The expansion of alternative medicine beyond the Himalayas


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When Bishwa Nath Oli, 51, visited the Swayambhu branch of the Phende Clinic in February this year, he was unsure of what to expect. At the time, Oli was suffering from a painful gout caused by high levels of uric acid, a health problem he had suffered for almost ten years. After trying different treatment methods to stabilize his uric acid levels 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 visits to the clinic. a few weeks ago. “Since the treatment worked completely for me, I suggested that friends and families with similar health issues go to 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. The healers of Sowa Rigpa are traditionally known as friends, but many of them today use the title of doctor before their name. In some mountainous districts of Nepal and India, the medical system is better known as the “Amchi Medicine System”. While in many parts of the world, it is better known as traditional Tibetan medicine. Outside of the mountainous districts 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 people from the region have started to migrate to cities like Kathmandu and Pokhara in the hope of better employment and education opportunities, a handful of clinics in Sowa Rigpa started operating in these cities to meet the needs of the diaspora. In recent years, however, the number of Sowa Rigpa clinics in these towns has increased, but a large number of patients served by these clinics come from communities that historically did not depend 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 suffered from chronic liver disease. Amchi Kunsang treated the late king, and so the first registered Sowa Rigpa clinic in the country was established, ”said Dr Nyima Tsering Nepali, who is one of two Sowa Rigpa doctors currently working. at Kunphen Ausadhalaya. “At that time, the majority of patients who came to our clinic were elites from Kathmandu and people linked to the royal palace and people from the highlands of Nepal who had migrated to Kathmandu. But a lot has changed in recent decades. Today people from all over the country and foreigners residing in Nepal are visiting our clinic.

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

It was in 2012 when Dr Gurung established the Phende clinic in Swoyambhu. During the first two years, most of his patients were from indigenous communities in the mountainous districts 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 percent of them come from communities in the hills and the Tarai region, which were not traditionally dependent on Sowa Rigpa, ”said Dr Gurung.

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

Part of the reason the medical system has steadily gained in popularity seems to be its efficiency and affordability. Buddhist studies student Saraswati Rashmi Shakya details her experience with Sowa Rigpa during four years with The Post as; “I had a heartbreaking thyroid problem for which I sought treatment at several hospitals around Kathmandu. The medications I was prescribed simply exacerbated my emotional state, as I often felt depressed and overwhelmed after taking them. Until, of course, I found out about Sowa Rigpa, and it drastically improved my situation. Even though I had to be patient with the whole process, it was totally worth it in the end. Shakya claims to have been initiated into this practice by one of her student friends to become amchi in India. Her treatment, however, began at Men-Tsee-Khang in Chhetrapati, which operates several branches of Sowa Rigpa clinics in Nepal. The Chief Medical Officer Sowa Rigpa 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 university and this is the reason why, according to the doctors from Sowa Rigpa whom the post spoke with, many went to study in the institutes. from Sowa Rigpa in India.

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

According to Dr Nepali, who is the director of the college, the institute has been successful in attracting international students from Bhutan, Finland, India, Spain and England. “In the past, only people from Himalayan communities studied to become doctors in Sowa Rigpa, but that is no longer the case. We not only have international students, but also local students from the non-Himalayan community. It’s an encouraging sign, ”said Dr Nepali. “The college is a non-profit organization and its primary goal is to provide quality education to our students. We also offer attractive scholarships to deserving students. During the first four and a half years our students undergo rigorous academic training and in the final year they do an internship in recognized clinics in Sowa Rigpa.

Nonetheless, the word of mouth that has contributed to the proliferation of Sowa Rigpa, as well as its effectiveness, has truly bolstered its credibility and overall reputation.

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

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

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

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