Global Resilience Solutions > Category:Tibetan Buddhism

Tibetan Medicine: Getting to the Root of the Problem

When we feel ill, the first thing we think about is reducing the symptoms.  That’s natural.  No one likes suffering.  But sometimes, it’s an alarm bell trying to tell us something about our lives.

Western medicine, operating on the microscopic scale of individual chemical interactions, has found many clever ways to mask particular symptoms.  In fact, the development of drugs for that purpose far outstrips all other efforts of the pharmaceutical industry in both budget and financial returns.  But this approach and the microscopic scale on which it operates leads to dangerously cavalier attitude toward the irreducibly complex balance that is the whole human organism.  From this come the side effects and interactions that are so problematic with many drugs.

By neglecting the macroscopic, Western medicine also has difficulty addressing the epidemic of chronic disease.  That is where Tibetan Medicine, a fusion and development of thousands of years of Ayurvedic and Chinese experimental knowledge, can most help us.  Its diagnoses seek to account for the root causes of disease found in the emotional, psychological, spiritual and bioenergetic realms, lifestyle, diet, the state of the immune system, traumatic experience, core beliefs and so on.  It also takes seriously the vast healing power of the mind, and understands that mental, spiritual and bioenergetic states impact our physical bodies.



A “Normal” that Will Blow Your Mind: Life in Tibet Before the Invasion

Most of us brought up in modern society are so far removed from what it is to live in an authentic spiritual culture that we simply have no coordinates for understanding what it would mean to be surrounded by people wholeheartedly dedicated to striving for enlightenment.

That is exactly the world that Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche shows us in his memoir Blazing Splendor. Recounting his and his family’s experiences during his childhood in pre-occupation Tibet, he describes a world almost beyond our ability to process.

BlazingCover v5s

To start with, not only he but many of the men in his family are tulkus, reincarnations of important spiritual teachers. Even his grandmother was an important transmitter of his spiritual lineage and a respected traditional physician.

At the age of six or seven, he begins meditating in imitation of his father and uncle who are both advanced masters. Although at that time he doesn’t understand the details of the process, he recounts that when he was old enough to learn, most of what he learned merely explained what he’d already experienced.

Later in his childhood, he develops a degree of clairvoyance, and uses it to impress the people around him. However, he realises that this kind of knowledge without the wisdom or the intention to actually help people is worthless, a kind of charlatanism. Similarly, we meet a group of nuns who skewer every spiritual teacher who comes calling with questions designed to separate the genuine guru from the pretentious imposter.

The spiritual practices we encounter in this world can be quite alarming or incredible to a Western reader, from the Chöd practice of all-night graveyard meditation battling demonic manifestations to the rare practice of spending a year at a time meditating walled up in a cave with just a small opening to pass food in. Nevertheless, the results of these methods seem undeniable.

As do the incredible attainments we encounter: for example, every winter, the nuns of Gebchak would practice tummo, the legendary psychic heat yoga, outdoors, drying wet sheets on their naked bodies all night, using only the power of the mind. Urgyen Rinpoche notes, almost in passing, that only 200 of the 800 female practitioners there were proficient enough to do this. But think of it! In a single place, there were 200 women so advanced in Highest Yoga Tantra that they could sit outside naked through a sub-zero winter night while drying cold, wet sheets draped over them. Any “normal” person would have certainly died of exposure and yet they were completely at ease and unharmed!

Orders of beings that the Western mind does not even acknowledge appear frequently in the lives of Urgyen Rinpoche’s family. In a world of rather vocal nature spirits, spontaneously-appearing spiritual objects, incarnate dakinis and impromptu prophecies by teenage girls indicating the locations of long-lost texts, life was certainly interesting.

The Tibetan attitude toward death was very different from our own, with accomplished masters leaving notes about where they will be reborn, and even the occasional identification of a farm animal as the reincarnation of a dead acquaintance. The sense of continuity from one lifetime to the next is something completely removed from our experience. Urgyen Rinpoche’s own father was able to tell that someone he had been told was dead was still alive, because he had the ability to see when any human spirit in the area left its body.

Real Understanding

No one can fully understand a tradition without having at least some idea of how its worldview really plays out outside of the context of modern culture. Too often when we study ancient traditions, our ideas about how they view the world are cartoonish projections from our own experience. In order to get past this, we have to develop the ability to abstract ourselves from our own life experience and cultural context and put ourselves in the mind of a completely different culture. Until we do this, we will always be to some extent prisoners of our own context.

