We often do not realize how deeply our assumptions about the nature of human beings and the nature of the world determine how we approach illness and medicine. The unspoken assumptions of Western medicine, such as…
– That treatment means introducing specific chemicals to the body – That all patients are more or less interchangeable as far as treatment is concerned – That medical knowledge depends on breaking things down to the most microscopic level – That the mental state of the physician has even less to do with treatment than the mental state of the patient – That side-effects are a normal part of treatment
…seem conventional to us, but in the context of traditional Tibetan medicine, they seem utterly ludicrous.
Tibetan medicine is a unique blend of the Indian Ayurvedic tradition and Chinese medicine with native practices. As such, it represents the fusion of the two most comprehensive medical systems of the ancient world. Its approaches to patient care and treatment hold surprising insights which can help us to re-examine our own approach to illness and healing.
Approach to the Patient
In Western medicine, diagnosis results from questioning the patient about symptoms, physical examination, chemical analysis and radiological imaging methods. The Tibetan approach also makes use of the first two methods, but based on their understanding of the makeup of the human being, the underlying approach is quite different.
Tibetan medicine regards the patient as a complete, integrated being, in which the body, mind, emotions, energy system and spirit all affect each other. It regards the interplay of the body’s energies and substances with environmental influences as critical, and regards the patient’s lifestyle and mental state not only as contributing causes of disease, but as the main causes.
For that reason, the patient is questioned about their life in broad terms, including behaviour, diet, relationships, their living and working environments, their spiritual life and so on. Physical examination is not simply a search for symptoms, but catalogues the patient’s manner, build, posture, speech and everything that can tell the physician about the patient’s own elemental balance, mental and emotional state.
After this, the physician can proceed with checking pulses according to the Chinese method, which tells the physician about the state of the energy system in relation to the major organs.