Dr Tsering Tashi Tsedra is the former director of the People’s Hospital in Malho (Sogzong) in the east tibetan region of Amdo (chin.: Quinghai Province). He is also known as founder of many Sorig hospitals and medical schools as well as author of many books about Traditional Tibetan Medicine. He is one of Dr. Nida Chenagtsang’s most influential teachers.
The interview with Dr Tsering Tashi Tsedra took place in Mahlo, Tibet August 2017 during this year’s Sorig-Tour.
Text in between braces [ ] contain comments by Dr. Nida
I was born in Labrang and lived there until I was 14 years old. When I was 6 I spent a week on the land of the yogis at the yogi temples. When you buy the land that belongs to that yogi temple, the family has to offer one person of the family to become the yogi, a so called Ngakpa. I was chosen and thus officially became a Ngakpa at the age of 6.
At the age of 8 years the Chinese came and they liberated the place. “Liberation”.
That meant that everything was closed including the yogi temple and everything.
So, at the age of 9 I went to a school called Tangrak School and I studied there Tibetan language and how to write and read as well as logani for one year.
When I was 9 years old my father was imprisoned. The reason why my father was imprisoned is because my family was a Mongolian family like many other families around. They said that Mongolians are protesting, but in fact they were not protesting, but they ran away from the region and escaped. And due to that they think that is related to my father too but it wasn’t. So my school life was stopped.
So, then at the age of 11 I went to a different school in the same region called Dujas School and studied Chinese and Tibetan for one year. Yes, both languages.
At the age of 13 I finished the first grade level of study and then I came back here.
So, in 1964, the Chinese control was much more loose so people were allowed to go back where they came from and to move around. So that’s why at the age of 13 my family came back to Labrang to live there. At the age of 15 I finally became a student of medicine. A child of medicine.
So that was the beginning of my medical career.
And that was my parent’s wish and that was also a benefit for society.
So, that’s the beginning of a journey lasting until now.
So, from the age of 15 until now I have only been dedicating my life to medicine. I have not done anything that is not related to medicine. And now I am 67 years old. So, that was around 52 years ago. So only a single road. Single journey.
During this long journey of 52 years I have been offered different entitlements, like secretary, director of different official entitlements, even like a social worker and different other jobs, but I have always been pushing them away.
I am not saying that because I’m an expert like omniscient and that I know everything but because I thought this is the only path that I know of and of which I am sure of. If I can reduce the suffering of a patient then that’s my only wish. That’s why I was only with this path.
So, at the age of 15 when I became a little doctor, I was studying western medicine, western medication for 5 years [At that time studying and practicing came along together. So that’s why he was called like the little doctor]. When I was 20 years old it came to my mind to study Tibetan medicine.
The opportunities to study Tibetan medicine were very rare however. It was not very easy for me to find a path of studying Tibetan medicine and practicing it. So it was very difficult to find proper and qualified teacher. A lot of the times I had to do self-study.
When I was about 20 years old there was a very famous Tibetan doctor called Jansok [name not very clearly transcribed] and I went to study with him. He was 40 years old. He also liked to lead a few Tibetan students to pick herbs in the mountains.
So, until I was 25 years old I have been self-studying and sometimes I had to rely on some students or some teachers.
When I turned 25 there was some Tibetan medicine training. It was the second recognized Tibetan medicine training at the place where we have been.
So that was the beginning of the open opportunities to get a proper education and where I could learn to collect herbs and produce compound herbal formulas and so on.
At the age of 27 [in 1979 when Dr. Nida was 8 years old] I went to study with Dr. Behmasgurda, who was also a great yogi. That was the teacher of me and Dr. Jigmeh [now both of them are most famous doctors], the director of the Tibetan Mongolian hospital. I had to go to the other town Yoon tae, the teacher was far away.
It was not legal because the control was tight, but I went there illegally to study in secret. When I was 28 years old I met my teacher Shimza, the founder of Tibetan Mongolian hospital and of the monastery you visited 2 days ago too [he was a great Buddhist master as well as a great doctor].
From that time on I have never left my path of Tibetan medicine.
Then when I was 29 years old the first provincial exam for Tibetan medicine - for Tibetan practitioners - came across, so many of them went to do the exam but then in the whole prefecture there were only 9 students who passed. From these 9 candidates 5 were from this county Malo and 4 of them were from Sorig khang county, my friends. And there was one from another county and that’s Dr. Nougmeh, another great doctor.
So after completing the exam both Dr. Jigmeh and I were invited to establish the Tibetan hospital. Dr. Jjigmeh followed the invitation, but I didn’t come. I didn’t come because I wanted to stay just in my little county in in the countryside. I wanted to be in the lowest place possible. So I don’t know if my thoughts at that time were correct, but I’m very traditional. Old fashioned I would say.
Therefore I established the Tibetan hospital in that little county Serlong sha.
In 1982 I had to move to another county and I established a Tibetan hospital there as well. So at the age of 42 - it was in 1992 - I was again invited to become the president of the Tibetan Mongolian hospital. Thus I had to come back home and that was the beginning of me returning to the town.
[In 1990, like 27 years ago, I have started to go to medicine with him. He was living in a small place, a small house. He said that’s his sister’s house. He was giving a teaching. And my friend said oh do you want to study Tibetan medicine. And I said I am already a teacher you know. I was a teacher in middle school. And he said oh it’s very interesting. So I went to the first of his classes. He was teaching about pulse reading and urine analysis. And I said wow it’s cool and that I want to study more.]
In the year 2000 I was invited to be the president of the People’s Hospital and that’s when I started connecting with it.
In 2006 I retired from my titles.
From 2006 until 2011 I was still helping a lot to develop the People’s Hospital and during this time in 2007 I established the Tibetan medicine department in the hospital [Where we - the Sorig Tour group - are practicing today].
So because I have been a very influential doctor in the region a lot of students from far away and nearby came to study with me. They come to my home but it was not a proper school. So in 2003, since there were too many students I decided to establish a school. So now there is a medical school where I can receive my students [Sometimes we have like over a 100 students in this place and they come to study with him]. Because before 2003 many students came to study with me for many years- 2, 3 or 4 years - but after completing the study with me they don’t have any certificates and they don’t get admitted by the government or the society. How can they prove it even though they were studying? I thought that this is not good for the students. So that’s why I decided to establish this school and that way I can give certificates to the students who accomplish their studies.
That was the main reason why I started to apply at the government for the permission to have a school and to receive these students, and of course also that there is no difference for the students. They were not able to open their own clinics because they didn’t have any certificates to link to and to prove or to attend any kind of official examinations. And that’s why I thought this had to be done. Even if I didn’t have the school, students would come to study with me. And they will study as much as they can. But, once they completed the study and they would go out into society and start practicing. And finally in 2003, the permission was given and the school was established. Kasome [the name of his teacher] is good time.
From 2003 until now 500 students have graduated from this school.
So maybe the society has different ideas about the school. They may think this is a school for earning money but I say that from the students who come I haven’t received a single yuan [Because the whole education is free].
I have a clinic and everything has been paid by the clinic and everything from the clinic is paid by the teacher’s salary, the house, the water, the electricity, so that students can get free education.
Until now I have told you so many stories, but I don’t think I am somebody great.
My Number 1 is that I think of how I can serve the Tibetan culture and the Tibetan people.
Number 2 is that I think of how much benefit I can bring to the patients.
And number 3 is that I think am I completing the wishes of my dear teacher.
So I never think about fame or money.
So that’s the end of my story.
I am very thankful to every single one of you to really highly respect Tibetan medicine and taking it as something very special and coming all the way here to study with Dr. Nida.
Many thanks to Karen Stone for providing the transcript of the interview!
The original transcript has been modified and presented in an autobiographical style to increase legibility.
Pictures by Sorig News.
See the full Interview on Vimeo.