Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tibetan Cures Blend Science, Spirit

ULAN-UDE, Eastern Siberia -- "There is nothing on this earth that cannot be used as medicine," read the words greeting visitors to Ulan-Ude's Tibetan Medical Center.

Eye of newt, liver of fowl -- even human excrement can play a role in the art of healing, according to ancient Tibetan scriptures. But fortunately for the more squeamish, modern-day afflicted, the center's emchi-lama, or spiritual doctor, steers clear of remedies requiring human parts for his wonder cures.

Step into the emchi-lama's office and you'll see no examining table, no cotton swabs, no 20th-century devices to poke, prod, or measure. Aside from the small Buddhist shrine in the corner -- a convenience for those who wish to pray for a speedy recovery -- the room is nearly bare. The emchi-lama, sometimes in the maroon robes of the buddhist monk, sometimes in Western dress, sits behind a small wooden desk piled high with clear plastic bags, each one containing a differently colored powder. More yellows, browns, greens and maroons overflow his briefcase.

"Everything you need is right here," Danesta Babuyev, the emchi-lama on duty, says in heavily accented Russian. Born in China, where his parents fled from their native Buryatia, Babuyev returned to visit his historic homeland five years ago and decided to stay. When he is not treating patients at the clinic, the graduate of a Chinese medical academy teaches students eager to carry on the tradition of Eastern medicine at a nearby Buddhist temple.

The growing interest in Tibetan medicine is part of a revival of Buddhist traditions throughout Buryatia, a small autonomous republic that skirts Lake Baikal in eastern Siberia.

The center opened in 1989. But Tibetan medicine has been a recognized field in Buryatia for nearly 30 years from a scientific, if not spiritual point of view. The center received official support and funding from Buryatia's Ministry of Health in 1992.

"We're waking up to the wisdom of the ages, but it is impossible to treat modern man by ancient methods alone," said Lyudmila Kosygina, an administrator. "Their psychology is different. Their minds as well as their bodies have changed."

The center's aim is not to replace modern medicine, but to broaden its capabilities. This is no emergency clinic. It is not the place to go when suffering a heart attack, kidney failure or fresh knife wounds. This is an alternative form of treatment for the persistent, lingering disease.

"We have particularly good results with long-term illnesses such as heart disease, kidney stones and rheumatism," said Kosygina. They have treated everything from cancer to infertility.

One of the ways the emchi-lama can achieve this is through pulse diagnosis. According to the Gyudbshi, the Tibetan book of medicine, the pulse can tell much more than how fast the heart is beating.

Placing three fingers on the pulse points of his patient, emchi-lama Babuyev tapped the wrist with vacillating pressure -- as if he were playing a silent sonata. After three or four minutes he took the other hand, reading this pulse with the same level of intensity.

"It's your spleen," Babuyev said. "It's not working properly." Sorting through the mountain of medicine before him, Babuyev settled on two brown and yellow powders and a package of maroon pellets. "Take this before dinner and bedtime for two weeks and you'll feel better," he said, mixing the powders together with a long metal spoon.

Aside from the three emchi-lamas, the center is staffed with a medical personnel of 20 trained to treat with massage, acupuncture and other Eastern methods. While there are other Tibetan medical centers that have popped up around the country, they are all on a much smaller scale, and they are not backed by the government.

One of the center's goals is to promote a program of "medical tourism." Earlier this year, groups from California and Japan came for treatment at the center. If there aren't enough emchi-lamas to go around the world, said Kosygina, then let the world come to the emchi-lama.