By Dr. Yeshi Dhonden, translated by B. Alan Wallace
Born in Tibet in 1929 and trained there as well, Dr. Yeshi Dhonden, a Tibetan medical doctor and a physician to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, is the author of the books Health Through Balance: An Introduction to Tibetan Medicine and the new Healing from the Source: The Science and Lore of Tibetan Medicine (both by Snow Lion Publications).
Dr. Dhonden has been participating in a cancer study at a San Francisco hospital, assisted by Marsha Woolf, clinical director for the Tibetan team, comparing the effectiveness of Western and Tibetan medicine in treating certain types of breast cancer. Dr. Dhonden was staying in the El Cerrito hills near Berkeley, California when he gave this interview on January 22, 2000. B. Alan Wallace, who is the translator of Dr. Dhonden’s new book, kindly functioned as translator for this interview.
Dr. Dhonden told Mandala of some of his successes in treating diseases such as AIDS and cancer.
Please be so kind, Dr. Dhonden, as to tell us about your work in the West these last twenty-odd years – a little bit about what you’ve done and some of the things you’ve been successful with. We’ve heard you’re working very much with cancer, also AIDS and things like this. It would be very nice for people to know.
It has been quite a few years that I’ve been coming to the West treating a wide variety of illnesses. It’s true that there is a kind of special interest and emphasis in the West on treatment for cancer and AIDS – those are two prominent and very serious illnesses. I’ve treated many people with cancer, many of whom were given a very dire prognosis by the Western physicians. In some cases the doctors were telling them they had only a month or two to live, and there are a number of cases like that where such patients have taken Tibetan medicine and have survived quite a long time thereafter.
And so it seems like a very good success rate with cancer, on the one hand; on the other hand, it is not my custom or the Tibetan custom to keep careful logs or notes or journal accounts, etc. of exactly the ratio or the proportion of people who are effectively treated by Tibetan medicine, so I don’t know the names of these people – it is simply not part of this tradition.
I’ve had quite a number of people who’ve come to me inIndiawith cancer, and also in the West, sometimes where it’s metastasized – so it starts in the breast and then sometimes it spreads to the liver or to the lungs. I’ve seen quite a number of cases in which patients, even with metastasized cancer, have taken Tibetan medicine and have gotten considerable benefit from it.
Where AIDS is concerned, some time back, a young man of about 35 or so came to see me inNew York City. He said he wasn’t coming to be diagnosed, didn’t want an analysis of his urine or a pulse diagnosis, but simply wanted to say that some years earlier he, together with a companion of his, had AIDS, and they both came to see me and received diagnosis and treatment. The other one dispensed with Tibetan medicine and went into various types of medication from Western doctors, and he eventually passed away. This fellow had simply taken my medicine, and consequently he wound up being free of AIDS. But again, I have not kept careful statistics or records of exactly who these people are, when did they take the medication, how long? – no such careful records exist.
When the AIDS epidemic first broke out, I really didn’t pay much attention to it, but about 20 years ago, a fellow in his mid-30s came to Dharamsala from Australia, and he was very ill, suffering from AIDS, which I knew nothing about. He was so ill that hospitals wouldn’t even have him. They said, “There’s no reason for you to come here, we have nothing to offer you.” So this fellow made his way to Dharamsala, he was so ill, so weak. He spent four months in Dharamsala; I did a thorough examination of him, and he was taking medication during that time. Then eventually he was able to leave and went back toAustralia. Before his departure I gave him six months of medication to take; after those six months had gone by, he sent me a letter saying, “Well, my illness is about half cured.”
I was kind of perplexed at that point. What does it mean to be “half-cured” of an illness? He didn’t have a name for it, didn’t really know what he was talking about, but this fellow said, “Would you please send me another six months of medication?” I said, “Okay, sure,” and sent him another six months of medication. After another six months had passed – so this fellow had taken a year of medication inAustraliaat his home – he sent a letter that was verified by his physician inAustraliasaying that he no longer had AIDS.
My Tibetan treatment for AIDS is not very well known in theUnited States, so most of the AIDS patients from the West who have come to me have been fromGermany,ItalyandFrance.
About a year and a half ago a German fellow arrived at my clinic in Dharamsala. I was upstairs at the time, and he said, “Oh, I really need to see Dr. Dhonden,” so I came down and said, “Well, I’ll do a diagnosis,” and the fellow said, “I don’t need a diagnosis.” So I said, “Well, what did you come here for if you’re not ill?” The man said, “Well, there’s a fellow inGermanywho’s expressly sent me to you to get more medication from you. We have a letter verifying by his doctors that he does have AIDS. He’s been taking your treatment for six months, and the doctors have found that he’s definitely experiencing improvement. The doctor advised him, “Whatever you’re taking, continue taking that, because it’s proving beneficial.” So this fellow had been expressly sent by this patient to me to get another six months, and I said, “Okay, well, here’s another six months.” The fellow took it back, and some months after that they heard the patient had gotten much better.
