Nepali Times
Amchis want recognition

Packets of powdered medicine lie in the middle of a meeting hall at Shechen monastery, circled by a group of traditional Tibetan healers known as 'Amchis', who are chanting.

The ceremony is one of the many features that are unique to the Tibetan science of healing which has its origins 1,700 years ago on the plateau. This is a ceremony in which the healers are empowered and the medicines are blessed so they are more effective. It is the last step in the production process of traditional Tibetan medicine at a recent eight-day workshop organised by the Himalayan Amchi Association (HAA).

After the establishment of Tibetan medicine schools in India, China and Nepal, more and more students, even those with no ties to Tibet are studying to become Amchis. While the Ministry of Education in Nepal through Council for Technical Education and Vocational Training (CTEVT) has agreed to HAA's proposal to certify students and give them titles when they complete the required years of education, the practice is yet to earn legal recognition in the country.

President Amchi Gyatso Bista of HAA (pictured, right) says he is dismayed by the lack of legal recognition in Nepal. "We have been pressing for this since the beginning," he said. "I can't understand why the Ministry of Health doesn't want to give us official recognition."

While China and India have recognised the practice, in Bhutan and Mongolia traditional Tibetan healing is part of the national health care system. Even in China, the Tibetan medicine industry is booming with factories producing more than 100 medicines every day.

Amchi Namgyal from Dolpa, one of the participants at the Shechen workshop, began his training at age 12 under his father's guidance. But the tradition of the knowledge passing from generation to generation is changing after the establishment of Tibetan medicine schools.

The Nepal government's reluctance to give the Tibetan medicine system recognition has socially and economically marginalised Amchis in the country, affecting their ability to make effective medicines.

Tibetan medicine has been practiced in Nepal for the past 1,000 years and forms a part of the traditional and faith-healing culture even after the advent of modern medicine. Amchis say they work not just with the patients' bodies, but also their mind and soul. They don't just try to cure one ailment at a time, but look holistically at the person and seek long-term solutions.

Until a decade ago, there were only a handful of Tibetan clinics in the country. Today there are more than 20 just in Boudhanath. Many operate under the 'Ayurveda' label, something Amchi Bista doesn't approve of. He says: "This is not a branch of Ayurveda. It has its own unique identity that should be maintained and this is possible only when we get due recognition."

Tsering Dolker Gurung

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(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)