Men-Tsee-Khang is comprised of several administrative and cultural departments, including the Tibetan Medical and Astrological College, the Pharmaceutical Department, the Astrology Department, the Clinical Research Department, the Herbal Product Research Department, and the Translation Department.
The institute currently offers treatment free of charge for any monks or nuns, for officials in the Tibetan Administration, for people over 70 years old, and for people who are unable to afford medicine.
Tibetan medicine incorporates many basic remedies from household items and herbs, such as stopping bleeding by applying melted butter and using residual barely from Tibetan beer onto swollen parts of the body. One of the oldest medical traditions in the world, Tibetan medicine dates back to the 5th century B.C.
The fundamental text of Tibetan medicine is called "Gyueshi." This work contains instructions for practices, research, and the formulas for producing Tibetan herbal medicines. Today, all Tibetan medicine used practically and in research comes from this work.
According to the institutes's literature, Tibetan physicians "should possess the six prerequisite qualities of intelligence, compassion, commitment, dexterity, diligence and morality. With the practice of authentic view, meditation, right conduct and the six perfections like generosity, the learned Tibetan physicians clearly identify the causes and conditions of disorders."
The Tibet Post spoke with Dr. Tsewang Tamdin, the Director and Visiting Physician at Men-Tsee-Khang. Dr. Tamdin has been practicing Tibetan medicine for the past 33 years. He spent 20 years in Delhi practicing and has been in Dharamshala ever since. Dr. Tamdin works closely with all aspects of the institute. He starts the day at 5am, receiving patients in his home for a few hours before going into the office.
On a given day he will correspond with people who are interested in Tibetan medicine, visit the pharmacy where the production of the medicine takes place, check in on the herbal production research department, observe classes and discuss medicine with lecturers at the college, and hold administrative meetings.
Buddhism, astrology integral
Dr. Tamdin said that Buddhism and Tibetan medicine are completely intertwined. Referring to the Buddhist principles of overcoming negative mental states, he said that "if you want to keep away from the sickness permanently, you have to learn and you have to practice, how to get rid of ignorance, anger. To permanently fix, you have to practice the dharma."
He said that one's spiritual state plays a large part in his or her health. "When you are looking at your suffering, the mind and the physical body are very much related."
Astrology also plays a large part in Tibetan medicine. "You have to know what is a good time and day for you to do the work," Dr. Tamdin said. Tibetans believe that there are auspicious days on which to collect the medicine as well as to give medicine to patients. Astrology also takes into account channels and rotations in the body, and through knowing the horoscope, Dr. Tamdin said, one can understand what is happening in one's life.
Differences from Western medicine
The Tibetan doctor looks at four different aspects of health-medicine, lifestyle, diet, and spiritual state.
Dr. Tamdin has traveled extensively abroad, visiting European countries, Japan, the United States and others.
"In many of these countries, what I see is that Tibetan medicine has a very big role," said Dr. Tamdin. Medicine in other countries, especially in the West, often focuses on the results of blood tests and MRIs.
What can't be discovered by such tests, he said, is that "many diseases are caused by worries."
According to Tibetan medicine, many illnesses such as nerve and joint problems, chronic fatigue, and heart problems have their root in one's mental state. Tibetan medicine seeks to increase mental happiness, and therefore the autoimmune system.
Tibetan medicine is also unique from Western medicine in that Tibetan medicine looks closely at one's body type and one's personal nature. Application of medicine takes place only after these aspects have been investigated.
"You never see any advertisement for Tibetan medicine, but you see many patients coming, and we receive many letters from people who are benefiting from the medicine. Because you see, the basis is like that [on one's nature]," said Dr. Tamdin. "Anybody can get sick with any disease, the body has three humors, so these are the creators of the disease, mentally or physically."
"From the Western point of view, the doctors always tell the patient that there's no cure for your disease," he said. "Tibetan medicine supports internally and mentally."
Regarding treating mental states, Dr. Tamdin said that it is very important to understand the cause of each mental state. "You should know why the person is suffering, what is the cause for each individual mental state. Then you can apply the matter according to that."
Dr. Tamdin believes that interest in and knowledge about Tibetan medicine is growing worldwide."In the 70s, people didn't know much. During the 80s and 90s and since now, people are seeking the time to learn the medicine, and people have seen some benefit. Tibetan medicine is growing in the world. The popularity is growing more and more, its helping a lot in people's lives. People want to study more and do more research."
Dr. Tamdin said that students who come to study at the college at the Tibetan Medical and Astrology Institute are typically Tibetan. While students from Japan, the United States, Japan, India, and others do attend the college, the challenge is that the classes are currently offered only in Tibetan language.
"In the future, we are hoping to teach in Western languages," he said. "Now, professors are not speaking very much English." He also said that learning Tibetan is, at this time, essential to understanding Western medicine. "To study more in the tantra, it is compulsory to know the Tibetan language, because most books are not translated."
Men-Tsee-Khang also conducts medical tours and conferences worldwide. Earlier this year doctors from the institute traveled throughout India and Nepal, using traditional methods to offer health services to people and offering lectures on aspects of health. Dr. Tamdin traveled earlier this year to the United States to attend the second international conference on "Tibetan Medicine: Healing Mind and Body."
Also, earlier this year, Men-Tsee-Khang celebrated its 50th Anniversary. The "Golden Jubilee" celebration was held this past June and was attended by His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa.