In October or November of 1987, around that time, I arrived in New Delhi from the United States. I was 22 years old and I had never been to India so it was a mighty culture shock for me in all aspects of that word. Anyway, I arrived in Delhi and I was in Delhi for 2-3 days and after that, I trekked up to Dharamsala.
Dharamsala is about 13-14 hours by bus, north from Delhi, into the mountains and that is where the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan exiled people lived and they called it Little Lhasa because they have painters there, restaurants, statue-makers, they have wood-carvers, they have schools – Tibetan Schools, and Tibetan Opera, dancing. They have everything there. I mean Tibetan culture was transplanted there and it was surviving in Dharamsala and with His Holiness the Dalai Lama living there, it just became Little Lhasa.
So, I went up there specifically with the intention to get ordained as a Buddhist monk by His Holiness the Dalai Lama himself because when I was back in the US, I had met with His Holiness and I had made a request to him to become a monk. He agreed and told me to come to India and that’s what I did and so finally I arrived in Dharamsala. I had left Geshe Tsultrim Gyeltsen’s center in Los Angeles where I lived for about 8 years. Geshe-la had brought me to the airport with some of his close students, put a khata around my neck and gave me his blessings and sent me to India and there I was, in Dharamsala.
In Dharamsala, I stayed in this place called Gaden Shartse Shabten Khang. It is a branch monastery of Gaden Shartse in South India, which is the monastery that I was supposed to join and I am a part of now. I stayed up there in the guest quarters and registered with the Tibetan office to become ordained by the Dalai Lama. They told me that I had to find two other people who wanted to become monks. I needed two people so that His Holiness can ordain the three of us and I did. I eventually found two people who were wishing to become monks and we got together to make the request and so, we were very lucky.
I waited for my ordination and we waited for a month and a half, about two months. Meanwhile, I got my robes ready, I learned a little Tibetan and I stayed in Gaden Shartse Shabten Khang in Dharamsala. This was like 15 minutes’ walk away from the Dalai Lama’s palace, which is incredibly close by. Sometimes, when we stood by the road, we would even get a glimpse of the Dalai Lama driving by. That was really nice.
Next door to Gaden Shartse Shabten Khang was the house of a very renowned lady doctor of Tibet and her house name was called Dekyi Khangkar. So, we stayed right next door to her and what she had next door was her clinic, staff, her medicine-making facilities and a home for herself, husband and kids. She had her living room, a guest area and basically a room where she would diagnose and also treat people. So, that was like right next door.
You have to understand, I was 22 and I didn’t really understand the significance at that time. But what was very interesting about her was that – and you can read about it in the story below, this is a short synopsis – is that she basically escaped from Tibet and she comes from a long line of doctors that was blessed by Atisha. Trijang Rinpoche discovered her working on the roads, you know as a refugee and helped to reinstate her as a doctor and she became very famous and very well-known and she became a very renowned doctor. So, she was living right next door. Every single day, I would look outside my window and literally I would see three busloads of Indian people coming from all parts of India coming to see her.
So, literally outside my window there is a parking area and there would be 2-3 buses every single day, loads of people. She opened her clinic at 9am and would break for lunch for about 1.5 to 2 hours, and then she would continue working and diagnosing people till 9 pm. So, every single day except Sunday if I remember correctly, she would be in her clinic and she would be diagnosing and seeing people which was packed. She did this for 12 hours a day and sometimes longer. I watched a procession of people going in and out every day and all day the whole time I was there for about a month and a half.
Sometimes when I walked by her house which was inevitable because we were sharing the same road from where I am staying, I would see her. She was a heavy-set woman wearing a Tibetan chuba with an apron and she had her hair tied up in the back with her Tibetan jewelry and she was very graceful, aristocratic and an extremely beautiful lady. I am talking about a beauty that comes from knowledge, spirituality and calmness and compassion. Every single day, she would recite prayers and offer tsang which is incense, in her house, which I saw. Then, she would have breakfast with her husband and then she would go to her clinic and sometimes when I walked by, I would wave at her. But I didn’t really know her and so, I didn’t think much. I just thought wow, great! I didn’t know anything about Tibetan medicine.
So, one day after a few weeks being in Dharamsala, I had some pus come out of my lower region, from my male lower region. And the pus was smelly and it was yellowish and I didn’t know what it was. So I went to a doctor nearby, his name was Yeshe Dhonden. He was a male doctor and he was supposed to be the doctor of the Dalai Lama previously. So I went to his clinic and the clinic was empty, there were like 1 or 2 people there. It was a big clinic and it was empty but I didn’t want to go to the lady doctor’s place because I was embarrassed. I didn’t want her to strip me and take a look at me so I went to the male doctor thinking it would be safer. (Boy was I wrong!)
Anyway, I went to Dr Dhonden’s and well, he stripped me and he looked at my lower part and he made this kind of ‘tsk-ing’ sound and he said to me, “Oh shame shame. You know, you have been a naughty boy.”
I was like, I said to him, “What do you mean?”
He said to me, “Oh, you have a venereal disease.”
And I am like, “What?!”
I told him, “I had not been with anyone. I am going to become a monk.”
He said, “No, you have to tell me the truth. You have been with someone, maybe even more and you caught this from someone.”
I said, “No, I have not been with anyone.”
He said, “Why don’t you tell me the truth.”
“I am telling you the truth!”
He said, “Ok, you don’t want to tell me the truth. I am just going to give you a general Tibetan medicine to take.” I am like, “Ok.” And so, I put on my clothes and he gave me Tibetan pills. I had to take two in the morning, two in the afternoon, three at night with hot water and all that stuff.
I was like, I didn’t feel good with this diagnosis because I know I don’t have that. So I said, “Ok. No choice.” I went to the lady doctor’s clinic. I have never been inside the clinic before.
I went to the lady doctor’s clinic and I walked in and luckily there was a break so I introduced myself and I told her where I am from. She spoke good intelligible English and was very gracious. I sat next to this incredibly grand aristocratic-looking lady in her traditional clothes, with her hair tied up with her Tibetan jewelry. She just looked like some kind of aristocrat. Her clinic was not very big; it was medium-sized and there was a lot of waiting area and she had a chair next to her desk and behind her, she had a huge portrait – an oil painting of Trijang Rinpoche. I was flabbergasted.
I explained to her who I was, where I was from, what I was doing in Dharamsala and that I was going to be a monk and all that. She was very happy and we talked a little more because she was free. She told me this is her clinic and she makes her own medicine and once a month, she goes up to the mountains with her husband. They had a jeep and they collected the herbs and flowers, and when they came back they would dry them and pound them and make their own pills. Everything was made on premises with no chemicals. She said they were consecrated with pujas, prayers and meditation.
She explained that her line of medicine came from her father and I was totally impressed. I asked her why she had Trijang Rinpoche’s picture behind her, a big portrait. She said, “Well, people come to me for healing of the body. While they are here, they will see Trijang Rinpoche. They will be healed of the mind.” So she said, “We work together to heal people.” I was so impressed with that. So, she asked me, “What’s wrong with you?” I started to explain to her, “Well, I have this problem…” and I told her.
I was waiting for her to strip me. I was embarrassed but fortunately, she didn’t. She took her delicate aristocratic fingers and touched my wrists and felt my pulse because in Tibetan, they take pulse readings to see what’s wrong with you. Through the three major pulses, they can accurately diagnose what happened to you, determine if there’s to be any operations and what the diseases are. They can diagnose what is wrong with you now and they can even diagnose how long you will live and how strong is your life pulse is. So, she diagnosed my wrist and I asked her, “Do I need to strip?” She said, “No, everything is in your pulse.” I was so relieved. She told me, “There’s nothing wrong with you. Your body is very fit.”
I asked her, “Do I have any venereal disease?” She laughed and said, “Of course not.”
She said, “You don’t have any venereal disease. You don’t have any diseases. You are healthy young man.” She said, “What’s wrong is this – you come from a clean country and you are in India and you haven’t washed yourself properly with warm water. You probably washed in cold water. So, you just have some kind of bacterial infection. It is nothing. It is very, very minor.” She said, “Do this. Go to the store and get Dettol and mix that with warm water, wash yourself and rinse your area there with Dettol. Within three days, it will be fine.”
I asked, “Any medicines?”
She said “No. You don’t need any medicines.” I was like, “OK” and then we talked a little bit more and she gave me some tea and then, we became friends and I left. So the first thing I did? I walked to the edge of the road and it was a precipice because we are like in the Dharamsala mountains and I threw Yeshe Dhonden’s medicine over the precipice and said goodbye, I was not going to be taking it.
I went to the shop and bought Dettol. I went back and I told the monks at the Gaden Shartse Shabten Khang guest house that I needed warm water. They showed me how to heat up the water. I took a bath and I put the stuff inside the water and after I washed, I rinsed my private part with it. And sure enough, after three days, the pus and the emissions were completely gone.
I never had that problem since and it was like 20-30 years already. I was so amazed with this lady, that she can take my pulse and tell me what’s wrong and what’s not wrong. Needless to say, I never went back to Yeshe Dhonden and later, I heard some things happened to him that were a little scandalous but let’s not get into it right now.
We call this grand lady, you can call her Dr Drolma but when you became a little closer to her and she was a little affectionate, you call her Amala. ‘Amala’ is a Tibetan word for ‘mother’ though she was not my mother. You can call her mother because it is an affectionate Tibetan way of calling a mature older lady. So, ‘la’ is an honorable title. ‘Ama’ is mother so you would be saying ‘honorable mother’. So it is a very respectful way of saying or addressing an older lady. Even if you go to the market, you go to the store, you go to the temple, you meet an older lady, you can say, “Amala, how are you?” You are calling them ‘honorable mother’.
So, I used to call her Amala and she told me whenever I am free, to come back to her clinic and hang out with her. So I used to do that. I used to go back to her clinic and she would be really busy. She would signal me to sit down and I just sat there. I would sit there for two, three hours, I was free as a bird. I would sit there for two, three hours and watch her diagnose people. And as usual, there would busloads of people.
I remember one Punjabi lady walking in. I remember it was in the evening and it was already dark outside, it was probably around 7-8 pm. And it was kinda cold outside so I hung out in her clinic cause it was kinda warmer there. An older Punjabi lady, probably in her 60s came in. She was wearing a Punjabi outfit, traditional and it was tan in color and she had difficulty walking and she was breathing very hard.
This Punjabi lady sat next to Amala – Dr Lobsang Drolma – and she lifted up her veil and I couldn’t believe it. One side of her arm, the left side of her arm was totally swollen to almost 2.5 times the size of her right arm. And this older lady was kinda heavy set so her arm was already big, you know. Thick but her left arm was swollen 2.5 times the size of her right arm. And she was breathing very hard and she lifted up her shirt, I couldn’t believe it! I have never seen anything like this in my life.
She had a gaping open wound that was massive on her left breast and if you looked carefully, you can see her rib bone. And it was all swollen, dripping and it was wet. She was crying and she was talking something in Hindi with Amala and they were conversing. After that, I remember that Amala gave her like three or four massive bags of medicine and then, the lady went off and then, Amala took care of a few other people.
Afterwards, I ran up to her and I asked her, “What was that? What was going on?” And Amala said, “Sit down. Have a cup of tea.” I always had tea with her and she said to me, “This lady had exhausted all of her money trying to get healed. She has breast cancer. It is advanced stage. It has affected her whole arm. It’s swollen. It has affected her walking and the gaping hole is the breast cancer eating away at her and she has no money for treatment.” So, I said to Amala, “Is she going to live?” Amala said… Amala was very light, she said, “Yes, she will live. She will be fine. Her life force is very strong and I gave her three months of medicine free.”
I said, “Why?”
She said, “If I don’t give it to her, she will die and she has no money.”
I said, “Wow!” So Amala gave her three months of free medication and told her to come back and see her. Amala told me she will live and she will be fine. I just couldn’t believe it. I never seen an open gaping wound like that in my life and I felt the compassion from Amala. I felt the humility because I mean, basically she was saving someone’s life and she was nonchalant about it and she was easy about it. She was very simple and she didn’t hype it up and she was just normal.
And I just thought to myself, “How many hundreds of people’s lives has she saved in the last decade? How many people owe her?” So my respect just shot up past the ceiling. I just went, “Wow! I am in the presence of this lady who is extremely spiritual. Very devoted to her Guru Trijang Rinpoche. She heals people all day long and sees people all day long and on top of that, she gives medicines away just like that.”
And you have to understand, her medicine is not synthetic. She has to go into the mountains, bring it back, dry it, during certain seasons; she has to make them into pills. It was a lot of work. She just gave it away. She told me… I found out that she gives medicines and things away quite often because a lot of poor people come see her. She never says no.
And another time when I was with her and I found out that she had donated a beautiful, I think 2-feet size Vajrayogini statue to the nunnery nearby. She was often donating things to the monasteries and nunneries and then, she often donated robes and food to the Gaden Shartse Shabten Khang right next door where I was staying because she was very connected to the Gaden Shartse Shabten Khang because her root Guru is from Gaden Shartse, which is Trijang Rinpoche.
So there would 13-15 people staying in the Shabten Khang, not including me, but I was there and she always fed them and gave them very good food, bread and gave them Alak Aloo Taka. Aloo Taka is like… potato or soups or thukpa. And sent robes to them. I saw with my own eyes. She would send robes to them all the time. Very generous. So I kinda became friends with her and I used to go and visit her. And one time I was sitting in her clinic, it was unusually quiet. It was afternoon and there wasn’t much people there.
I was just sitting in the clinic and just me and her, and she was having her tea and I was having my tea. And she was staring at me and it is kind of unnerving to have her stare at you because you feel really small and there is this really grand lady person looking at you and staring at you. I dunno. She looked like she was intently staring so I said to her, “Amala, what are you looking at?” And she said to me, I remember very clearly, she said to me, “I think you are a tulku. You are a reincarnation.” I said to her, “What?” She said, “Yes, because you don’t look like a…” This is in her own words, “You don’t look like an ordinary monk. You look like a tulku.” I said, “What on me makes me look like a tulku?”
She says, “I am a Tibetan. We have been living within monks and nuns our whole lives. We can just tell on sight who is different.” And she said, “You are a tulku.” She said, “You look like a tulku. I think you are.” She kept you know, putting her head back and forth looking at me. So I said, “Oh, what do you think my previous life was?” “That I don’t know but I don’t think you are a normal monk and then we left it at that. Anyways, then I found out later, she sells these incredible Saraswati pills. They are called Yangchen Rilbu.
Yangchen Rilbu is Saraswati pills that is specifically to be taken in the morning, one pill with hot water and then you do your Manjushri mantras and prayers. Together with that pill, it is supposed to move the winds in the body so that your memory becomes fabulous. Well, I didn’t have a lot of money and I went to Amala with my poor-me story about being not very bright, having a bad memory and guess what? She gave me three months of free pills. I was like so excited. I had like three months of Yangchen Rilbu. I was like, “Can I take two a day?” She was like, “No, no, take one a day.” And I was like taking them every single day and I was so happy because there is no such thing as memory pills in America. So, if you have a bad memory, too bad!
But in Tibetan system, there is memory pills you know and they are made by the famous Amala. And I asked her, “Do they really work?” Because I was like you know, memory pills? She said to me, “Definitely, they work. Definitely!” So I got it and Amala is famous for treating all monks and nuns for free. She would not take money for anything from Sangha and she would often donate to the monks and nuns in the Dharamsala valley. She would treat the poor for free or give them medicine and I used to think, “How does she make money?”
One day, I had the great honor… she invited me to her house, which was right upstairs from the clinic and showed me her altar. She showed me her statue of Trijang Rinpoche and Buddha and on the right side of her altar, inside a cabinet, she had a statue of Dorje Shugden. She pointed to Dorje Shugden and I looked at the statue, it was all painted. I was like, “Wow! That is a cool statue.” And she said, “Well, this is my Dharma Protector.” She said to me, “He gives me whatever I need to help other people.” She said, “Recently, he gave me the jeep so that I can go into the mountains and bring back medicines to help people. My Guru is Trijang Rinpoche. My Dharma Protector is Dorje Shugden.”
Anyway, I went to visit her quite often and I realize now that I was in the presence of not an ordinary person but an extraordinary person who was extremely spiritual, who was very devoted to her teacher, who came from a long line of doctors stemming back to Atisha himself. I think she was the 14th generation of doctors, of which the original doctor in the family, 14th generations ago was blessed by Atisha himself to administer medicine and healing. The reason she became a doctor was because her father didn’t have a male heir and he passed everything down to her, and she memorized everything and she learnt everything and she became an excellent student of her father. And when she escaped Tibet in 1959, she carried the Tibetan Medical Tantras on her back.
So she left everything behind, she couldn’t carry anything and can you imagine, she carried the Tibetan Medical Tantras, teachings by the Medicine Buddha on healing and medicine, on her back and she brought it over to India? She worked on the roads, breaking rocks and stones and quarries to make roads, to make a very small measly salary to feed herself. Her life changed when a very High Lama, when a very, very High Lama came to her area where they were fixing roads and they all took the day off to get a blessing from the High Lama. And nobody knew who she was, nobody understood who she was. Nobody knew her background and she was working on the road, which is very bad for her fingers because a Tibetan doctor’s fingers must remain unscarred and without calluses in order to have the sensitivity to feel the pulse.
When the fingers are very callused, it obstructs the feeling of reading the pulse. So nobody knew who she was and she heard it was a High Lama and when she came in the presence of this High Lama, it turned out to be Trijang Rinpoche. And so, one person would come up, they offer the khata and they put the khata on them. Then, the next person comes up, the next person comes up and so on and that happened throughout the day. When she came up, he paused and extended his hand and he said, “I am not feeling well. Can you please take a diagnosis?” And she was shocked. Nobody knew she was a doctor. Nobody told Trijang Rinpoche she is a doctor. Nobody even knew she was a doctor in order to tell Trijang Rinpoche she was a doctor and there were hundreds of people in line to meet Trijang Rinpoche.
But at her… when she came up to him, he stopped her and said he is not feeling well. “Can you take a diagnosis?” She got a shock because she had not done this for so long since Tibet and so, she respectfully took his pulse and she went out to the hills in order to gather whatever natural herbs she could find and concocted, brought it back and took it to Trijang Rinpoche to partake of. And Trijang Rinpoche got well and then, the rest is history. How did Trijang Rinpoche know this?
Later, he asked her to open up a clinic, he gave her initiations and put her into retreat on the Medicine Buddhas and he asked her to open a clinic in Dharamsala and guess what? Trijang Rinpoche personally lent her, gave her his money to open up her clinic and he personally came to her land to put the first brick down so they could build it and he blessed it. So, she owed everything to this saintly master and her devotion is not misdirected and I got to meet this lady.
I spent the month and a half with her and you know what? She has impacted me since then. She’s holy, knowledgeable, beneficial, kind, spiritual and extremely generous and very knowledgeable. Unfortunately, she passed away. Before she passed away, she stood up, sat up in bed and did the complete Vajrayogini sadhana and meditations, smiled, laid down and passed away. And that’s incredible. So, her lineage has been passed down to her two daughters and her two daughters are successfully continuing on her lineage in India. I have not met them yet but I heard they are doing quite well but I wanted to share this little blog post on the lady Dr Drolma and to express my admiration for her and strangely, I miss her very, very much.
- Dolma: Mother of Tibetan Medicine by Tashi Tsering Josayma and K. Dhondhup
- Lobsang Dolma: Tibet’s Foremost Lady Doctor by Glenn H. Mullin
- Dolkar: Daughter of Tibetan Medicine by Tashi Tsering Josayma and K. Dhondup
- Epilogue: The Death of Dr. Dolma by K. Dhondup
DOLMA: MOTHER OF TIBETAN MEDICINE
by Tashi Tsering Josayma & K. Dhondup
Perhaps the most significant and fortunate step which Lobsang Dolma took during her difficult early years of exile in India, working as a common labourer at a road construction site in the Kullu valley, was her journey to Dharamsala to seek the audience and blessings of the high Tibetan incarnate Lamas residing there with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Dharamsala, in the early ’60s, was a little village in the Kangra hills in Himachal Pradesh. But to the Tibetans, it was the holy site of past Indian Buddhist masters such as Naropa and Tilopa and the sacred abode of their present spiritual and temporal leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama. As in the old Tibet, Tibetans from every part of the country longed to visit the holy Lhasa, now in exile they longed to visit Dharamsala. Leading a group of women from her native district of Kyirong, Lobsang Dolma had a hectic but sanctified day of blessings from the serene spiritual presence of the many high Lamas who granted them audiences. Their last visit of the day took them to the Third Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche (1901-81), the younger tutor of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. As their group was ushered into the inner chamber Lobsang Dolma beheld, seated in the calm and peace of a Bodhisattva, the infinitely gentle and joyful figure of Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche greeting the group with a serene smile and blessing them in file with a gentle touch of the back of his hand, as his stewards and attendants poured them tea and gave them each a holy string to protect them from harm and negative influences. At this very first meeting, the presence of Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche dazzled Lobsang Dolma. She was filled with an incomprehensible blend of faith and happiness and struggled to suppress the tears of emotion that welled in her eyes from an inner sense of having gained something intangibly rare and precious from the blessings of this holy man who stood before her. Though frail in appearance, forgiving and restrained against injustice and ingratitude, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche was nevertheless a bastion of spiritual and cultural strength whose true love for his land and people was understood in its full measure perhaps only by the Chinese invaders who saw in him one of their deadliest enemies. One of the greatest and most refined scholars of Buddhist philosophy, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche was an incomparable master of Tibetan culture and literature. Not only as the Third incarnate of Trijang Rinpoche from Chatring district in eastern Tibet, but as a poet, scholar, philosopher and artist of sublime and subtle wisdom and depth and also as a front-rank freedom fighter against Chinese oppression, his name within his own lifetime became a legend. While his learning and mastery of Buddhist philosophy saw him rise to the position of the younger tutor of His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, his subtle and subversive speeches on the importance of maintaining the Tibetan national identity, as expressed in its spiritual and cultural traditions and his clandestine support and encouragement of the Tibetan guerrillas especially in his native Chatring during his tour of eastern provinces in 1954, made him one of the most wanted Tibetans on the Chinese black list. Such deeds are now a chapter of modern Tibetan history. But on that fortunate day, Lobsang Dolma stood in the presence of this great Tibetan Lama. To her nervous joy and surprise, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche directly addressed her and asked her about her background and profession. Learning that she belonged to a hereditary family of medicine and was a trained doctor and astrologer, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche showed a keen interest and began to question her extensively on the theory and practice of her ancestral profession.
Before long Lobsang Dolma was recollecting and reciting the texts of medicines that she had studied and memorised as a child student. She was also recounting and explaining her practical and personal experiences of the pharmacology and prescriptions as she used to do many years ago, in the presence of her late father Dr. Tsering Wangdue, (1891-1956) the 12th Khangkar doctor of Dra town in the Kyirong district of western Tibet. Her father whom she greatly loved and respected, had succumbed under the strain of Chinese torment and torture. But she now stood before another figure of greater strength and greater learning, showing an uncommon interest in her work and instilling in her an unusual encouragement and pride in her ancestral learning in a voice that was somehow strangely familiar to her. It was as if a distant and divine force she had always felt but not known had suddenly come and touched her, empowering her to regain her hope in life and collect the broken and shattered pieces, one by one, to renew and rebuild her destiny. After more questions, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche showed her the Tibetan pills prescribed to him and casually consulted her on their pharmacology and workings. Seemingly satisfied with her answers, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche asked what would she prescribe for a similar ailment. Lobsang Dolma replied that she would prescribe a slightly milder combination to suit the change in the climatic and dietary conditions of the new land. Impressed with her intelligent and accurate answers, her practical knowledge of herbal medication and touched with compassion, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche decided to rescue her from her present predicament in the heat and the dust of road construction sites where she was wasting her rare ancestral knowledge of medicine.
Though uprooted and forced into exile, the whole Tibetan refugee community, under the leadership of the Dalai Lama and the re-settlement programme of the Government of India, was attempting to rebuild their lives and were gradually emerging from the physical and psychological shackles of the torment and torture they had experienced in the wake of the Chinese repression and destruction. Like all other Tibetans, Lobsang Dolma wanted to make an effort. With the blessings of Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, her efforts now had a meaning and direction. She gained fresh courage to throw off the nightmarish memories of what the Chinese invaders had done to her land, religion and family. Her unsettled life in India began a new course. She took Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche as her personal guru, her guide, philosopher and teacher. She was now determined to uphold her family tradition and fulfil the wishes of her late father whose medical knowledge and experiences she had inherited and cherished till the harsh circumstances of exile life temporarily forced her to push them into the back of her mind. But now they had come to the fore. Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche had blessed them with a meaning and dignity which awakened her to their worth.
Deep within his spiritual power and penetrating insight, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche could perhaps foresee what future held for Lobsang Dolma as a healing doctor of Tibetan medicine. Perhaps he was simply impressed by her hereditary medical knowledge and her humane approach in its application. Nobody can tell now as both the Third Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche and Dr. Dolma are no more. But what everyone saw was the fact that Lobsang Dolma, famous as Ama Lobsang among Tibetans and Lady Dr. Dolma amongst non-Tibetans, amply justified the trust and blessings of Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche and his Divine Protector who rekindled the undying fire within her to take up her ancestral profession of medicine and embark on her medical mission to help the sick and suffering beings of every class, creed, caste and country.
Dr. Dolma achieved international fame as one of the foremost women doctors of Tibet. From 1974 when she was appointed the Chief Physician of the Tibetan Medical Centre of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, now known as the Tibetan Astro-Medical Institute, in Dharamsala, she toured the West and India extensively. On her visits to the USA, she lectured on the Buddhist philosophy of Tibetan medicine, pulse and urine diagnosis, pharmacology, Tibetan treatment of cancer and other related topics in various universities and centres including Harvard, Yale, Richmond, Virginia and Wisconsin. On her tours of Europe and Australia, she attended many international seminars, conferences and work-shops, bringing home to the West aspects of Tibetan medicine that can contribute much to fight the chronic physical and mental ailments afflicting our violent and indisciplined times. She was honoured as one of the most remarkable Tibetan women of the century. In India, her new homeland, virtually thousands of Indians from every walk of life visited her every month. Prominent Indians individually and institutionally honoured her with appreciation and respect for the useful work in the field of public health and social harmony. Doordarshan, the Indian national television network, in its India Alive programme on Friday, the 15th of July, 1989, described Dr. Dolma as India’s Foremost Practitioner of Tibetan Medicine, capturing vividly on the small screen the healing personality of Dr. Dolma and her herbal medical miracles.
Dr. Dolma is a combination of many forces. In her, many energies that may not be easily accessible to the ordinary, concentrate and interact to bring forth a healing touch. Nothing came to her by chance or accident. She was destined to be what she became. Her ancestors, looking down the centuries from their Tibetan highlands, dictated her destiny. And there was no way she could have disobeyed them. Her training as a doctor was both difficult and intensive. At the same time it was the purest and the most authentic training any aspiring doctor could have hoped for. She sat, first of all, at the feet of her learned father who showed her the rudiments of the healing process. The dedication, diligence and intelligent appreciation with which she studied and underwent her preliminary medical course gave her father enough courage to pass to his daughter the hereditary mandate, continuing the unbroken line of Khangkar family doctors. Both as a skilled doctor and a loving mother, her physical and mental endeavour to touch and heal the sick and suffering of any community, with her compassion and sense of service, was enormous. Such selfless efforts sometimes exacted their price. Her own health suffered shaking her immediate family members. But Dr. Dolma retained her smile and made every effort to be with those who needed her advice and medicine till the very end.
Dr. Dolma is not the product of a ritualistic system of mediocre medicine. She has not been trained in the worship of fame and material gains as something above that of treating the sick. Nor did Dr. Dolma belong to a chauvinistic medical culture ready to malign and degrade other systems that are different in concept and style. Her learning was pure. Her experiences real. In her treatment of different cases, she brought together the combined medical experiences and skills of many generations of doctors from her ancient medical family who bequeathed their legacy of learning and blessings on her. During her long years of training in medicine and astrology, Dr. Dolma underwent intense initiations and meditations that would do a Tibetan lama proud. Born and brought up in the happy and beautiful valley of Kyirong in western Tibet, Dr. Dolma had her early medical groundings in her family medical school under the strict but skilful supervision and guidance of her father.
The story of this remarkable Tibetan woman doctor goes back deep into Tibetan history. The roots of Dr. Dolma and her achievements were blessed by no less a personage than the great Indian Buddhist master Dipankara Srijana Atisha, who was invited to Tibet in 1042 to renew and revive the Buddhist faith in central Tibet. To briefly recapture the background to Atisha’s visit to Tibet, one must go back to those tragic last years in the fading glory and disintegration of magnificent Tibetan Yarlung dynasty whose last emperor Langdarma blamed in history for his desecration and destruction of Buddhism, was assassinated and the empire broke into pieces. His descendants, who founded their empire in the western Tibetan province of Ngari collected gold to invite the best Indian Buddhist Pandit to revive the lost Buddhist faith in Tibet. This Pandit was Atisha. On his way from Nepal, he passed the happy valley of Kyirong where he stopped under the shadow of a mountain named Pangkar and personally blessed and guided a woman and her sons who had come to seek his blessings having lost everything in a recent flood. Dr. Dolma is a descendant of this family who established their family heritage under the name of Pangkar in accordance with the guidance of Atisha. Pangkar gradually progressed into a cultural family and in course of time the name changed to Khangkar. Generations later, the Khangkar family was contributing both to the religious and medical development of the locality and were soon providing medicines and treatment to those that seek their help. It was into this family that Dr. Dolma was born in 1935.
By the turn of the 14th century, the Khangkar family and its house of medicine had become one of the most significant medical centres in the whole of western Tibet. Adhering to the ancient medical traditions as expounded in the medical tantras, the Khangkar Medical Centre was both a free clinic and a school of medical and astrological learning. What made it unique was its long and unbroken lineage of passing oral and written medical knowledge and experiences from one generation to the next, making it among the oldest hereditary medical families that have continued into the 20th century.
In the late 14th century, Bariwa Gyaltsen Palzang, one of the most illustrious Buddhist masters, famed for his frequent manifestation of clairvoyant powers and unequalled knowledge of the past, present and the future, was reputed to have visited the Khangkar family. After blessing the house and the family members, Lama Bariwa commended the religious and medical service provided by the family and advised them to maintain the lineage of medicine in an unbroken chain as he saw the significant contribution this would make to the cultural development and peace and harmony of the region.
The 12th in the unbroken lineage doctors of the Khangkar family was Tsering Wangdue. Tall in built and handsome in appearance, Dr. Tsering was a man of imagination, intelligence and decisive courage. He understood the medical mission of his family. He saw the significance and the glory of this heritage. Being a reputed doctor himself, he knew the difficult years of training a student must go through before mastering the art of diagnosis, prescription and pharmacology. But he had faith and conviction in his medical destiny. He knew an important mission in his life was to keep alive the family lineage of doctors and pass on his knowledge, skills and experiences to his children. With this aim he expanded the family medical school and encouraged the sons of all his relatives to join the school to learn the wisdom of medicine and its healing effect. But medicine was a difficult art to master. It called forth for an extraordinary amount of diligence and dedication from the students. Training in its finer aspects were extremely challenging and called for uncommon physical and mental strength and discipline. Many were deterred by the less pleasant aspects of the medical training. To add to the problem of continuing the lineage unbroken, Dr. Tsering had no son of his own. His two sons and first wife had passed away, victims to the evil exorcism of jealous relatives. Married to Tsewang Sangmo (born 1914), the sister of his first wife, Dr. Tsering fathered a daughter. To many his medical mission seemed doomed. In Tibet, as in many ancient societies, it was an unthinkable idea to continue the spiritual and medical tradition through a daughter. Though liberal, permissive and almost casual in their social attitude towards women, the monastic and highly traditional Tibetan society was nevertheless condescending towards them in the cultural, literary and artistic fields. To train a daughter as a doctor looked an impossible, if not foolish, idea. It was unheard of in Kyirong at least. Many laughed at Dr. Tsering as few fathers in the whole district dared to entrust their daughters with such a significant and uplifting duty. But Dr. Tsering was a determined man. He made his decisions and kept them. He saw in his daughter Lobsang Dolma an exceptional clarity of mind and an infinite urge to master the general and secret knowledge of the medical tantras, with the essential energy and imagination to continue unbroken the lineage of Khangkar doctors. He also saw in her an unlimited store of kindness, concern and compassion for the poor and the sick. So when she was 14 years old, Dr. Tsering decided to make her his successor, the Thirteenth in the Khangkar lineage doctors, to fulfil the blessings and prophecies of Dipankara Srijana Atisha and Lama Bariwa Gyaltsen Palzang.
Though many people in the district laughed, discouraged and even objected, Dr. Tsering did not give up. Nor did his daughter Lobsang Dolma. Out of devotion and respect to her father and her teacher, the learned Pember Geshe Lungtok Nyima (1893-1986), she stoically faced the insults and obstacles put before her. Many times she had to hide in the fields and secretly cross over to her teacher for her medical and astrological lessons. In her class of over 30 students including incarnate lamas and sons of aristocrats she was the only girl. But her academic performance did her credit and justified her father’s trust in her. Studying under the personal supervision of her father at home, she was always able to obtain a first or second class in her group. Besides medicine, she excelled in poetry and philosophy. As a beautiful and charming young girl, Lobsang Dolma was one of the best singers and dancers of the valley. The festival of songs and dances after the annual harvest was eagerly awaited by the whole town where Lobsang Dolma led the female dancers in the 104 Songs and Dance competition between the boys and girls known as Shas-chen or “The Great Dance.”
Young Lobsang Dolma, born in 1935, had now undergone medical and astrological training for nearly ten years. She had memorised all the major treatises of medicine and astrology under the personal guidance of her teacher Pembar Geshe Lungtok Nyima. In addition, she had undergone special training in the Six Yogas of Naropa (Naro Chosdruk) and the Ten Sciences of Knowledge (Rignas Chu) from Lama Rigzin who was a leading student of Khripon Pema Chosgyal, a specialist on Six Yogas of Naropa, Mahamudra and Dzogchen. Dr. Dolma also received special training in the Zurkhar system of medicine from Dr. Drukgyal Tsangdrub of Kham who had graduated from the Tibetan Medical Centre in Lhasa. Dr. Drukgyal trained her in the specific art of relocating twisted joints which served her well during her early years as a labourer in Kulu and later as a house-mother in Dalhousie Tibetan School. Her practical training in pulse and urine diagnosis, in acupuncture, moxibustion, massage, yoga and other related aspects came directly from her father. In between, she had undergone specific meditations and initiations in the different aspects of Medicine Buddha with special reference and emphasis on the inculcation of compassion and love towards the sick and all suffering beings. Lobsang Dolma was a diligent learner, an intelligent and astute observer and a humane student of the medical art. In early 1950, she graduated and began her internship at the Khangkar family medical centre. Standing beside her father in the family clinic, Dr. Dolma looked towards her future with hope and optimism. Soon she was married to Tsering Wangyal Dosur (1931-1975) an educated and unassuming son from Lhasa aristocracy who also joined the family medical centre and later became an expert pharmacist. Life ahead looked as bright as the first rays of the sun dawning over the distant hills, dispelling the darkness of the fading night. Early morning birds were singing and the sun touched the nearby mountains filling the valley with glitter and glory.
But such optimism as may have filled a thousand Tibetan hearts throughout Tibet on a similar morning were to be rudely shaken and crushed to dust. For unknown to Dr. Dolma as to many other Tibetans, distant thunders of destruction and drums of war had already sounded in the eastern part of Tibet. Mao-Tse-tung had appeared on the world scene with his Long March and subsequent overthrow of the corrupt Koumingtang regime in China. The first batch of the so called People’s Liberation Army had already crossed into the Tibetan town of Chamdo in eastern Tibet. A weak Tibetan government at Lhasa had hastily passed the onus of dealing with diabolical Chinese on the child Dalai Lama. A tragedy was in the making. Before long, even the distant corners of Tibet began to feel the blasphemous, savage and subversive treatment of the Chinese communists. In Kyirong, the Chinese established several military camps, one of which was near the Khangkar house. Their daily meetings, forced on the Tibetans, followed a pattern of denouncing the past and praising the present. As this contrasted with the Tibetan love of life and nature it irritated and depressed the helpless Tibetans. Constant vigilance suffocated the once bubbling social life of songs, prayers and dances. Being an important member and learned doctor of the district, Dr. Tsering was taken into Chinese custody. Though subjected to intensive interrogation and indoctrination, as were countless others throughout Tibet, he could neither appreciate their ideology nor participate in their propaganda. Refusing to denounce his religion and culture, Dr. Tsering was of limited use to the Chinese. They released him but he had by then suffered much at their hands. The Chinese indoctrination methods and their harsh treatment had taken their toll. He was nearly blind. A few weeks after his release, Dr. Tsering succumbed to the strain of what he underwent.
Overcome with sadness at the passing away of her father, whose courage and vision had turned her into an accomplished doctor, Dr. Dolma took up the challenge of fulfilling his wishes by becoming the Thirteenth doctor of the Khangkar lineage. But the times were different and more difficult. The happy valley of her childhood years, where her ancestors had lived and worked upholding the medical profession for centuries, no longer looked familiar to her. There was a sadness about it that she had never sensed before. No longer did she hear the songs nor see the dances that were so much a part of her growing up. Now the surroundings had changed. There was silence that forbode darker times ahead. People either ignored each other or talked in whispers. Even life-long friends and neighbours regarded one another with suspicion and were scared of trusting each other. This was the stifling situation to which the Chinese presence had reduced not only Kyirong but the whole of Tibet. Escape into another land, another time, seemed the only salvation. Her hometown where she knew almost every stone and stream now looked alien and strange. The valley had lost its spirit. It was no longer warm and homely. Even the gods and the oracles were silent. She had to escape the clutch of the Chinese. Before his death, her father had advised her to escape at the first opportunity, into exile in search of freedom. But this was difficult as her education and social standing had made her a prime target of Chinese re-education and indoctrination. She lived under constant threat and fear of being taken to China for political education. As the threat closed in, Dr. Dolma, in a last desperate attempt, gathered her family members and escaped towards Nepal under the cover of darkness. They hid by day and journeyed during the night. After several arduous days, Dr. Dolma crossed the final mountain pass of her motherland with its whistling wind whispering farewell and touching her for the last time. As dawn broke over the distant mountains, Dr. Dolma and her family crossed into Nepal.
In the middle of 1959, they reached the border town of Serthang. From Serthang to Shapru inside the Nepal hinterland Dr. Dolma saw a rich variety of medicinal herbs that could effectively be used in helping the sick people of the area. At a place called Bantsher, she decided to take a Tantric retreat as a preliminary step towards the curing of illnesses. She underwent the retreat of the 100,000 Mantra Recitation of Vajrayogini (Nyaljormai Nyenpa). After the successful and auspicious completion of this retreat, Dr. Dolma settled down during the summer at Shapru and journeyed to Kathmandu during the winter, diagnosing and making medicines for the many sick and suffering people. Towards the end of 1959 Dr. Dolma treated her first western patients. Two Germans trekking from Trishuli river to Langtang valley fell dangerously ill and came to her for treatment.
From Kathmandu, Dr. Dolma and her family, along with many other Tibetans embarked for India where they heard the Dalai Lama had successfully escaped from the Chinese clutches and formed a government-in-exile in Dharamsala in the Kangra valley. But bureaucratic delays stopped them at the Indo-Nepal border where many Tibetans including children and monks succumbed to the heat of the long summer months. Soon news of the plight of these Tibetans reached the Dalai Lama and the whole group was taken to Pathankot in 1961. For about a year, Dr. Dolma served as a labourer at road construction sites between Palampur, Lahaul and Kulu. Starting a new life, without any knowledge of the language and laws of the new land, was extremely difficult. Carrying stones the whole day in the Indian heat and walking in the evening with her children to the next camp site was backbreaking. But Tibetans are cheerful by nature and had the innate quality of looking at the lighter side of life. For they knew every dark cloud had its silver lining. As Tibetans sang around their evening camp fire, Dr. Dolma joined the chorus:-
“The cloud from the East
Is not a dark patch on the face of
the blue sky forever
The day will surely come
When the sun will clear the dark
patch of cloud
And shine again.”
