work in the Shang Shung Institute year after year, but not being directly involved in the medical school, I had fallen into the habit of thinking she was doing something good, but that her work only affected her students, the Institute staff and board, and to some extent the Dzogchen Community, which works in tandem with SSI, but I did not see this in the larger context.

We all know that the Shang Shung Institute’s School of Tibetan Medicine is the only school of its kind in the US, and the first of its kind in the West outside of Tibet or India. That is why it has always attracted serious students from all over the earth. What is not so easily known is how extremely valuable this work is, not in an abstract way, or for only a few people, but for everyone.  Chögyal Namkhai Norbu said, when offering the TM Conference’s keynote address: “It is important people know the value of Tibetan knowledge, culture and particularly medicine is very important for all human beings. So this is not only for Tibetans but all traditions.”  He went on to state, “Everyone in the human condition has body, speech and mind. Particularly body. While we are alive, we each have a body, and medicine is indispensable.”

For those who know something of Tibetan medicine, and the basic knowledge it contains, it is familiar to hear that the body comprises the five elements, the three humors, the seven bodily constituents, and the digestive heat. Essentially, understanding the function of each of these and their interaction in order to be able to cure illnesses by restoring them to balance is the lifelong learning task of a Tibetan doctor. The tools at the service of the doctor are many, including several exacting diagnostic protocols, herbal remedies, massage and external therapies, mental therapies, mantras and instructions in meditation, and even surgical techniques.

The three humors as part of the presentation of Dr. Thubten Phuntsok

The three humors as part of the presentation of Dr. Thubten Phuntsok

These techniques have been in use for thousands of years. Dr Kunchok Gyaltsen said in his introductory talk, “During the eighth century…the Old Yutok Nyingma Yönten Gonpo established a school in Gompo Menlung where the Southern part of the Tibetan Autonomous Region is today. And the school had over 300 students, and the scholarly degrees were divided into four levels, so those levels actually very much match modern academic or clinical practitioner levels.”

In discussing the origins of Tibetan medicine in pre-Buddhist history, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu said, “Tibetan medicine has developed very perfectly, combining many traditions, not only that of Shang Shung.” He added, “If someone has a very heavy illness, almost dying, the desire of that person is to be cured or to overcome the illness, and it doesn’t matter if the method is western medicine or eastern medicine, Tibetan or Indian, etc. – no one is choosing on that basis.  So, if there are benefits or knowledge, integrating Tibetan medicine and western medicine, this is something very important, and we must develop that way.”

Sometimes the connection between what the Dzogchen Community as a whole is doing and what the Shang Shung Institute does seems to be intangible, even faint. In response to a question from the audience about the connection between Dzogchen Teachings and Tibetan medicine, Rinpoche had this to say:

“When talking about medicine, medicine in the Teaching is also very important. We can really understand the sense of medicine, for example, in that the name of Buddha Shakyamuni is “Great Physician.” …. nye rgyu means disordered rlung, mkhris pa, bad kan. Why disordered? Because they are related with the three emotions: attachment, ignorance and anger. So these are the original bases of illness, no? Buddha’s teaching is for overcoming that.”

“So imagine (someone’s) rlung, mkhris pa, bad kan with no problems, (that person) is like a buddha, in fact it’s very hard to find anyone with no illnesses and no problems, unless you are a buddha,” Dr Kunchog Gyaltsen, said. So there is that correlation with development of health and wellbeing, and spiritual development. He went on to say that the purpose of having a long life was to be able to practice Dharma more. And furthermore, he said,“One thing is time itself. Actually time does not exist. There’s no time. What exists is the environment. The place where we live, we stay. However, the place where we live is a material. That’s why impermanent. Impermanent means always changing. So, that’s what you think about. For this conference, I came to NY and outside it’s very hot. Why, because the environment changed.  In another cycle I will come back here and again it will be hot. But half of the time (when) I come back and it’s the winter- it’s cold. So then, what we did is mark it with the concept of time.”

