Hidden away in the foothills of the Himalayas are the last vestiges of Indian Buddhism, and an 800-year-old tradition of hereditary Buddhist priests and Ayurvedic physicians. In February of 2017, I will be taking a small group of students to study and experience what this tradition has to offer. I hope you can join me!
Ayurveda In Nepal: The Bajracharya Medical Tradition
- 12-day Immersion program: February 5 ‑ 17, 2017
- 5-week Clinical program: February 5 ‑ March 10, 2017
According to the Indian scholar AL Basham, the Buddhist-influenced period of India was remarkable in many respects, not only for its embrace of pluralistic values, but also for the high degree of peace and prosperity that it brought. At a time when Europe was struggling through its Dark Ages, the subcontinent of India was a global center of trade, technology, and higher learning.
Around the 7th century in India, Buddhism had begun to evolve as a householder tradition that existed along side the older celibate tradition of monks and nuns. This was not only instrumental in the development of the Vajrayana path, but it allowed Buddhism to persist in India while Hinduism made its resurgence, strengthening its connection to community and family. During the Age of Invasion and the destruction of Buddhist centers of learning such as Nalanda, it was this connection to community and the householder tradition that proved integral to the survival of Buddhism.
Today, this Vajrayana householder tradition is maintained by the Newar people of the Kathmandu Valley, and the Vajracharya priests that serve their community. When Buddhism was more or less wiped out in India during the medieval period, it was the Newar people that served as a vital repository and resource of Buddhist teachings, maintaining its practices, and spreading its beliefs along trade routes into Tibet and China. The Newar people remain as the only living example of Indian Buddhism still in existence.
A unique feature of the Newar Vajrayana tradition is its connection to the practice of Ayurveda. While both are allied in their orientation with regard to the alleviation of suffering, it was the householder tradition that led to a blending of both Ayurveda and Buddhism as a formal discipline. For the last eight centuries, the Newar Vajracharya priests have maintained this tradition, faithfully reproducing the ancient medical practices of Ayurveda, and in particular, the rasa shastra (alchemical) tradition they inherited from Nalanda.
In 2001, I was approached by my colleague, Dr. Alan Tillotson, to edit a text called Ayurveda In Nepal, the first of 47 books written by the late Vaidya Mana Bajra Bajracharya, a well-know physician of Ayurveda and priest within the Vajracharya tradition. Since then, I have worked with his Vaidya Mana’s son, Vaidya Madhu, using many of the hand-crafted remedies prepared at their ancestral clinic, often with unprecedented results in difficult-to-treat conditions. Both my patients and myself are eternally grateful for the existence of this tradition, and the continued availability of its medicines.
While it is amazing to consider its survival over the centuries, the reality is that modern socio-political pressures in Nepal are threatening the future of this tradition. One of Vaidya Mana’s dreams before he died in 2001 was to establish an Ayurveda research center in the Kathmandu valley that would act to protect Nepal’s cultural and biological diversity, and spread the practical knowledge of Ayurveda among the people of Nepal.
To promote Vaidya Mana’s dream, I will be taking a small group of students to study with this tradition in February of 2017. For committed students interested in acquiring specific skills, we are providing a five-week Clinical program that runs from February 5 until March 10. For other students that have more of a general interest, we are also offering a 12-day Immersion program.
In a few weeks, the Ayurveda Journal of Health will be publishing my recent paper on the Vajracharya medical tradition. If you’d like a copy of this paper, please join our mailing list and I will send it, along with some addition information about our upcoming learning adventure. Even if you aren’t able to join us, it is my sincere hope that you will help to share information about this opportunity to your family, friends and colleagues.