Combining stories: Reading Tibetan Medicine as a Western Narrative of Healing

Topics: Alternative medicine, Medicine, Traditional Chinese medicine Pages: 53 (18082 words) Published: April 19, 2014
Devin Gonier
Professor Ivette Vargas-O’Bryan
Department of Religious Studies
Final Report
Mellon Project 2008-09

Combining stories: Reading Tibetan Medicine as a Western Narrative of Healing

This project was funded by the Carnegie Mellon Grant from Austin College in 2008-09 under the supervision of faculty-advisor Ivette Vargas-O’Bryan from the Department of Religious Studies. My faculty advisor was of critical help throughout the entire process, and took great care in mentoring me in the project’s research and writing. The research for this paper took place over the course of a year in India (Dharmasala, Darjeeling, Ladakh), Kathmandu, Nepal and Boulder, Colorado. It involved interviewing ten Tibetan medicine doctors throughout the regions and two religious experts, as well as conducting library research in the U.S. The following report will describe what I learned throughout the terms of the grant about U.S. healthcare and Tibetan medicine.

The real narrative of dying now is that you die inside a machine1 –Broyard

We are thus not at the end but at the beginning of the beginning, and even with the best of tools, our task of negotiating the new healthcare may be much more complex and multifaceted than initially realized. – Michael Cohen

It would be very useful for humanity if Tibetan and Western medicine were practiced on a parallel basis. 2– The Dalai Lama Introduction

Healing as we know and understand it today has both a historical and cultural context. It has evolved and events will continue to change it in the future. There will be technological advancements that improve our ability to treat future and current illnesses, but beyond this, the discourse on health and the philosophical assumptions inherent within the Western health model will adapt and evolve too. When many Westerners think of the verb “heal” they carry with it the cultural baggage that shape the way we understand healing, baggage like the view that disease is something objective and that it can be cured through objective processes. But, one must tread carefully in this thinking, since different cultural and historical contexts change how a person thinks of his or her body and what it means to heal. It is much easier to see the effect cultural and social contexts have on medicine by looking closely at the diversity of medicines throughout the world. Different socio-cultural situations influenced or not by religion have directed medicine and health in unique ways. Different types of medicine have a long history of intersection and these intersections continue to grow today. The focus of this paper will be specifically on the intersection of biomedicine and Tibetan medicine, and it will argue that current U.S. healthcare discourse creates barriers for religious healing systems like Tibetan medicine. Unless cultural and institutional changes are made, it will continue to be difficult for Tibetan medicine and other healing systems similar to it to have a legally and culturally accepted role in U.S. healing. Thesis and Structure

This final report reflects upon findings that the U.S. healthcare discourse and treatment process are predominately influenced by scientific materialism and the hegemonic status of biomedicine in healing. The U.S. healthcare discourse creates great difficulties for alternative, complementary, and integrative models of healing, which cannot be entirely reduced to a biomedical scientific model, to become popular or legally acceptable in the U.S. This paper will draw heavily on the views of postmodern medicine, because of its basic advocacy for empowering marginalized voices in the pursuit of a more heterogeneous healthcare system. The focus will be on the particular relationship between Tibetan medicine and biomedicine in the U.S., and how this relationship can be improved based on the principles of postmodern medicine. There are two supporting arguments. First, postmodern medicine reconceptualizes the...


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The Knowledge of Healing
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