Experiencing Tibetan Medicine

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The past couple of days I’ve been hanging out at the Tibetan library, expanding my horizon. The library is in the same little area as the government in exile and the medical & astrological institute so in a way you have the essence of Tibet represented in one place. To me, that place is pretty much perfect; the view of the mountains, full exposure to the culture and ancient knowledge readily available – what’s not to love?!

Outside the library, a number of very content dogs are hanging out. The dogs here are much healthier, happier and relaxed than other places in India – here they have their own place in society and are not just outlawed and homeless animals.

A few days back a friend gave me a tour of the area, including the astrological museum. I had been wanting to get an astrological consultation, which is a little different from our western classical astrology – among other factors, past and future lives as well as the influences of the elements are included. It turned out that because of the huge demand of horoscopes, the department have been forced to put all consultations on hold and focus on catching up on analyzing. They still had two kinds of consultations available; partner compatibility and death prediction – one I don’t need and one I don’t want :D

So instead we visited the astrological museum and that was actually very interesting – astrology and health are very much related as opposed to the western world where astrology is mostly considered on the more alternative side.

Then a couple of days later, I meet someone who is suggesting that I should get a physical by a Tibetan doctor. He says that might be interesting and describes it a little bit. There’s more to the story regarding that meet but that’s down a completely different path – let’s just say that I was ready to follow whatever suggestion he might have had. So the next day, yesterday, bringing a small plastic container with urine, seriously, I walk down to the Drungtso Healing and Astrological Centre. I think this was the most excited I’ve ever been about going to get examined by the doctor, it was definitely the adventure of the day.

The clinic is very simple and the people working there are very nice – the whole thing has got what I’ve come to understand as the ‘Tibetan atmosphere’, happy and relaxed in perfect balance :) I go meet the doctor and sit down and she starts by measuring my pulse – with three fingers. index, middle, and ring finger, each finger doing its own thing*. Very accurately she goes through the process of diagnosis, once in a while asking me questions. Afterwards she takes the container with urine and shakes it. She does that a couple of times, making little remarks about the size of the bubbles and such. I’m just sitting there fascinated and if she had let me, we could have stayed there all day, me asking a million questions. She concludes the consultations by prescribing me four different kinds of medicine, one for the cold that is creeping up on me and three other kinds for making my whole system get into perfect balance. She also makes a few suggestions as to what I should and shouldn’t eat.

Out in the clinic again I first go to the cashier with my prescriptions and then afterwards I go to the dispensary where they take almost 15 minutes counting the exact number of pills needed, carefully putting them in small plastic bags with little notes of guidance.

After the doctor, I headed straight to the library and spend the next few hours reading about Tibetan medicine, which is just amazingly fascinating – and not just because I’m easily fascinated. Its approach to health is holistic in the most holistic way possible and I can’t wait to learn more about it!

Okay, so the pills look like little goat poop, you know, the little round things that could assemble licorice.. They’re different variations of brown and smell very nature’ish. I’m supposed to crush them and then mix with hot water – three at the time, spread out across the day.

This morning I then started my treatment towards perfect balance. I don’t have a pill crusher here but the doctor said it would be fine just crushing them between my teeth and then drink hot water to flush them down.

My first thought was that the pills were actually harder than expected. My second thought was pure panic. The taste was awful! I wanted to rip out the whole interior of my mouth to make it stop. Horrible!

So this afternoon I tried to crush the pills, using two forks, and then mixing them with water. Two forks are not sufficient for crushing Tibetan goat poop but the experience was definitely less traumatizing and I feel confident that this too will lead somewhere satisfying :D

* If you should feel like learning just a little more about Tibetan medicine, the website of the Drungtso Centre is very informative;

Who Is Your Guru?

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It seems there’s a rule for one’s journey to India; you need a guru.
As mentioned before, Rishikesh is a little too touristy for my likings and it leaves me a little annoyed when people are constantly referring to something their guru said. There seems to be an unreflected, uncritical and, in my honest opinion an unsettling tendency and willingness to blindly accept anything the guru says.

I see a lot of people walking around with this very characteristic smile of being in a happy bubble. But the bubble seems to be just that, a bubble. Not really grounded in anything and very easy to burst. When I talk to people, I see eyes full of insecurity and I hear words lacking the substance they gain when spoken from the heart.

