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by Subhuti Dharmananda, Ph.D., Director, Institute for Traditional Medicine, Portland, Oregon

The practice of Tibetan medicine has hovered near extinction for the past forty years, though there are increasing efforts under way now to preserve it, with some success. This active tradition was suddenly disrupted in the 1950’s with the Chinese communist invasion of Tibet, followed by destruction of the monasteries, the killing of the Tibetan monks and professionals, and forced exile of the leadership.  The main medical school, founded in 1696 A.D., was built on Iron Hill (Chakpori) opposite the Potala Palace in Lhasa; it was reduced to dust by the shelling of the Chinese army when rebellious monks took refuge there in 1959.  A second school, Men-Tsee-Khang, was built in Lhasa in 1916, founded by Kyenrab Norbu (1883–1962), on the plains nearby the Potala.  It was intended to adapt Tibetan medical education to the demands of the 20th Century.  The school has not been destroyed and continues to operate, though only a few remaining elderly Tibetan doctors are available to provide the original teachings.  A combination of Tibetan and Chinese medicine is now taught and practiced, but due to limitations of resources, new doctors graduate with less training than in earlier decades, as they readily admit.

Under the direction of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute, also known as Men-Tsee-Khang, was established in Dharamsala in 1961 as a school where Tibetans in exile could receive Tibetan medical training towards becoming a doctor.  Dr. Trogawa Rinpoche also established a small school in Darjeeling that was intended to follow the Chakpori tradition, of which he is a lineage holder.  This school was eventually incorporated into Men-Tsee-Khang in order to maintain uniformity of the student’s education and evaluation.  Most of the older doctors who escaped from Tibet, and who are still able, are constantly traveling in order to maintain some international awareness of Tibetan medicine.  The center in Dharamsala is limited by lack of funds and also by lack of access to some of the medicinal plants that grow in Tibet but not in Nepal and north India.

Small remnants of the once thriving Tibetan medical tradition live on in Mongolia, Russia, and along the Himalayan range in small nations, such as Ladakh, Bhutan, Sikkim, and Nepal.  A major effort to preserve the main body of Tibetan medicine has been undertaken by several individuals, and there is now a more unified effort.  Below are listed some of the centers of Tibetan medicine preservation and promotion.


International Trust for Traditional Medicine (ITTM)

Vijnana Niwas


Kalimpong 734 301

West Bengal, India

ITTM (a Public Charitable Trust founded in 1995) publishes a periodical on Indo-Tibetan and allied medical cultures, called Ayurvijnana, twice a year.  The articles can be viewed from their excellent internet site at  ITTM has its own trial plots of land for the cultivation of traditional medicinal herbs under biodynamic conditions. It brings in scholars and researchers to work on Tibetan medical manuscript translation and related projects, and encourages volunteers with sustained interest in traditional medicine to work on its various projects. The Founder Trustee, Barbara Gerke, who has been researching Tibetan and allied medicine in India for almost ten years, is in charge of the center.  Donations will be gratefully acknowledged in its publications and may be sent to the above address, preferably by cashier’s/banker’s check.

The New Yuthok Institute

Dr. Pasang Yontan Arya
Viala Spagna 77
20099 Sesto S. Giovanni

The New Yuthok Institute promotes the study of Tibetan medicine and offers courses for trained medical practitioners in Italy, Switzerland, and Germany.  The organization is headed by Dr. Pasang Yontan Arya, who was born in Tibet in 1955 and studied Tibetan medicine at the Tibetan Medical Institute in Dharamsala.  Dr. Arya later worked at the Tibetan Medical Institute as a pharmacist, professor, and, eventually, director.  In Italy, Dr. Arya is conducting beginner and advanced courses; there are also Swiss and German seminars.  1996 saw the first graduating class of the 4-year course. Phone and Fax in Italy: 0039-02-25 362 66.  The New Yuthok Institute has put a “virtual library” of Tibetan medicine on the internet, accessible at:


Institute for East-West Medicine

102 East 30th Street

New York, New York 10016

The Institute for East-West Medicine is associated with the Meridian Medical Group, which provides medical treatments that include Chinese, Ayurvedic, and Tibetan medical methods.  Dr. Choyang Phunstok is the resident Tibetan doctor; he is formerly an instructor at the Tibetan Medical Institute in Dharamsala.  Dr. Raymond Chang is the director.  For access to treatments at the center, call 212-683-1221 (fax: 212-683-1083).

