Himalayan Amchi Association
The Himalayan Amchi Association (HAA) is dedicated to the preservation and development of traditional amchi medicine, or Sowa Rigpa, in Nepal, and to networking with and mutually supporting amchi throughout the greater Himalayan and Central Asian region. Amchis' mission as medical practitioners is to serve people altruistically and help promote health through the balance of humanity and nature, as well as mind, body, and spirit. As such, the HAA aims to provide local communities in Nepal with reliable health care, safeguard amchi knowledge, improve educational opportunities for amchi, and contribute to the conservation of medicinal plants and the fragile Himalayan ecosystems on which amchi medicine depends.
Amchi Medicine: Past, Present and Future
In general, amchi medical practice is also identified by the name sowa rigpa, which means "science of healing" in classical Tibetan as well as in regional Himalayan and Central Asian languages and dialects. The word amchi means "doctor". This system of medicine is a spiritual practice, a science, and an art that dates back thousands of years. Aspects of our medicine system were transmitted from India to Tibet between the 7th and 12th centuries, during the first and second dissemination of Buddhism. This system, combines the profound work of Sangye Menla, the Medicine Buddha, with indigenous Tibetan traditions such as Bön, and was shaped into sowa rigpa as it is known today.
Historically, amchi would begin their medical training at an early age. Their knowledge and skills have been transferred from teacher to student, often from father to son. Thus, lineages of amchi families exist throughout the Tibetan cultural world. After learning how to read and write classical Tibetan and studying relevant religious texts, students would learn their vocation by apprenticing elder amchi and studying the Gyud Shi, or the Four Root Tantra texts of Tibetan medicine. Young amchi would also learn how to identify and collect medicinal plants, make medicine, remove poisonous qualities of certain ingredients, diagnose disease using pulse and urine analysis, and provide prescriptions for patients. They would also be trained in moxibustion, cauterization, and other healing techniques. Likewise, amchi would receive training in astrology, as it is an essential component of diagnosis and treatment within Tibetan medical tradition.
Challenges and Statement of Need
Amchi have been contributing significantly to the health care systems of remote mountain communities in the Himalaya and Tibetan Plateau for centuries. In many parts of Nepal, amchi are the sole providers of health care. However, despite the great benefit that comes from amchi medicine, this system is under threat in Nepal and other parts of the Himalaya and Tibetan Plateau. The younger generation is having a difficult time sustaining this practice amidst changing social, economic, and cultural circumstances. The dearth of traditional institutes of learning for Tibetan medicine has contributed to this decline. Likewise, the lack of government recognition for amchi practice by the government of Nepal has further hindered the amchis' abilities to pass on knowledge, serve communities, and protect the environments on which this medicine depends.
It has become clear that amchi living and practicing in the greater Himalayan region, including Nepal, must take effective and timely steps to revitalize this unique traditional medical system. By doing this, we will also help safeguard the health, well being, and cultural traditions of our remote mountain communities. If we do not protect and support our own knowledge and practice, it will soon be rendered obsolete.
Organizational History, Activities and Goals
Given these circumstances, amchi practicing in Nepal agreed to establish the Himalayan Amchi Association (HAA) with the objective of restoring the practice of amchi medicine and encouraging the restoration and support of this vital traditional knowledge within areas where amchi are still living and practicing medicine. The HAA has been registered with His Majesty's Government of Nepal as a non-profit organization since 1998. The organization represents a large number of traditional doctors from remote areas of Nepal, including those from the districts of Dolpa, Mustang, Gorkha, Sinduwapalchowk, Mugu, Humla.
Since its founding in 1998, the HAA has organized four national conferences of amchi in Nepal and three refresher training courses for novice amchi in the fundamentals of sowa rigpa, according to the Gyu Shi. These events have brought together more than 100 senior and novice amchi from Nepal, as well as guests from India and the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China. The HAA has also published and distributed four booklets based on the national conferences.
In 2003, the HAA opened its own clinic in Kathmandu. This clinic, staffed by member amchi on a rotational basis, not only provides medical care to people from remote mountain communities when they come to Kathmandu, but also provides the HAA with a source of income and a view towards organizational sustainability. It also serves as a site for clinical training and apprenticeship for novice amchi.
In 2004, the HAA held its first International Conference of Amchi, with delegates from Mongolia, Tibet Autonomous Region (PRC), Bhutan, Ladakh (India), and throughout Nepal. During this historic conference, delegates have discussed both constraints and potentials of our medical traditions and made several unanimous resolutions, in order to safeguard and develop amchi medical systems in the contemporary global context. Amchis from each country agreed to establish a coalition in order to realize the five-point action plan and resolutions listed below, in both national and international contexts.
The long-term aims of the HAA is to preserve and consolidate the knowledge and skills represented by traditional Himalayan healers and Tibetan medicine, in order to provide local communities with an effective health care system and at the same time contribute to the conservation of Himalayan ecosystems.
Our immediate objectives are to:
- Improve the quality of and support for amchi medicine throughout the greater Himalayan region.
