Consultation with Amchi Dorjee

Pulse Diagnosis

As the culmination to our journey through the mind- body connection in Dharamsala, we had the opportunity to learn and receive a consultation by an amazing Tibetan doctor, Amchi Dorjee. He was the in the second graduating class at Men-tsee-khang, where we visited just a week ago, and he has been practicing Tibetan Medicine for over 35 years. After learning all about the tenets, principles and elements of Tibetan medicine in class, we got to experience this holistic medicine in practice during a private consultation with him.

During the consultation Dr. Dorjee used the three ways Tibetan medicine uses to diagnose disease- visual diagnosis, palpation, and questioning. First he checked my pulse, pressing his pointer, middle, and ring finger on the radial artery of both my left and right arm, asking if I had certain symptoms. Then he moved onto pressing on specific points on my back, shoulders, neck, face, and arms. On this particular day I was suffering from a migraine, and he could tell that my body was stiff and sensitive to touch. Each direct point he pressed- top of the shoulders, underneath the occipital ridge, at the top of the crown of my head, above my eyes, outside of my jaw, and so forth- sent a direct jolt of energy throughout my body.  During class the following day he actually used this wooden stick, I would like to call a wand (as it was magical at the immense heat it produced when rubbed against another plank of wood and the immense healing qualities it has brought to patients), on the same points. Rubbing the wooden wand against the plank of wood, he generated the heat required and then placed the tip of it on four different points on the back of my head- one on each side above my ears, one at the crown spot, and one at the base of my skull. Dr. Dorjee told us that a man who had suffered from a migraine that lasted over two years, had gone all over the world to consult doctors for cure, and landed at his wife’s office in Delhi. After receiving this particular treatment with the wooden stick two times, his migraine left and never returned. Believe what you will, but I still have not had a migraine since the brief treatment in class and hope for the best! Miracles are bound to happen when we are open to them.

Next he looked at my tongue, as Tibetan doctors read the texture and color of the patients tongue to tell the state of the internal body. After this he examined my urine, swishing it around to look at the size and duration of the bubbles, as well as the color and sediments, which allow him to further confirm the nye-pa or humour that is out of balance. Throughout the consultation he asked if I had specific symptoms, relating to psychological states and physical symptoms. From this thorough and holistic inquiry, all done without the use of any technology, he told me that the cause of my migraines and other symptoms was due to a problem with my circulation. Then I received lifestyle and dietary recommendations, which I was told would help balance out the nye-pas in my body. Many students also received Tibetan prescriptions, made with specific Tibetan plants, concocted during special lunar dates, and empowered with certain mantras, which help this process toward equilibrium of the nye-pas.

While Western medicine provides the best assistance in emergencies and acute issues, chronic diseases still strike America with fervor as thousands continue to suffer, despite our increasing technologies. Therefore I believe we can learn immensely from the Tibetan medical system on how to create a holistic system of medicine in our own culture. Not only do we need to start looking our lifestyles and our diets, we need to look into the interaction of the doctor and patient, as well as the motivation of the doctor in his or her practice. We need to shift our own perspective of how we view health, to one that is more than the lack of disease. We need to start inquiring how our mental state is affecting our physical body, and how our current environment is affecting our spirit. We need to realize we are already whole and we need to be open and committed to personal transformation, as it is truly the way we can benefit all beings. As Dr. Dorjee asked at the beginning of one of our classes, why do you want to be healthy? Further, how does one best go about creating it? And lastly, how do we generate holistic health in the West?

.Corinne Gay.


The Healer-Lamas of Tibet: Meeting Geshe Tobgyal-la

Wow…this is some blast from the past! I forgot to tell you guys about my experience with Geshe Tobgyal-la.

But before I tell you about it, just imagine…

It’s a beautiful sunrise up near the Himalayans in the town of Dharamsala. The birds are chirping, the monkeys are playing, and the dogs settling down in their favorite spots. Unfortunately, your back feels like it’s gone through an elephant stampede. Aside from turning morning meditation into torture, you feel the strong need to find some help now. But where do you go?

