In Summary
  • Tibetan medicine, known as Sowa-Rigpa, draws on centuries-old techniques such as blood-letting, cupping, and moxibustion — burning herbs on energy points of the body — to try to heal ailments.
  • A touch at the wrist is how he ascertains the health of vital organs and blood pressure.
  • The urine, held in a white porcelain cup, is stirred with two small bamboo sticks. Colour, bubble formation, sediment and smell can all shape the diagnosis.

DHARAMSALA

Before dawn in the Indian Himalayas, scores of patients clutching small vials of urine queue patiently to see Yeshi Dhonden, a Tibetan monk who became a legend as personal healer to the Dalai Lama.

Tibetan medicine, known as Sowa-Rigpa, draws on centuries-old techniques such as blood-letting, cupping, and moxibustion — burning herbs on energy points of the body — to try to heal ailments.

The practise draws on aspects of traditional Chinese medicine and India's Ayurvedic system as well as its own unique theories and treatments. It also features spiritual practises including meditation and Buddhist prayer.

Today it attracts devotees from all over the globe, hoping for help with conditions from back pain to cancer and degenerative diseases.

"If the sick come to me I will take care of them," Dhonden told AFP at his private clinic in McLeodganj, surrounded by Tibetan scrolls and beaming images of his most famous client.

Dhonden — who spent three decades tending the health of Tibet's spiritual leader — relies on his senses to divine what ails patients.

"I don't go for tests like X-ray and all. I trust myself. I just test the pulse and the urine," he explained.

A touch at the wrist is how he ascertains the health of vital organs and blood pressure.

The urine, held in a white porcelain cup, is stirred with two small bamboo sticks. Colour, bubble formation, sediment and smell can all shape the diagnosis.

Devotees swear Tibetan medicine works, though few scientific studies have been conducted into its efficacy.

IMBALANCED ENERGIES

Tibetan medical practitioner Yeshi Dhonden sits inside a room at his Tibetan Herbal Clinic in the Indian town of Dharamsala on March 23, 2017. PHOTO | AFP

Tibetan medical practitioner Yeshi Dhonden sits inside a room at his Tibetan Herbal Clinic in the Indian town of Dharamsala on March 23, 2017. PHOTO | AFP

The teachings — contained in some 2,000 textbooks and the messages of the Buddha, considered the guardian deity for all spiritual healers — are believed to have originated in Tibet.

But as it features elements of both ancient Chinese and Indian healing practises, and is rapidly evolving from a niche tradition into popular alternative treatment, both nations have scrambled to claim it as their own.

In April, the Asian giants nominated Tibetan medicine for inclusion on a UNESCO list for "intangible culture". China and India have engaged in countless spats over the Tibetan community since New Delhi granted sanctuary to the Dalai Lama in 1959.

Beijing took control of Tibet eight years earlier and was furious when India granted the Dalai Lama permission to headquarter a government-in-exile in McLeodganj.

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