Sowa Rigpa Group

1st Meeting of the new IASTAM working group on ‘SOWA RIGPA’ , the ‘Science of Healing’

1st meeting IASTAM working group Sowa Rigpa ICTAM8 Korea-1-1 1st Meeting ICTAM8 Sep13 05-1-1

September 10, 2013, during ICTAM 8, Sancheon, South Korea, photographs taken by ?

Protocol of the first meeting of the new IASTAM working group of SOWA RIGPA

Initiators/ organizers:

  • Dr Mona Schrempf
      • IASTAM Council Member,  senior co-editor of the peer-reviewed journal Asian Medicine
      • Tradition and Modernity, EASTmedicine Research Centre, University of Westminster, London
  • Dr Sienna Craig
      • IASTAM council member,  co-editor of the journal Himalaya, head of IASTAM’s former ‘Himalayan Desk’

Participants at the Meeting:

  • Dr. Mona Schrempf, Wellcome Trust Research Fellow at ‘Beyong Tradition: Ways of Knowing and Styles of Practice in East Asian Medicine 1000 to Present’, Complementary Medicine, University of Westminster, London (; Senior Co-Editor, Asian Medicine: Tradition and Modernity (
  • Dr Sienna Craig,  IASTAM Council Member,  medical anthropologist, organizer of former Himalayan Desk, Dartmouth College, USA
  • Amchi Namgyal Qusar, physician of Tibetan Medicine with private practice in Dharamsala
  • Amchi Jamyang Drolma, Research Institute, Mentsikhang, Dharamsala
  • Dr Dorji Wangchuk,  Director, Institute for Traditional Medicine,  Royal University, Bhutan
  • Phurpa Wangchuk,  PhD candidate, Biochemistry, University of Wolongong AU/ Menjong Pharmaceuticals Bhutan
  • Dr Herbert Schwabl,  President of Swiss Complementary Medicine, Padma AG Switzerland
  • Geshe Kelsang Norbu, Zhangzhung Traditional Medicine, Lhasa, TAR
  • Geshe Monlam Wangyal, Triten Norbutse, TM teacher, astrology, medicine, NEPAL
  • Amchi Tenzin Bista, Monastery Lhomantang
  • Amchi Nyima Gurung, Mustang
  • Jan van der Valk, PhD candidate, Kent University, Medicinal Plants EU and India
  • Danma, MA student, Tibetan community health, women’s health
  • Kei Nagaoka, PhD dissertation on TM in Tawang/Arunachal Pradesh, Japan
  • Dr Stephan Kloos, Austrian Academy of Social Sciences, Vienna
  • Dr Barbara Gerke, Central Asian Seminar, Humboldt University Berlin, Germany
  • Dr Katharina Sabernig, independent researcher, Tibetan anatomy/ history, University of Vienna
  • Dr Lena Springer, EASTmedicine Research Centre, University of Westminster
  • Dr Patrizia Bassini, Medical Anthropology, Oxford University

What has happened so far

Sienna Craig has been leading the previous regionally oriented ‘Himalayan Desk’ as a working group within IASTAM focusing on Sowa Rigpa. She has organized a very successful 8 day-long workshop co-sponsored by IASTAM with the theme of Producing Efficacious Medicines: Quality, Potency, Lineage, and Critically Endangered Knowledge in Kathmandu, Nepal (5-12 December 2011) with over forty participating practitioners of Sowa Rigpa who still produce their own medicines, coming from Ladakh, India, culturally Tibetan regions of northern Nepal, and Tibetan regions of China (Tibet Autonomous Region and Qinghai Province). They were joined by several medical anthropologist who were documenting and dicussing this unique event (see IASTAM Newsletter 29_Winter 2013, pp.11-14). Building upon this engagement and activities, we decided that we should open up the regionally too specific designation of the ‘Himalayan Desk’ and become a truly transnational group working across national borders to include regions such as Mongolia, Buryatia, and the West.

Our aims

The working group Sowa Rigpa aims at promoting and consolidating research by building up an interactive digital platform that can be used by its members and beyond, in order to document and analyse the plurality and diversity of historical and present texts, medical formulas, oral and local knowledges, theories and medical practices that make up Sowa Rigpa,  translated commonly in English as ‘Knowledge of Healing’ or ‘Science of Healing’. This Asian medical system is regionally wide-spread across both Asia and increasingly so in the West, while at the same time it is generally based on the classical Tibetan medical text of the Four Tantras (rGyud bzhi) — respectively the Bum bzhi among Bon medical practitioners. We are explicitly apolitical and transnational in our approach and include both practitioners and academics interested in research on Sowa Rigpa,  extending our inquiry also on other related or parallel existing healing systems and techniques, such as other Asian medical therapies or tantric, shamanic and folk practices among communities across Asia and the West that are influenced by or interested in Tibetan medicine, culture and religion.

Furthermore, the aim is to help establishing ‘Sowa Rigpa’, or ‘Traditional Tibetan Medicine’ (TTM) as it is called in the West, as an important and valid Asian medical system next to Ayurveda and TCM, based on our research and practice.


In our meeting, concern was expressed for the urgent need to document NOW and analyse both more common and also rare written historical texts, including the wealth of information on over 2000 recipes in classical standard texts Sowa Rigpa of which only a couple of hundred are presently used. The globally increasing commercialization of pharmaceutical products tends to reduce the classical wealth of knowledge to a minimum of products and often factors out the prescribing physician thereby neglecting the whole internal logic and effectiveness of Sowa Rigpa. Sowa Rigpa as a system of medical knowledge therefore is endangered and in need of protection. As a research group we are concerned with medical education, environmental issues, sustainability of materia medica that is growing in the wild or is part of the list of endangered species, individual property rights, the conditions and effects of national regulations on the production and prescription of medicines and therapies a.s.o. Furthermore, dwindling transmission of oral knowledge as well as teacher-student-transmissions of privately practicing physicians of Sowa Rigpa was voiced as being of concern, in particular the knowledge of recognizing and compounding medicinal plants, was mentioned as an important educational objective in our group. Given the fact that in many countries food and drug safety limit the possibilities for either importing or producing effective medicines, it is of utmost importance to document the knowledge of individually prescribed  recipes. The plurality and diversity of diagnosis and treatment practices, including astrology and the wide range of presently unused formulations, was emphasized to be worth of further study. By documenting and collecting further research knowledge on Sowa Rigpa, we also aim at supporting both the sustainability and availability of medicinal plants, the medical system of Sowa Rigpa in particular in Europe and the West, and the health of communities in need that are facing fundamental social transformations. Our long-term goal is to get global recognition of Sowa Rigpa as an Asian medical system.

We welcome new members to this group! 

Important note: If you want to become a member of our Sowa Rigpa working group and are not yet an IASTAM member, you will need first to pay membership to IASTAM, then contact me in order to become a member of this group and actively engage with all.

Please contact Mona Schrempf:

You can find more information on IASTAM, and the journal Asian Medicine here on the website.