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100th Anniversary Celebrations of the Men–Tsee–Khang - Dharamsala, India



Report of the 100th Anniversary Celebrations of the Men–Tsee–Khang Dharamsala, India, 23–25 March 2016
HIMALAYA, the Journal of the
Association for Nepal and
Himalayan Studies
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100th Anniversary Celebrations of the
Men–Tsee–Khang - Dharamsala, India
Barbara Gerke
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100th Anniversary Celebrations of the Men–Tsee–Khang - Dharamsala,
124 | HIMALAYA Fall 2017
100th Anniversary Celebrations of
the Men–Tsee–Khang
Dharamsala, India
23–25 March 2016
It was a sunny spring day in 2016 in
Dharamsala, in the northwestern
Indian state of Himachal Pradesh.
Crowds of Tibetans were streaming
to the Thekchen Chöling temple to
see His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai
Lama commemorate one hundred
years of their Tibetan medical
institute, the Men–Tsee–Khang.
Fifty–ve years earlier, the Dalai
Lama settled here with around 8,000
Tibetans in exile, eeing Lhasa, where
the Thirteenth Dalai Lama had set
up the rst Men–Tsee–Khang in the
early twentieth century.
In Dharamsala, in 1961, a small
medical institute of Tibetan medicine
(or Sowa Rigpa) was established to
provide health care to Tibetans across
the growing diaspora. Since then, the
Dharamsala Men–Tsee–Khang has
developed into the largest institute
in the Tibetan diaspora catering to a
large clientele of Tibetan, Indian, and
foreign patients.
The Men–Tsee–Khang staff had been
working long hours, each having
dedicated one hundred hours of their
salaries to raise more than 5.3 lakhs
of Indian rupees (approx. $82,000)
to co–sponsor this important event.
Students also each donated one
hundred hours of voluntary work.
It signied not only the successful
continuation of Tibetan culture
in exile, but also (re)established a
strong historical link with Lhasa, the
center of Tibetan power since the
seventeenth century and home to the
rst signicant medical institutions
of Tibet—the Lhasa Men–Tsee–Khang
(founded in 1916) and the Chakpori
monastic medical college (founded in
1696, destroyed by the Chinese Red
Guards in 1959).
The celebrations at Thekchen Chöling
were attended by large crowds of
Tibetans, a group of foreigners, as
well as three Indian government
dignitaries, each of whom presented a
short speech: Thakur Singh Bharmori
(Minister for Forests, Himachal
Pradesh), Karan Singh (Minister of
the Department of Ayurveda, Yoga
and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha,
Sowa Rigpa, and Homoeopathy
(AYUSH), Government of India, under
which Sowa Rigpa was ofcially
recognized in 2010), and Ravi
Thakur (a Member of the Legislative
Assembly of Lahaul and Spiti). Also,
a Russian member of Parliament,
Irinchey Matkhanov, a member
of the State Duma Committee on
Health Protection, was present. We
witnessed a moving scene when the
Dalai Lama personally honored Yeshe
Donden (born in 1927), his long–time
personal physician who established
his private clinic in McLeod Ganj
in 1979 after having served the
Men–Tsee–Khang for eighteen years
(1961–1979), and who, at almost 90
years of age, still sees patients. This
honor reected many decades of
hard work and dedication that led to
rmly establishing Sowa Rigpa as a
signicant medical system in India
and beyond. Jamyang Tashi, head
of the Men–Tsee–Khang pharmacy,
was also honored for his processing
of mercury into tsotel, the complex
mercury sulde powder added to
many precious pills (see Figure 1).
He directed the making of tsotel the
three times that it was made at the
Men–Tsee–Khang between 2008 and
2014, after receiving the transmission
from the Tibetan physicians Tenzin
Chödrak in 1998 and Namgyal Tsering
in 2001.
Tashi Tsering Phuri, director of the
Men–Tsee–Khang, spoke on the
history of Tibetan medicine, the
situation of Tibetan medicine in exile,
and the need for cooperation with the
Indian states across the Himalayan
region to help source medicinal raw
ingredients. During their speeches,
the Indian dignitaries expressed their
admiration for Tibetan medicine but
Bharmori cautioned that any form
of collaboration would have to take
into account the preservation of the
Himalayan ora and fauna.
The Dalai Lama praised the ability
of Tibetan medicine in the past to
absorb medical knowledge locally
but also from Ayurveda, Chinese,
and Unani/Tibb medicine. He said,
“Regarding Sowa Rigpa, if a great
conference could have been convened
in the eight century when facilities
were so poor, today when we have
facilities and opportunities we should
be able to repeat it” <http://bit.
ly/2ua8LxD>. He urged: “We should
meet with practitioners of these
traditions, discuss and exchange what
we know. We shouldn’t rely only on
HIMALAYA Volume 37, Number 2 | 125
the Four Tantras [the fundamental
work of Tibetan medicine that is still
partially memorized by students
today], but should also take other
ndings into account.” He also called
for more preventive health care
in the Tibetan settlements, which
show high rates of chronic illness.
Since the centenary celebrations in
March 2016, the Men–Tsee–Khang
has organized several public health
programs in Tibetan settlements
e.g. <>, the
conference in Delhi in December
2016, and the publication of disease
prevention handbooks.
The celebrations at Thekchen Chöling
were followed by an evening of
celebrations of songs and dances
composed and choreographed by
medical students and Men–Tsee–
Khang staff that took place in a large
tent on Men–Tsee–Khang grounds.
The mood was elevated and happy.