Tibetan medicine is not like Western medicine. A lot of Western medicine, you take it and you expect immediate results within a day, or two days at most, really snappy. Tibetan medicine is rarely that way, and so generally speaking, Westerners should not take Tibetan medicine with any expectation that it’s going to give immediate results. In many cases, after maybe 25 or 30 days, they might start to see some results. And in some cases, for very sudden illnesses, or what are called “advantageous illnesses,” also for illnesses involving a heat disorder, in such cases Tibetan medicine can be quite effective within a day or two, and you can see very clearly the benefit. But in many cases, that is not the case. Here in the West, when people come to see me, the vast majority of them don’t have these kinds of short-term illnesses. Most of them are coming with really chronic problems, and really, therefore, they should not have any expectations that the medicine will work very quickly.
To give one case in point, some years ago there were two Indian brothers, one in his 20s and the other about 40, and both simultaneously came down with brain tumors. They were diagnosed, and the doctors told them, “You should both have operations to have these things surgically removed.” The older brother said, “Well, look, there’s no problem if I die before my younger brother; after all, I’m older. And so let him have the finer treatment.” They couldn’t afford two operations.
I said, “What I suggest is maybe why don’t you both hold off on the operation and just give Tibetan medicine a try.” These two brothers decided the older brother would sacrifice the hospital treatment and surgical procedure for the sake of his younger brother. He wanted to make sure he had the best of everything. The younger brother then went to the hospital and had his tumor surgically removed, and the older brother took Tibetan medicine. Well, for a while it looked like the younger brother was doing pretty well and the older brother was doing pretty well. But then, in the case of the younger brother, another tumor formed, he had to go for another surgical operation, and then he died. The older brother never had an operation, he only had Tibetan medicine, and he’s now into his 60s.
When it comes to multiple sclerosis, there are a number of cases that I’ve witnessed in which people suffering from this illness have gotten definite benefit from taking Tibetan medicine. For example, there was one woman patient inNew York City[in her late 20s or early 30s]. She had very advanced MS so that she really couldn’t move, and she had a job where she leaned over like this, and all she had to do was work on the telephone. But besides that she was just immobilized, she was really crippled. She was taking medication for three years, four years, and after four years she was actually able to move around.
As for this range of illnesses that come under the rubrics of jaundice, hepatitis, gallbladder and liver disorders, there’s simply no way to count all of the patients that I’ve treated both in Asia as well as in the West for varieties of hepatitis. Although these strains of hepatitis are considered to be very serious illnesses, for which there is no effective treatment in the West, in the context of Tibetan medicine they are not considered to be terribly difficult to heal, and I’ve helped countless cases of those types of illnesses.
Cases of people suffering from leukemia or blood cancer have also gotten benefit from Tibetan medicine. In both of those cases, MS as well as leukemia, it’s necessary for the patient to take the medication for quite a long time. I have seen Tibetan medicine be effective in cases of leukemia. The one type of leukemia that winds up being quite difficult to treat with Tibetan medicine is when there’s a very high count of white blood cells, and the cancer spreads into the lymph nodes.
Another area where I’ve had some success is with people who have suffered strokes, where, for example, one-half of the body is paralyzed or heavily impaired. What I found is that if such patients are in their 40s or younger and take Tibetan medicine, the medication is very, very effective. If they’re in their 50s or older, they still get some benefit but not as much. This is assuming once again that they have not had any operations or anything else that would complicate the situation. If it’s just been Tibetan medicine, then that’s the case. Older – some benefit, but not the complete benefit.
Quite a few Tibetans get stomach cancer due to digestive problems, poor diet, various cattle spora, etc., and they’re very frequently effectively treated with Tibetan medicine. Take one case in point: a Tibetan woman in her late 40s or early 50s had it, and she was advised that she would need an operation to have it surgically removed. But she didn’t really want an operation – a lot of Tibetans don’t. So she came for Tibetan medicine, and for about three year she seemed to be doing quite well.
After three years a cancer formed again in her stomach. She was diagnosed by Western-trained medical doctors, and they said it’s terminal: there’s no possibility of this being healed, no hope. So she basically was just bringing her life to a close; she made offerings. She made offerings to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. But once again somebody advised, “Why don’t you take Tibetan medicine?” Feeling there was nothing to lose, and she was really quite ill, she took Tibetan medicine once again, and she’s healed and doing fine.
