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The Buriat Doctor is in
by Valerie Sartor
2014-03-15 13:06:23
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What makes a man want to become a doctor? In the Western tradition, a wish to help save lives, along with the chances of a lucrative career, often fuel the desires of potential MDs, especially American doctors. But among some Mongolian people, specifically the Buriat, doctors are born as well as made. “My son has the blood of a Tibetan lama from his maternal grandmother’s side,” said my Buriat friend Erzhena. “His hands are gifted; they can heal...it comes from his ancestors.” Because of this blood connection and the manifestation of the healing gift, Amgalan’s parents knew since he was a little boy that he would become a doctor.

Erzhena’s son, Amgalan Garmazhapov, is now 28 years old and has finally finished the intense requirements needed to become a doctor of Mongolian and Tibetan medicine. He started his academic and spiritual education in a Buddhist monastery in Ulan Bataar, when he was 18 years old. “It was really hard for me; I did not speak Khalk Mongolian yet, and my home and family were far from me, in Russia,” he said. After two years in Ulan Bataar, Amgalan transferred to a unique medical college located in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia. “Again, it was hard, as now I had to learn Mandarin Chinese,” he said, “but this time my family followed me to China. Hohhot hosts this unique medical college, which has preserved and enhanced ancient Tibetan/Mongolian and Chinese healing arts, ranging from bone setting to pharmacology. Amgalan studied there for five years, often traveling to Outer Mongolia and Russia to help his professors and colleagues. He has frequently attended workshops and conferences in healing arts in all three countries. He now uses all three languages: Russian, Mongolian, and Mandarin, fluently in order to serve the sick. Along the way he acquired a Russian wife who spoke French and English, which increased their collective linguistic repertoire. I asked Amgalan about his new practice.

byriat01_400He said, “So far, we have not decided where to have a permanent practice. We Buriat are traditionally nomadic, so I guess you can say that am a modern global nomad. I have gone to many places to work, and set up shop for a week or two, here and there, around Asia. This year I will start going to Europe.”

I asked him why he had decided to become a doctor of alternative medicine.

“Well,” he said, “My aunt is a western doctor, she works in Ulan Ude, and it is an honorable profession. Nowadays, in Russian clinics, they are making space for Chinese and Mongolian alternative medical practices. My mother saw that I was very good at calming people when I was young. It was a natural kind of gift. Then, when I was a boy, my parents decided I should take this profession; I agreed. My parents and I are Yellow Hat Buddhists, like many Buriats, so I believe that my work brings good karma to me and my family.”

“Are you interested in money, like American doctors?” I asked him.

“Not in the same way; you western people are rather obsessed with cash,” he replied, laughing. “I’m not a saint sitting on a mountaintop; I have a wife and expenses, but my fees are based upon what people can give me, not upon building an early retirement account.”

“Tell me about your work,” I urged him.

He answered, “I use my hands frequently, and do much massage. The human touch is quite healing. Before I start work, I pray. I make sure my own spirit is clean, welcoming to positive energies. Then I think about the person I am going to help. I take his or her pulses; there are many pulses in the body, not just the heart rate pulse. I listen carefully. I ask the person many questions.” He went on to explain that he looks at the sick person’s eyes, tongue, and other body parts, to help make a diagnosis. A consultation make take three hours to complete, long with the treatment - this is very different from the expensive ten-minute interviews I have had with busy American doctors.

In addition to massage, Dr Amgalan uses Tibetan, Mongolian, and Chinese herbs, ground into powders or contained in capsules, to assist his patients. He also uses acupuncture, electrical massage needles, and at times, injections of natural substances.  He lectures his patients about their need to reflect upon their spiritual condition, to listen to their bodies, and to honor themselves. “Over 50% of the healing process is in the patient’s hands,” he told me, “You as a patient have to decide how you are going to live; in this way medicine is a spiritual process, because you, as the patient, must connect with those forces that gave you life.”

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