The first European to approach Tibetan Medicine was probably Csoma de Koros (1790-1842), a Hungarian philologist who sought to learn the origin of his own people and to do so, went to Tibet. Based in Ladakh, he compiled the “Tibetan-English Dictionary and Grammar” which was published in Calcutta in 1834. Later, numerous scientists and writers discovered the Tibetan Sowa Rigpa “science of healing” and many of them wrote books about the subject, which were sometimes reviewed by the international media.
These include Drs. Heinrich Laufer, Cyrill von Kervin-Krasinski, Theodor Burang, and Elizabeth Finckh among others. At the beginning of the last century, Mrs. Alexandra David-Néel, Lama Anagarica Govinda and Prof. Tucci among others, also explored the treasure of Tibetan Buddhist culture and wisdom. The media covered a great number of their discoveries and experiences which generated much research into Tibetan Medicine. Dr. Elizabeth Finckh from Hamburg, Germany, also studied Tibetan Medicine in Dharamsala, India, in the 1960’s and wrote several books about the subject. Dr. Lokesh Chandra and Baghwan Dash from India were also famous for working on a very interesting research done on the Indo-Tibetan Medicine and published many books in India. In the later part of the last century, more books about Tibetan Medicine were actually written by various people and published in the major Western languages. Interest in Tibetan Medicine thus quickly spread throughout the West along with the interest in Tibetan Buddhism and culture. Today, many countries in Europe, the USA, and throughout the world, have private Tibetan Medicine centers and institutes to provide teaching in Tibetan Medicine for Westerners. They often invite Tibetan physicians and engage in research in this field for the understanding of the Tibetan approach. Interested Western doctors and individuals know well that the essence of Tibetan Medicine – from the pharmacological, pathological or psycho-spiritual point of view – can serve all the people worldwide; the highly developed countries which depend mainly on science and technology included.
The situation of Tibetan Medicine in the 21st Century
The wind of Tibetan Medicine blows towards the West, searching for a new home. The Western fertile land is welcoming the cold and dry wind of the Snow Mountain of Shambhala which carries Tibetan Buddhism and Medicine, and the traditional approach of the body, mind and energy, although it is hard for Westerners to adapt and thus fit it all with Western technological medicine. Tibetans, on the other hand, have the responsibility to prevent the danger of losing the concepts and practice wherever they live, and to transmit it. It is thus crucial to keep the traditional concepts and the identity of mind/body medicine alive in the modern world. Therefore, Tibetan Medicine has to be understood by the world of scientific language in order to gain recognition and fully serve mankind. Many Tibetans believe that the Buddha taught Tibetan Medicine so they, themselves, see no need for scientific research into its concepts. Others, however, do not oppose scientific experimentation. In fact, they would like to gain a greater understanding of both sides, approach and research. This could be accomplished by an institute which would provide a “meeting point” for modern science and ancient medical traditions.
As Tibetan Medicine is gradually gaining respect and support in Eastern Europe, it is, in the Western countries, a form of medicine raising curiosity and thus not legally accepted as no one has ever worked on the issue of its recognition so far. However, some years ago, the New Yuthok Institute for Tibetan Medicine in Milan has made an appeal at the Italian Parliament in order to have Tibetan Medicine recognized at the same level as other natural medicines.
Dr. Pasang Yonten Arya (Tendi Sherpa) also spoke in the European Parliament, Strasbourg, in 2003, and urged the natural medicine section to preserve and widely recognize Tibetan Medicine in Europe (picture above).
Basically, Tibetan Medicine depends on the different laws set up in the European countries and on the interest shown by the people. Today, Tibetan Medicine is going through transitory times. It is therefore important for Tibetan Medicine practitioners living in the West to be aware of the European laws and to keep up with the idea of introducing Western standards of Tibetan Medicine in the region.
It is also essential for Tibetan Medicine to be recognized by the Western countries in the same way as the other traditions of complementary medicine are, and it should ultimately be taught in private and state universities. This system of medicine does not belong only to the Tibetan people but is a precious piece of world heritage that must be preserved for the benefit of future generations.