There is a Western-type clinic run by a Tibetan who is trained in Western medical tradition. When he does a diagnosis and finds patients who have stomach cancer, he generally just gets on the phone to me and says, “I have another one for you.” An elderly man in his 70s from a town in northernIndiahad stomach cancer, and he was diagnosed in this clinic and was told there was really nothing they could do for him. He considered Tibetan medicine. He wasn’t even able to travel, so his son said to me on his behalf, “could you give him some medication? He can’t come.”
I sent him the medication because he was immobilized, and he took it for not quite two years. After doing so, he was up and around, doing fine once again. His son injured his ankle or leg in some way and came to this clinic to get his leg fixed, and his father came with him. The Tibetan doctor there who was trained in Western-style medicine saw this old man show up, and he said, “How can you still be here? What happened to you, how can you be up and around?” The old man said, “Well, I took Dr. Dhonden’s Tibetan medicine for this, and here I am.” So it was from that time that the Tibetan doctor at this clinic started sending his patients with stomach cancer to me. This Tibetan doctor is quite young, and he doesn’t really have much affinity for the Tibetan world view or Tibetan medicine, but he’s a good person. When he saw it works, based on his own experience, then he started to refer patients to me.
There really are too many cases to count over the many years that I’ve been treating this. In addition to the ones I’ve mentioned, there have been quite a few cases of people with liver and with lung cancer who have also taken Tibetan medicine and gotten benefit from it.
This work you’re doing now with the US FDA, Food and Drug Administration, what is it?
It’s approved by them. There has not been great success in this formal study. The major reason for this is that I’ve been limited to just seven medications for treating breast cancer. A Tibetan doctor, if he is going to avail himself of all the medications possible, it’s far more than that. But I was limited to just using seven in this study, which means, in a way, I had one hand tied behind my back. So the results have not been very impressive in this regard.
It’s quite an ordeal to get medications approved by the FDA for the study, and even to get seven was a massive amount of work. To cover the full range of medications that could potentially be used would have been far more work than anybody had the time to do. That’s been a major limiting factor in this regard. There are 42 different types of specifically women’s ailments. There are nine types of tumors, and there are 16 types of ailments involving the channels of various sorts. It’s not like there’s just breast cancer – the breast cancer is always situated in a context involving the three humors. There could be microorganisms involved. There are so many different factors in treating each person in a tailor-made fashion, one that’s perfectly appropriate for the individual. A qualified doctor has to be able to avail him or herself of the full range of these medications, and that would go into really quite a large number. To limit it to seven was really quite a major limitation, which has quite an impact on the study.
But you still must obviously feel it’s worthwhile.
Is it beneficial, is it significant or meaningful? It’s kind of hard to say. It’s not that meaningful or significant because of the severe restrictions on what kind of medications can be given. It’s not a very fair test of Tibetan medicine as a whole, where one should be able to avail oneself of all these medications. I was not really able to act according to my own wishes, was not satisfied that I was able to practice effectively because of this limitation. Among the wide range of Tibetan medicines that potentially would be used in treating various types of cancer, even they’re all completely natural herbal compounds with no toxic substances, no mercury, etc., because of the strict rules of the FDA, we are not allowed to use this full range.
Be that as it may, in treating these various types of cancer, something that is really of primary importance is that the patient follow appropriate diet and behavior. This is extremely important. If that is overlooked, then it’s very difficult for the medications, even if they are the perfectly appropriate medications, to be effective.
One case in point: there was one woman in the study who, when she first came, had cancer only in one area and that was in her left breast. When I diagnosed her within this larger group of women with breast cancer, I said, “You have the best prognosis, and it looks very, very good.” The woman was fairly young. I said, “Here’s the medication.” I gave her the prescription for the appropriate diet and conduct. But this woman is in a mess, her life situation is filled with adversity. She’s just gone through a very brutal divorce from her husband; there are also two lawsuits pending on her. An enormous amount of stress in her life. Because of the pressure she is feeling, she violated the advice that I gave her for her diet. Specifically I told her “no alcohol and no coffee.” Well, because she was under this tension and depression, etc., she was taking beer every day, and she was also taking a couple of cappuccinos every day. It completely overwhelms the efficacy of the medication. As a result, she, who should have had the best prognosis, wound up getting worse – so much worse that she was removed from the study by the Western physician here.
