TRADITIONAL AMCHI PROJECT

Mission Statement

The Himalayan Amchi Project (HAP) is dedicated to the preservation and development of traditional amchi medicine, or Sowa Rigpa, in Zanskar, 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 zanskar Ladakh 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 zanskar Ladakh, amchi are the sole providers of health care. However, despite the great benefit that comes from amchi medicine, this system is under threat in Zanskar 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 Zanskar 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 Zanskar, 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 (HAP) 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 HAP 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 Leh, himachel and Ladakh regoins. Since its founding in 1998, the HAP has organized four national conferences of amchi in Zanskar 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 Zanskar, as well as guests from India and the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China. The HAP has also published and distributed four booklets based on the national conferences. In 2003, the HAP opened its own clinic in Zanskar. 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 Ladakh, but also provides the HAP 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 2007, the HAP held its first International Conference of Amchi, with delegates from leh Ladakh, Tibet Autonomous Region (PRC), Bhutan, Ladakh (India). 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.