Friends of Tibet

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"Of Fish, Healing and Freedom"
(By Yeldtho T Mathew, May 19-21, 2011)

The Darshan: Eldtho Mathew welcomes His Holiness the Dalai Lama for the Friends of Tibet Audience at the Anchor Hall of The Gateway Hotel, Kochi on September 04, 2010. Dr Dorjee Rapten Neshar and Tsering Yeshi of Men-Tsee-Khang and Suku Dass of Friends of Tibet next to him. (Photo: Retina Studios)

The Darshan: Yeldtho T Mathew welcomes His Holiness the Dalai Lama for the Friends of Tibet Audience at the Anchor Hall of The Gateway Hotel, Kochi on September 04, 2010. Dr Dorjee Rapten Neshar and Tsering Yeshi of Men-Tsee-Khang and Suku Dass of Friends of Tibet next to him. (Photo: Retina Studios)

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Glimpses, snippets and thoughts associated with the Tibetan Medical Camps in Kochi, Keralam.

Kochi: "There at Norbulingka, between my lessons, I could walk and run among the flowers and orchards, and the peacocks and the tame musk deer. There I played on the edge of the lake and twice nearly drowned myself. And there, also in the lake, I used to feed my fish, which would rise to the surface expectantly when they heard my footsteps. I do not know now what has happened to the historical marvels of the Potala. Thinking about them I sometimes also wonder whether my fish were so unwise as to rise to the surface when they first heard the boots of Chinese soldiers in the Norbulingka. If they did, they have probably been eaten."

When I was reading this passage in 'My Land and My People', the autobiography of His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama, I was awestruck by the overflowing compassion of His Holiness. He was understandably worried about the marvels of the Potala and the people. But he was equally anxious and poignant about the fish in the pond in Norbulingka. This divine compassion was surfacing when His Holiness was critical about the deeds of Osama Bin Laden, but called for compassion to the person. Hate the sin, but have compassion to the sinner. It is through such love and compassion that an enemy can be best defeated: by transforming the person to a friend. As opposed to this, what we see now is people hating or loving the person and according to this love or hate, judging the deeds. The root cause of the chaos in the world is this incongruity and inconsistency. The very deed acceptable from a friend (or friendly nation) becomes despicable when done by a foe (or unfriendly nation). The votaries of this order of things were critical of His Holiness for his comments about Osama, naturally.

After reading the above passage in 2006, my desire to have a 'darshan' of His Holiness the Dalai Lama became more ardent, though it was an almost impossible dream. However, as my luck would have it, I was one of the select few who had the good fortune not only of seeing His Holiness in person, but also of receiving his blessings, of touching him, of being worn the 'khata' blessed by him, when he visited Kochi on September 04, 2010. Thereafter I had the opportunity to work as a volunteer and supporter in the Tibetan Medical Camps and this report is about the medical camps which are all about compassion and kindness.

About Kochi Medical Camps

A medical camp by Men-Tsee-Khang (Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute of HH the Dalai Lama) was held in Kochi as one of the events during the visit of HH the Dalai Lama. Though it was meant to be a one-time event to show case the richness of Tibetan culture and Tibetan medical science, the overwhelming response from the people who attended the camp compelled the organisers to make it a regular event and is continued ever since every month, increasing in popularity month after month.

It was during the second camp that I was requested by the organisers to help them in registration of the patients. I was very happy to volunteer and there my association with Tibetan medical camps began and thereon I had been using some of my spare and unproductive time for a worthy cause. I was impressed by what I experienced, what I saw.

How the Medical Camps Are Organised

An organisation called the Friends of Tibet is organising these camps. Sethu Das, Founder of Friends of Tibet plays the lead role and he is supported by VJ Jose (Periyar River Keeper). Their enthusiasm is akin to that of a person on the first day of her first job, the only difference being their enthusiasm continues unabated. Apart from them, there are several other wonderful people who with their visible and invisible presence make the medical camps successful. Liz and Roy Cletus from Mumbai, Aparajita Sarcar from New Delhi, Kallianpur from Mumbai, Appu John, Sreejith Saseendran, Suku Dass, Tharanath from Kerala are worth mentioning.

Friends of Tibet believes in non-possession. They don't have, unlike the many NGOs in the country, an office or any material possession. An organisation that aims at Tibet's freedom is apt to be free itself! For this very reason, they have to, like Buddha's teachings, take alms from its members and supporters and it is good to see an organisation doing wonderful works for the ailing people, with the participation of people.

The Men-Tsee-Khang Team

Two Doctors (Dr Dorjee Rapten Neshar and Dr Tara Ngawang Lodoe) accompanied by two of the support staffs (Sonam Wongmo, Tsering Deiky, Tsering Dolma, Yeshi Choden, Ngawang Lhamo) form the MTK Team and they travel from Bangalore to Kochi every month. The MTK team runs the extra mile to satisfy those who call on them with their illness, woe and worries. While they work for the healing, they also spread the message of compassion through their actions. It is not uncommon to see the doctors rushing out of the consultation room to examine a patient sitting in the car, who is unable to walk. To very poor patients, they allow concessions as well. Where else can we see such compassion? In the conventional medical system, the doctors do not prefer to have any emotional attachment with the patients. Here, I have seen them being one with the patients.

Volunteers and Supporters

With all their enthusiasm, Sethu and Jose cannot run the camps without some support from others. People are needed for registration of the patients, check online registrations regularly, to act as interpreter between the patient and doctor, update database of patients, to arrange other logistics, etc. But regular volunteers do everything. In addition to that, before each camp, Friends of Tibet invites volunteers to run the camp. Many people opt to do service during the camp, notable among them are Dr Janaki Sankaran and Rajendran Menon. Being an organization without any possessions and funds, FoT has to bank on well wishers and supporters for meeting the expenses. Even in raising the funds, strange are the ways of Friends of Tibet. They do not accept any donation on any day if they have already sufficient resources at their disposal!