A few days ago I’m sitting in a café. I had brought my computer and was in that lovely flow of reflecting and writing while enjoying my chai as well as the beautiful surroundings. Very content being in my little bubble of just me and the universe.

A guy asks if he can sit down at the table where I’m sitting and I say sure and return to my bubble. He then starts talking to me, asking me questions. I answer and once again turn my attention to what I was doing. There could have been no doubt that I was concentrated on something other than interacting with people around me. Again he speaks and a little frustrated but trying to be open and patient I focus on him, trying to figure out what it is that he wants. He asks me about my spiritual practice, what I know of the religions and when I answer he starts a lengthy monologue that seems to be directed towards some inner audience of his. After that he decides to explain Buddhism to me. He then throws himself into something about the eight limbs but is struggling after only two of them. And those two took a long time explaining. By then my patience is less impressive and so when he asks if I practice pranayama I almost give him a snooty answer that yes, I try to breathe regularly. I don’t, instead I tell him that I really want to get back to what I was doing. Me and my computer and my chai and the beautiful surroundings. He is clearly not happy with my decision but really has no choice but to accept. Since then, I’ve met him several times, we say hello but that’s it. I was then told that apparently he considers himself a guru and so he is trying to gather followers. He also keeps a blog for that purpose.
There’s another guru here who have already managed to get himself a heard. His name is Prem Baba and he’s not even Indian, he’s from Brazil. I would say he’s the gurustar of the village and several times I’ve been asked if I’m here for him, am I going there now, did I just come from there as if he is the obvious main reason for anyones visit to this area. So today I decided to go see this wonder of a Being, this messenger of the great universal truth. To say I went there with an open mind wouldn’t be completely accurate but I was determined to experience this as non-judgemental as I possibly could.

I leave my shoes outside and come into a big rectangular and bright room with huge windows facing the river. In the middle of the room there’s about 10 people sitting with different instruments on the floor and around them a couple of hundred people are sitting on pillows, all in different stages of devotional contemplation. They start playing and singing and it’s a sort of chanting, repeating the same theme over and over, building up the energy of the room as more and more people join in. I join in as well and the music is definitely nice and has an opening effect. A guy works his way around the room with a little tray holding a cup with some orange paste that he smears on everybody’s third eye and little sugar crystals that we get to suck on. Only I didn’t know what they were and so I kept them in my hands for the next hour an a half, making me very sticky.

After the chanting, the guru speaks. Or so does the recorded message because he’s not there himself. Instead there’s the chair (throne) where he would have been and on the chair is his picture which is the first in the room to get the orange smear from the guy with the tray. People around me are very affected by the whole thing, a girl sitting close to me is sobbing pretty much through the next hour and suddenly the guy with the tray breaks down and is loudly wailing for several minutes before he composes himself and continues the task at hand. The guru speaks very generally about uncovering the layers to ones true being – I didn’t disagree with anything he said but I must admit that I had expected something a little more substantial.

Afterwards more chanting and this time people let lose. Some plunges into ecstatic worship, raising their hands to the sky, swaying along with the music – and of course crying. I shift between closing my eyes and focusing on the essence of it all and looking around amazed by this weird phenomenon.

I’m glad that I went and experienced it and I liked the music – but I still don’t get why it gives people the kick it does and I don’t get the need to follow someone like this, even if that someone claims to be an enlightened guru.

Or maybe I do get it but I judge it. Maybe it irritates me that people in many cases are sheep who will gladly follow whoever will lead them. Or maybe it makes me sad to witness all the suffering that leaves people confused and so easy to control.
So who am I to judge other people’s journey, the choices they make and the gurus they follow? I guess when we are still searching, there is a period when we try on the insights of other people, we feel out the words of the masters to find something that resonates with our soul and we try to make sense out of the life we have known until now. And hopefully we succeed.
The day I got here I was having a conversation with a guy. We’re talking about spiritual beliefs and practice (it seems to be the favorite topic around here) and when he asks me if I have a guru, without really thinking about it I say “my heart is my guru”. I guess I’m at a point right now, where I don’t need all the words, I really don’t feel like sitting around being philosophical or discussing the mystery of life. It is what it is.

At least for now, my heart is my guru and I’m happy with that simplicity.