For her the sun did indeed shine, clearing the dark clouds and giving her a new ray of hope, a new way of life. For her the sun was Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche. That fortunate day with Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche in Dharamsala was a turning point in her life. He took a special interest in her and instructed her to go and apply for the post of a doctor at the then newly instituted Tibetan Medical Centre of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The year was 1962. But the exuberance and inspiration which Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche rekindled in her ancestral medical profession did not receive the same appreciation at the TMC. Its directors — an aristocrat and an incarnate lama bluntly told her that they have never read or heard of a woman doctor in the whole history of Tibetan Medical Centre and refused to accept her.
In a way, it was typical of the Tibetan official outlook in the early exile years. Having lost the country and government to the Chinese invaders, the Tibetan leaders, both monks and aristocrats, were undergoing a repressive and despairing introspection of what went wrong. With a few high-handed English speaking westernised Tibetans lecturing them on the inadequacy of the traditional education to meet modern challenges, many Tibetan leaders were struck with an inferiority complex and a temporary cultural shame that consciously or unconsciously forced them to reject the past and its traditions. During those restless and insecure times, even the high lamas were being told to give up their tradition and become modern. Many traditional artists were to suffer neglect and recognition from those involved in a fanatical pursuit of western education. Dr. Dolma was one of the many temporary victims of such a social outrage of the defeated and the depressed. Yet such insanity, instigated by a handful of individuals with mediocre Western education, could not survive its full course against the superior and deeper wisdom of accomplished Buddhist masters like Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche and others. In 1963, Dr. Dolma was appointed as a foster mother and Tibetan language teacher at the Kangra Tibetan school in Gurkuri by the Tibetan Education Council. For a year she served the school as a teacher, foster-mother and part-time nurse. During her spare time she taught the children gathered there from different parts of Tibet, the songs and dances and a few games that she remembered from her own childhood years in Kyirong. Meanwhile she kept visiting Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche whenever she needed advice and encouragement. In 1964, she was transferred as a foster-mother to the Central Tibetan School in Dalhousie.
Her Guru had advised her to keep on practising her medical art whenever and wherever she could. In Dalhousie school, she was under the administration of Samdhong Rinpoche, a renowned scholar and a high incarnate lama who was then the principal. On request from Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, he allowed Dr. Dolma to open a small consultancy and practise her ancestral profession. Fortunately for her many medicinal herbs that she could identify and compound into beneficial combinations grew in the hills and valleys of Dalhousie. Gradually her effective medication drew attention. Patients, mostly local Indians and Tibetan monks, came to her. Soon local officials, western students of Tibetan Buddhism and a few doctors also came to consult her. People from the nearby Indian cities also visited her. Her name grew. Dr. Dolma, variously called Tibetan Lady Doctor or Ama Lobsang had arrived. Thus began her extraordinary medical mission in a new land, among new people, far away from her native Kyirong.
Controversies did arise though. Not everyone was ready to take her herbal pills on faith alone. Some Ayurvedic and allopathic doctors expressed their doubts and she had to sit through a long and arduous test after which the authorities honoured her with the title of Ayurvedacharya. Her work in Dalhousie was progressing well. She loved the place, its hills and valleys and decided to settle down. But that was not to be. The Tibetan Medical Centre in Dharamsala, which refused to recognise her as a doctor in 1962, was in crisis and more or less on the verge of collapse. Unknown to her, the TMC and its director in consultation with higher authorities were planning to invite and appoint her as their Chief Physician. Though in existence for quite a number of years, TMC had failed to take off. Its founder, Dr. Yeshi Dhonden, one of the best and most skilled Tibetan doctors of our time, had served it with sincerity and dedication but had to resign from the thankless post of its Chief Physician. As in many such bureaucratic set ups where unskilled and unspecialised 19 mediocre bureaucrats trampled the ideas and initiatives of the more skilled and specialised functionaries, the TMC was strangely unkind to its doctors, quite a few of whom had left it out of disgust and desperation.
One day in 1972, the director of the TMC appeared on the doorstep of Dr. Dolma in Dalhousie. He brought with him a sealed letter from the Principal of Tibetan Children Village (TCV), Jetsun Pema Gyalpo, sister of the Dalai Lama who then administered the TMC, calling on her to serve the country and community in its hour of need. Without hesitation, Dr. Dolma responded and decided to join the TMC as its Chief Physician. For her family and especially for her aging mother, it meant they were yet again uprooted. But they followed Dr. Dolma to Dharamsala. She was duly appointed as the Chief Physician of the TMC at a starting salary of little over three hundred and fifty rupees per month. She was provided with official quarters and both her daughters, Pasang Gyalmo and Tsewang Dolkar, attended the TMC medical and astrological classes. A new life began for Dr. Dolma. The most beautiful thing about being in Dharamsala was the blessed reality that she was always in the presence of her Guru Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche. So she began working at the TMC with vigour, imagination and energy. She saw that the consultancy was equipped with many modern gadgets donated by foreign medical aid agencies including a number of first aid-boxes from Swiss Red Cross. She removed all these gadgets from the consultancy and introduced a Tibetan atmosphere. Little did she know then how thankless the new post was going to be.
As the newly appointed Chief Physician of the TMC, Dr. Dolma was able to serve the poor and sick of her community as well as the local Indians. Her old patients from Dalhousie and nearby cities came to consult her. Her accurate diagnosis, healing prescriptions and above all her gentle smile and harmonious and serene personality attracted more and more people to the TMC every day. It became a regular sight to see lines of patients consisting of westerners, Tibetans, both monks and laymen and Indians from every walk of life awaiting her arrival at the consultancy. In 1975, she visited America for three months on her first official tour of the West, she lectured on Tibetan medicine at more than a dozen major universities including Harvard, Yale and Richmond and gave diagnostic exhibitions at dozens of hospitals up and down the east coast. Her tour was widely covered and her interviews published. Tibetan medicine as propounded and demonstrated by Dr. Dolma attracted much academic and medical attention. Following the success of this tour, a group of American academics and doctors visited Dharamsala and made a film about Dr. Dolma and Tibetan medicine entitled Tibetan Medicine: A 1000 Years Old Tradition. On her own, Dr. Dolma developed a highly successful Tibetan Contraceptive Pill and a Memory Pill. Local and worldwide interest in Tibetan medicine and TMC increased, due largely to the accomplished personality and compassionate charisma of Dr. Dolma. In the course of time, Dr. Dolma successfully treated a number of breast and liver cancer patients. Such achievements brought her fame as a Tibetan cancer specialist; and such medical contributions and achievements, though no longer in Tibetan medical memory, made Dr. Dolma and the Tibetan Medical Centre a credible and respected institution. It can be truthfully and authoritatively stated that the greatest contribution to the development of Tibetan medicine and its wide acclaim and recognition in India and the West after 1959 were made by Dr. Dolma and Dr. Dhonden. Their medical wisdom, intellectual modesty and humane approach towards the sick and suffering achieved for Tibetan medicine a unique position in the competitive and sensitive fields of different medical systems. Brasher, immature and egoistic Tibetan doctors, ignorant and disrespectful of other systems, could have lost the initial opportunity nipping the intelligent and correct exposure of Tibetan medicine in the bud long ago. But fortunately for the Tibetan Medical Centre and Tibetan medicine as a whole, two outstanding doctors like Dolma and Dhonden were present to serve when it needed them most. Through sheer force of their skill coupled with that gentle Buddhist weapon of compassion, they were able to dispel the skepticism and cynicism that surrounded Tibetan medicine and establish it as a scientific healing culture in its own right.
In the winter of 1975, a personal tragedy struck the Khangkar family. Dr. Dolma’s husband Tsering Wangyal Dosur, who had all along been an unobtrusive and dedicated colleague especially in the compounding of several successful pills including the Tibetan contraceptive pill and a most loving and gentle father to the two daughters passed away. By 1978, Dr. Dolma had served the TMC for nearly seven years. She had also met and married Norbu Chophel who was to become her confidante and constant companion for the rest of her life. Early that year, she was getting ready for the second official tour of America and Europe in the company of the great Buddhist master Song Rinpoche. The tour was organised by the American Vajrapani Institute for Wisdom and Culture with the blessings of the Office of the Dalai Lama. In its May issue that year, Tibetan Review, one of the most authoritative English monthly on Tibetan affairs, published Lobsang Dolma: Tibet’s Foremost Lady Doctor by Glenn H. Mullin. While Dr. Dolma was in America and Europe speaking to packed houses on the different aspects of Tibetan medicine and giving a two week workshop at Deer Park. University of Wisconsin, followed by a ten day workshop in Jungian Institute of Psychology at Zurich, Switzerland, the article on her life and work was raising considerable interest and controversies. Many readers were enchanted with the success story of a Tibetan woman from a ordinary Tibetan town, without the benefits of modern education and training, rising so high on the strength of her traditional and ancestral learning. Many more were enthralled by her lucid explanation of the difficult aspects of the esoteric medicine in language understandable to lay readers. Many from her native district in Kyirong were rightly proud that one of them had made it to the top. The World Who’s Who of Women and The International Who’s Who of Intellectuals compiled by International Biographical Centre of Cambridge, England and Five Thousand Personalities of the World compiled by the American Biographical Institute beside Asia’s Who’s Who of Men and Women of Achievement and Distinction and Encyclopaedia of Women in India selected Dr. Dolma as one of the most remarkable Tibetan women. She was awarded the Honorary Doctor of Philosophy by the College of Oriental Medicine Louisiana, USA, and equally honoured by Shantiniketan University and International Association for Traditional Asian Medicine among others.
But all was not well within the inner chambers of TMC. Like the proverbial crabs pulling each other down, there were grumblings. In its innermost chambers, the director of TMC Jigme Tsarong and his associates decided to give a rude welcome to Dr. Dolma when she returned from her long and successful tour of Europe and America. An indication of what was to come appeared in the pages of Tibetan Review when Glenn H. Mullin, the author of the article on Dr. Dolma replied to and refuted charges and criticisms from young doctors of the TMC, who refused to object openly in print but met him many times arguing over the merit of the article about Dr. Dolma and unhesitatingly criticised many of the medical theories propounded by their own Chief Physician.
On 1st September 1978 Dr. Dolma reported for duty, as many patients eagerly awaited her at the consultancy, only to be handed a letter of dismissal from the post of the Chief Physician of TMC. The letter, typed in Tibetan, cited her lack of responsibility, punctuality and her indifferent attitude towards the TMC as the reasons for her dismissal. At less than five hundred rupees a month as salary, Dr. Dolma had served the Tibetan Medical Centre when it needed her most and saved it from imminent collapse and disaster. Many Tibetans, both inside and outside TMC, did not rejoice in her dismissal. Many of them openly regretted the expulsion and reasoned that an experienced, skilled and well-known doctor of her status and fame could only be an asset to the development of the Tibetan Medical Centre which must have a reputed doctor to maintain its credibility. But she was dismissed and she had to go. Perhaps Dr. Dolma was becoming a little too famous, in the small island of the Tibetan refugee community, as the foremost lady doctor of Tibet. Perhaps a few insecure and selfish individuals did not like a woman from the masses to achieve such fame and respect, not by right of birth but by merit of ancestral profession and skill.
The days after her dismissal from the TMC were difficult and harsh. Many avoided and ignored Dr. Dolma. Her daughters attending the classes met with increasing problems and hostility. It became very difficult for them to continue their studies. Once again, the ray of hope in her life was Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche. His inspiring advice and blessings encouraged her to meet this misfortune with renewed courage. With the tireless efforts of her husband Norbu Chophel, Dr. Dolma was able to complete the construction of her clinic-cum-residence, in McLeod Ganj itself in Dharamsala. It was auspiciously named The White House of Happiness (Dekyi Khangkar) by Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche who gave her generous financial help and also took time from his meditations to inaugurate and bless its foundation. So once again, Dr. Dolma began her medical mission. This time, it was with greater personal freedom, wider recognition and both financial and medical success.
In September 1979, World Health Organisation (WHO), invited Dr. Dolma to attend the International Conference on Traditional Asian Medicine held at the Australian National University at Canberra. This conference was chaired by Dr. R.H. Sharma, President of the Central Council of Indian Medicine, Bombay; Dr. Hakim M. Said, Adviser on Unani-Tibb to the Government of Pakistan, Islamabad and Dr. Wan Fook Kee, WHO Adviser for Western Pacific, Philippines. On the inaugural day, Dr. Dolma saw that Tibetan medicine was not properly represented and understood at this conference. After her lecture, Dr. Dolma addressed her question to the Chairman that since Tibetan medicine is a unique system of traditional Asian medicine why it has not been regarded as such by the Conference. Dr. Furness, representing the Committee, apologised for the ignorance of the organising committee and clarified that until Dr. Dolma’s lecture it had not been realized that Tibetan medicine is unique. During and after the conference, Dr. Dolma spoke extensively on the various aspects of Tibetan medicine and demonstrated the art and skill of pulse diagnosis to appreciative audiences and students of alternative medicines both at Sydney and Melbourne. At Sydney she spoke to the students and staff of Medicine at the University of New South Wales and extended her stay in Australia due to the interests generated by her talks and demonstrations. To the students of Japanese acupuncture, Dr. Dolma gave a special talk on Tibetan acupuncture and acupressure.
In April 1983, Dr. Dolma attended the First International Conference on Tibetan Medicine held at Venice and Arcidosso in Italy, along with Dr. Trogawa Rinpoche and Dr. Tenzin Choedrak. At this conference, the three Tibetan doctors answered all the questions and were successful in presenting a cohesive history of the Tibetan medical and astrological system. It also gave the three Tibetan doctors an open opportunity to discuss medicine and exchange their own views without official restrictions and interference. Here too, Dr. Dolma was outstanding in her demonstration of pulse diagnosis which drew her hundreds of patients daily. After the conference in Italy, Dr. Dolma was invited to Holland by the Dutch Foundation of Tibetan Medicine whose director had responded well to her treatment. In Holland she attended a workshop on Tibetan medicine for about a month. Since 1980, her younger daughter Tsewang Dolkar, on personal instruction from Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, started her work as a doctor of Tibetan medicine in New Delhi. Her elder daughter Pasang Gyalmo took her place at Dekyi Khangkar during her trips outside.