Most people throughout history have thought that the ideas and worldview they happen to have been exposed to are right. To escape this trap, we need to abstract ourselves from our own ideas and objectively look for the things that are of universal value in each context. We don’t claim that Tibetan culture was perfect- but much of what it achieved is a powerful antidote to the most unfortunate elements of our own.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

Tibetan Medicine: Transforming Our Assumptions About Healing

We often do not realise 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.

The following video gives you an idea of the preparations and mindset of the practitioner:


Approach to Treatment

The Tibetan approach to medical treatment is just as distinct as their approach to the patient. No treatment is solely physical or solely psychological- the patient’s personality and emotional life are known to affect their physical health. Likewise, the balance of elements in the constitution of the specific patient is unique, and knowing which elements to enhance and which to inhibit, knowing how a particular patient will react to a medical substance are essential. All of this means that every treatment is calibrated to the particular patient.

Treatments involving physical medicines are most often complex formulas designed to work together, the opposite of the Western project to break down the pharmacopeia into individual chemicals. The character of the ingredients is known to change depending on the time of year, where they are found and other factors.

For the Tibetan tradition, the mindset and intention of the physician are just as important as the medical substances themselves. Before gathering or compounding medicines, the physician prays and practices identification with the Medicine Buddha. Everything is done with calm mindfulness, a positive mental attitude, a compassionate intention and respect for the ingredients. Because Buddhism does not recognise matter and mind as fundamentally different, the physician’s intention and spiritual development plays an important role in the effectiveness of any treatment.


The medical substances are regarded as an offering to the Medicine Buddha, and are thought of as a mandala, an arrangement representing the different interrelated forces and properties of the cosmos. The means of physical treatment are varied, including incense, herbal baths, medicinal oils and butters for massage, bloodletting, moxibustion, acupuncture, ingestion of medical compounds and so on. But the most important vehicle for physical treatment is changing the diet and lifestyle of the patient, which is essential not only to treat disease, but to make sure the patient stays healthy into the future.

Although all of these methods involve the patient’s energy system, they approach it through the physical body. Tantric medicine treats the energy system directly, and through it the mind and the body. It is especially used for psychiatric diseases and those that are believed to be of karmic origin. The two basic kinds of tantric medicine are the healing of others by a cultivated practitioner and self-healing.

Tantric rituals use the complex Tibetan map of the energy system to transmute the body’s energy into the healing power of the Buddha-power through the generation of compassionate energy, the visualisation of healing deities and the projection of healing light. The practitioner sees himself as the Medicine Buddha and the world as the medicine mandala, which purifies the perceptions of self and world and encourages both to transform into their Buddha-nature.

In order to heal oneself, it is necessary to view illness as an indication of imbalance within one’s own life and an opportunity to readjust one’s own life and relationship with the world. It is also necessary to have complete trust and confidence in the practice and compassionate intention toward other beings.

This compassion is the central theme of Tibetan medicine. The physician is “expected to practice compassion at all times and equally toward all beings”. He is expected to cultivate his own spiritual practice in order to develop the wisdom to correctly see and treat his patients. His practice of medicine and spiritual development are therefore more than complementary, they are the same.


As we re-learn the implications of the interconnectedness of the human body-mind organism, and as we begin to realise once again the influence of our mental states on the reality we experience, traditions like the Tibetan medicine can give us the tools to critically examine the mindsets we have received about health and disease.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

The Awesome Power Hidden in Your Mind-Body Organism

The human organism and its real capabilities go far beyond what most people think of as the frontier of the normal.  While ancient traditions have always known about and sought to access this potential, scientific studies have begun to show us just how vast this universe of potential might be.

The intriguing thing is that, as far as brainwave patterns go, the way to hyper-consciousness lies through null consciousness.  Although meditation as practiced by most people slows down brainwaves (Alpha or Theta waves), this is only a preliminary stage.

In a study by Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin, a group of Tibetan monks in meditation first slowed their brainwaves and then rapidly accelerated (into the Gamma spectrum, associated with heightened awareness, which is higher in frequency than most waking brainwaves).  In other words, meditation yields a brain operating at peak capacity.  This process has also been found to stimulate the portion of the brain associated with joy, giving us an insight into its effect on emotional health.  As well, it heightens communication between the two sides of the brain.  Meditation yields an intense state of attention on the present moment, and with it an intense awareness of one’s surroundings, as a number of studies using external stimuli have shown.

Sara Lazar’s fMRI studies of meditation have shown that meditation permanently alters both the function and structure of the brain.  The portions of the brain associated with attention and sensory processing increased in thickness according to the number of years spent practicing meditation, defying the usual age-related thinning of these areas.  There was also significant activation of the intuitive part of the brain, showing that both kinds of perception were being stimulated.