Traditional Tibetan Healing, Inc.

231 Holland St.

Somerville, MA 02143

This center specializes in Tibetan medicine and also provides other alternative health care services.  The clinical director is Keyzom Bhutti, who graduated from the Tibetan Medical Institute; she served as chief physician at the Tibetan Medical and Astrological Clinic in Darjeeling for 25 years.  Phone: 1-617-666-8635


Shang Shung Institute

P.O. Box 277

Conway, MA 01341

[also in Italy]

The Shang Shung Institute provides courses in Tibetan medicine, featuring Dr. Thubten Phuntsog.  A basic curriculum in Tibetan Medicine is tentatively planned to begin in January, 2000.  Dr. Phuntsog was born in Eastern Tibet in 1956; he studied medicine at the Pelpung Monastery.  He held faculty positions in Sichuan (China) from 1986 until he traveled to the West; he offers courses in the U.S. and Italy.  Phone: 413-369-4928; fax: 413-369-4165

Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute [Men-Tsee-Khang]

Gangchen Kyishong

Dharamsala 176215, India

[also in Darjeeling, see below]

TMAI provides full clinical training (five years) towards becoming a traditional Tibetan physician.  The courses are taught in the Tibetan language, so fluency is required; however, there are occasional seminars with an interpreter for Westerners.  The medical practitioners at the facility include Dr. Tenzin Choedrak (born in Tibet in 1922), Dr. Tenzin Dakpa (born in Himachal Pradesh, India in 1963), and Dr. Dawa (born in Lhasa, 1958).  Phone: 91-1892-22618; fax: 91-1892-22457.  TMAI also operates 40 outpatient clinics throughout India and Nepal.  TMAI has prepared a website giving background information on Tibetan medicine:

Chakpori Tibetan Medical Institute

Trogawa House

North Point

Darjeeling 734104

West Bengal, India

The Chakpori Institute has a teaching center for Tibetan Medicine, the Three Pillars School (the Three Pillars = school, pharmacy, and clinic), in West Bengal and sponsors lectures in Darjeeling.  As with the TMAI school in Dharamsala, the courses are in Tibetan.  The Founder and Director of the Chakpori Institute is Lama Dr. Trogowa Rinpoche.  The Chakpori Institute has undertaken a project to investigate plant preservation and cultivation in Sikkim and surrounding regions.  For more information, contact the Institute and request their newsletter about aims and projects: Chakpori News.


Tibetan Plateau Project

300 Broadway, Suite 28

San Francisco, California 94133

TPP investigates the status of traditional medicine plants and methods of preservation.  Membership in TPP can be obtained through their website and features updates and information via an e-mail newsletter.  Contact TPP at:

Institute for Traditional Medicine (ITM)

2017 S.E. Hawthorne

Portland, Oregon 97214

ITM provides funding and other support for a Tibetan and Ayurvedic Plant conservation and cultivation project in Nepal, headed by Joy Lawrence.  Joy Lawrence graduated from the University of Oregon and has spent several months in Nepal organizing the project.  ITM has a website with links to other sites of interest:


Because of the aversion to religion that the seventy years of communism in Russia manifested, more than 150 Buddhist monasteries and temples of local Mongolian tribes were destroyed and thousands of lamas were killed or imprisoned.  Each of the monasteries had a medical department or, at the least, a traditional doctor.  The first Buddhist temple in Europe, built about one hundred years ago in St. Petersburg, as well as the Tibetan hospital and drugstore founded by the famous Badmajew family of doctors and translators, were closed.  Professors from St. Petersburg University who belonged to the school of Tibetology were sent to Gulag camps.

In St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Vladivostok there now are several small Tibetan medical centers where doctors carry on a living tradition that has persisted in Russia, sometimes in hiding, for nearly two centuries.  The Siberian department of the Russian Academy of Sciences publishes translations of classical Tibetan medical texts and conducts research on the biochemical properties of Tibetan medicine components.  A bibliography of Russian books and journal articles on the subject includes more than 400 titles.

The Badmajew family eventually moved West; in Switzerland, a medical factory, Padma AG, has been producing modifications of the formulas brought by the Badmajews and marketing them as drugs in Switzerland.  Research on the formulas, especially Padma 28 (called Adaptrin in the U.S.) has been sponsored in several countries, including Italy and Poland.