There are two directions you can take. One will lead you to a western trained doctor who will probably give you a pill and send you on your way. The other however is a healer-lama and his methods are much more interesting. Unlike western trained doctors, healers focus not only on the body but the mind as well. Just like doctors they have their medicines, but healers also use extensive rituals to rid the body and mind of ailments. This summer we were lucky to meet such a legendary healer-lama as Geshe Thobgyal-la. We were told he has never had to visit a hospital and were assured when he began the class by prostrating himself before the shrine. But Geshe la isn’t some spry 30 year old. He’s 92. That has to say something about his work.

For us he was generous to perform one of his more rare rituals, a detoxifying ritual separated into seven parts. To perform any ritual he first had to request a blessing and started by giving us a ball of dough. The dough itself is made of barley and is supposed to absorb any ailments you have when you press it against your body. I personally touched my back to keep the pain away. Others used it to absorb pain from other areas: head, legs, arms. This we placed near an effigy and Geshe-la began the process of washing away the ailments we had just removed. Capturing our reflection onto a mirror, he poured a purifying water to wash these all away. Following this was a detoxification of the six elements. Each one representing a different type of ailment: nervous system (Wood), flesh and bone (Earth), blood and other liquids (Water), body temperatures (Fire), and the mind (Space). All these we imagined as we breathed them out onto their respective elements which were finally placed at an effigy so they wouldn’t return. Nearing the end we removed any other hindering forces and spirits and were brought under the protective cover Geshe la provided. With the ritual over, Geshe Tobgyal la offered some inspiring words for many of the hopeful doctors among the group before ending the session and leaving. Now some may say the ritual was all smoke, while others will attest that it truly did bring results. With all said and done, it’s different from what we consider to be medicine but perhaps there is still something in his position as a healer. At the very least he offered us and others strong hope for the future. And who knows? Maybe tomorrow I can sit still during mediation without an aching back to deal with.


Nikhil Amaram

Norbulingka Arts Institute: Preserving Art, Culture & People

Courtney Keys

Norbulingka Reflection


The main focus of the Norbulingka Arts Institute here in Dharamsala, India is to preserve the authentic methods and products of the Tibetan artistic tradition. There are very real, very significant differences between the touristy, unsophisticated art sold in the attractions in what we call “town”, the large conglomerate of tourist venues and shops in Upper Dharamsala. There in Macleod Ganj, making very basic, yet still very beautiful and attractive replicas of the ancient art forms of thangkas, wood carving, mandalas, and stitching is the very livelihood of the TIbetan refugee community. Selling replicated artifacts that very closely resemble the yak’s hide canvasses stretched to receive the authentic and natural mineral paint of the hand-painted thangkas from home keeps many young, middle-aged, and elderly TIbetan people alive and fed. Sight-seers and spiritual pilgrims like ourselves are not familiar with the ancient methods, so we pay our 700 Rupees for the enchanting imitations, not knowing or caring of the difference. The rich Tibetan  Buddhist philosophical, cultural, and artistic tradition is what draws us to their well-established community -in-exile here in Dharamsala. Our eager funds spent at their small jewelry stands and t-shirt shops keeps capital circulating within the Tibetan community. These TIbetan entrepreneurs could use our business and we could use the inspiration.

The deeper truth is that in Tibet, art was not a profession one would undertake to support their livelihood. In the ‘ancient’ city of Lhasa and its surrounding provinces, art was a sacred part of the elite and revered religious tradition, inextricably tied to the culture, and inseparable from the details that made it unique. In short, poverty-stricken refugees were not producing traditional mandalas, the sacred prayer circles, or thangkas, the lustrous depictions of the Buddha. These two forms of art were inspired by very advanced practitioners, conceptualized during meditation, and preserved in their lucid memory. A wealthy patron, most likely a member of the aristocracy, would then commission an artisan to take on the task of bringing the meditator’s perceptive conceptualization into useful art. A mandala depicted the entire universe, generated by meditating on interdependence of all sentient beings, with the temple of the desired Buddha centered in the middle. Other practicing Buddhists would then consult the mandala in their process of mind-training and visualization, hoping one day to complete the task of conjuring such an extensive wisdom and insight into the interconnected nature of reality.

