"Dorjee Rapten Neshar is the chief medical officer and senior consulting physician at the Bangalore branch of the Tibetan Medical and Astro-science Institute, which operates more than 50 medical clinics throughout India. Born in Central Tibet in 1964, he fled to India five years later to escape the Chinese occupation.
Though he comes from a long line of traditional medicine practitioners, Dorjee was initially more interested in studying Western medicine than traditional Tibetan methods, which include balancing the body and mind using herbal pills and spiritual practice. Ultimately, he ended up enrolling in college for Tibetan medicine, and since then has risen to become one of the world’s most renowned practitioners.
In the following interview, the doctor and subject of the 2016 documentary, The Legacy of Menla, talks to the film’s screenwriter about treating cancer patients, the intersection of Buddhism and medicine, and the future of holistic interventions.
How did you start practicing traditional Tibetan medicine?
Tibetan medicine came to me as a blessing in disguise. I come from a long line of Tibetan physicians, so there was always pressure from my family for me to follow in their path. But, growing up, I was not too interested in traditional healing systems. I was gearing up to study modern Western medicine, but due to some technical issues at my college, scholarships became unavailable. I was left with little choice, and decided to enroll at the Tibetan Medical College in Dharamsala, India. It was not long before I became fully immersed in the multidimensional intricacy of Tibetan medicine—and I have not looked back ever since.
Related: Paging Dr. Dharma
Could you elaborate on your experiences as a Tibetan physician, particularly when it comes to treating patients with severe diseases and the terminally ill?
Tibetan medicine is well-known for treating major and chronic diseases, such as diabetes, metabolic diseases, and cancer. In recent years, we have started receiving patients diagnosed with all stages of cancer because of our various success stories from former patients.
Many patients come to us after receiving other forms of treatment, such as surgery and chemotherapy. They tend to either take our treatments in conjunction with Western medicine or decide to make the switch completely. Either way, I always advise patients according to their specific case and condition. For instance, if I see they have a cancerous tumor that is fairly advanced, I advise them to go for surgery. If I see the cancer aggression is very strong, I suggest that they take a few cycles of chemotherapy. The patient can then decide to take our medication instead of continuing with chemotherapy. In the end, it’s their choice.
There is no magic bullet to cure cancer, and I don’t claim that we can cure it. But I have strong faith in the efficacy of our herbs as well as in our multidimensional and holistic approach. We have had patients who have been cured, and many other patients whose life expectancies have been prolonged. Again, this does not mean that every patient will react the same way. The patients themselves play a vital role in treatment. Their faith and confidence in taking our medicines, as well as their participation in the healing process, is key.
What is the connection between Tibetan medicine and Buddhist values and teachings?
The most unique feature of Tibetan medicine is its connection with Buddhism. This connection is how we draw the distinction between Tibetan medicine and other alternative healing systems, such as Ayurvedic or traditional Chinese medicine. As practitioners of both Buddhism and medicine, we are taught to understand the patient’s suffering. We develop a deep sense of compassion within ourselves, and this becomes something we can then transmit to other sentient beings."
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