Dr. Lobsang Dolma was one of the first to provide teachings of Tibetan medicine in the U.S., traveling and teaching during the 1970’s.  Though she has passed away, her daughter, Dolkar Khangkar, has continued her long-standing family tradition of practicing Tibetan medicine, working at clinics in Delhi and Bombay.  In 1987, the Society for Tibetan Medicine (established in New York) suffered the loss of one of its main proponents, Dr. Terry Clifford, and has been largely inactive, but Dr. Clifford’s book on Tibetan psychiatry (The Diamond Healing) has influenced many who might not otherwise have approached this system.  Dr. Lobsang Rapgay has worked at the Mind-Body Medical Institute in Los Angeles and has since moved to New York to carry on his work.  Dr. Yeshe Donden has been offering formal training in Florida for several years; both Rapgay and Donden have published extensively in English.  As noted above, the Shang Shung Institute has taken on the task of providing regular lectures on Tibetan medicine in the U.S.


In Venice and Milan, Italy, there are centers for Tibetan medical study and practice and a large library of Tibetan works. Trogawa Rinpoche, Ganchen Rinpoche, and Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche lecture on different aspects of spiritual and material healing arts, and Tibetan doctors, such as Tenzin Choedrak and Pasang Yonten, practice and teach the tradition in Italy and throughout Europe.  At the University of Ulm in Germany, Dr. Juergen Aschoff has been studying the effects of Tibetan medicines on small groups of patients and has helped publish books about Tibetan medicine, including an extensive annotated bibliography on Tibetan medical literature in modern languages (1996).  The full text of the bibliography can be read at:  The New Yuthok Institute has branches in Naples and Rome, and Dr. Pasang Yontan, head of the Institute, also lectures by invitation in Switzerland and Germany.


Nearly all of Tibet is at high altitude, and although Tibetan doctors utilize many imported materials in making their medicines, the alpine plants that make up some of their treatments are not accessible in large enough quantities to serve as a basis for medical therapies applied to the huge modern population that might be interested in using them. Fortunately, Tibetan doctors believe whole-heartedly in the use of substitute materials with similar therapeutic action.  Therefore, it appears possible to mimic Tibetan remedies using materials that are available from China, India, Russia, and the Middle East.  Some limited efforts to preserve Tibetan herbs have been undertaken in Nepal and Sikkim.  The following is derived from a statement by Tashi Trogawa and other members working at the Chakpori Tibetan Medical Institute regarding a proposal for replanting of wild herbs for cultivation in Sikkim (published in the Chakpori newsletter):

Taking care of the rich environment of the Himalayas is the reason behind research, conservation, and replanting.  From the point of view of Chakpori Tibetan Medical Institute, not only the biodiversity but also the quality and power of medicinal herbs is extremely important.  Medicinal herbs are the raw materials of Tibetan medicines.  There is a very long standing tradition in the use, the proper time of collection, the way to prepare, and the assessment of the herbs in this ancient way of healing.  Tibetan doctors (Amchis) and pharmacists evaluate the quality of individual plants because not all specimens of a certain medicinal herb have the same quality and power.  Depending on the quality, larger or smaller quantities of plants are needed to get the desired effect and result.  Because all medicines are a composition of many medicinal plants, quantities of individual herbs within a formulation cannot easily be changed.  Thus, as our major aim of replanting, we choose quality instead of quantity.

To know which plants are vulnerable, endangered, or close to extinction, detailed studies have to be made.  Also, the cause of rarity should be investigated (e.g., environmental causes, over-exploitation by non-expert gathering, etc.).  An important decision has to be made to replant not only the economically valuable plants but also the plants that are environmentally valuable and supportive of the total environment.

Replanting sites should have the same characteristics as the original habitat.  In traditional Tibetan medical texts, the side of the mountain, altitude, climatic condition, soil composition, etc. are mentioned.  Research on biodiversity uses models to describe the situation of different species and their abundance: by means of research which uses the most appropriate model, it is possible to describe the natural surroundings of a specific medicinal herb.  The research findings are essential guidelines for replanting the herbs in their natural environment.  The size of the replanting area is also crucial because of genetic diversity and the problems of insular ecology.  Monocultures, like the usual big plantations, should be avoided: mass plantations of certain species will not have the desired quality or power.  Herberia, photographic reports, and botanical gardens are needed to show and inform participants in plant preservation projects.  Seed banks are to be established. 


