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Dr. Tsampa Ngawang

Meet Dr. Tsampa Ngawang, of the Mustang district of north-central Nepal and the subject of our A Gift for the Village painting, Amchi. He is the tenth recorded generation in his family of continuous amchis - highly trained traditional Himalayan Tibetan herbal doctors. In fact, his father's image can be found at the top of the Amchi painting.

Dr. Tsampa Ngawang's grandfather and father, his first teachers, believed that their family's medical lineage goes all the way back to Yuthok Yenteng Gonpo, the great doctor from Padmasambhava's time twelve centuries ago. Their lineage in the oral tradition is of even greater antiquity, making Tsampa one of the key embodiments of the whole gamut of traditional Tibetan knowledge.

Physician and veterinarian, lama, painter, carver, bookmaker, master craftsman, public health expert, historian, agronomist, and community leader - these are the highlights of his many traditional skills. At the same time, Tsampa has shown a true master's gift for translating knowledge and values into contemporary forms as Nepal races into the modern global village. These are fragile, precious traditions which Tsampa seeks to preserve.

In addition to a boyhood of traditional training at the side of his father and grandfather, Tsampa also studied at the Medical Center University in Dharamsala, India, and in Darjeeling's Chagpuri Medical Institute. He has also studied under Dr. Jampa Thinley, Tibet's Shigatse Medical Institute's highest doctor; and with highly respected Tibetan teachers Toro Chenham Gotem and Toka Rinpoche at Menzikang. Tsampa's own father was one of the rare amchis highly trained in such rare specialties as bom-jeh, the Tibetan herbal practice of controlling circulation.

For years, Tsampa's high expertise has led to his participation in many international conferences including the Chitwan International Medical Conference (Nepal), the UNESCO Conference on World Medicine in Bangkok (Thailand), the Osaka International Conference of New Western Medical Developments and Old Traditional Systems (Japan), and the Bangalore International Conference on Ethnobotany and Conservation (India).

Dr. Tsampa Ngawang has worked with Dr. Charles Ramble, Professor of Tibetan and Himalayan Studies at Oxford University, England.  He has also assisted National Geographic photographer Thomas Kelly in Nepal's Mustang and Dolpo regions to chronicle endangered Himalayan medical plants, and in the Dolpo region with American Fulbright scholar and consultant for A Gift for the Village, Sienna Craig. Together they have worked to improve the knowledge of health and hygiene especially among the women in the region. So great is Tsampa's reputation in the area that even on his research trips to Lhasa itself patients materialize for diagnosis and treatment.

Tibetan medicine engages skillfully with the interaction among physical symptoms, social and cultural issues, and the inner life, and Amchi Tsampa Ngawang has concerned himself extensively with these other dimensions in his patient's conditions. Dr. Ngawang planned and built the Jomsom Eco-Museum (praised in all the trekker's guidebooks as a must-see) which features Nepal's only international public library, and sample displays on archaeology, geology, anthropology, medicinal plants, indigenous animals, and local culture and customs.

Tsampa is a community leader who has served as his village airport chairman, helping to raise funds to pave the Mustang region's only airport as well as to cobble the local main street. His most recent large project has been to spearhead the building of the new Tarbha Chuling, a seven year effort to make Mustang's newest monastery for women in the Muktinath area a day north of Jomsom. Opened in January 2000, this nunnery, open to girls from any village, houses forty women in dormitories, uses Muktinath spring water and water-powered electricity, and has its own large supply storage, kitchen, dining hall, and garden.

Amchi Tsampa Ngawang is also an accomplished lama of the Tibetan Nyingma Buddhist tradition. Several times he has done extended solitary retreats (including the classic three year three month long retreat), during which time the meditator memorizes detailed practices whose benefit for the practitioner is a super-clarifying of his or her own intentions. These practices have profoundly deepened Dr. Ngawang's sense of duty toward and respect for his patients.

When asked, "How do these meditations work?", Dr. Ngawang responded by saying, "Consider the effect the mind can have on the body. One night you sleep well, the next night you cannot sleep for worrying about something. Same bed, same pillow, but different mind. The same meal can be delicious and satisfying when you are well, but without taste if you are saddened by some great loss. Same meal, but different mind. It is this same kind of effect upon the body that meditation can have. When you keep your mind clear of delusion, craving, anxiety, and anger, you also keep your body clear of the ill effects of these poisons."

Amchi Tsampa and his wife Karma have five children: Jamyang, Zompa Gurung, Karma Chuden, Tsewang, and Lhakpa Dolma.

In July of 2008, Tsampa’s family celebrated a huge tharchang, a regional event to honor Tsampa’s accomplishments and to wish him and his family prolonged health.  Through official letters of felicitation and thanks, Mayor Ron Rordam of Blacksburg, Virginia, Dr. Anne Zajac, eminent parasitologist and professor at The Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, as well as all the members of the Gift for The Village team joined thousands of Nepali and Tibetan and international well-wishers who were present for this festive occasion.  

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