There are incidents that show that compassion and empathy have still not vanished. A Friends of Tibet campaigner narrated the incident of an elderly lady who offered four eggs, the only possession she had, feeling so strongly for the cause of Friends of Tibet. There is yet another lady who came with a crumpled 100 rupee note offering it to support the medical camp. Like the biblical widow's offering, all contributions are accepted by the organisation with equal gratitude.

The paper bags used as carry bags for medicines show that Friends of Tibet has serious concerns for environment. Diwia Thomas from Thevara is an integral part of the camps as the eco-friendly bags are supplied by her, who gets them made by struggling women, symbolising empowerment of women.


The first camp was held at Agasthyatheeram Ayurvedic Centre at Fort Kochi. The second one at Spice Holidays, Fort Kochi. Thereafter, the camps were held at Changampuzha Nagar and at the Renewal Center. The latest three camps were held at Ashirbhavan, Kacherippadi, Ernakulam. The value of support and encouragement by the organisations and individuals that offered the camp venue, especially Ashirbhavan and its Director and staff members is immeasurable in monetary terms.

One Day in the Medical Camp

The day begins with prayer. Chanting the prayers invoking the blessings of the Buddha of compassion is however in Tibetan language. Though it is incomprehensible to a non-Tibetan, a positive energy is felt around, and this energy is experienced all through the day. Many patients, especially the foreigners are seen joining this prayer session with their eyes closed and absorbed in deep spiritual experience. Peace and serenity is writ on their bearing after the prayer.

After the prayer, the doctors immediately commence the consultations. For those who are not conversant with English or Hindi, a volunteer will act as an interpreter between the patient and the doctor. The patients' pulse is examined by the doctor as a part of diagnosis. They also ask questions to the patient to understand the life style, hereditary diseases, etc. After the diagnosis, the Doctors prescribe medicines; give advice to the patients about diet; about the need to reduce the mental stress, etc. They advise everyone that healing is a result of proper medicine, right diet and a peaceful mental condition. According to them, just as it is in Ayurveda, disease is a condition caused by imbalance of vata, pitta and kaffa and the treatment is to correct this imbalance and not for the external signs of the actual disease. It is rare to give any pain killers or sedatives, for, they believe that pain is the sign of a healthy immune system that tells us about certain disease condition of the body.

Medicines are in the form of pills and decoctions. Pills are of different sizes and colours depending on the ingredient. Medicine is to be taken either half an hour before or half an hour after the food. The tablets are to be powdered and taken along with boiled warm water. There are special pills for very specific diseases which are to be taken with much care. The doctors say that as important as the medicine is, the regularity and method of taking the medicine is of paramount importance in Tibetan medical system and if the advices are strictly followed, positive results are immediately visible.

The Patients

The patients come from all walks of life. There are professionals and illiterate, rich and poor. The patients are allotted a time for consultation. In the beginning, some of the patients were not very serious about the appointment which caused a lot of troubles to the organisers because one person's breach would upset the whole camp. With some patients, the doctor might take more time than foreseen, thus not being able to meet the appointment time of the subsequent patients. Initially some used to murmur on this delay. Gradually, they realised that it is out of compassion that the doctor needed some extra time with some patients. Later on, even patients themselves were seen to prompt the volunteers to let another patient see the doctor even though it is her/his appointment time. The positive energy and compassion is contagious! It is no wonder that Dr Dorjee Rapten recently commented about the Kochi medical camp as being the most disciplined and the patients of Kerala as being the most cultured and considerate!


There are many patients who are happy to have come to the Tibetan treatment. Many people with joint pains, diabetes, etc are a relieved lot now. It is not a small relief to a diabetic patient to be able to stop insulin and lead a normal life! There are people who came to the camp on their first visit on the support of a cane or slanting on a relative, weak as they were. Many have become healthy, and are now helping other patients. No doubt that the holistic treatment under Tibetan medical system will benefit more and more needy people and would be relieved from their pain, ailment and worries.

About Freedom

Tibetans are the people for whom non-violence is a way of life itself. It is there in their very blood. For this very reason, if there is one nation to be free and independent, it is Tibet. Anyone who values freedom, therefore, is sure to feel for Tibet and this is the reason why so many people across the globe are voicing their concerns about delay in Tibet's freedom. There is a school of thought that Tibet is industrially not advanced and it is good for Tibet to be a part of China. This was similar to some British elite who believed that it is good for India to be ruled by British. Yes, Tibet might remain poor without the industrial development which seems to be the yardstick employed by many to gauge a nation's progress, worth, and importance. But freedom is more precious than all other glittering things.

"So we were happy. Desire brings discontent; happiness springs from a peaceful mind. For many Tibetans, material life was hard, but they were not the victims of desire; and in simplicity and poverty among our mountains, perhaps there was more peace of mind than there is in most of the cities of the world."
His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama in My Land and My People

(Yeldtho T Mathew can be reached at: More about the Medical Camps:

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Friends of Tibet (India)

Friends of Tibet is a people's movement to keep alive the issue of Tibet through direct action. Our activities are aimed at ending China's occupation of Tibet and the suffering of the Tibetan people. Friends of Tibet supports the continued struggle of the Tibetan people for independence. Friends of Tibet is also one of the principal organisers of World Tibet Day around the world.