Alternative medicine

The expansion of alternative medicine beyond the Himalayas

When Bishwa Nath Oli, 51, visited the Swayambhu branch of the Phende Clinic in February this year, he was not sure what to expect. At the time, Oli suffered from painful gout caused by high levels of uric acid, a medical condition he had had for almost ten years. After trying different treatment methods to stabilize his uric acid level and failing, Oli’s friend suggested visiting Phende Clinic and seeing Dr. Tenjing Dharke Gurung.

“After several consultations with Dr. Tenjing and taking his medication for almost six months, my uric acid stabilized and my pain was completely gone,” Oli said during one of his regular clinic visits. a few weeks ago. “Since the treatment completely worked on me, I suggested friends and family with similar health issues to visit Phende Clinic and try Sowa Rigpa.”

Sowa Rigpa is a traditional medical system that dates back over 2,000 years and is heavily influenced by Buddhist philosophy. Sowa Rigpa healers are traditionally known as amchis, but many of them nowadays use the title doctor before their name. In some mountainous districts of Nepal and India, the medical system is better known as the “Amchi system of medicine”. While in many parts of the world it is better known as traditional Tibetan medicine. Outside of the mountainous regions of Nepal, Sowa Rigpa, often translated into English as “the science of healing”, is widely practiced in India, Bhutan, China and Mongolia.

For centuries, for the inhabitants of the mountainous regions of Nepal, this medical system was the only accessible medical system. But in recent decades, as more and more people from the region have begun to migrate to cities like Kathmandu and Pokhara in the hope of better employment and educational opportunities, a handful of Sowa Rigpa clinics began operating in these cities to meet the needs of the diaspora. In recent years, however, the number of Sowa Rigpa clinics in these cities has increased, but many of the patients these clinics serve come from communities that were not historically dependent on the medical system.

The first registered Sowa Rigpa clinic in the country was Kunphen Ausadhalaya, established in 1973 and located in Chhetrapati, Kathmandu.

“The royal palace invited the famous Amchi Kunsang Phentok to Kathmandu to treat the then King Tribhuwan who was suffering from chronic liver disease. Amchi Kunsang successfully treated the late king, and this is how the first registered Sowa Rigpa clinic in the country came into being,” said Dr. Nyima Tsering Nepali, who is one of two Sowa Rigpa doctors working currently in Kunphen Ausadhalaya. “At that time, the majority of patients who came to our clinic were Kathmandu elites and people related to the royal palace and people from the mountainous regions of Nepal who had migrated to Kathmandu. But a lot has changed in the last decades. Today, people from all over the country and foreigners residing in Nepal visit our clinic.

Doctors in Sowa Rigpa like Dr. Gurung and Dr. Nepali are trained to diagnose patients using various diagnostic techniques. “Some of the most common techniques used by doctors in Sowa Rigpa to analyze patients are to examine their pulse, tongue and urine,” Dr Gurung said. “The medicines are all made from products found in nature and according to the system’s centuries-old tradition.”

It was in 2012 when Dr. Gurung established Phende Clinic in Swoyambhu. For the first two years, most of his patients were members of indigenous communities in the mountainous regions of Nepal. From time to time, says Dr. Gurung, people from other communities would come to the clinic for treatment.

“But a lot has changed in recent years. In my clinic in Swoyambhu, I see an average of 80 patients, and about 70% of them come from the hill communities and Tarai region of the country, which have not traditionally depended on Sowa Rigpa,” Dr Gurung said. .

This growing acceptance of Sowa Rigpa as a medical system among people across the country encouraged Dr. Gurung to open Phende branches in Dharan, Jhapa, Syangja and Pokhara.