ATMA Board of Directors with Chögyal Namkhai Norbu. From left to right, Top row standing: Dr. Anasuya Weil, Dr. Kalzang Yangdron, Dr. Gerry Steinberg, Dr. Kunchok Gyaltsen Bottom row seated: Dr. Phuntsog Wangmo, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu

ATMA Board of Directors with Chögyal Namkhai Norbu. From left to right, Top row standing: Dr. Anasuya Weil, Dr. Kalzang Yangdron, Dr. Gerry Steinberg, Dr. Kunchok Gyaltsen Bottom row seated: Dr. Phuntsog Wangmo, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu

Many of the doctors spoke either directly or indirectly about the role of spiritual practice in healing, both on the part of the patient and the doctor. Many of them valued their Buddhist inheritance above all else. Dr. Thubten Phuntsog, of the Southwest University of Nationalities in Chengdu China, said with a jolly expression that he did not think that Tibetan medicine had anything to do with Buddhism.  He has done considerable research into the origins of Tibetan Medicine, as a scholar and practitioner of medicine, and his conclusions are that Tibetan medicine has no connection with Buddhism: it is completely scientific knowledge. Buddhism flourished in the 7th century, but Tibetan medicine was already there at that time. He made other salient points which also supported his claim: that Tibetan medicine did not come from China or India, but from Shang Shung, and thus is much older than the arrival of Buddhism in Tibet.  He based his conclusions on extensive research using extremely rare and restricted books. Dr. Thubten Phuntsog also was quite clear in stating that Tibetan element-astrology could not have come from China because it was in use in Tibet over 3,000 years ago, but did not exist in China at that time.

Dr. Thubten Phuntsok presents on the Origins of Tibetan Medicine and Astrology

Dr. Thubten Phuntsok presents on the Origins of Tibetan Medicine and Astrology

Dr. Lusham Gyal said, in his presentation on mental health, “The root cause of the disease can come to the mind and can come from the mind. Any time you have the disease, to detect the disease, the first thing with a disease is to check how the mind is functioning. That’s why we do have meditations, peaceful mind, love; compassion is one kind of medicine for you to use.”

“In order to be in health, you need to work with your daily mind exercise. And sometimes in order to achieve enlightenment you need to exercise your mind as well.”  He put special emphasis on meditation: “Meditation means how to focus your mind. An example is many streams flow in different directions and use your mind to combine these to one big stream; that is how the meditation is important.”

Dr. Lushan Gyal (left), Director of the Ziling Tibetan Medical School in Tibet and Dr. Phuntsog Wangmo, Director of the Shang Shung Institute Tibetan Medical School in Conway, Massachusetts

Dr. Lushan Gyal (left), Director of the Ziling Tibetan Medical School in Tibet and Dr. Phuntsog Wangmo, Director of the Shang Shung Institute Tibetan Medical School in Conway, Massachusetts

Dr. Lusham Gyal presents on Tibetan Medicine at its Best: Mental Illness Care

Dr. Lusham Gyal presents on Tibetan Medicine at its Best: Mental Illness Care

Dr. Yangdron Kalsang of San Francisco, Dr Wangmo’s colleague in the development of ATMA along with Dr. Kunchok Gyaltsan, Dr. Gerald Steinberg, Anasuya Weil and others, spoke of Tibetan work with mental illness. “In Tibetan medicine for mental disturbances there is friendship therapy. Talking has been in use for thousands of years. In Tibetan medicine there is much to do with lifestyle, so not new like a lifestyle coach.”  She also asked “Can Tibetan medicine help with mental illnesses? rlung (the wind humor) is the root cause of mental imbalances. Life sustaining-wind plays a major role in mental clarity and balance.”

Factors that influence an individual’s health are diet, behavior, external environment, mental habits, and things we might call DNA, consisting of bodily inheritance and karmic inheritance. The mind is the source of illness, though- and it is those three poisons of ignorance, anger and attachment that create bodily suffering as well as mental suffering.

The panel of physicians addressed issues that are very pertinent to western society: cancer care, wellbeing maintenance, mental health care, heart attacks and strokes.  Tibetan medicine is a medical system that goes to the heart of the matter.  It starts where the problem starts, not just working with the symptoms. We also need more techniques to deal with stresses and mental illness, maintenance programs, and new ways to look at many entrenched problems that arise in the physical body, and this is what Tibetan medicine has to offer. Much like the beneficial fairy who comes late to the ball, arriving after the seemingly fatal curse has been delivered, is able to offer a cure, Tibetan medicine’s coming of age in the US is just in time to offer new much-needed practice and knowledge in health care.

