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Germans Embrace The Ancient Wisdom Of Tibetan Medicine

The Germans have been keen for some time on healing methods from the Far East such as acupuncture, Indian Ayurveda or traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

And now they are embracing wisdom from a country that has fascinated the entire west for centuries – Tibet.

Unlike acupuncture and TCM, which are both endorsed by the World Health Organization, Tibetan Buddhist medicine has so far been treated as a respected but exotic offshoot, with western doctors pointing to what they regard as insubstantial evidence that its practice is effective.

When Tibetan doctors come to Germany they are not allowed to offer patients a full range of treatment, points out Wilfried Pfeffer, founder and director of the Kailash Institute in the southern city of Freiburg.

Tibetan physicians may offer advice instead using traditional methods of examining the tongue, urine and pulse of a patient as well as by questioning and listening. The doctors can also give tips on healthy diet, avoiding stress and general behaviour. Treatment using warmth applied to certain energy centres (moxibustion) and massage is also allowed.

“Only 220 doctors in the entire world are skilled in using Tibetan pulse diagnosis as a method,” said Pfeffer. The medical wisdom of the Dalai Lama is holistic in nature, it seeks a balance between “harmful” and “helpful energies” which are linked to the way a person conducts his or her life, to diet and mental attitude.

Tibetan doctors use medicines made mainly from herbs and mineral substances. Yoga, meditation, massage and certain forms of acupuncture are also part of the healing programme.

“Like India’s traditional Ayurvedan medicine or Chinese medicine, Tibetan medicine has great appeal in the west,” said Juergen Aschoff, a professor of neurology at the University of Ulm. For the first time at a western university he has started analysing some of the medicines used by Tibetan doctors. One example are the so-called “jewel pills” which actually do contain ground particles of precious stones.

The only European pharmacutical firm to offer Tibetan medicine is the Padma AG based in Switzerland. According to company spokesman Cornelia Sidler, the product known as “Padma 28” is officially approved for sale in the Alpine state although it cannot be sold over the counter in Germany, where drug legislation is stricter. Doctors in Germany are allowed to prescribe this blend of Tibetan herbs as an import, however. The Swiss company says it sells 40 million of the tablets a year to people with circulatory problems.

Experts warn consumers against taking just any old Tibetan-style tablets that come into their hands. Last year authorities in the Swiss canton of Zurich seized Tibetan pills after it turned out that they contained dangerous levels of mercury.

Germany’s health insurance companies only pay for a course of Tibetan treatment in exceptional circumstances such as in the case of chronic illnesses such as rheumatism, heart palpitations, metabolic and sleep irregularities or for allergies and migraine.

Tibetan medicine is shrouded in mystery and many of its secrets have been passed on by word of mouth or are buried in Tibetan writings. The school of medicine began to flourish 1,200 years ago when Tibet drew on medicinal knowledge from China, Persia and India. The four main medical tantras, which are still used by Tibetan doctors today, form the basis of Tibetan medicine. The “Four Tantras” were allegedly taught by Buddha himself and written down in Sanksrit more than 800 years ago.

Traditional medicine is still practiced in Tibet but according to Pfeffer “it has been cut back considerably”. After the Dalai Lama, spiritual head of the Tibetan people, fled to India in 1960 following Chinese occupation, he founded a medical college in Dharamsala, the Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute. Five years are needed to complete a full course of Tibetan medicine and this study is followed by several years of practical experience under the watchful eyes of senior Tibetan doctors.

Foreigners are always welcome. “For many years Tibetan medicine sealed itself off from the outside world,” said Cornelia Sidler. “Now the Dalai Lama is of the opinion that it’s time to establish links with the West and seek and exchange of views with science-based western orthodox medicine.”

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