Institute Of Traditional Tibetan Medicine (Warsaw, Poland)

By Alyssa Bernadette Cahoy

The decades following the 1959 Tibetan revolt against Chinese occupation and exodus to India marked an era in which Tibetan medicine (Sowa Rigpa) served as an agent of cultural preservation (Kloos 2008, 16). Now in the 21st century, the transnational circulation of Tibetan medicine is largely characterized by its standardization as a medical system. Regulations enforced on traditional medicines have helped assure its legitimacy in the international market (Kloos 2008, 37). The reconfiguration of Tibetan healing practices as an alternative medicine that supplements biomedical bodies of knowledge with humanistic wisdom has contributed to its growing recognition in a pluralistic global-cultural landscape (Janes 2002, 282). The continued presence of Tibetan medicine in modern networks of exchange is also due to its alignment with the holistic health movement (Janes 2002, 286). The 14th Dalai Lama in particular has championed the traditional Tibetan medical system as a therapeutic modality that contributes to Western frameworks of health. He has traveled the world to speak with world leaders and scholars to raise awareness of Tibetan spiritual and healing traditions.

In July 2009, the 14th Dalai Lama visited Warsaw, Poland to receive honorary citizenship from the mayor of Warsaw and give a public talk at the University of Warsaw. At the invitation of Dr. Venerable Tenzin Jangchub, a graduate of the Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute (i.e., Men-Tsee-Khang) based in India, the Dalai Lama opened the Institute of Traditional Tibetan Medicine during his stay. While there are a few Tibetan refugees who settled in Poland, the Institute’s clinic, called Traditional Tibetan Herbal Health Clinic Co. Ltd., was also established for the good of Polish people and other Europeans (Sulek 2006, 64). In addition to providing Sowa Rigpa-based healthcare, the Institute also hosts conferences featuring both practitioners of biomedicine and Sowa Rigpa to promote dialogue and find ways to improve overall quality of care. Another one of the Institute’s aims is to introduce Sowa Rigpa to Polish doctors and foster mutual understanding. The theme of working towards basic human rights for all—health and happiness—underpins the diffusion of Tibetan Buddhist medicine throughout Europe and beyond (Kloos 2020, 176).

Regardless of the popularity of Sowa Rigpa and the qualifications of its practitioners, the European Union has enforced legal restrictions on the prescription of herbal remedies (Schwabl 2009, 379). The legislation enforces the registration of herbal products for public safety and is not meant to restrict the practice of traditional medicine (European Medicines Agency 2014). The Dalai Lama has had a sustained interest in the intermingling of Buddhism, traditional Asian medicine and biomedicine, and he continues to speak for the interests of Tibetan traditions in that exchange. 


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Scholarly Sources

  • Janes, Craig R. (2002). “Buddhism, science, and market: The globalisation of Tibetan medicine.” Anthropology & Medicine, 9(3), 267-289.
  • Kloos, S. (2020). Humanitarianism from Below: Sowa Rigpa, the Traditional Pharmaceutical Industry, and Global Health. Medical Anthropology, 39(2), 167–181.
  • Kloos, S. (2008). The History and Development of Tibetan Medicine in Exile. The Tibet Journal, 33(3), 15–49.
  • Sulek, E. (2006). Imagining Tibet in Poland: A Contribution to Anthropology of Imagined Countries. The Tibet Journal, 31(2), 49–68.
  • Schwabl, Herbert. (2009). “It is Modern to be Traditional: Tradition and Tibetan Medicine in the European Context.” Asian Medicine 5(2), 373-384.

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