Part of the reason the medical system is steadily gaining popularity seems to be its efficiency and affordability. Saraswati Rashmi Shakya, a student of Buddhist studies, details her four-year experience with Sowa Rigpa with The Post as; “I had a heartbreaking thyroid condition for which I sought treatment in several hospitals around Kathmandu. The medication I was prescribed only exacerbated my emotional state as I often felt depressed and discouraged after taking it. Until, of course, I discovered Sowa Rigpa, and it improved my situation considerably. Although I had to be patient with the whole process, it was definitely worth it to Shakya claims to have been introduced to this practice by a friend of hers who is studying to become amchi in India. His treatment, however, began at Chhetrapati’s Men-Tsee-Khang, which operates several branches of Sowa Rigpa Clinics in Nepal. The Sowa Rigpa Chief Physician of the Chhetrapati branch of Men-Tsee-Khang is Dr. Dhindup Tsering Tamang Lama (Daniel).

Dr. Daniel started his practice in 2018 after graduating from Men-Tsee-Khang (Sowa-Rigpa) Tibetan Medical and Astro College in Himachal Pradesh, India. The three doctors the Post spoke to for the story studied Sowa Rigpa in India.

Until 2016, Nepal did not have a Sowa Rigpa college affiliated with a dedicated university and this is the reason why, according to Sowa Rigpa doctors the Post spoke to, many went to study in Sowa Rigpa institutes in India.

“We knew that if we were to preserve and promote Sowa Rigpa in Nepal, it is crucial to have a government-recognized dedicated teaching institute in the country so that Nepal can produce qualified and well-trained Sowa Rigpa doctors right here. in the country. After years of hard work, Sowa Rigpa International College, affiliated to Lumbini Buddhist University, opened in February 2016. It is the only institute in Nepal to offer Sowa Rigpa Bachelor of Medicine. [BSM]said Dr. Gurung, who is also the principal of the college.

According to Dr. Nepali, director of the college, the institute has been able to attract international students from Bhutan, Finland, India, Spain and England. “In the past, only members of the Himalayan communities studied to become Sowa Rigpa doctors, but this is no longer the case. We not only have international students but also local students from non-Himalayan communities. This is an encouraging sign,” said Dr Nepali. “The college is a non-profit organization and the main objective is to provide quality education to our students. We also offer attractive scholarships to deserving students. For the first four and a half years, our students undergo rigorous academic training, and in the final year, they do an internship at recognized clinics in Sowa Rigpa.

Nonetheless, the word-of-mouth that has helped Sowa Rigpa proliferate, as well as its effectiveness, has truly boosted its credibility and overall reputation.

While Sowa Rigpa has only penetrated beyond the Himalayan communities of Nepal in recent years, it should be noted that this tradition has taken root in the western world decades earlier. This system of medicine also has invaded several parts of India over the past two decades. With the Indian government strengthening the infrastructure by incorporating Sowa Rigpa in educational institutions and hospitals, this practice has gradually made its way into the mainstream.

Stewart Mushet, a Scotsman based in Malaysia, who sought Sowa Rigpa treatment on the recommendation of a friend, urges everyone to approach it with an open mind. “People generally tend to perceive natural treatment as an antithesis to Western medicine. I would strongly advise anyone looking for Sowa Rigpa to get out of this binary thinking. You can follow your clinically prescribed medications while simultaneously taking Sowa Rigpa medications,” Mushet said. “Sowa Rigpa is not a competition against Western medicines, but rather a complementary treatment.

At his clinic in Chhetrapati, Dr. Nepali sees dozens of patients daily. “Majority of the patients who come to our clinic are those with chronic non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, thyroid, arthritis, etc. Since Sowa Rigpa clinics have never done promoting their services, it surprises me to see people from various parts of the country come for treatment at our clinic. People from economically marginalized backgrounds can also get free medical treatment at our clinic if they provide a letter from the government. local people outlining their case,” said Dr Nepali. “As Sowa Rigpa doctors, we are trained to view our profession as a selfless endeavor whose main objective is to alleviate the suffering of people, which is at the heart of Buddha’s teachings. As people of the land where Buddha was born, we must protect and promote this unique medical system.”