For years now, I have studied and experimented with various Buddhist and Taoist healing modalities, to the extent that I became a certified chi energy healer/teacher. But until recently, I was rather complacent about integrating them into my regular practice. Now I’ve reached a point where employing these methods seems imperative to me.
Doctors can treat the physical elements of a problem, but often it is up to the patient to tend to the spiritual and psychological aspects. That is precisely the emphasis of Eastern healing practices. If, in the process of using these techniques for healing self and others, one can also positively affect physical aspects, so much the better.
From the Buddhist perspective, all practice is a healing practice, aimed at cleaning the poisons of greed, anger and ignorance from our system, curing delusions, and dispelling the disease of suffering. The historical Shakyamuni Buddha has often been called the “Great Physician” because his dharma is a medicine capable of healing all beings in both body and mind.
In the late Indian Mahayana period, the concepts of “inner” (dealing with the mind) and “outer” practices were formulated, incorporating concepts borrowed from traditional Indian spirituality, such as the chakras. In China, Buddhism adopted many Taoist ideas, including theories on the flow of chi energy. And when Buddhism was transmitted to Tibet, “outer” practice developed into the Four Tantras (Gyudzhi) which became the foundation of the Tibetan medical system.
It’s tempting for Westerners with our logical, rational modern minds to dismiss Eastern healing methods as ‘hocus-pocus’ or magical thinking. I think it is simply a matter of a different approach.
I first learned about Tibetan Medicine in 1984 when I read John F. Avedon’s In Exile From The Land of Snows, which to this day remains the definitive account on the Chinese conquest of Tibet and its aftermath. Over the course of the book, Avedon recounts a number of healing stories that seem utterly fantastic and unbelievable. He also devotes a chapter of the book to Tibetan Medicine along with a detailed profile of Dr. Yeshi Donden, who served as the Dalai Lama’s personal physician for two decades and re-established the famed Tibetan Medical Center. Since this book was published, Dr. Donlen (Dhonlen) has become well-known for his treatment of many renowned patients.
Because the approach of Tibetan Medicine is so dissimilar from the way medicine is practiced in the West, Dr. Donlen’s methods are still difficult for Western doctors to comprehend. What appears to be almost entirely intuitive at first glance is actually based on the development of acute powers of observation. In Exile, Avedon quotes Dr. Richard Selzer, who was an assistant professor of surgery at Yale University and had occasion to watch Dr. Donlen at work,
I went to observe Dr. Dhonden with some healthy skepticism. I was surprised and elated by what I found. It was as if he was a human electrocardiogram machine interpreting the component parts of the pulse. We have nothing like it in the West. It’s a dimension of medicine that we have not yet realized.”
Avedon also quotes Dr. Herbert Benson, who led a team of Harvard researchers to the Tibetan Medical Center in India in 1982,
Western scientific documentation of Tibetan claims is nonexistent. It would be nice, through, to discover the worth of what they have developed over thousands of years. If their claims are only partly true they would be worthy of investigation. Therefore, can we really afford to ignore this?”
This same question is relevant to the whole of Eastern healing philosophy and methods. While the efficacy of these solutions have not been fully studied and documented in the West, they have been practiced for several thousand years, and since we cannot afford to ignore them, it is incumbent upon us to keep an open mind.
Many of my upcoming posts will deal with the subject of healing, and I will discuss some of the methods I’ve learned. Today’s post serves as an introduction.
In this world, all breathing creatures, all beings – whether human beings, animals, whatever – are exposed to different forms of suffering. In the Tibetan system we believe that whether we are physically healthy or not, basically all of us are sick. Even though disease might not be manifest, it is present in dormant form. This fact makes the scope of disease difficult to fathom.”
Dr. Yeshi Donden, Health Through Balance