These paintings could take years, or they could take a lifetime. There was no rush for authentic art, and there was no pressure on a gifted artisan. Today, mandalas sit in shops in Macleod Ganj awaiting the highest bidder. Tourists like ourselves sift through looking for a specific color scheme or the most popular Buddhist mantra, “Om Mani Padme Hum”, printed in a pretty pattern. The artists have talent, but they don’t have a lifetime. We have appreciation, but we could not attempt a visualization.

To combat the distorting and diminishing affects of commercialization of the Tibetan artistic tradition, the office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan government-in-exile the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), and other generous benefactors funded the creation of a large oasis for training and maintaining the TIbetan artistic talent. This oasis is hidden in plain sight on an Indian street, not too far from Doma Ling Nunnery and an advanced Tantric monastery. There, the master thangka painter and former Emory Artist-In-Residence operates an upstairs loft-style space for training young, Tibetan artistic talent how to mix the paint, made of minerals, and stretch the canvasses over bamboo sticks.

Training the youth and maintaining the artistic tradition are two undertakings that go hand in hand at the Norbulingka Arts Institute. Norbulingka is the name of the Dalai Lama’s summer palace in Tibet, where there would undoubtedly be thangka paintings and embroidery depicting the enlightenment of the Buddhas Sakyamuni, Manjushri, Tara, and Avaloketeisvara. There would also be the independently commissioned life-stories of the Dalai Lama’s lineage of incarnation, from the very first to the 13th, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama’s immediate ancestor. But here in India, the Norbulingka oasis houses the current master thangka painter who has been commissioned by the 14th Dalai Lama to complete a 25-painting series with the highlights of his life and achievements to date. We got to see the very first one as it is still in progress, and the master chose to start at the beginning indeed: depicting His Holiness’ past lives, including the famous 5th Dalai Lama that united the provinces of Tibet and established the historic priest-patron relationship with the Khan emperors of the Mongolian Dynasty.

The master painter told our tour group, through our translator and director of our program Geshe Lobsang Tenzin, that it would take over 80 intricate thangka paintings to capture the life and achievements of the 14th Dalai Lama, as his achievements and recognition now span nearly the entire globe and human consciousness. That first painting and installment in the series was no smaller than 4 feet by 4 feet. It showed, in great detail, everything from the birth of His Holiness in the humble province of Amdo, to his first enthronement ceremony as Dalai Lama at a very young age, to his discussions with General Mao Zedong of the People’s Republic of China. 

Elaborate? Definitely. Excessive? You decide.

The 14th Dalai Lama’s home in Amdo was destroyed during China’s violent and terrifying Cultural Revolution, along with the rest of the city he was born in. His Holiness fled the holy city of Lhasa in 1951 with the Potala Palace under fire by Chinese airships.  Norbulingka was not just retaining the methodology of brush strokes or color mixing for the sake of charging the steeper prices than the tourist shops in town. Like His Holiness, the spirit of true Tibetan culture, their true livelihood outside of an income, fled from the high plateau of Tibet, through the snow-capped and treacherous Himalayan mountain trail, under the nose of the Chinese advancing troops. It survived the intended eradication of all things Tibetan culture during the bloody massacre of the Cultural Revolution, where millions of TIbetans were killed alongside 30 million Chinese citizens. Basically, Norbulingka stands in direct opposition to all those, from the apst and the present, who don’t take the time or the effort to educate themselves about genuine talent and historical fact. Norbulingka is for those 6 million Tibetans living in Tibet, outnumbered and unarmed in relation to Chinese occupiers, who still value and cherish the truth and the spirit, depicted through an ancient art form. And while there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with making a living, there is everything ‘right’ with breathing life back into an authentic yet destitute culture that can inspire and benefit all of humanity. In short, the master artist hones the ancient art form to record not just color schemes and popular mantras, but the heart and history of his leaders, his people, and his country. 


-Courtney Keys











Norbulingka Institute

The Norbulingka campus sits below Dharamsala, a series of buildings connected by a beautiful garden. The institute is named after the Dalai Lama’s summer residence outside of Lhasa. In Dharamsala, it’s the home to Tibetan visual artists and craftsmen, working to keep the ancient Tibetan artistry alive. Master artists will tutor students in Thanka painting, wood carving, and sculpture. Some of the apprentices go out into the world to practice their newly learned art, and some stay at Norbulingka to help teach new students.