Now that she’s off the study, the up-side is that I can give her more than just the limited seven medications. I admonished her that she has to stop violating the dietary advice that I gave her. Since she was afraid and saw that she was putting her health and very life in jeopardy, she started really following the dietary prescriptions that I gave her and was able to take really appropriate medications for her illness whether or not they were among that group of seven medications. As a result, in the last couple of weeks she too has gotten better. Now she’s able to move her arms with greater ease, etc.
If, from the beginning, I could have been able to draw from the full range of Tibetan medicines, so that I could give exactly the appropriate medication for each patient, then I’m confident the results in this particular study would have been more impressive. That’s been the real point of contention – the limitations here. For the women who are no longer formally in the study, they can still take mediation from me, and then they can take exactly what they need. Having said that, good, I want to reiterate a point: together with medication, what is of primary importance is that the patient follow the appropriate diet, abstain from certain types of injurious foods, and follow the appropriate behavior.
Four years ago a middle-aged man, a Californian, was diagnosed with cancer where they gave him only four months to live. He had bone cancer, and it was metastatic. He was considered a goner. And he’s been taking Tibetan medicine. He did have one relapse, but he’s out of the relapse. Now it’s four years later, he’s up and around, he’s driving, cooking, taking care of himself. He came down toLos Angelesjust recently.
So what’s the main diet change for people with cancer?
Generally speaking, when one has breast cancer, and this is general because again there are not just breast cancers, always within the specific person’s humoral constitution: if a person does have breast cancer, then one should avoid fatty and oily foods. One should also avoid tobacco, alcohol, and coffee.
In cases of spleen and liver cancer, one should avoid fried foods, broiled (meaning burnt) foods, and avoid fermented foods. Avoid tobacco, coffee and also marijuana or hashish. In many cases, men get cancer that has been induced by hashish and marijuana, and I can pick it up immediately. And they really have to stop that.
Generally speaking, macrobiotic diets are good for people with cancer, with one exception: a number of macrobiotic diets entail quite a few sour foods. Keep low on sour foods. Avoid strong meats, such as chicken, pork and beef. Such people can eat fish. That’s not so bad.
Sickness is Caused by Karma and Delusion
For Western Buddhists, maybe it’s good to have some more information about how sickness is caused by karma and delusion.
Generally speaking, there’s a relationship between disorders of the three humors – wind, bile and phlegm – and the three primary mental afflictions. Among the three poisons of the mind – attachment, hatred, and ignorance – the distant cause from lifetime to lifetime of wind disorders is attachment. Attachment over the course of a lifetime karmically manifests as wind disorders. Anger or hatred manifest karmically as disturbances of the bile humor, so bile disorders. Finally, ignorance, the fruition of ignorance, acts motivated by ignorance, are disturbance of the phlegm humor. So there’s this relationship between the three mental afflictions and the three humors.
So generally speaking, there’s a classification of 404 types of illness. Within that broad categorization there’s one type of illness, one sub-class called temporary illnesses that arise due to unhealthy diet and/or behavior. There’s a second sub-class of illnesses that are said to be illnesses just within this life, and these also arise due to circumstances in this life. The illness arises in this life and it finishes in this life. So in that case you don’t speak of karma from lifetime to lifetime. Then there’s another sub-class of illnesses that includes serious illnesses that do arise as a result of karma from lifetime to lifetime. Those are karmically-induced illnesses; but in some cases, if the patient engages in very, very strong purifying practices, creating a great deal of merit, in some cases, even those can be cured. Fourthly, there’s another sub-class of illnesses, and these are caused by spirits, or non-human entities of which there’s a very, very wide range – so many kinds of entities or beings out there who can inflict us with illnesses.
And now for the second type of illnesses that arise within this lifetime; they’re fully manifested in this lifetime, but all circumscribed within a single lifetime. For that class of illness, then optimally the patient would be following a healthy diet and behavior, would also take medical treatment from the doctor, and also perform some type of religious ritual practice, some kind of Dharma practice, spiritual practice.
For the third type of 101 illnesses that are caused by karma from previous lives, the most that can be done, and the only thing that can possibly be of benefit for such illnesses consists of spiritual practices, Dharma practices, in which you are doing a great deal of purification, purifying obscurations, and accruing a great deal of merit. In that case, it’s possible, by no means a given, that one can be cured of the illness.
For the fourth class, 101 illnesses that are caused by various types of non-human entities – spirits and the like – medication by itself will not be effective. First of all, one needs to counteract the influence of these non-human agents. And once that’s been taken care of, then the medicine can be effective. But if one does not counteract these spirit influences, then medical treatment by itself will not be effective.Tags: healing, health