Dr. Dolma’s life had now become a routine of attending to the thousands of patients that visit her in Dharamsala from far and near. Though often tired and exhausted, she took solace from the fact that by personally attending to each and every patient that came to her she had bestowed bliss and happiness in the lives of the many sick and suffering people from different parts of India and the West. Ninety percent of those who came to her were Indians. Naturally, her love and respect for India and Indians was enormous. In a way, it is democratic India that gave her the opportunity to practice her ancestral art unhindered. Appreciative Indians, so used to Ayurveda, Unani and Homeopathic systems, readily understood and responded so remarkably to Dr. Dolma and her herbal and mineral cures.
It must be noted with some sadness that her own community and countrymen did not respond towards her medical achievements as appreciatively as expected. In the Tibetan medical community and the society at large, Dr. Dolma remained an enigma. Many openly wondered why so many people flocked to her when there are better organised and administered Tibetan medical institutions that boast of many doctors, officially blessed, publicised and recommended. Many whispered that successful doctors must not be allowed to practise in private while others opined that private doctors are less qualified and less equipped than the official ones. In fact, during the tenure of one of its least experienced and most high-handed directors, the Tibetan Medical Centre made serious attempts to extend their control over all Tibetan medical doctors and adopted various methods including denigration of private doctors such as Dolma and Dhonden as unpatriotic elements, whilst forgetting the dedication and hard work which they contributed to the development of Tibetan medicine when these self-styled crusaders of Tibetan medicine were living in the West lured by what the West had to offer in terms of a comfortable lifestyle. Dr. Dhonden was the founding father of the Tibetan Medical Centre and private physician of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Dr. Dolma was once a much respected and recognised Chief Physician of the TMC who single-handedly brought it back from the brink of collapse. But politics inside the TMC did not allow these gentle doctors to stay. Once outside, both achieved greater success. For Dr. Dolma, with the blessings of Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche and the tireless efforts of her family members, especially her husband Norbu Chophel, her practise bloomed like a lotus. Efforts to stifle and wither the blooming lotus of her success, though not infrequent, were unsuccessful in her lifetime. Dr. Dolma gradually became one of the most well-known Tibetan doctors of all time, not only in India but also in many other countries of the world from Mongolia to Mexico, Bulgaria to Yugoslavia, Moscow to Washington and Australia to England. As a fitting tribute to her achievements, the India Alive documentary on Doordarshan’s morning telecast on 15th July 1989 described her as India’s Foremost Practitioner of Tibetan Medicine.
Such recognition and respect came to Dr. Dolma, not because she made false claims of being able to treat and cure AIDS as many official medical practitioners have done, but because her herbal and mineral treatments for the different types of cancers, diabetes, epilepsy, asthma, arthritis and a host of other chronic diseases were effective and successful. In her clinic at Dharamsala, now re-named Dr. Dolma Memorial Clinic, she had openly admitted in large letterings that she had no cure for AIDS.
Those fortunate enough to be close to her medical life know why she was such a loved, respected and admired doctor of Tibetan medicine. She was upright and honest in her profession. Her style was sincere and simple. She did not use medical jargon to disguise and deceive. What came clearly to her she conveyed. And what confused her she clarified after research and rethinking. Above all, her attitude and approach to those who sought her help was based on Buddhist compassion and humane concern. “Love and compassion towards the sick and suffering”, she said “is as essential and important a quality of doctor as the ability to master the art of pulse diagnosis”. Her pharmacopoeia has been strict and uncompromising. As such her medicines were beneficial and effective. And most of all, the reason why Dr. Dolma became such a great herbal doctor was the dignity with which she upheld her ancestral profession that had been passed down in an unbroken lineage for 13 generations. Fortunately for her she had the blessings of Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche and His Divine Protector with her. Having become the foremost Tibetan doctor of her time she did not forget the vow she made before her dying father that she would uphold and continue the lineage of Khangkar hereditary doctors and pass on her ancestral learning and knowledge. Today both her daughters, Pasang Gyalmo and Tsewang Dolkar, are fully trained and have become the 14th Khangkar doctors. It was with love and significance that people called Dr. Dolma Amala: Mother of Tibetan Medicine. Her death on the 15th of December 1989 was a great loss. It ended what later generations will call a golden era of Tibetan medicine in India
LOBSANG DOLMA: TIBET’S FOREMOST LADY DOCTOR
by Glenn H. Mullin
Doctor Lobsang Dolma sat cross-legged at her window which framed the towering Himalayan mountains dropping suddenly to the Indian plains, and chuckled warmly at my question. How, I had asked, could Tibetan doctors gain so much more diagnostic information from the pulse than their Western counterparts? “Very simply”, she smiled, pouring my third consecutive cup of salted Tibetan butter tea. “Western textbooks explain only how to count the heartbeat, so that’s all the student can know. He can only learn what his teacher is capable of teaching.”
I was not quite satisfied. Pulse diagnosis is perhaps the most impressive feature of the ancient healing science of Tibet. Using three fingers at the wrist pulses, a Tibetan doctor can gain information about the condition and harmony of all the body’s vital organs and vessels. I had met Western patients wandering out of Dr. Dolma’s clinic stunned at her correct diagnosis of past and present conditions, and I pressed her to learn more.
The foremost woman doctor of Tibet leaned back on her couch: high cheek boned, hair neatly braided and traditionally clad in wrap-around chuba with soft silk blouse. She had a freshness belying the busy day behind her, and an air which spoke of strength and gentleness, compassion and depth. “If a man who is blind and deaf goes to the market place”, she analogized, “he does not see or hear the cars and motorbikes and people and dogs. But if someone with perfect sight and hearing is present, he sees and hears everything and everyone. For him there is no mystery”.
She related this to the ancient medical knowledge of Tibet: “The pulse registers everything in body, signals from every vital organ and part of the body are registered in the pulse. All one has to know is how to listen and look for them. Once the technique is mastered, diagnosis is simple”.
Tibetan medicine has only recently been thrown into contact with the Western world. Because of the isolated geography of Tibet, the country’s Buddhist system of healing has evolved since the eighth century with very little contact with other medical systems. Only since the mass exodus of refugees from Chinese occupied Tibet in 1959 has there been an easier interchange of healing methods and concepts, and even today very few of Tibet’s ancient medical texts have been translated into English.
As I sat waiting to interview Dr. Dolma, a steady stream of patients came and went. A German girl with hepatitis, a French boy suffering from dysentery and an Australian with epilepsy sat beside me waiting for their numbers to be called. Through the curtain we could see Dr. Dolma giving an acupuncture treatment to a young Indian woman as her husband sat nervously watching. A pregnant Tibetan woman also sat waiting for a consultation, as did a Lama who had been hit in the eye with a stone while working in the fields outside his monastery.
Finally the long line of patients had gone and Dr. Dolma called me. Although she had received a continuous flow of patients since seven o’clock in the morning, she did not seem fatigued in the slightest. With an apologetic smile for my long wait, she poured a cup of ubiquitous Tibetan butter tea. A small spiral of medicinal incense smoke rose un-interruptedly from an unnoticed burner in the corner of the room, filling the air with a fragrance that relaxed the minds of all who entered and purified the atmosphere. I made myself comfortable on a couch covered with a thick, colorful Tibetan rug.
Tibetan medicine is so radically different to Western healing that one hardly knows where to begin describing it. I asked Dr. Dolma to explain its origin.
The source of the Tibetan healing science, she replied, is essentially the historical Buddha, the Indian prince who 2500 years ago perfected and taught the method to attain the highest state of human consciousness.
The Buddha once manifested the medicine Mandala and spoke the three Medical Tantras, texts which even today constitute the basis of the Tibetan medical system. They outline such things as the 1,212 main diseases and their branches, diagnosis and medicinal properties of specific herbs and metals. All deal with the eight branches of the system-general healing of the body and the treatment of women’s and children’s diseases, disorders caused by psychic forces, open wounds, poisoning, rejuvenation and fertility.
The Tantras have been memorised and passed down through an unbroken succession of doctors to the present day. Reference is sometimes made to a fourth Tantra, but this is in fact a commentary on the Buddha’s words. The medical system also has many texts in Tibetan translated from the Sanskrit of later Ayurvedic doctors, and hundreds of medical treatises by Tibetan doctors. All are based, directly or indirectly, upon the Medical Tantras.
Perhaps the most impressive feature of Tibetan medicine is its extremely sensitive system of pulse diagnosis. The doctor feels one’s pulse for a minute or two at each wrist and, without having asked a question, tells one exactly what pain one is feeling, where and why.
I once met a totally disarmed Frenchman leaving Dr. Dolma’s chamber. On taking his pulse, she said that he must have had a stomach operation eighteen months previously. The Frenchman replied to the affirmative. Dr. Dolma took his pulse again and told him that he must have had an appendicitis operation five to seven years ago. The Frenchman nodded his head. She then touched several points on his back, each one of which exploded with a sharp pain, after which she told the man exactly how his new problem had occurred, gave him a week’s medicine supply and left him to stagger out of the door in a state of complete amazement.
The doctor told me: “In Tibet we have a saying, ‘Touching and seeing, everything is known’ Touching refers to the pulse. Ninety-five per cent of all diseases can be clearly identified by reading the pulse correctly. In five per cent there will be doubt therefore we say ‘touching and seeing’. Seeing refers to examining the urine.
“In very rare cases, more than one disease can give very similar signals in the pulse. A quick look at the urine of the patient will reveal which of the possible diseases is present.”
Of the three Medical Tantras, the last discusses pulse diagnosis in most detail. Thirteen points are elucidated: the times of day during which the pulse is most clear, the parts of the body at which the pulse should be taken, the degrees of pressure to be applied in order to be able to detect the different diseases, various types of pulse, seasonal effects on pulses and so forth.
In brief, the pulse is best taken in the morning between seven and 10 o’clock. The patient should not have had too much exercise that morning, should not have ingested heavy food or alcohol, or have had sexual intercourse. The doctor should also observe these conditions, and should be in good health.
The doctor then reads the pulse of the patient’s left wrist with three fingers of his right hand (excluding the little finger), then the patient’s right wrist with three fingers of his left hand. Each finger takes two readings, with the left and right sides respectively. Thus 12 readings are done, by which the exact conditions of each of the twelve vital organs and vessels are sounded. Through understanding the condition and harmony of all the vital organs and vessels, the workings of everything in the human body can be understood.
If there is some doubt after pulse analysis, the urine is examined. The process is simple, but a good doctor can tell very much from it. One first checks the urine for color and sedimentation. The urine is then stirred and its reaction watched. The size of the bubbles that form and the depth in the container at which they collect, as well as the rate at which they disperse and so forth, reflect the state of the vital organs and vessels. This information, considered with the results of pulse examination yields an extremely accurate diagnosis.
“Diagnosis by urine is much easier to learn than by pulse”, Dr. Dolma pointed out. “But it is not as certain. The greatest doctor can hope for only 90% efficiency in diagnosis by urine alone, whereas he could achieve a rate of 99% on pulse diagnosis. Alternatively, a poor doctor would be 80% efficient on urine analysis, but would be much less efficient on pulse analysis. Reading the pulse correctly is very delicate process.”
Treatment in the Tibetan medical system comes under four categories: food, behavior, medicine, and accessory therapy such as acupuncture, cauterization, massage, mineral baths and bloodletting.
Food treatment refers both to following a correct diet when well, as a precaution against disease, and to eating foods that naturally counteract any disease one may have contracted. The importance of being aware of the inherent value and significance of the food one eats is stressed in the Medical Tantras. Explained Dr. Dolma: “It is very difficult to cure a patient by means of medicine, acupuncture and so forth if he does not co-operate by controlling his diet. Every food invokes a particular reaction within the body, and if one’s diet strengthens the disease and counteracts the medicine prescribed, little can be said or done.”
“Behavior” means that the patient must be aware of his environment and its effects upon the harmony of the elements of his body. The second Medical Tantra explains in detail general rules of behavior, seasonal behavioral patterns and their significance, and behavioral patterns relevant to specific diseases.
Treatment by medicines means the application of pills appropriate to the disease compounded from herbs, flowers, barks, metal, animal substances and so on. Several thousand natural substances are used in Tibetan pills and some contain dozens of different ingredients. “A good doctor can concoct a medicine for a disease he has never encountered before,” said Dr. Dolma, “just by reading the patient’s pulse and calculating what forces would be necessary to correct it.”
A very pleasant aspect of the Tibetan medical system is that it uses no synthetic chemicals. The body is seen as a living organism and most of the medicines used are organic. Those which are not are natural minerals such as gold, silver, turquoise, copper and iron.
Plant substances used in medicine come from roots, stalks, leaves, flowers, and fruits or berries. On some plants only one of these parts has medicinal value. Several trips are made up the Himalayan mountains each year in search of the more rare species, taking into account that different plants are more potent in certain seasons than in others.
Not all of the plants traditionally used in Tibetan healing are available in India, and Dr. Dolma does not have facilities to cultivate all those it needs. “However Indian Ayurvedic doctors use many of the same herbs as we do,” said Dr. Dolma, “and we can get much of what we need through them.”