We visited two workshops during our visit, the wood-painting studio and the Thanka painting studo. In the wood workshop, we saw apprentices carefully painting on designs sketched out by their teachers. There were about 7 artists working in the room, each with their own small station. The Thanka studio, we saw master painters working on different stages of thankas, some filling in background colors, others working on the costume details of the painted deities.

One painting we saw is one in a series of thankas commissioned by the Dalai Lama that.  When completed, the series will serve as visual biographies of each of the 14 Dalai Lamas. The thanka we saw depicted scenes from the current Dalai Lama’s early life, including his birth, his first visit to India, and the Chinese invasion of Lhasa. Much of the thanka was already painted, but with some of the figures just sketches, including the central figure of a young Tenzin Gyatso.

Norbulingka is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen during my time in Dharamsala. The campus is beautiful and tranquil. It’s definitely one of the success stories of the Tibetans in exile.


Audience with His Holiness the 17th Karmapa

On June 11th we were privileged enough to have a private audience with His Holiness the 17th Gyalwan Karmapa. The Karmapa is recognized as being the 3rd highest Lama in Tibetan Buddhism. His Holiness was recognized to be the reincarnation of the Karmapa at age 7 in Eastern Tibet, but had to flee at the young age of 14 because the Dalai Lama felt he could not serve the people to his full potential with all of the restrictions put on him by the Chinese government. He embarked on a treacherous two-month journey by train, bus, foot, and car into Dharamasala, India, where he now resides and where we visited him.

As a young Tibetan in his mid-twenties, His Holiness is particularly concerned with environmental issues. He commissioned the Living Mandala that is situated in the heart of Emory’s campus outside of Cannon Chapel, which was completed in March 2012. This Living Mandala is made up of various flowers, plants, and gravel in a raised bed with a circular design. I was fortunate enough to be one of the students who helped install and plant the structure. Seeing firsthand the transformation of a pile of dirt into a beautiful Mandala of plants was quite inspiring and symbolized the impermanence of life. I was able to work alongside monks and others who were also very passionate about the project, which was a great learning experience. Constructing this Mandala brought a community together through creating a quiet space where people can go to reflect and relax on campus.

Our audience with His Holiness began with a thorough security screening, something most of us are used to by now because of our multiple audiences with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I think the Karmapa’s talk was particularly interesting because he is only a few years older than most of us. His demeanor was slightly disinterested and nonchalant during our conversation, which I understood as his way of conveying humility and expressing that he doesn’t have all of the answers because he is still a young man. Our discussion mainly focused on how to help preserve Tibetan culture while in exile, in addition to keeping up with the changing traditions of the modern world. His Holiness said that he thinks a balance of keeping traditions alive along with accepting the modern world is best for young Tibetans. I agree that culture is even more important to preserve and pass on for a group of people who are struggling to maintain their identity since they have lost their homeland. However, it is also important to keep growing and moving on with life in a new place, which might include adding in new traditions and adapting to a new way of life. All of the Tibetans I have talked to seem to have embraced this notion of wanting to strike a balance of preserving their culture, while also adapting to their new lives in India.

As we were walking back to our cars after the audience, I stopped for a moment to look at the beautiful temple at the monastery where His Holiness resides. The large yellow and maroon temple looked stunning with the snow-capped Himalayas in the background. After being here for almost four weeks, the beauty and majesty of these mountains have never ceased to amaze me. Having these mountains practically in our backyard is something I think we are all going to miss when we return home!

