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Tibetan healer: 'We just see in a different way'

May 15, 2008

Traditional doctor talks about ancient system of healing
By Douglas Imbrogno, Staff writer
The Charleston Gazette
May 13, 2008

In the living room of a farm tucked deep in the Tucker County hills,
a diagnostic consultation is underway. It's safe to say there's not
another one like it going on for a hundred miles, given that the
roots of this scene go back a couple thousand years.

Dr. Jampa Yonten, the 38-year-old founder of the Tibetan Healing
Center in Bangalore, India, cocks his head to the left as if
listening to a far-off sound. That is indeed part of what he is doing
as his three fingers gauge the pulse of Linda Stark of nearby
Buckhannon, who faces Yonten in a chair. But he's not listening for
just a numeric heart rate.

In the traditional Tibetan system of healing, pulse checking is an
important tool that can reveal all sorts of subtle information about
the big picture of a person's physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing.

Dr. Jampa Yonten, the 38-year-old founder of the Tibetan Healing
Center in Bangalore, India, cocks his head as his three fingers gauge
the pulse of Linda Stark of nearby Buckhannon.

"It's not just the heartbeat we see," Yonten says a bit later. "We
just see in a different way - we see whether the pulse is strong,
deep. Whether it is taut. There are different natures of pulses."

A Tibetan healer will take several physical readings - examining a
person's pulse, eyes, tongue and a urine sample - but these are just
way stations on the way to gathering a sense, intuitively and
spiritually, of how best to address the whole person's needs, given
whatever ailment or symptoms they initially present.

On a chair next to Yonten sits 25-year-old Kyle Weaner, whose family
owns the farm. Weiner is a massage therapist and healer in training
who grew up in West Virginia. He now shuttles between the farm and
Yonten's Bangalore Center, assisting him on trips to America to
demonstrate Tibetan medicine.

Yonten and Weaner will visit Charleston for several public talks on
Tibetan healing and history today and Wednesday (see box for details).

"We never attack a disease," says Weaner, who so far has memorized
two chapters of the 80 chapter Gyudshi, or "Four Tantras," the
fundamental Tibetan medical text.

"We would never try to burn or cut out a problem, to find the one
chemical that's causing the problem, as is often practiced in the
allopathic approach," he continues. "Instead, we try to help the
whole system to rejuvenate or heal itself. So, we help the cause of
the problem."

Traditional Tibetan medicine is inextricably interwoven with the
country's deeply held Buddhist tradition (and until 1916, medicine
was practiced mostly by Tibet's monks). A Tibetan healer such as
Yonten can trace his lineage back centuries, through teachers like
his guru, Trogawa Rinpoche, and Tenzin Chodark, former personal
physician to the Dalai Lama.

In examining a person, Yonten is looking at the "near" or immediate
causes of disruptions in health and wellbeing - one's lifestyle,
diet, sleeping patterns and such. These insights are matched with the
doctor's sense through examination, dialogue and an almost
clairvoyant sense of the "distant" causes of disruption to a person's health.

He is taking in how the person is affected by Buddhism's three
"mental poisons": attachment or unhealthy desire; anger or aversion;
and delusion or "cloudy mind," which obscures looking out for our
best interests.

Not for nothing do the Tibetans refer to their doctor as an "Amchi,"
which means "supreme healer." The goal is to help to balance body,
mind and soul through the physiological balance of three vital
energies: Wind (Badkan), Bile (Khrispa) and Phlegm (Badkan).

Tibetans use words like "wind" to refer to interconnected physical
systems in the body but also energies that might be disrupted or
blocked. For instance, Yonten says, "when wind is balanced, it is
helping us, but when it is disturbed, we become depressed, restless,

Yonten travels with a large black suitcase. Inside, it is packed with
bags of Tibetan herbal medicines, in pellet and powder form.
Powerfully aromatic, the pellets might contain 10 or more different
herbal concoctions, picked at auspicious times and places on the
Himalayan plateau and dried and mixed to ancient standards.

What people receive in the way of these remedies depends on the
picture they present to the doctor's hands, eyes and spirit, even if
two people present the same symptoms, said Yonten. "The causes are
different. We diagnose them individualistically."

While there is a small charge for the cost of remedies, Yonten does
not charge for consultations, instead relying on donations and
community support in the traditional way of Buddhist teachings.

Dr. Jampa Yonten, the 38-year-old founder of the Tibetan Healing
Center in Bangalore, India, cocks his head as his three fingers gauge
the pulse of Linda Stark of nearby Buckhannon.
Yonten is the son of a Tibetan couple who fled to India on the heels
of the young Dalai Lama, when the Chinese army invaded and began to
occupy Tibet in 1959. As a healer, he has watched the recent violence
there and sides with the Dalai Lama's in his view of the
long-suffering patience that is required.

"I prefer what His Holiness says: If Tibet got freedom or autonomy
through violence, I don't think we can be a peaceful country."

The outlook fits with the thrust of his life's work. When he first
went to Europe, he was asked what his specialty was as a doctor.

"I told them compassion is my specialty."

To reach staff writer Douglas Imbrogno, use e-mail or call 348-3017.

If you go

Jampa Yonten speaks at these free events:

Today, 7 p.m.: "History and practice of Tibetan medicine, compared
with Western medicine." The India Center, 800 Green Road, off
Corridor G near Southridge Centre.

Wednesday, noon: 'Death and Dying: Traditional and alternative
medical approaches, compared with the Tibetan approach," a brown-bag
lunch and conversation. Moderated by Bruce Foster, medical adviser to
the West Virginia End of Life Center. Covenant House, 600 Shrewsberry Street.

Wednesday, 7 p.m.: "Cultural and historical roots of today's
situation in Tibet." Unitarian Universalist Church, 512 Kanawha Blvd.
Call 345-5042
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
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