- Obtain government recognition and support for amchi medicine.
- Improve and standardize traditional medicines.
- Coordinate communication within and between amchi.
- Organize the production of medicinal herbs in a sustainable manner.
- Expand the knowledge of and support for traditional amchi medicine both regionally and internationally.
Activities of the HAA
The HAA's action plan is as follows:
- Recognition and Support
In Bhutan, Mongolia and the PRC, sowa rigpa is fully recognized and supported by national governments. In Nepal and India, however, the national governments have not recognized this medical system, although many citizens in both rural and urban environments rely on amchi for health care. As such, especially in the countries where our medical system has not yet been recognized, we strongly request the formal and full recognition of our medical practice, and concomitant and support by the government. Such support should include equal rights for medical practitioners and financial commitments toward medical education, medical production, medicinal plant conservation, and health care delivery.
- Development of Medical Educational Systems
With the exception of Nepal, formal university level education of our medical system exists in all other represented countries; education in amchi medicine in Nepal is currently conducted through four small, private schools, none of which receive government support. It is crucial in Nepal to institutionalize medical education in collaboration with appropriate government agencies. We aim to combine ancient and modern systems of medical education and create curriculums that will be recognized and supported by both the government of Nepal and international institutions of sowa rigpa. There is great potential to develop existing educational structures, particularly through collaboration and knowledge sharing among amchi from diverse countries and backgrounds. It is essential to conduct trainings and workshops with the aim of developing curriculums and teaching plans which combine traditional, lineage-based instruction with the structure and standards of modern medical institutions.
- Health Care Delivery: Serving our Communities
It is necessary to develop and extend our reach and capacities as medical practitioners to serve local and national communities; it is especially important that we can continue to treat those who are poor, those who cannot access, prefer not to access, or cannot be cured by biomedicine. Our medicine should remain an affordable, quality health care option, especially for rural communities. It is also necessary to coordinate education, training, and health care delivery between this medical system and biomedical medicine now and in the future.
- Conservation, Cultivation, and Sustainable Utilization of Medicinal Plants
Amchi possess a great deal of knowledge about the use, trade, history, and current situations of medicinal plants, from lowland species to the high-altitude species found in our home environments. We also understand that without reliable and renewable access to medicinal plants, we will be unable to make our medicines, serve patients, or preserve our unique medical cultures. As such, amchi are ready and willing to contribute toward the sustainable utilization of medicinal plants, as this has positive implications for the health of people and economies of all countries represented (Nepal, India, Bhutan, China).
- Research, Documentation, and Intellectual Property Rights
Various research and documentation efforts are required to help ensure the future vitality of this medical system throughout the region, and the world. This includes clinical research, pharmaceutical research, sociological and anthropological research, etc. Alongside this growing need for, and interest in, research - particularly between our medicine and biomedicine - we must also be aware of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) issues, and network with government and non-government institutions accordingly. We must ensure our legal access to and benefit from our medicines and raw materials, now and in the future.
Edited by Sienna Craig, Advisor, HAA
Board Members of the HAA
Amchi Gyatso Bista, Chairman
Khenpo Menlha Phuntsok, Vice Chairman, General Secretary
Karma Tsering Dhondup, Treasurer
Tenzin Darkye, Member
Amchi Wangchuk, Member
Lama Namgyal, Member
Tsepal Dorje, Member
Karma Choedron, Member
Amchi Nima, Member
Amchi Tashi Namgyal, Member
Tsewang Norbu Lama
Yoji Kamata, anthropologist, University of Sussex and IHC
Hiroya Iida, scholar of Tibetan culture
Sienna Craig, anthropologist, Dartmouth College and DROKPA
Narayan Nath Tiwari, Tribhuvan University
Persons interested in becoming a member of the HAA can apply to the Board, who will consider the application and notify applicants in due course. Members pay an annual fee of Rs. 500 and will receive the HAA newsletter and program updates.
Appeal for Support
The HAA and its international partners hope to realize the above action plan through specific projects such as curriculum development workshops, teacher training, study tours, medicinal plant cultivation trials, etc. However, in order realize these goals and safeguard the future of amchi medicine, HAA seeks support from concerned individuals and organizations. Funds are needed to:
- Fund curriculum development, textbook production and reproduction (especially of old and/or rare manuscripts), advanced study scholarships, and to support existing and future institutions of Sowa Rigpa in Nepal
- Fund health care delivery and public health initiatives, such as small grants for raw material purchase and the development of maternal and child health care programs in rural areas
- Provide HAA office and clinic with institutional development and support, including staff and management training
- Continue international networking, knowledge sharing and specific workshops on topics such as diagnosis, medicine production, medicinal plant cultivation, etc.
- Produce publications in relevant languages for distribution to amchi in Nepal and regionally.
If you would like to make a donation to the HAA, or if you would like more information about our organizational history, board of directors and advisors, please contact:
Himalayan Amchi Association
Fax : 977-1-4472529
Download the HAA Brochure
Download the Sowa Rigpa Project Brochure