The first talks were on cancer treatment and on heart disease, stroke, and cardiovascular health. Dr. Kunchog Tseten and Dr. Wangmo spoke on the topic of heart disease. Dr. Tseten spoke mainly in terms of how the heart is viewed in Tibetan medicine, and how it functions in terms of the nye pa (three humors), stating:

“The heart, in Tibetan medicine, is king of the organ systems, governor of the blood and the fluids.  And there is another hidden meaning about the heart: we are talking about a lot of diseases related to heart disease and related to emotional problems— stress, anxiety, and depression — connected to the heart disease. In Tibetan medicine we talk about three types of body system: one is the gross body, that is the heart organ, and the second which is the subtle body which is the channels and chakras, that is the energetic circulation in the internal body. The third, which is hard to understand, is the dynamic power of the body systems, our mind, the subtle energy, the subtle wind and the subtle mind. That is why when we are talking about the heart disease, why is it connected to emotions? When we talk it’s connected to the three humor theory in Tibetan medicine, of which there are each five types, total fifteen types of the three humors, the three types of the three humors which are located inside of our heart – for example, one is the pervasive wind which is located inside of our heart.”

Dr. Phuntsog Wangmo (left) and Dr. Kunchok Tsetan on the panel called  Tibetan Medicine and Stroke, Heart and Cardiovascular Disease

Dr. Phuntsog Wangmo (left) and Dr. Kunchok Tsetan on the panel called Tibetan Medicine and Stroke, Heart and Cardiovascular Disease

The role of the digestion in health, and how poor digestion can cause disease was mentioned by a few of the doctors. “Patients may wonder why the doctor is treating the stomach when the problem is in the heart; it looks like the doctor did not understand what I am talking about – this is because we try to find the root of the disease,” said Dr. Wangmo.

In many countries, people try to find the best way to eat, where is the best place to live, how to exercise, how to relax, how to be good people and live fully. There are few things westerners don’t try in the pursuit of the good life. Meditation and yoga and massage are becoming part of many people’s daily routines. So it will not come as much of a surprise to them that these practices are part of the recommendations of Tibetan doctors, because yoga works with the breath and vital energy, and meditation works with the mind, and also the body and energy.

During the course of the conference an explanation and demonstration of Yantra Yoga was offered by Naomi Zeitz of the Dzogchen Community, a qualified Yantra instructor of many years’ standing, in which she explained the benefit of learning the precise methods of breathing and taking positions that encourage the air to move correctly in the channels. The discipline of correctly applied yoga is extremely beneficial for the mind, and does much to alleviate depression and create balance and harmony.

The TM Conference also made available experiential sessions of Ku Nye massage and horme offered by graduates of the School of Tibetan medicine. These were enthusiastically received by all who were able to make an appointment. After the conference’s last session, visiting senior doctors also made themselves available for brief consultations to give a throng of attendees a chance to experience some aspects of the methods of diagnosis first hand.

Dr. Kunchok Gyaltsan on Wellness in Tibetan Medicine

Dr. Kunchok Gyaltsan on Wellness in Tibetan Medicine

Dr. Kalzang Yangdron presents on Tibetan Medicine at its Best: Mental Illness Care

Dr. Kalzang Yangdron presents on Tibetan Medicine at its Best: Mental Illness Care

Working with the mind and directing the attention to the body/mind connection as a means of not only remaining healthy, but restoring health, sounds like just what we need here in the US. We have some national problems in our health care approaches, some issues that need our attention such as working with the mentally ill more effectively, and while, as it was stated many times, Tibetan medicine does not have all the answers, it has many, and can be of benefit to those who choose to use it, if it is made more widely available. And that can only happen if those who teach and practice it work together on standardizing it and making it available to be studied and appreciated by writing up their results, writing books, lecturing, and continuing lifelong learning. It can, in conjunction with other modalities, including biomedicine, become a real part of the way healthcare is practiced in this country and all over the world.

Drs. Tashi Rabten, Tenzin Dagpa, Eliot Tokar and Yangbum Gyal discuss cancer causes and treatment

Drs. Tashi Rabten, Tenzin Dagpa, Eliot Tokar and Yangbum Gyal discuss cancer causes and treatment

The closing forum’s panelists focused on some of the difficulties of finding acceptance for Tibetan medicine here. Dr. Wangmo spoke of not wanting to work under the umbrella of another discipline. “If I study acupuncture, I work under someone else, and it takes a long time under that umbrella. Today we have great teachers, and a good leader.  At this moment if we stay under the umbrella of someone (else), we may not have the capacity to stand up (on our own) in 10 or 20 years.” This realization encouraged her to open a small clinic in which to practice whatever aspects could be legally offered here.

She spoke of SSI’s medical program’s graduates having passed their exams in Xining with very high qualifications, comparing favorably to the other native students who all have much more fluency in the Tibetan language. The students are encouraged to learn Tibetan, Dr. Kunchog Gyaltsen said, reading translations was like eating American Chinese food, not a very satisfying experience.

