A long time ago, Buddha stated the Four Noble Truths that were the cause of man’s sufferings and the Eightfold Path as the way to attaining enlightenment. It was a simple lesson in the art of living. Rather than being a religion, his teachings were more of a philosophical discourse and lighted a path towards the conduct of a new way of life. Centuries hence, Buddhism has been made by men into a religion that has become quite complex.
‘The Tibetan Way’ is a book divided into three parts. The first deals with Buddhism as the religion it is today and Susan Hoivik writes about Buddhism in a way that clears much of the confusion. In succinct words, she writes about the history of the Buddha and his teachings as well as the later development of Buddhism into various schools of thought including Tibetan Buddhism with its own different sects. The writer, undoubtedly an expert on the topic, also sheds light on the meaning of highly symbolic structures such as the prayer flags, the windhorse (lung ta) and the prayer wheel; the significance of the stupa (chorten) designs, as well as other sacred symbols and mantras. One chapter is dedicated to the Bon religion of Tibet and its effects on Tibetan traditions.
The second part of the book talks about Tibetan medicine. The author declares ’Tibetan medicine (or Gso-wa Tig-pa, the knowledge of healing) to be similar to other great Asian systems of health and well being, in that it is an holistic approach that focuses on balance as the key to health. The reader is introduced to the basic principles of Tibetan medicines in a way that is quite understandable. For instance, the reader learns that health according to Tibetan medicine, is a balance between various physical, psychological and spiritual elements and that this basic principle underlines the practice of Tibetan medicine.
The three poisons of existence are described as 1. lung (desire, attachment) which is related to air, 2. tripa (anger, aggression) related to fire, and 3. beken (ignorance, delusion) related to earth and water. Diseases are also classified into hot (tsawa) or cold (dangwa). The author further states that Tibetan medicine emphasizes correct diet, correct thought and lifestyle, correct medicine and auxiliary techniques as the means of healing diseases.
Diagnostic tools of Tibetan medicine are stated to be primarily conversation, examination of urine and the taking of pulses. Susan Hoivik goes on to describe in interesting detail about these methods, such as ’ lung disorders are indicated by pale frothy urine which, when stirred, produces large bubbles’, and that in Tibetan medicine there are 12 distinct pulses. Of course, there are further diagnostic tools such as the examination of tongues. The author however hastens to add that her book is only a greatly over-simplified presentation of a very complex subject matter and she stresses on the ‘supreme importance of a responsive, trust based amchi (trained practitioner)/patient relationship’. According to the author, 84000 ‘affective emotions’ generate 84000 types of disorders. These can be condensed to 404 specific diseases, and can be classified into 42 types of lung disorders, 26 types of tripa disorders and 33 types of beken disorders… ‘to mention only a few categories’. Susan also lets us know that the aetiology, diagnosis and treatment are described, illustrated and specified in the Gyu shi that is the basic text for students of Tibetan medicine.
The book is also very informative on Tibetan medicinal plants that can be categorized according to taste as sweet, sour, salty, spicy, bitter and astringent. The reader also learns that there are eight potencies, starting from heavy to sharp. Further, amchis operate with six stages of the life cycle of the plants starting from juvenile and ending at dry stage.
The third part of the book deals with Jharkot and its surroundings, including Muktinath Tibetan Medical Center, a project between Austrian academic institutions, including Eco Himal, and Tibetan medical practitioners to preserve important traditional knowledge. This part of the book also has a chapter on Muktinath.
On the whole, ‘The Tibetan Way’ is much knowledge about a unique subject packed into a slim book. It is a wonder that the author has managed to do so.