Following are some resources for the study of Tibetan Medicine from the ITM library that are in the English language.  There are numerous other small books available from the same publishers.  Most of the Tibetan medical books published in English began to appear in the mid-1970’s, shortly after Tibetans began to tour the major Western cities to describe their dilemma.  Several of the books are now out of print, but may still be found in stores that specialize in used books.  Four authors have produced many of the titles: Tsarong, Dash, Donden, and Rapgay; their books are listed first, and they have produced other books as well that are not in the ITM library.  

Handbook of Traditional Tibetan Drugs by T.J. Tsarong, 1986 Tibetan Medical Publications, Kalimpong, West Bengal, India.

Tibetan Medicinal Plants (illustrated) by T.J. Tsarong, Tibetan Medical Publications, Kalimpong, West Bengal, India.

Fundamentals of Tibetan Medicine by T.J. Tsarong, 1981 Tibetan Medical Centre, Dharamsala, India.

Formulary Of Tibetan Medicine by Vaidya Bhagwan Dash, 1988 Classics India Publications, Delhi, India.

Materia Medica of Indo-Tibetan Medicine by Vaidya Bhagwan Dash, Classics India Publications, Delhi, India.

Tibetan Medicine with Special Reference to Yoga Sataka by Vaidya Bhagwan Dash, 1985 Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala, India.

Health Through Balance by Yeshe Donden, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, NY.

What Is Tibetan Medicine? by Yeshe Donden and Gyatsho Tshering, Tibetan Review Publications, Delhi, India. 

Ambrosia Heart Tantra annotated by Yeshe Donden, translated by Jhampa Kelsang, 1977 Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala, India.

Tibetan Medicine: A Holistic Approach to Better Health by Lobsang Rapgay, Dharamsala, India.

The Tibetan Book of Healing, by Lobsang Rapgay, 1996 Passage Press, Salt Lake City, UT.

Tibetan Therapeutic Massage by Lobsang Rapgay, 1986 Dharamsala, India.

The Art of Tibetan Medical Urinalysis by Lobsang Rapgay, 1986 Dharamsala, India.

Tibetan Buddhist Medicine and Psychiatry by Terry Clifford, 1984 Samuel Weiser, Inc. York Beach, ME.

Tibetan Medicine by Rechung Rinpoche, 1976 University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

Studies in Tibetan Medicine by Elisabeth Finckh, 1988 Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, NY.

Lectures on Tibetan Medicine by Lobsang Dolma Khangkar, 1986 Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala, India.

Introduction to Tibetan Medicine by Luigi Vitiello, Wisdom Publications, London, England.

The Tibetan Art of Healing by Theodore Burang, Robinson and Watkins Books, London.

Asceticism and Healing in Ancient India: Medicine in the Buddhist Monastery, by Kenneth Zysk, Oxford University Press, Oxford, England.

Healing Herbs, The Heart of Tibetan Medicine by Badmajew, et al., Red Lotus Press, Berkeley, CA.

Tibetan Medical Paintings by O. Parfionovich and F. Meyer, Wisdom Publications, London, England [other versions of this book, have been published in Lhasa and Russia; see also Buddha’s Art of Healing: Tibetan Paintings Rediscovered, based on the 17th century Atlas of Tibetan Medicine, with essays by several modern authorities].

Mind and Mental Health in Tibetan Medicine, collection of essays, 1988 Potala Publications, New York.

Tibetan Medicine, series of nine booklets (journals) with articles by various authors, Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala, India.

The Quintessence Tantras of Tibetan Medicine, translated by Barry Clark, 1995 Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, NY.


·        Snow Lion Publications produces a quarterly newsletter and catalogue which is filled with information about the Tibetan people, and about materials for further study, including books on Tibetan medicine.  It carries advertising and notices about other publishers and resources and also gives notice for events such as Medicine Buddha retreats.  Ask for their free newsletter by writing to Snow Lion, P.O. Box 6483, Ithaca, New York 14851 (607-273-8506; fax: 607-273-8508). 

·        Potala Publications, 107 East 31st Street, New York, New York 10016 (212-213-5010), has an extensive list of titles related to Tibetan culture, including Tibetan medicine.  Men-Tsee-Khang Exports, 13 Jaipur Estate, Nizamuddin East, New Delhi, 110013, India (91-11-6212604; fax 91-11-6446826), has a number of books on Tibetan medicine and related topics in Tibetan and in English. 

September 1999