Book Review: Healing from the Source: The Science and Lore of Tibetan Medicine by Yeshi Dhonden

Posted on December 1, 2011. Filed under: Book Reviews | Tags: , , , , |

Boy, I wanted to appreciate this book more than I actually did. I bought it thinking, I know next to nothing about Tibetan Medicine. Yes, technically I know a bit more than I did before I read it but the book left me with more questions than answers. Just not necessarily in a good way.

Part of the problem is the book is a collection of interviews/lectures rather than a coherent exploration of the topic. Another was that the systems and diagnosis in Tibetan Medicine is so complex and fluid (which is a pun as you’ll see shortly) that the book is more of a teaser than anything else.

I liked seeing some of the roots of Tibetan Medicine including Buddhism, Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine (in this book he implies that the borrowing was more the other direction) and while not discussed here there are definitely elements of the Tibetan Bon religion.

At its most base level, Tibetan Medicine lays the foundation of all illness to imbalances to the bodies three principle functions caused by the “three poisons”:

“Attachment is the primary cause of imbalances of the wind, hatred produces imbalances of the bile, and delusion is the primary cause of phlegm imbalances.”

From that point on the complexity grows because like in quite a bit of the Buddhist canon, and especially in the writings that form the foundation for Tibetan Buddhism, there’s a huge love of large numbered lists voluminous types of things in Tibetan Medicine. I’ve long joked that somewhere buried in the canon is a treatise about the 346 types/stages of your foot falling to sleep while sitting in meditation. (Really I’ve been scared to look but what if it is true?!?) To the point that it can get mind numbing.

I found it sometimes frustrating because occasionally there would be hints of something interesting that I’d love to see more discussion about. For example,

“In Tibet it is very cold, especially in the winter, so some of the tonics prescribed there consist largely of butter. But if these were taken in a warm climate, they would be unhealthy. So a medication that acts as a tonic in one climate may be detrimental in another.”

I was very intrigued with the whole notion of climate and seasonal targeting of treatments. I would have loved to have heard more, but alas there wasn’t any. Just more levels of numbers lists and vague “some kinds of this illness are caused by this imbalance while other types are actually a different imbalance” talk. So I’ll have to look into that and think about it. As someone who is historically very in tune with weather patterns and changes, it’s a topic that warrants more exploration. (Maybe I’ll put together a post about that some time.)

Not really an introductory book to the topic but not a more advanced one to be read after such. More a bit disjointed mis-mash, with tiny glimmers of interesting things. So I can’t really recommend it, but it did introduce me to things I do want to learn more about.

Oh, yes. One slight warning (here’s where that pun above is paid off.) If you do decide to read it you might not want to do so while eating or drinking if you’re squeamish. Because one of the qualities a healer is supposed to have is to “Exhibit no revulsion when seeing bodily fluids.” Well, make that more like be kind of obsessed with bodily fluids and gases.

In this relatively short book I read more discussion of that than entire big thick introductory medical books. Which admittedly they had almost none of – so balance or a “middle way” between them would be a whole lot more appealing to me.

I’m not squeamish, still the volume of references was kind of amusing. There’s a whole section of advice on vomiting, passing wind and more that can be summed up as “If you have to go, let it flow.”

Wait one more, “When it doubt, let it out.”

Okay I’m done, but the book wasn’t.

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