~Liz Frame

Visit with His Holiness the Karmapa

by Lauren Henrickson

Earlier this week, our program ventured to Gyuto Ramoche Tantric University in Dharamsala to visit another high lama that we refer to as “His Holiness,” only this time it wasn’t the famed 14th Dalai Lama. This high lama, known as His Holiness the Karmapa, is the 17th Galwayng Karmapa named Ogyen Trinley Dorje, and he is the head of the Karma Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Interestingly, the lineage of His Holiness the Karmapa is even older than that of His Holiness the Dalai Lama by about two centuries and currently, there is some controversy over Ogyen Trinley’s legitimacy as the reincarnated 17th Karmapa. Another Karmapa is currently enthroned as the 17th Karmapa, and while most high lamas regard Ogyen Trinley as the rightful occupant of the role, some high lamas of the sect regard the other to be the rightful Karmapa. His Holiness the Dalai Lama confirms the legitimacy of Ogyen Trinley as the 17th Karmapa according to a dream His Holiness had of the birthplace that matches Ogyen Trinley’s birthplace.
This controversy has many of us intrigued, so we anticipated our visit with His Holiness the Karmapa with much excitement. We were also looking forward to this visit because the Karmapa is very young in age compared to other high lamas in Tibetan Buddhism; Ogyen Trinley was born in 1985, so he is certainly much closer in age to us than His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I was surprised, however, that despite being closer in age to His Holiness the Karmapa, I felt I could relate more to His Holiness the Dalai Lama during our private audience. Many of us felt that we might have caught the Karmapa on a bad day, because his demeanor was much more casual and lackadaisical than we had anticipated based on his reputation as a charismatic, young leader of the Tibetan people. With this surprise aside, we still were able to engage in meaningful conversation with His Holiness. This is an experience I will treasure especially considering it is likely His Holiness will be the next major political leader of Tibet in the near future.
During our question session, any of us were excited to hear about the Karmapa’s passion for environmental issues and their intersection with spirituality. In particular, we were looking forward to sharing with His Holiness that Emory instated a Living Mandala this past semester during Tibet Week 2012, because the idea to plant one on campus was inspired by the Karmapa. I had the pleasure of seeing this Living Mandala consecrated in the Pitts Garden near Canon Chapel at Emory, both spaces that are named after Methodist beneficiaries of the University. Colorful plants carefully laid out in the circular shape of a mandala, coupled with rows of colored glass that represent the five essential elements in Tibetan Buddhism that make up the physical world, comprise the Living Mandala that will be maintained for years to come on our campus. The establishment of this Tibetan Buddhist religious symbol in a space that is historically Methodist reflects the multi-religious dialogue the Emory community has with Tibet through the Emory-Tibet partnership; its constant growth emphasizes how we as a community have grown from our cross-cultural connection with Tibet, as we continue to cultivate an education of mind and heart.
It was thrilling to tell His Holiness the Karmapa that his vision for this Living Mandala has come to fruition, as he sees it as an important union of spirituality and our natural world. Our spirituality is dynamic just as our environment is, and they each can nurture each other in a unique way, according to the Karmapa.

Audience with the Dalai Lama

On June 6th, our class had a private audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He is easily my favorite (Presidential Distinguished) professor at Emory University. Hearing him speak was definitely one of the defining moments of the trip for me. Since it was such an unique experience, I though I would write a poem about it:

In private His Holiness spoke to us today

About religion and peace he had much to say

But of course he appreciates science

And with Emory began an alliance

So we can hang out with the monks all day

The Emory-Tibet Science Initiative was emphasized at the beginning of the audience. His Holiness was presented with new evolution and neuroscience textbooks written in Tibetan. He stressed the importance of Buddhist and scientific interaction, and mentioned his childhood curiosity for the world as an influence for this connection. Because facts and reality are at the heart of both Buddhism and science, they complement each other rather well.

His Holiness also addressed the concept of secular ethics. Secular ethics is a combination of the values that are inherently important to all human beings. These values incorporate ideas from all religious backgrounds. Concepts such as love and compassion are not limited to Buddhism and are valuable to all of us. Like Frans de Waal, the Dalai Lama believes that it is part of our human nature to work together as a community. Through secular ethics, we can recognize essential human values that transcend cultural boundaries and educate others about these values.

Personally, I found his comments on peace and international relations incredibly interesting. As a religious leader in exile, His Holiness understands the struggles of the modern world. He described the emotional power of his visit to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where he witnessed the aftermath of atomic bombs. The research and money invested in developing weapons like the atomic bomb threatens the very notion of peace. Although peace may not be easy, His Holiness is optimistic about the future. In his mind, world problems will always exist, but we can change the way we approach them. Through dialogue we can work to achieve peace. While we can never fully eliminate the problematic issues, as “social animals” we are naturally equipped to cope with them. There is always the potential for compassion within all of us.