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Airdate: Sep 25, 2001
Scientist: Robert Thurman

Buddhism and Science: Tibetan Medicine

Buddhism and Science: Tibetan Medicine
When a Tibetan doctor checks your pulse, he's sensing more than just your heartbeat.

Buddhism and Science: Tibetan Medicine

Music; Ambience: Buddhist chant

The Tibetan system of medicine is based on a tradition that's thousands of years old. When a Tibetan doctor examines a patient, he'll place the tips of his fingers on the patient's wrist, and he'll be sensing more than just a heartbeat. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.

"The western doctor who's taking the pulse is just timing the beating of the pulse. That's it."

Robert Thurman is a professor of Indo-Tibetan studies at Columbia University. He says that a Tibetan doctor is trained to have the sensitivity of a safe cracker.

"Now, the Tibetan doctor takes not only the pulse, but the warmth, the degree of tautness in the vein the quality therefore of the blood, thick or thin, not only the rapidity, but other more subtle vibrations that are transmitted by the pulse from the interior of the being and then is reaching in with the cultivated ability to visualize into the liver, down the channels of the biliary duct, and the gallbladder, into the stomach, into the throat, into the heart, into the lungs, into the kidneys - and is reaching by different sensors, a set of 12 sensors, that are in the 2 sets of 3 fingers that they press the pulse - are different depths, and like the safe cracker, they can hear something like a little flaw in an artery - too much plaque, and stiffness and rigidity in the way the blood spurts from the heart pump. They can hear these internal things to an extraordinary degree. And they build that up, by not only their own personal knowledge of the anatomy - but also it comes in a long empirical tradition that's come from thousands of years of people observing different types of pulses, and correlating those observations to different types of internal phenomena, symptoms, and so forth, in their patients."

Pulse of the Planet is presented by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.