On the second day of the centenary
celebrations, the international
conference “Unlocking the Truth of
Tibetan Medicine” was held at the
Men–Tsee–Khang in Dharamsala.
It was organized by Rigzin Sangmo
of the Men–Tsee–Khang’s Research
and Development Department.
Medical students, teachers, Men–
Tsee–Khang physicians, and foreign
participants of ten countries attended
the ceremonies and ve lectures.
The director addressed the need
for international exchange. The
chief guest, the Tibetan Health
Minister (Kalon) Tsering Wangchuk,
pointed out that while biomedical
and Sowa Rigpa medical health
care is organized independently
in the Tibetan communities, it has
been the Tibetans themselves who
have successfully beneted from
combining both systems, which
in itself suggests that a fruitful
collaboration between the two
systems is possible to meet today’s
public health needs.
The ve international speakers
presented short abstracts of their
speeches, followed by the recitation
of the Yuthok Prayer, a photo
session, and lunch. The afternoon
was dedicated to the ve full–length
Sarah Sallon of the Hadassah Natural
Medical Research Center in Israel
presented the outcome of a cross–
sectional study on patients taking
Tibetan medicine with and without
rened mercury in the form of
tsotel and other forms of processed
cinnabar. The paper has since been
published in the journal Experimental
Biology and Medicine (2016, vol. 242,
issue 3) and “results suggest mercury
containing Tibetan Medicine does not
have appreciable adverse effects and
may exert a possible benecial effect
on neurocognitive function (p. 316).”
Cecile Vennos of PADMA Ag,
Switzerland (the only company
manufacturing Tibetan medicines
in the West), in her lecture “From
Medical Tradition to Traditional
Medicine: A Tibetan Formula in the
European Framework,” summarized
the legal and Good Manufacturing
Practice (GMP) constraints under
which Tibetan medicine can be
produced and sold in Europe
(registered either as a medicine or
a food supplement), where it is still
not ofcially recognized. This has
also been discussed in the article
by Schwabl and Vennos in the
Journal of Ethnopharmacology (2015,
vol. 167). Vennos highlighted the
highly regulated environment for
Figure 2. Jamyang Tashi, head of
the Men–Tsee–Khang pharmacy
receives an award from the
Fourteenth Dalai Lama during
the Men–Tsee–Khang centenary
celebrations, Dharamsala, March
23, 2016.
(Men–Tsee–Khang, 2016)
126 | HIMALAYA Fall 2017
Tibetan medicines in Europe with
the example of Sindu 5, a formula
produced in Switzerland as Padma
Digestin, which took eight years of
work and ve boxes of paperwork to
become a legally recognized medicine.
Dziugas Meskelevicius of Vilnius
University, Lithuania presented
“Traditional Tibetan Medicine as
a Potential Source of Agents for
the Treatment of Glioblastoma
Multiforme: A Controlled, Cell
Culture Based Pilot Study,” which
focused on a project he carried out
in collaboration with the Men–Tee–
Khang. Meskelevicius applied two
Tibetan medicines usually used for
cancer patients on animal cancer
cell cultures that “died” with the
treatment. The mechanism of
whether this happened through
killing cancer cells directly or
perhaps through increasing the
immunity of patients to be able to
attack cancer cells themselves could
not (yet) be established.
The Men–Tsee–Khang–trained
physician Namgyal Qusar, who
established the Qusar Tibetan
Healing Centre near Dharamsala,
presented a study that he carried
out with colleagues in Germany
on the relationship between diet,
obesity, and heart disease and was
published in the International Journal
of Cardiology (2013, vol. 168, issue 2).
His presentation, “Weight Reduction
in Patients with Coronary Artery
Disease: Comparison of Traditional
Tibetan Medicine and Western Diet,”
suggested that a wholesome Tibetan
diet was more effective in reducing
weight, BMI, and total cholesterol
levels in patients suffering from
coronary artery disease and
metabolic syndrome.
Marie T. Nicolas, a French researcher
and educationist, analyzed the
different elds of knowledge involved
when teaching “science” and
compared these with Tibetan medical
ways of imparting knowledge,
which use allegorical medical trees
as concept maps. She explored how
Tibetan ways of learning are inclusive
of intense listening, memorization,
receiving lineage transmissions, and
working within a Buddhist ethical
code, thus synthesizing knowledge in
a more holistic way.
To further celebrate the centennial
anniversary and to spread Sowa Rigpa
worldwide, the Men–Tsee–Khang in
Dharamsala also organized Centenary
Tours in South America, the USA,
Canada, Singapore, Australia, Taiwan,
and several European countries (see
<>). Moreover,
Tashi Tsering Phuri expressed during
the 5th International Sorig Congress
in Kathmandu in March 2017: “There
is certainly no reason to be contended
just with the Centenary Celebration,
and not carry out Post Centenary
Celebrations. For the year 2017,
Men–Tsee–Khang will promote 101
Years as ‘Men–Tsee–Khang Wellness
Camps’” <>.
Three wellness centers in India
already offer Ku–Nye massage, steam
baths, and other relaxing therapies,
and Sowa Rigpa therapists receive six
months training. Sowa Rigpa wellness
and preventive health care have
not been affected by the shortage
of raw materials, toxicity issues, or
international GMP regulations, but
can still contribute to wellbeing.
Barbara Gerke
Department of South Asian,
Tibetan, and Buddhist Studies,
University of Vienna
The participation in the Men–Tsee–Khang
centenary events and the writing of this
report was generously supported by the
Austrian FWF–funded Lise–Meitner senior
research fellowship M1870–G28. She is
grateful to the Men–Tsee–Khang for their
continuous support of her research on
Tibetan medicine.
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