The doctor explained that as important as the administration of medicines is the application of accessory therapies such as acupuncture, cauterization and mineral baths. “Schizophrenia, for example, is treated with medicine to a certain degree,” she said, “but to be fully effective five cauterizations on various points of the spine are done towards the end of conjunction of treatment. The medicines for epilepsy must be given in conjunction with acupuncture treatment. And medicines for eye cataracts must be taken together with cauterization just below the lower eye lid.”
Several types of disease require a treatment of medicines and mineral baths. The baths may be of natural mineral waters from deposits such as coal, quartz, sulfur and pitch, or from formulae of minerals which produce an effect similar to a natural mineral bath. The most general of these formulae is “Five Nectars”, which is helpful for almost any disease.
Dr. Dolma cautioned that a doctor should be consulted before taking a natural mineral bath. “Someone with high blood pressure could die”, she warned, “If he bathed in the wrong type of mineral water. Many types of diseases are intensified by the wrong type of mineral water. A mineral bath draws certain elements out of the body and the body absorbs certain elements from it. One must take an overall view of the state of one’s body before putting it in a mineral bath.”
Meditation or Buddhist ritual sometimes go along with medicine treatment, she said, in disease which Tibetan medicine believes are caused by deluded psychic forces. Such cases form two per cent of the woman doctor’s caseload, and are easily detected through pulse analysis.
I had once worked in a psychiatric hospital and Dr. Dolma’s reference to mental illness aroused my curiosity, particularly since Communist Chinese propaganda claims that Old Tibet did nothing for the mentally disturbed other than throw them in dungeons if they were violent. She told me that the general policy of Tibetan doctors was to supply the patient with medicines and entrust him to the care of a family member or friend. Only those potentially dangerous to themselves or others were hospitalized.
“Tibet was a beautiful and spacious country, she said, “and no need was felt to isolate patients in less extreme conditions of mental illness. There is a danger in placing someone only slightly disturbed in a mental hospital, the artificial environment will often further agitate him, and the lack of normalcy and familiarity will further increase his sense of psychic imbalance.”
In the Tibetan medical system, most types of mental illness cannot be permanently cured by medicines alone. A process of cauterization is given at the end of the treatment. A medicine is given which causes certain elements of the blood to collect in a lump at a specific point on the body. Heat is then applied to the aggregate.
Asserted Dr. Dolma: “Ninety percent of mental illnesses can be totally cured if the patient co-operates with the treatment and performs appropriate meditations and purification practices throughout the cure.”
Since assuming her medical mission outside Tibet, Dr. Dolma has had much experience to highlight the contrasts between her own and the Western medical systems. As well as having daily contact in Dharamsala with students and patients, she visited parts of America in 1975 under the auspices of Dr. Jeffrey Hopkins of the University of Virginia. Here she lectured at more than a dozen major universities, including Harvard, Yale and Richmond, and gave diagnosis exhibitions at many East Coast hospitals. I asked her in which areas she thinks Tibetan medicine can make a significant contribution to the West.
“Cancer”, came the reply, “On my tour of America I was taken to hundreds of hospitals, and what moved me most deeply was the cancer wards. Some people say cancer is a relatively new illness, but Tibetan medical textbooks presented treatments for it hundreds of years ago. If we had it then, I should imagine the West did as well.”
Dr. Dolma said Tibetan medicine normally divides the stages of cancerous growth into three. The most advanced of these cannot be totally cured, but the two earlier stages are easier to deal with.
“Breast cancer in particular seemed to be a big problem in the West,” she reflected. “Here in India I have treated many patients for cancer, mostly breast cancer. The story is always the same: a woman comes to me who has one of her breasts cut off. For example, about a year ago a local girl came to me with that problem and I treated her with herbal medicines for about six months. When she returned to her doctor later for a check-up, he was amazed to find that no trace of the girl’s cancer was left.
“I have also treated many patients for uterine cancer and leukaemia. Most have been helped.”
The Tibetan cure for epilepsy is effective, she said, provided that treatment is begun in the early years of the manifestation of the disease. “In very old cases,” the doctor said, “all we can do is reduce the number of seizures per given time by 75%. Less severe cases can be permanently cured. In either case, treatment depends upon a combined application of medicines and acupuncture.
“The Tibetan cure for asthma is also interesting. We isolate five types of asthma, all of which are curable through medicine. Acupuncture is not required.
“And our treatment for rheumatism may also prove helpful in the West. Rheumatism according to Tibetan tradition is of three types: of the bones, of the nervous system, and of the muscles and skin. These manifest the same symptoms, but they can be easily isolated by pulse diagnosis. Rheumatism can be effectively treated with herbal medicines if only one variety is present. When two or more are present, the treatment is more difficult.” She stressed the importance of checking the patient before prescribing rheumatism treatment.
On heart disease, Dr. Dolma said many people in the West are forced to resort to open heart surgery, which has a tremendous effect upon the nervous system. She advised that most heart problems can be alleviated by natural processes if caught at a relatively early stage.
The doctor said that she receives orders from all over the world for its special memory pills, adding: “They are particularly useful to students, scientists, writers and in general anyone who needs a strong memory in his work and life.” The pills did not have any side effects.
My next question concerned sexual problems. “In the West,” I explained, “where people live life-styles very removed from natural environments, we have many types of sexual problems such as infertility, frigidity and so forth. Also homosexuality, a controversial issue, is widespread. What does Tibetan medicine have to offer on these questions?”
Dr. Dolma laughed for a few moments, poured us another cup of tea, and replied: “Infertility presents no major problems for us, neither in the husband, nor in the wife. Indians, both men and women, come to us for treatment for infertility, and we have sent medicines to patients and friends in the West who have written to us on the subject.
Of course, how easily each specific case can be cured depends upon its cause, but few types are incurable.”
Impotency in men and women’s frigidity are also treated relatively easily in the Tibetan system. Medical texts liken the sexual organs to a flower: just as a wilted, dried flower is revived and brought to beauty by water and fertilizer, an impotent man or frigid woman can be restored to a state of sexual health and harmony through medicine. Most cases are cured in a few months.
Homosexuality, according to the doctor, is “wrong” “in the view of Tibetan medicine,” she said, “it is both a problem and a disease. I know this is a controversial point in the West and that my openly stating this opinion might win me unpopularity in certain circles, but people have a responsibility to stand for what they believe.
“Why is homosexuality wrong? A man’s sexual organs have a certain energy field, and so do a woman’s. When man and woman unite, these energy fields harmonize perfectly. On the other hand, when a man has intercourse with a man, or a woman with a woman, the sexual energies of the points of contact do not enter into the same frequency. There is only disharmony within the energy fields.
“Sexual energies are very strong, and disturbance in the energies of the sexual center results in many disharmonies throughout the body and mind. This is detectable by pulse analysis and can often be observed in behavior.
“In Tibet, homosexuality was not considered to be bad or evil, it was considered a disease. Homosexuals were not abused or oppressed, but rather were regarded with compassion.”
Dr. Dolma said that homosexuality has three causes: an emotional imbalance, a physical disturbance in the hormones and supportive condition in behavioral patterns. If the patient is fully co-operative, the problem can be alleviated by medical treatment. Herbal pills are taken for one week each month, medicine of male potency for female homosexuals and vice-versa.
“The result of the medicine,” she said, “is physical and emotional satisfaction. When this satisfaction is sustained and cultivated by behavior therapy, the problem is quickly eliminated. Without the support of behavior therapy, any benefit will be short-lived.”
As Dr. Dolma poured me yet another cup of butter tea, I asked my final question: What is the Tibetan medical attitude towards death?
The doctor explained that one of the most significant moments in life is that just before death, for it determines the mental frame within which one will enter the Bardo, or state between death and rebirth. The mental condition with which one faces the Bardo determines what rebirth one will take.
“Entering the Bardo without mental control is extremely dangerous,” she said. “Chemicals that deaden the mind at the time of death are more damaging than helpful. In Tibet, we did use medicines to reduce the pain of a dying person- but these also contained ingredients to maintain rather than hinder his mental clarity and power.
“The best way to die is slowly, and with mental composure. When one dies slowly, one can keep the mind on top of the various experiences that occur with the traumas of the ceasing of breath, heartbeat, physical sensation and so forth.
“When the process happens quickly, the mind loses perspective of its situation and becomes overwhelmed by fear and confusion. The result is terror in the Bardo and consequently, the inability to choose a desirable rebirth.”
The doctor, she said had the responsibility of helping the patient to enter the Bardo with serenity and control. Some doctors in Tibet had practiced mercy killing with an herbal formula to enable those in extreme pain to die quickly and more comfortably. But this practice was looked down upon by the Lamas and most doctors, for it robbed the dying person of the opportunity to enter the Bardo state with control over his mind.
The interview was at an end. It had taken almost five hours, during which time a dozen patients had been ushered into Dr. Dolma’s presence. She greeted each of them with the same gentle, confident smile, taking their pulses, asking a few questions and prescribing their treatment with an air of love charm and humour that said more about Tibetan medicine than could a hundred hours of words.
Dolkar: Daughter of Tibetan Medicine
by Tashi Tsering Josayma & K. Dhondup
Tsewang Dolkar Khangkar has always looked a bit too young to be a doctor of Tibetan herbal medicine, which is a complicated and subtle art of healing to master and practice. When her mother, the famous Dr. Dolma of Tibet, expressed her desire that Dolkar should succeed her as the 14th Khangkar blood-lineage doctor, many shrugged and quietly laughed at the suggestion. Only traditional politeness stopped them from pointing out that Dolkar was too young and too carefree a girl to take up the family tradition of a serious medical practitioner.
But Dr. Dolma, popularly called Amala or the Mother, knew that with proper training and guidance, her daughters Pasang Gyalmo and Tsewang Dolkar will make it as doctors and keep alive the centuries’ old family tradition of serving the sick and suffering through the healing art of Tibetan herbal treatment and cures. So when the call to serve her community came to Dr. Dolma in Dalhousie, she accepted the challenge without any hesitation and became the Chief Physician of the Tibetan Medical Centre of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala. After many years of hard work at road construction sites as a labourer and aimless wanderings in a new country to begin a new life, Dr. Dolma at last sat down to become the focus of increasing attention, first nationally and then internationally, as the successful and charismatic Chief Physician of the Tibetan Medical Centre where both her daughters attended regular classes in medicine and astrology besides benefitting from the practical and hereditary experiences which their illustrious mother shared with them.
Dolkar was only 19 years or so when the call came for her to begin her practice of medicine and fulfil the medical mission destined for her. The call came from a rather unexpected quarter- The Hetibai Trust founded by an Indian philanthropist in South Delhi. She was to get a monthly salary and a dispensary with an assistant to help her. Dolkar dearly wanted a year or more of study and training with her mother before she embarked on her career. But to those close to her and especially to her mother, Dolkar had already proved beyond doubt that she was good and could succeed on her own. Her diagnostic skill in pulse and urine analysis was accurate. Her prescriptions of the herbal combination was intelligent and the response of the scores of patients that she had seen in the absence of her mother, who went on prolonged tours of America, Australia and Europe, were encouraging and assured a certain degree of maturity and dignity in her treatment of those that came to consult her.
She already had a baby daughter and her marriage had forced on her new responsibilities. Circumstances of life also awakened her to the fact that sooner or later she had to emerge out of the kind and protective shadow of her great mother. It was around this time that Dolkar remembered what her Sera Geshela, popularly called Geshe Bayul (1910- 1974) from Pomra college in Sera University, used to tell her in Dalhousie when she was attending an Indian primary school. This Sera Geshela whose real name Dolkar does not remember but whose only photograph she has enlarged and framed in her present chamber told her several times that she would become a practising doctor when she reached her 19th year. He once even stopped her from joining a handicrafts centre emphasising that she must study medicine and persevere with her ancestral art. Of course, no one took it seriously then. Very few did even afterwards. But Dolkar, before making up her mind to go down to the hustle and bustle of Delhi from the quiet, peaceful and familiar hills and faces of Dharamsala, made one trip to Gangchen Kyishong to visit her family and personal guru Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche. As an infinite source of inspiration and solace to thousands who came to receive his blessings, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche was a complete master of Buddhist philosophy and scholar-saint, full of extraordinary and precise knowledge of the past, present and the future. Blessing Dolkar, he advised her to go ahead and meet the challenge of becoming a Tibetan herbal doctor in Delhi.
A year later, Dolkar had the good fortune to be with her personal guru a few weeks before he finally passed away. The memories of that last meeting with her guru still guide and inspire her. His last words to Dolkar were to place kindness and compassion towards those who come to seek her medical help above the greed for money which may tempt her to forget her medical ethics and vows. Ever since she has taken these last words of her guru as the guiding principles of her medical profession.
