The tradition of Amchi

The Tradition of Amchi Medicine

Medicine is passed down like a religious lineage, from father to son. It is also like a dance and a game. People offer what they know, sometimes adding new ideas from what they have seen and done. In our tradition, we learn to take from our teacher’s ideas and our books to create new ideas, which come into full bloom like a lotus flower when combined with the soil of experience”.
Gyatso Bista, Co-founder of Lo Kunphen

Tibetan medicine, based on the herbs and natural products of Tibet and the Himalaya, has existed for thousands of years. It is a rigorous discipline, requiring years of hard study to attain mastery of the Gyud Shi, the Four Medical Treatises, augmented by other texts and clinical practice under the guidance of a master. Diagnosis is by pulse and urine analysis, and treatments are based on the amchi’s assessment of the functions of the three “humours”: wind, bile, and phlegm. Imbalance of these is considered to be the cause of disease, and total health is understood as a relationship between mind, body, spirit and physical environment. This holistic approach to healing combines the body’s need for physical wellness with the quest for spiritual balance and mental peace. The teachings of Buddha are considered to be the foundation of Tibetan medicine. In addition to medical skills, a qualified amchi must also have knowledge of religious philosophy, astrology, and traditional painting.

In recent decades the number of practising amchis in Mustang has dropped dramatically, from around 30 (approximately one for each village) to a current level of only seven, to serve not only the local people, but also visitors who come across the border from Tibet. This decline is due to a shift towards a more cash based economy associated with the out-migration of young people from Mustang for work, introduction of development programmes that have not valued indigenous knowledge, and the impacts of western medicine. Medicinal plants have become difficult and expensive to acquire, and it is more often necessary to import the raw materials from other areas or abroad. Despite this increase in overheads, the system of payment for amchi services is still based primarily on the tradition of voluntary donations, whereby people give what they are able to afford in exchange for medicine and the amchi’s time. In the poorest villages, where the need is often greatest, this may be very little.

We believe amchi medicine emphasises disorders as they
manifest in the relationship between body, mind and soul, especially on the mind aspect of disorders. For Sowa Rigpa practitioners and followers of Buddhism, ignorance is the root cause of all diseases.
Lo Kunphen aims to provide a culturally appropriate free education and professional opportunities to children from poor families in mountain communities, and in particular to maintain and develop the tradition of amchi (Tibetan) medicine. Donations are welcome.