Nor is the physical impact of meditation confined to the brain.  Herbert Benson, a Harvard cardiologist, has studied Buddhist monks who are able to generate intense heat with their bodies while meditating in sub-zero temperatures.  He witnessed these monks being repeatedly draped in wet blankets which they dried with the heat from their bodies.  Benson documented temperature increases of up to 17 degrees Fahrenheit combined with lowered metabolism, by up to 60 percent.

 All of this represents what could be called the passive side of the equation, the changes that occur in the practitioner.  The active side is even more interesting. 

A series of academic studies have focussed on Direct Mental Interaction with Living Systems or DMILS.  It turns out that under a number of conditions, the electrical signals in two human brains can become synchronized, even at a distance.  An experiment at the National University of Mexico tested brain to brain transmission using flashes of light as the stimulus.  The receiver was isolated in an electrically-shielded room.  This study and others like it found that, providing there was an existing connection between the participants (in this case established by meditating together for twenty minutes), the EEG readings of the receiver spike identically and in tandem with the sender.

Distance healing has also been the focus of intense study.  One study at the California Pacific Medical Centre recruited a population of established healers and a group of AIDS patients.  The study’s objective was simply to demonstrate the effectiveness of healing, and so every patient in the test group received help from every healer.  The health of the patients in the test group measurably improved, while forty percent of the control group died.

In another study, energy healers of different schools were brought together to work on AIDS patients.  The patients who showed the most improvement were treated by healers who operated, as the great Lakota holy man Fools Crow put it, as “hollow bones”, which is to say that they did not regard themselves as the sources of healing.  The common steps in successful healing of this kind (there is a distinction to be made between intervention of this sort and methods designed to improve health on a long term basis) are that the healer unite mentally and emotionally with the person to be healed, and then, with belief, call upon a higher power and ask for the healing.  The healer needs to get him/herself out of the way and become a conduit.

The studies we’ve looked at here barely scratch the surface of the realms of human possibility.  Tune in next week for more!

~Dr. Symeon Rodger 🙂

Dynamics of Creating the “New You”

Well, I wrote the header for this post and then realized what most people in our society would equate with a “new you” is something you can accomplish by a visit to the hairdresser or buying some new clothes!  As you might imagine, I have something a little more profound in mind and I’m sure you do too or else you wouldn’t be on this blog!  You’d be off reading Cosmo or Glamor or something like that 😉  You can either read the post or turn up your speakers…

NOTE: this post contains instructions on how to modify your emotional / psychological state.  Do not attempt to use these instructions unless you are emotionally / psychologically stable and are NOT currently under the care of a mental health professional.  If in doubt, contact a mental health professional.  

                              TO LISTEN TO THIS POST, CLICK HERE

Why Create the New You?

As it is right now, you’re continually recreating yourself anyway, moment by moment, biologically and neurologically, with every thought and feeling you have.  It’s just that, at the moment, you may well be stuck recreating yourself by copying the “you” that exists now – so all you ever get is a “new you” that’s a copy of the old you – in other words, you’re getting re-creation without transformation.  What you really want, though, is to create a new YOU that is continually transforming and moving forward so that you can experience vastly better results in all areas of your life!

Ask yourself this: “What emotional elements are holding me back?  What circumstances or people in my life right now that are making me feel unhappy?”  Then realize that your default setting up till now has likely been to try to change those circumstances or people, falsely believing that doing so was the magic key that would make you happier.  And then you went and changed some of those external circumstances, yet ended up creating the same results again… all because you did not change yourself first on the biological /neurological level.  That’s the iron law of change: it works from the inside out.  Experience in the business world proves this – if someone’s mindset is not right, it doesn’t matter how good their system is or how much great advice they get – nothing will work well for them.  Whereas, if their mindset is right, those external factors hardly matter because they’ll succeed no matter what they try.

What’s Stopping You?

Whenever you try to change your life, you run into your own personality, which is what we call “the false self”.  In other words, you run into all your fears, doubts, self-limiting beliefs, all the programming that’s been running your life for years and that’s given you the results you’re getting now.  What this means in terms of how your brain works is this: you’ve been conditioned to think and interpret reality in certain ways.  In other words, you’ve been programmed with belief systems that you use automatically to make sense out of your world.  Now please understand, some of these belief systems are very subtle, yet may control significant portions of your behavior.  Because of these belief systems, you think in certain ways as if on autopilot.  Your brain then manufactures chemicals to create a feeling state equivalent to your thinking.  Over time, your mind-body organism actually becomes physically and emotionally addicted to that feeling state.  Then you begin to believe that outside circumstances are creating that feeling state when, in reality, it’s largely the reverse – that feeling state works in a number of ways to make sure that you have external circumstances to match itself.  In other words, you’re creating your world from the inside out, not the other way around, as our Newtonian upbringing has taught us.