As Dolkar often confided, the blessings and protections of her personal guru and His Divine Protector Dharmapala have always been her source of inspiration and strength especially during those early days in 1980 when she finally ventured down to settle amidst the chaos of the city life, leaving behind the pure air of the hills that had filled her childhood years when, as a medical student, she preferred the innocent and carefree pursuits of a young girl to the more tedious and serious studies of the medical books that the students had to daily chant and memorise. There were times when she deliberately ran away from medicine during her student years. But medicine would not let her escape. Her fascination with the wild flowers and herbs, her love and sympathy for animals and above all, her adoration and pride in her mother somehow drew her back to medicine. At the Tibetan Medical Centre or at home, she was always involved in medicine. Whether she liked it or not, she had to climb the hills to gather medicinal herbs, grind them into powder and, following the ancient formula, compound them into pills. Being the daughter of one of the most celebrated woman doctors of Tibet was, at times, a very difficult and trying experience. While other girls of her age roamed the valleys, enjoying the seasons in their colourful Tibetan attires, Dolkar and her sister Pasang were bound to the numerous medicinal chores of the house, turning the powders into pills and hoping to steal a little time in between to enjoy the innocent pleasures of a childhood that never returns. But in their more sober moments, both daughters knew that they had to live up to the expectation and image of their mother. Being obedient by nature, they followed their mother unquestioningly. Helping her mother with the medicinal work at their home clinic familiarised Dolkar with the more sophisticated, subtle and also the fundamental aspects of the healing system which opened to her a vast storehouse of knowledge and experiences that a teacher or a school could never teach her. Sitting close to her mother, examining an endless line of patients of different nationalities, Dolkar’s main duty was noting down the diagnosis and prescription of each and every patient. Her other duties included distributing medicines and attending to the countless letters that patients wrote to Dr. Dolma besides the difficult but most essential and useful work of compounding the medicines. Annually during winter, Dolkar accompanied her mother to the nearby cities of Amritsar and Jullundar where they saw thousands of patients. As Dolkar honestly admits, she did not particularly like or enjoy it then. She thought the other girls of her age who had no such binding duties were more lucky. But years later, when Dolkar saw her life taking shape as a doctor of some repute, she realised what a blessing those formative years with her mother had been. Without her realising it, her mother had educated her in the basic groundings of a Tibetan doctor by giving her a first-hand knowledge and experience of the various stages and aspects of the herbal healing system. It was something Dolkar could never have learned in the four walls of a class room in the Tibetan Medical Centre or anywhere else. It was that precious something which only the love and wisdom of an enlightened mother could have bequeathed her daughter, to keep alive the centuries old family tradition of producing the next generation of doctors.
But those first days in Delhi were full of challenges and difficulties. The Hetibai Trust had set up her clinic at 78 Krishen Nagar adjacent to Safdarjung Enclave. It was early 1980. As she sat alone in her make-shift chamber, no patients came to consult. And those that trickled by as days went on, did so with scepticism and suspicion. Many considered her too young to be a doctor and could not trust her experience and skill. Her kitchen was ill equipped, the heat was growing and she was not used to it at all. But she stayed on spending many lonely hours under the old and only small fan that tried to fend off the city heat. Many times she felt homesick and made short trips to Dharamsala but always returned and sat there treating the few patients that came to see her.
Though tired and sad, Dolkar would not give up and sat in her chamber from morning to evening. Observing her tenacity, the Hetibai Trust became more helpful and encouraged her in her work. Most of the trustees and their relatives and associates consulted her and took her medicines. Once assured that they had a young but tested and qualified doctor, the trustees and their friends brought more and more patients. Gradually, her mother’s patients in Delhi came to see and consult her. Some invited her home. Others promised her any help she needed. One old friend who had widely covered her mother’s treatment of cancer and other chronic diseases for Indian periodicals gave her publicity in Indian newspapers. Among her mother’s friends were the then Mongolian Ambassador and his wife who introduced Dolkar to other Eastern European diplomats in Delhi. As if by miracle, Dolkar’s treatment and medicine worked wonders for them. At least, three infertile ladies were able to conceive and her anti-stress and anti-tension pills were in great demand. Before long, Dolkar was busy as more and more people came to consult her and take her medicines. By then Dolkar had served the Hetibai Trust for more than three years. During this time, she was often invited to Nagaland at the behest of its then Finance Minister, where she saw hundreds of patients daily. She also toured Calcutta several times. Due to a policy change, the Hetibai Trust closed its Tibetan Medicine unit and requested Dolkar to start on her own. The trustees thanked her for her services and wished her the best for her future.
In the first week of April 1984, Dr. Dolkar stood on her own. Her small consultancy at Safdarjung Enclave attracted more and more patients. Her mother came down almost every winter and helped her to see the increasing number of patients and constantly guided her in her diagnosis and prescription of different herbal and mineral combinations for the various chronic ailments. After two years, Dr. Dolkar moved to Sarva Priya Vihar and practised there. It was during a visit to Bombay that the respected Hindi national monthly Dharamyug extensively covered her life and work which brought her in touch with thousands of readers all over India. Some wrote her letters of admiration and support, and some thanked her for her service and contribution. Many more wrote to her for advice and medication. By then she had seen well over a million patients from different parts of India, USSR, Bulgaria, Mongolia, Yugoslavia, Poland, Sweden, Africa, Pakistan, Middle East, USA etc. According to her interview on Doordarshan’s A Face in the Crowd first telecast on the morning of 3rd October 1988, she had treated almost every cases except AIDS. The coverage Dolkar received on the national morning television brought her into the drawing rooms of millions more throughout the country.
From 15th December 1988, Dr. Dolkar moved to larger premises at D-10, Kalkaji, appropriately named Dolkar House. Here old and young, rich and poor alike come to her for consultation and medication. What her Sera Geshe-la predicted many years ago in Dalhousie had indeed come true. After years of hard work, dedication and struggle, Dolkar, a carefree girl of the hills of Dharamsala in Himachal and the mountains of Kyirong in Western Tibet, had finally fulfilled her destiny to become the 14th generation doctor of the Khangkar lineage.
In becoming the 14th Khangkar doctor. Dolkar has achieved, what many in her community brushed off as a stroke of luck. Along the way, she had fulfilled the wishes of her great mother and given substance to the dream of her Sera Geshe-la. Above all, she has lived up to the unceasing blessings of her personal Guru Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche and His Divine Protector. Dolkar rightly takes pride in her hereditary knowledge of diagnosis and medicine. The Khangkar tradition of hereditary medicine, that of passing on the secret art and skill of the pulse and urine diagnosis, the varied and effective prescription of the herbal and mineral cures for different diseases and the complexities of the pharmacopoeia from father to son and mother to daughter, originated in the 11th century when the first house of medicine was founded under the shadow of mountain named Pangkar in Kyirong in Western Tibet which later changed into Khangkar. Blessing the site was none other than the great Indian Pandit and Tantric master Atisha Dipankar Srijana from Bengal who was on his way to Central Tibet in 1042 to revive Buddhism. The forefathers of the Khangkar lineage doctors were advised by the great Kagyud Lama Barawa Gyaltsen Palzang (1351-1419) to maintain their blood-lineage unbroken. Twelfth in the lineage was Dr. Tsering Wangdu Khangkar. In 1935, he fathered a daughter named Lobsang Dolma, “Liberated Lady Sublime in Thought” destined to be the 13th in this lineage. Dr. Dolma trained both her daughters to be the 14th generation doctors as the unbroken tradition of hereditary medicine is regarded as one of the most essential qualifications of a Tibetan doctor.
In Tibetan medical system, great significance is attached to qualities of kindness and compassion and the hereditary passing of knowledge. It is one of the prime requisites for a doctor to belong to a family that has practised medicine for generations. Dr. Dolkar attaches great importance to these aspects of her medical journey. She points out that in the 31st Chapter of the Second Tantra of Gyud-shi, the Four Tantras of Tibetan Medicine, it is written that a doctor must be principled, kind and compassionate, unselfish and always ready to serve the sick and suffering. Such a doctor is the healer of humanity: a true inheritor of the unstained medical wisdom and knowledge of the ancient sages and a true incarnation of the king of medicines. It is also written in the same Tantra that a doctor who does not belong to a hereditary family of doctors, maintaining an unbroken blood-lineage of medical learning, experiences and skill, is like a fox who occupies the throne of the lion and pretends to be the king of the animals. Such a doctor will not attain unanimous acclaim and recognition as no animals will take the fox as their king.
The Death of Dr. Dolma
by K. Dhondup
The phone rang with a piercing shrill on the morning of 15th December 1989 and for the few moments that it lasted it filled me with an unfamiliar fear as if some painful personal disaster was about to strike. On the other side of the line was Dolkar who had gone to Dharamsala a few days back to be with her mother. Even Dolkar’s faint voice on that unclear line could not conceal the urgency of the call. She asked me to come up with our two daughters at the earliest.
A few days before when Dolkar’s elder sister Pasang Gyalmo phoned to ask Dolkar to come up immediately as their mother wanted to see her, I did not suspect that the end would be so close. Before leaving for Dharamsala, Dolkar went around buying many flowers as her mother had infinite fascination for them. It was Dolkar’s wish to buy the best available flowers from Delhi and present her mother with a truck full of such a selection on the first day of the Tibetan New year. Dolkar discussed this several times and we all agreed it would be a most fitting and splendid gift as by Tibetan New Year everyone expected Dr. Dolma to fully recover her exhausted health. So when in early December Dolkar left to see her mother in Dharamsala there was no anxiety or indication of any kind that the next few days would unfold such sadness and grief of unbelievable and irreplaceable loss. In the Khangkar family itself, everyone was convinced that Dr, Dolma would live through this temporary health exhaustion and come out with her gracious smile and compassionate touch to continue her good work and inspire us forward. None of us expected life to be so uncertain and unfair in its verdict. The optimism within the family was based on the medical and spiritual powers of Dr. Dolma herself, a strict and sincere follower of the Medicine Buddha and Vajrayogini tradition, whose initiations and meditations she had undertaken and fulfilled many times. Moreover, all the high lamas that the family consulted, under the guidance of Dr. Dolma’s husband Norbu Chophel, clearly divined that there was no danger to her life. Each and every necessary rites and rituals of offering for her health and protection were religiously and meticulously performed. Even the last divine consultation Dolkar did before she left Delhi auspiciously indicated that her life line was not under any threat or danger. So I was not prepared for what was to follow especially as Dr. Dolma had miraculously recovered from a far more dangerous and critical onslaught on her life in 1981.
At around 3 in the morning I took my two daughters, Sonam and Dechen, and left for Dharamsala. It was Saturday the 16th of December 1989. The journey was literally one of darkness as a thick fog engulfed us most of the way. Though I did not tell them my daughters seemed to sense the sadness within me. When about to reach Dharamsala I asked them not to shout or sing as their Jiji, as they fondly called their grandmother, was very sick. At lower Dharamsala I learnt that Dr. Dolma had passed away. I and my daughters had most unfortunately missed a last glimpse of her. We straightaway went to McLeod Ganj and numbly stepped into the familiar but sad and warmthless embrace of Dekyi Khangkar, which only a day ago, was alive with the presence of Dr. Dolma.
I first heard of Dr. Dolma in early ’70s when I was at college in Darjeeling. She was then on her first tour of the United States giving a number of lectures and demonstrations on the concepts and cures of Tibetan medicine. Her first trip was a success and spelled the first ray of Western recognition and respect for an ancient culture of medicine. After her return to Dharamsala doctors from the West followed her and made the first serious academic film on Dr. Dolma and Tibetan medicine. Seeing the film shortly afterwards was quite a revelation. It was a delight to see a Tibetan lady doctor whose unassuming yet penetrative understanding and insight into her ancestral medical culture and its exposition was drawing serious attention and respect from the scientific minds of the modern medical profession. Even before meeting her in person, a deep regard and admiration had grown in me. In my mind she became a symbol of progressive Tibetan womenhood and their coming of age. She looked like the perfect cultural heroine whose sheer presence could inspire unlimited cultural interest and achievements.
Years later in Dharamsala when I stood before her as her son-in-law, my respect and admiration for her had grown all the more. She was not only an expert doctor but also a gracious lady whose learning in Tibetan literature, poetry, astrology and Buddhist initiations and meditations far surpassed those of many specialists. She was gentle and kind to me and showed an all-round interest in anything that I may have to tell her. Those few years in the mid-seventies when she had more time to herself and her family were perhaps the best and warmest years of her exile life. In early 1978, Dekyi Khangkar was ready as a clinic-cum-residence at McLeod Ganj in Dharamsala. Soon afterwards we moved into it. By then Dr. Dolma’s fame as a cancer specialist travelled far and wide. Such fame exacted their price. Her schedule was hectic. She was frequently in and out of Dharamsala travelling to various parts of India and different corners of the world. From those days onwards, she did not get much time for her family or herself. Soon afterwards, Dolkar and I came to Delhi where Dolkar started her work as doctor of Tibetan medicine. Towards the end of 1981, Dolkar was about to deliver her third baby. Delhi was alive with the Asian Games about to start. Colour televisions had just been introduced. Dolkar’s sister Pasang was with us to help her during her delivery. One night a car came from Dharamsala with the message that both Pasang and Dolkar must come up immediately as their mother was very sick and may not last long. Pasang left immediately. Dolkar was in no condition to journey. Soon she delivered her third daughter, later named Dechen Dolma by Dromo Geshe Rinpoche, in Delhi. Dr. Dolma, for whom every hope had been given up in the face of a dreadful onslaught on her health miraculously recovered in Dharamsala. After her recovery, Dr. Dolma passed by Delhi on one of her visits overseas. It was then that the full story of her mysterious illness and the miraculous recovery unfolded before us.
Towards the middle of 1981 Dr. Dolma was unusually busy giving consultations in her Dekyi Khangkar clinic when a member of the Ling monastery in Dharamsala visited her. Ling monastery was the holy abode of Kyabje Ling Rinpoche, the elder tutor of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and a close spiritual friend of Dr. Dolma’s personal guru Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche who had passed away earlier that year. The man from Ling monastery had an urgent message for Dr. Dolma from Ling Rinpoche who wanted her to perform a few important religious rites and rituals for her own safety. Being too busy she completely forgot about it and when again the same message came from Ling Rinpoche who was now about to leave Dharamsala for his winter sojourn in Mundgod in South India. Frightened with the urgency of the unusual message, Dr. Dolma and her husband at once visited Ling Rinpoche who received them with his blessings and instructed Dr. Dolma to perform the rituals without further delay as grave personal danger lay ahead for her. A particular ritual from the list provided by Ling Rinpoche was too specialised and required the spiritual skill and expertise of an exalted one to perform it competently. When Dr. Dolma worried about this aspect of the ritual, Ling Rinpoche kindly told her to come the early next morning when he would himself perform it for her. The next morning Dr. Dolma sat in front of Rinpoche’s small throne. The critical religious ritual that would ward off the unforeseen danger on her life began. Halfway through the ceremony Dr. Dolma lost control of herself as if some strong unseen force was pulling her apart and she had to clutch on to the hands of her husband for strong support. It was later confirmed that at that precise moment, the spiritual powers of Ling Rinpoche was able to unchain and free Dr. Dolma from the jealous clutch of some dark mysterious force that had woven a life-threatening invisible chain around her health. After thus releasing Dr. Dolma from that dark clutch, Ling Rinpoche left for Mundgod.
