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Friday, June 24, 2016

Blip culture, eHealth, and Tibetan Medicine

Another "Pastism" and Alvin Toffler "Futurism" post. The theme seems to be again about the early days of the internet, with only a smattering of relevance to ehealth.

I don't know what it is like now in Nepal but in 1996 in Boudhanath, the enclave of Kathmandu where there is a large population of Tibetan refugees living, using the internet was limited to one of only a dozen or so internet cafes in the entire city of Kathmandu, let alone Boudanath.  The internet cafe was mostly a place to make a long distance telephone call or send a fax. Not many in my immediate family even used email then. Anyway, I wanted to find out how my father was doing following his prostate surgery.  To digress, what was I doing in Boudhanath in the first place?

First off, I had just finished a one year career college diploma in Visual Basic/C Language Programming but instead of looking for a job like I was supposed to, I gave in to the notion to go to Nepal. I was a little disappointed that I had not studied HTML, Java script, and & Web Design because at that time, there was something called the "Internet' developing and I was a sort of a pioneer in that area because I had run a Bulletin Board System (BBS) system and I lived in Silicon Valley North (Ottawa). I guess the allure of the Himalayas had just too powerful a hold over me. The career college I graduated from would later change it's name to Everest College.Why equate getting a job and climbing the highest mountain in the world, I will never know.


I had gone to Nepal with the idea of studying about traditional Tibetan medicine and how ignorant westerners like me could be schooled to learn about it. A few years before I had had an appointment and a health check up with Yeshe Donden in Dharmasala India, the Himalayan town which holds the residence of the Dalai Lama and a large Tibetan refugee population. Yeshe Donden was once the personal physician of the Dalai Lama. Of course, I heeded some of his advise to improve my health, and bought his book "Health Through Balance" when I returned to Canada. I also possessed at the time more than several "medicine buddha initiations from my Tibetan Lama and other Lamas as well.  It was a meditation practice that somehow always had deeply resonated within me and I valued the "mantra as medicine" ideal.

I support Tibetan refugees and human rights and at that time two Tibetans and their families who I had known and corresponded with for many years were both living in Boudhanath. It was a good opportunity for me to travel there then. One of the Tibetans was actually a trained physician from Tibet, but in modern Chinese medical science, not traditional Tibetan medicine. Apparently, he almost had no choice but to study medicine under the Communist education system. Now as a refugee in Nepal, he was more keenly interested in following his natural bent, which was studying Tibetan Buddhist meditation practices.  Through his connections I was able to meet a number of Tibetan physicians, one of whom was Amchi (Doctor in Tibetan)   to the King of the Royal Family of Nepal.  Alas, this was a few years before the bad seed in that royal family took an automatic weapon and annihilated a dozen of the lot, including himself. That left a distant uncle  or relative of the royals to try to take up the vacant throne.

Another Tibetan physician who wore the robes of a monk (some do not) was a keeper and supplier of bags of herbal medicines, all hand picked in the Himalayas.  The bags were larger than 25 kilogram rice bags stacked up from floor to ceiling. From my experience living in South Korea doctors there could speak reasonable English because they had studied western medicine textbooks in English. These Tibetan physicians I was with had no such English language skills, and this was another reason for my being there - teaching English.

Anyway, once it was learned that my father had just gone through surgery for prostate cancer I was informed that traditional Tibetan medicine for him would be very good. Next thing I knew I had a bag of pills to take back home with me. When I got back home and visited my father in the hospital he was still listening to the Qi Gong meditation tape I had given him. I don't think he ever took the Tibetan medicine, but the pills were all nicely wrapped in gold leaf and looked good.  I had  previously heard about PADMA 28, Tibetan medicine for the heart, but had no idea about all the "precious pills" the Men-Tsee-Khang had in their stores for other illnesses and conditions. 

So this is all just to say that medical systems like those in Tibet are ancient - comprising thousands of years of evolution and development - while eHealth systems in comparison are a "blip culture", a phrase coined by Alvin Toffler. If you click that link you will find an interesting chapter (by the same name)  in a book called Evidence-Based Health Communication".

One spin off of the ancient meditation cultures like Tibet for eHealth has been a proliferation of apps  for mindfulness meditation.  I think this an amazing development, in line with computer brain interfaces, EEG mindfulness feedback systems, virtual reality temple visits, and whatever else you can think of from the touch of a button. The cultural anthropologist in me still thinks an app is not real communication, but since I successfully completed an online 8 week course on mindfulness meditation, I am not one to talk. I thought the course was brilliant and I have done the real 10 day silent mindfulness meditation retreats.  I blogged about that < here >.