Hence, until you change your feeling state, your outside world cannot change much at all!  This is a case of simple neuro-chemical addiction on the one hand, and quantum biology on the other.  So creating the new YOU is necessarily about changing your brain chemistry, your neuro-functioning and therefore your energy patterns (because all thoughts and feeling states broadcast an energy signature).  This is what it means to change your vibration and that equates to a radical change in how good you feel.

Three Good Reasons to Remake Your Personality

As human beings, we seem to need an awfully compelling reason to get off our butts and change our lives.  Much of the time, unfortunately, we wait until the pain of our present approach to life becomes acute.  Now I’m assuming you’ve been there before (I certainly have!) and that you’d prefer to be a bit more proactive this time around!  So, to help motivate yourself, consider three powerful reasons to start remaking your life today:

  1. To get better results in various areas of your life, such as your career and finances, your health, your relationships, etc.
  2. So you can stop reacting continually to external circumstances (a classic symptom of neurosis) and regain your inner emotional freedom, and
  3. So you can feel better and be much happier!

How to Create Your New Personality

There are lots of ways to uninstall old programming and install newer and better “software” into your brain and your life.  We don’t have time to talk about them all and certainly not in detail.  So today I just want to share one simple and very powerful concept with you.  It’s a concept that’s been tested and proven for millennia.  It has been used worldwide, including as the first step behind what the Tibetans call “Highest Yoga Tantra”, the most advanced and powerful spiritual practice in Tibetan Buddhism.  In that spiritual world, it’s called the “generation stage” of Tantra (as opposed to the “completion stage that comes later) and it works like this: even though you may be a spiritual mess, you train yourself to visualize that you are no longer your messy mortal personality and you stop identifying yourself so closely with it.  Instead you train yourself to see yourself as a Buddha, with the body, mind and circumstances of a fully enlightened being.  The Tibetan tantric method for accomplishing this is very complex, yet when you strip away all the massive sophistication of it, it call comes down to one really simple principle – develop an idealized version of yourself and how you think, feel and act if you were free of whatever is now holding you back.  In other words, you ACT THE PART!

And you can use this method of “acting the part” to make a significant difference in the results you get in any area of your life, simply by using the massive transformational power of acting!  Here’s how:

  1. Do a meditation session where you focus on your breath and slowly let go of your thoughts.  This helps access the subconscious mind.
  2. Then vividly imagine the traits of the person you want to be – how does this ideal you think, feel and act in particular situations?
  3. Then continue the meditation to imagine you already are this person – see this ideal you moving throughout the events of your day and watch how he or she reacts to the various events of your day.
  4. Once you get up from your meditation, you want to see yourself as this New You and act the part.
  5. Try this for a few days and spend time at the end of each day evaluation how it went.

At the outset, you’ll probably quite like this approach – it’s probably something you haven’t tried before.  Of course, as with any life-transforming training, please realize you WILL hit a wall at some point.  All you have to know in advance is that it’s okay to hit a wall!!  It’s just temporary, as long as you keep going.  Naturally, this is where a lot of people stop using whatever method they’re trying, whether it’s this one, or EFT or whatever else.  So for them, the wall is where they stop and they stop because they’re fickle and unteachable.  That doesn’t have to be you.

So what is the “wall”, exactly?  It’s resistance from your old self, who wants to return to its comfort zone and who is fighting your good intentions with its own neuro-chemical weapons.  In other words, your “new you” will automatically move toward certain feeling states, but your preconditioned mind-body organism is still serving up the same neuro-chemical cocktail that produced your old feeling states.  So, for example, you may want to feel more confident in social situations, but your body is still producing chemicals associated with feelings of shyness and inferiority.  As long as you persist in “acting the part”, though, your subconscious will eventually get the message and change your brain chemistry to match your new thoughts and feelings.

You’ll also discover underlying belief systems that don’t support the new you.  You can dissect those old beliefs logically to show yourself just how unreasonable they are and to demonstrate how they no longer serve you.  Then formulate the new belief verbally and in writing.

Following this method, you’ll get stronger each day.  You’ll see that the old you, your old personality, was not really YOU at all – it was just a collection of unexamined assumptions, emotional conditioning, long-held beliefs that conditioned how you thought, felt and acted and hence dictated your results in life.  Now you can change all that 🙂

~Dr. Symeon Rodger

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