Though Dr. Dolma’s life was virtually saved by the spiritual powers of Ling Rinpoche her health suffered as a consequence of the malicious exercise by the dark mysterious force. She became extremely weak and emaciated. Nothing helped her at all. Medicines did not work. She was not able to gain strength. Everyone thought she would not survive. Local rumours said she was suffering from brain damage and liver cancer. At some Tibetan Medical camp in Delhi, enquiring patients were maliciously told that Dr. Dolma was on her deathbed. Luckily for her, Rathod Rinpoche, another exalted Buddhist spiritual master, expressed his concern over Dr. Dolma’s threatened health and indicated that a certain ritual had to be performed whose rare texts were available with Rinpoche himself. Overwhelmed by this kind gesture, Mr. Norbu Chophel at once requested Rathod monastery to perform the essential ritual in its entirety to help Dr. Dolma regain her strength. Song Rinpoche, one of the most accomplished Tantric master and fearless Buddhist philosopher who accompanied Dr. Dolma on her second tour of the United States and Europe in 1978, also saw the danger around her life and performed the necessary Tantric rites to speed up her recovery. One day Dr. Dolma sat up with great physical and mental effort and started reciting the Vajrayogini prayers. Her husband, mother, elder daughter Pasang and the few monks from the nearby Shartse monastery then present, thought that the end was near. But to their joyful surprise, a miracle took place. To all of them, halfway through the prayer, Dr. Dolma suddenly appeared a lot healthier. Life came back on her pale face. Her voice grew stronger as the prayer to Vajrayogini continued. After completing the prayer, the first thing she said was that she was not going to die as the dakini told her so. They could not believe their eyes or ears. Everyone was overjoyed. At once fresh juniper leaves were burnt as an auspicious offering and everyone was offered fresh Tibetan butter tea. Dr. Dolma dramatically returned from almost certain death. When I heard this I asked Dr. Dolma what actually happened during that Vajrayogini prayer session. She frankly told me that she had given up hope and was prepared to die. She started to say her last prayers to Vajrayogini when suddenly she saw a dakini in white gently tap her on her shoulder telling her to stay as her time had not come. This tapping on the shoulder by the white dakini seemed to awaken in her some fresh strength and the realisation that she will not die of this mysterious illness. After this victory over the dark illness, Dr. Dolma’s health improved tremendously and she became perfectly healthy.
On 1st January 1989, at the house-warming party of Dolkar House at Kalkaji, Dr. Dolma took the centre stage. She showered us with gifts and blessings. Her health looked perfect. Together with her husband they presented a picture of total happiness and health, I made a video-recording of her stay at Dolkar House. While giving a lucid explanation on the significance of the Medicine Buddha’s large painting in Dolkar’s chamber, Dr. Dolma expressed a mother’s satisfaction and happiness over Dolkar’s success and achievement as the 14th doctor of the Khangkar lineage and off-handedly remarked that she will be able to die happily now. That remark somehow stayed in my mind and I did note a distinct difference in Dr. Dolma during the rest of her stay. She seemed generally uninterested and faintly lost. Several times a hint of irritation and hurriedness entered her which I had never seen in her before. I also mentioned the slight change in her personality to Dolkar who had grown closer to her mother than ever before. Particularly noteworthy and touching was Dr. Dolma’s last goodbye to Dolkar when she showed unusual emotion. She embraced her daughter for quite a while before kissing her goodbye. I saw tears in both their eyes, for the first time, in nine years. Dolkar was unusually sad that day after her mother left. The tears remained in Dolkar’s eyes for a very long time that day. I simply thought Dr. Dolma had become proud of her daughter who had succeeded in keeping up the family medical lineage. Of course, Dr. Dolma knew otherwise. She must have had her own reasons for the mere hint that she gave.
In July Dolkar returned from Switzerland. We received an urgent call to Dharamsala for some unspecified purpose connected with some oracular pronouncements regarding Dolkar. Before that the only information we received regarding Dr. Dolma was that she had a mild cold. When we reached Dharamsala we were saddened to see that she had not only grown weak but had lost that happy and healthy form she maintained ever since her recovery in late 1981. But she seemed delighted to see all of us, particularly Dolkar and our elder daughter Sonam whom she favoured. I detected a vague sense of tiredness and despair in Dr. Dolma but nothing seemed seriously wrong. That evening, amidst chantings, incense smoke and invocations, I was witness to a totally unknown aspect of Dr. Dolma’s rich and varied personality. Besides being a skilled and famous doctor, Dr. Dolma was also an important medium of oracular pronouncements. While in trance, Dr. Dolma appeared in perfect health and gave specific instructions concerning every member of the family. That was the last trance and Dolkar had been summoned for that particular audience. By the evening of the next day, Dr. Dolma had regained much strength. Dolkar was with her mother for four full days. We came back to Delhi confident that within a matter of months, if not weeks, Dr. Dolma would fully recover.
In October Dolkar visited her mother again. She took many flowers which Dr. Dolma liked very much. After a stay of about 15 days Dolkar returned to Delhi. She told me that her mother’s condition was more or less the same but she remained emotionally upset and unsure of herself. This aspect worried Dolkar. But the best medicines and the best care possible were being provided by Dr. Dolma’s mother and her protective and faithful husband. The rituals and other necessary religious requirements were being fulfilled every day. The divine consultations all augured well. There seemed no reason to worry. Dr. Dolma herself made it clear that she be left where she wanted to be and advised against any treatment that she thought were not necessary or proper. In between her health improved. She was able to undergo quite a few prayer sessions, look after her flowers and even perform a consecration ceremony on the roof-top. But on that December afternoon the call came and Dolkar had to rush to Dharamsala. Dolkar was with her mother for about a week. By the time I reached Dharamsala at around two in the afternoon of 16th, Dr. Dolma had already passed away. She breathed her last on the evening of the 15th when I was yet to start from Delhi. But that afternoon when I entered Dharamsala, I saw no hint that such a remarkable personality in the recent history of Tibetan medicine could have passed away. Nowhere I saw any sign of such a tragic loss. His Holiness the Dalai Lama had been awarded the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize and was arriving the day after in Dharamsala. Everywhere decorative gates were being constructed. Tibetans from every corner of the world were gathered in the little Lhasa to celebrate the occasion. Colourful prayer flags and banners congratulating His Holiness filled the Dharamsala skyline. The whole town and the Tibetan community were excitedly dancing and singing. But within the small circle of our family an insuppressible sadness and an irreplaceable sense of loss that could not be disguised loomed large. Astrological calculations dictated Dr. Dolma’s funeral on the same morning when the excited town awaited the arrival of the Dalai Lama. With sadness stinging me at every step I joined the funeral, unable to suppress bewilderment at the irony of life’s strange show when instead of joining a rare victory pageant, I was filled with despair of incalculable loss and bereavement. Perhaps it was just as well that on such a bitter-sweet morning, we suffered the arrogance and intolerance of an otherwise gentle and generous atmosphere. Dr. Dolma’s funeral was not allowed to pass from under the gate erected by the Tibetans from Nepal to welcome the Dalai Lama who was to arrive a couple of hours later. Probably the mood was best understood by a prominent Indian resident of McLeod Ganj who requested the day long revellers in front of his shop that the town has had enough dancing and singing and the time may just be right to mourn the passing away of a selfless doctor who, while alive, was of great benefit to the whole of Dharamsala.
Dr. Dolma did not deserve to die so young. She was only 55. Not only her family but countless others were in need of her medical skill, wisdom and compassion. She had much to do and had the right kind of moral knowledge and humanistic approach to do it well. But Dr. Dolma seemed to have known beforehand that she would not last. Towards the end it was clear that she did not make any effort to prolong her life. It was as if she had some other more important role awaiting her. After the funeral, when the family slowly started to settle down to take stock of the loss I gathered from all concerned that Dr. Dolma said her full Vajrayogini prayers, with considerable difficulty and pain, some hours before passing away and towards the end kept her eyes concentrated on the framed photograph of her personal Guru Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche. She also gave instructions to her mother on the correct Buddhist attitude of facing death and expressed her genuine hope that the two daughters would continue to fulfil the family medical legacy. Going through her books and files she had left clear instructions offering her precious stones and other valuables to an impressive list of incarnate lamas and monasteries.
To me, Dr. Dolma had always been a source of cultural inspiration. One thing that distinguished Dr. Dolma was her genuine concern for the suffering of others and the courage with which she exercised her compassion. Her faith in her personal guru Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche and His Divine Protector were almost fanatical. Nothing could shake her faith in them. This in a way characterised her life and attitude. There was nothing half-hearted about her beliefs and concerns in life. It was always a difficult task to convince and involve her. She was never hasty. But once committed she never hesitated. Her involvement became total. Her faith in her own honesty and confidence in herself were always strong. She was a defiant spokeswoman of her cultural heritage and a defender, above all, of her own native Kyirong traditions and interests. She always showed a deep concern for the old, infirm and especially orphans for whom her heart cried out. Right from the beginning of her exile years in Nepal to her days of hard labour in Kulu and Manali valleys and later as a house-mother in Dalahousie Tibetan School, the old, infirm and the orphans that came her way received her total kindness and healing touch. Many socially committed Indians have felt honoured and happy to associate with her and viewed her as a Tibetan Mother Teresa in India. I have myself felt the potential parallel and discussed the sublime work of Mother Teresa with her several times. Towards the end, Dr. Dolma had also decided to spend her days either in meditation or involve herself in massive social work. She had made a few private arrangements towards such an objective. But living in her exile community, she was always cautious and careful not to overplay her role and disturb the delicate social balance of her community. To my regret, those of us who were close to her, did not have the courage and foresight to tell her what we should have told her and inevitably failed to support her in the noble work of social harmony and upliftment that she could have pursued so splendidly. Personally, it is of some consolation to me that, in my more than a decade’s association with Dr. Dolma, she never used a harsh word on me nor did I give her the cause to do so.
Serious differences of opinions and outlook, though not frequent, did arise several times. But every time we were able to sit down and sort them out in the most amicable way possible, without once having to raise our voices. Dr. Dolma, by nature, was a very gentle lady who would never hurt anyone on her own. My respect and admiration, even under very trying circumstances, remained intact for her. It was a poignant moment for me to read, one day after her funeral, in the Chandigarh edition of Indian Express, in their special supplement on the inauguration of the Vayudoot airport at Dharamsala that one of the reason for the fame of Dharamsala attracting outside visitors is the presence of Dr. Dolma and her Tibetan clinic.
Dr. Dolma never clamoured for fame and publicity. She never bothered what others wrote or said about her. She simply went on working. But her extraordinary personality and miraculous medical work attracted attention resulting in inevitable publicity and coverage of her work in the media. Such exposure always worried her not knowing how her own community would react to it. There was a time when she took her troubles to Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche. But the death of her personal guru brought in her a sense of insecurity and helplessness which increasingly came to the fore during her unfortunate illness. In her own way, she was a symbol of an active Tibetan culture and a source of undying inspiration and pride to many and especially to her Kyirong natives, many of whom looked upon her as their protector and saviour. She had a deep love for Tibetan nuns which strengthened in later years when her own mother and younger sister also became nuns and joined a nunnery in Nepal.
Dr. Dolma nursed an intelligent and substantial patriotism but would not stoop to make a show of it nor indulge in flattery of the powers that be for some kind of official recognition. Unfortunately, her uniqueness was not fully realised by her exile community whose arrogance and pettiness often baffled and hurt her sensitive cultural pride and nationalistic feelings. She was an ardent supporter and patron of the welfare and progress of Tibetan women. She generously gave both time and money to the Tibetan Women Association in whom she took great interest and pride. When in mid-1989, the members of one such women organisation put up a satirical play mocking the work of a Tibetan lady doctor and the little Lhasa in McLeod Ganj took malicious joy in pointing the finger of ridicule at her Dr. Dolma realised what a waste it had been for her to have spent her healthy days in the stifling and suffocating morass of an exile kingdom whose polluted mediocrity and pettiness even the fresh winds of the mountains and wisdom of the ancients cannot purify. Yet in the end, Dr. Dolma died in Dharamsala, unable to escape to a wider landscape, where fresh winds and fragrant flowers would have understood her gentle and healing touch.
That cold December day when I stood on the roof-top of Dekyi Khangkar, where Dr. Dolma used to stand reciting her medical mantras before starting the compounding of her herbal pills, a stream of memories rushed through my mind, with the faint echo of her gentle and clear voice explaining the significance and meaning of the Mantra of Medicine Buddha to her two daughters. I realised, for the first time, that with the passing away of Dr. Dolma a golden era in the history of Tibetan medicine had definitely come to an end. There never will be her like again.
18th January, 1990
Tashi Tsering Josayma and K. Dhondup are grateful to Dr. Ellie McDougall for her suggestions & improvements in the texts of the articles on Dr. Dolma and Dolkar.
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