Tibetan Medicine

Healer trained in monastery brings techniques and Buddhist precepts to Orange County as part of a national tour.

By THUY-DOAN LE, Special to The Times
Los Angeles Times
Saturday, October 30, 1999

Dressed in flowing robes of rich red and saturated yellow, Tibetan monks of the Gaden Jangste Monastery have returned to Orange County. Over the course of a six-month cross-country tour they will ask for donations--and, for the first time, offer a unique form of physical and spiritual healing to Americans.

Gathered in Santa Ana on Thursday, the six monks and their abbot filled a community meeting room with their chanting voices, clear and strong.

Among them was the Venerable Dorjee Wangchuk, a Tibetan healer known among Buddhists for his medical and spiritual accomplishments. Wangchuk has been seeing patients informally for several days and will be available to the public through Nov. 6 at Viet Bao Kinh Te Hall, 201 N. Sullivan Ave. in Santa Ana.

In a country where a formal education can be found only in a monastery, Wangchuk was 11 when he entered medical school at the Rikhsum Monastery in eastern Bhutan.

Now 32, the stocky man with gentle eyes and a perpetual smile is in great demand. He has seen more than 20,000 patients all over the world since graduating at 18, and many are still waiting to meet him.

Soft-spoken, he supplements his limited English with gestures, often pointing to his own body to demonstrate where the patient feels pain.

Meeting them in a small room, he sits facing his patients. He carefully places his fingers on their wrists, and a wave of concentration transfixes his features. He turns his head momentarily, as if searching for something.

Without a sound, he shifts from one wrist to the next, and then feels both wrists at once. He is listening to the pulse of human life.

This focus on the pulse is at the heart of Tibetan medicine. Tibetan doctors are taught to feel and listen to the blood flow of the human body. From there, they say, they determine the cause of the illness or pain.

Tibetan practitioners offer their medical treatment as a complement, not a replacement, for Western therapies. Tibetan medicine has played a crucial role in preventive health care in rural Tibet, emphasizing water and spring cleanliness, good diet and healthy lifestyle practices, said the monks.

Wangchuk travels with three suitcases of herbal medicines ranging from pills to incense to facial creams.

Also important is the doctor's faith and ability to take on the patient's pain and understand the illness. This level of thinking is believed to be achieved through meditation and higher learning.

While the Tibetan monks believe some diseases can be cured by medication, there are illnesses that can be helped only by "accumulated virtues."

These diseases, they said, are caused by "bad karma" or the burdening of one's soul because of negative acts or doing things without good motivations.

Troy Franz, a Michigan resident and student of Tibetan art who sought out Wangchuk in Santa Ana, said he has complete faith in the doctor's skills. "He has a real uncanny ability to go right through you," Franz said.

Judith Hoyt, 47, a registered nurse from South Pasadena, came because she wanted the doctor to look at her back, which suffers from numbness and other problems. Although she is seeing a Western doctor, she wanted a second opinion.

Hoyt became interested in Buddhism after seeing the Dalai Lama at a recent appearance in Pasadena and sought out Wangchuk.

Since the monks' visit last year, local organizers have received many requests from the public for a visit with a Tibetan doctor.

"The reason why I asked them to do it is because, based on my study and knowledge on Buddhism, I realized that life is full of suffering and sickness, both mental and physical," said Kim Chi, a local coordinator. "The people are happy to hear from the announcements that a Tibetan doctor will examine them and give them herbal pills."

Organizers also asked the monks to build a special mandala, a design made of fine colored sand used to focus meditation that will be on display over the next week.

The original Gaden Jangste monastery was established in 1409 in Lhasa, Tibet, but nothing remains of it today. Since the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1959, most of Tibet's Buddhist Temples were destroyed and many monks fled to India, where many monasteries relocated.

After seven years in Rikhsum monastery and two years of additional study, Wangchuk joined the Gaden Jangste monastery. He became a monk to learn the philosophies of Buddhism and, thereby, become a better doctor.

"To be a good doctor is not enough," said Wangchuk. "If there's not enough motivation, then is not good. I studied Buddhism to be more kind and compassionate."

Wangchuk and the monks will be available to the public through Nov. 6, when they will leave for Arizona. Consultations and the Tibetan medicine are free, though donations are encouraged.

The mandala will be up for display until Nov. 6, when it will be dismantled. For more information, call Viet Bao Kinh Te Hall at (714)836-7060.

WTN-L World Tibet Network News