The challenges ahead that ATMA faces in working to legitimize and maintain the excellent standard of Tibetan medicine, while making clear guidelines for its practice and teaching in the West are many and daunting. The conference gave a very clear indication that it is not a matter of if this will happen, but when.

The conference and its presenters made it quite clear that health is intrinsically a part of what we develop as practitioners of dharma; there is a synchrony and harmony in the relationship between the work of the School of Tibetan Medicine and that of the spiritual community in a way I have never before appreciated but the Tibetan culture –  and Tibetan medicine – enable the teachings and practice to flourish by supporting a holistic view of individuals’ wellbeing, and the teachings and practice support the development here of this invaluable resource for human culture everywhere. It was an honor to witness this watershed event.

Roundtable Discussion, Tibetan Medicine in Current Practice Left to right: Dr. Kalzang Yangdron, Dr. Ani Nyidron, Dr. Phuntsog Wangmo, Dr. Kunchok Gyaltsan

Roundtable Discussion, Tibetan Medicine in Current Practice
Left to right: Dr. Kalzang Yangdron, Dr. Ani Nyidron, Dr. Phuntsog Wangmo, Dr. Kunchok Gyaltsan

Final Panel on Standardization Left to right: Drs. Chodying Phuntsog, Wang du, Kalzang Yangdron, Lusham Gyal, Phuntsog Wangmo and Thubten Phunstok

Final Panel on Standardization
Left to right: Drs. Chodying Phuntsog, Wang du, Kalzang Yangdron, Lusham Gyal, Phuntsog Wangmo and Thubten Phunstok

Event Speakers, Subjects and Details:

Saturday
Invocation, Welcome and Introduction to Tibetan Medicine
– Dr. Gerry Steinberg, ATMA Treasurer, Western Medical Doctor
– Dr. Phuntsog Wangmo, Shang Shung Institute International Director of Tibetan Medicine,
ATMA Board of Directors.
– Dr. Yangdron Kalzang, Tibetan doctor and Chinese traditional medical doctor, San Francisco,
Tibetan Medical Teacher, Shang Shung Institute of Traditional Tibetan Medicine.
– Dr. Kunchok Gyaltsen, author and professor, Tibetan Medical University, Qinghai Province

History of Tibetan Medicine
– Dr. Thubten Phuntsog, Tibetan medical professor, Department of Tibetan Studies, South West University of Nationalities, Chengdu, Sichuan.

Tibetan Medicine at its Best: Stroke, Heart and Cardiovascular Disease
– Dr. Kunchok Tseten
– Dr. Phuntsog Wangmo
– Dr. Namgyal Qusar’s presentation by Dr. Yangdron Kalzang

Experiencing Techniques: KuNye and other External Therapies
– SSI STM Graduates

Tibetan Medicine at its Best: Mental Illness Care
– Dr. Lusham Gyal, Professor and Dean, Tibetan Medical University, Qinghai Province; expert
on mental diseases
– Dr. Yangdron Kalzang

Wellness in Tibetan Medicine
– Dr. Kunchok Gyaltsen

Panel Discussion: Tibetan Medicine Cancer Care
– Dr. Tashi  Rabten, Tibetan Doctor, New York, USA
– Dr. Tenzin Dakpa, Tibetan donictor, New York; Tibetan Medical Teacher, Shang Shung
Institute of Traditional Tibetan Medicine
– Dr. Yangbum Gyal, Tibetan Doctor
– Dr. Elliot Tokar, Tibetan Doctor, New York USA

Sunday
Experiencing Techniques: Yantra Yoga, Breathing, and Meditation
– Naomi Zeitz, Shang Shung Institute Board of Directors, Certified Yantra Yoga Instructor
– Raul Ricci, Certified Yantra Yoga Instructor, Peru

Keynote Address
– Chögyal Namkhai Norbu

Roundtable Discussion: Tibetan Medicine in Current Practice
– Dr. Phuntsog Wangmo, Dr. Kunchok Gyaltsan, Dr. Kalzang Yangdron, Dr. Ani Nyidron

Panel Discussion: Standardization, Education and Integration of Tibetan Medicine into the West
– All presenters and professional Tibetan doctors in attendance.

Experiencing Techniques: Medical Consultations
– Senior Tibetan Physicians

Event Coordinator and Master of Ceremonies
– Bret Bourman, Shang Shung Institute, Administrator, Instructional Design Developer

Rubin Museum of Art
– Tim McHenry, Director of Public Programs & Performance