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A Journal of Eastern Medicine, Himalayan Adventures and Meditative Encounters

Personal musings of Mark Sobralske

Help Start the Dolpo School of Tibetan Buddhist Mecicine: Invitation to Fundraiser at Revolution Brewing

August 14, 2014



Some of you may know about the non-profit work I do with Himalaya Project NFP in my free time. 

I would like to invite you to a fundraising event Himalaya Project is hosting, October 26th at Revolution Brewing in support of our crowd-funding, Indiegogo campaign launch.

In our 30 day, we hope to raise enough funds for our project in Dolpo Nepal in order to start a school for Tibetan Buddhist medicine.

It would be really great if you could come out in support and have a good time with us!

At the event will be a the screening of the promotional film short for our project. Ticket includes open bar of craft beers from Revolution Brewing as well as appetizers.

It will be a time of celebration of all that it has taken to get us to this point and all the good work we will do together going forward.

Click the link here: Indiegogo Launch Party! and save $10 on your entrance fee through Eventbrite.

Request to share with network:
I will plan on updating you briefly as we get closer to our Indiegogo launch.
At that time, I’ll send you all the info for you to share with your network via email so our campaign reaches as widely as possible and goes “viral” as the kids say.
It would be great if when the campaign goes live in October, if you could be generously share our campaign with your personal network as well as any other network you have access to such as your network on Facebook, newsletter, or other organizations’ list serves in Nepal, etc.  
Just the simple act of spreading the campaign via email for us would be a very generous action and would benefit our project and the people of Dolpo directly.
Thank you!


Rubin Museum of Art: Bodies in Balance, an Exploration of Tibetan Medicine

April 7, 2014


Over the weekend of March 21-23, two of our Himalaya Project NFP board members, Dr. Lori Howell and Mark Sobralske, attended the Rubin Museum of Art: Bodies in balance, An Exploration of Tibetan Medicine conference in NYC.

Our board made arrangements so that Amchi Namgyal Rinpoche, the main doctor of Tibetan medicine from Dolpo, Nepal, whom we are working with to start a school for Tibetan medicine, could attend the event along with us.  Amchi Namgyal Rinpoche is the current president of the Himalayan Amchi Association (HAA) and a very prominent figure in regarding Tibetan medicine in Nepal.

This was a very special occasion, as it was Rinpoche’s first visit to the United States and auspicious in that his arrival and our meeting in NYC, coincided with the start of a symposium on Tibetan medicine/exhibition on Tibetan medical art, at the Rubin Museum, 5-years in the making.

The conference itself, was a weekend of talks and presentations, both academic and practical, on the subject of Tibetan medicine. Practitioners of Tibetan medicine and scholars alike, shared their knowledge and experience with those in attendance, with eleven presentations in total.  The speakers in attendance, were top-notch, including:

Dr.Theresia Hofer, guest curator
Yangbum Gyal, The Integration of Tibetan Medicine in Western Practice
Janet Gyatso, Reading Pictures: Medicine and Buddhism at the Peak of the Tibetan State
Sienna Craig, Patterns of Resort, Prospects for Healing: Himalayan Healers at Work in Tibetan Communities
Katharina Sabernig, Medical Murals at Labrang Monastery
Donald Lopez, Expressions of the Inexpressible: The Dictionary of Buddhism
Anna Sehnalova, Medicinal Mandala: Tibetan Medicine in Ritual
Ronit Yoeli-Tlalim, Medical Astrology
Barbara Gerke, Taste and the Art of Tibetan
Ian Baker, Embodying Enlightenment – Yoga and Physical Culture in Tibetan Buddhism
Fabio Andrico, Yantra Yoga: A Practicum – A practical guide to Tibetan yoga and a vehicle to better health

Many of the speakers already knew Amchi Namgyal Rinpoche and came up to him to greet him throughout the course of the weekend.  In a few presentations, there were even slides of him in Nepal, checking the quality of medicinals at a market in Kathmandu, and so forth.  I think that a few were very surprised to see him in New York and were pleased that he could be there for the weekend.


Before the event, we made arrangements to meet with a few of the speakers for brief meetings to discuss our project and how they might be of assistance to us.

We first made arrangements sit down with Sienna Craig, Ph.D, professor of anthropology from Dartmouth, whose main area of research has been on the changing nature of Tibetan medicine and how social ecologies play a role in different geographic regions of the Himalayas in the practice of Tibetan medicine amongst the populations therein.

Dr. Sienna Craig has been kind enough to provide information to us all along as we prepare to meet some of the challenges the practice of Tibetan medicine faces in remote regions of the high Himalaya such as Dolpo and Mustang.  Sienna’s latest book, Efficacy and the Social Ecologies of Tibetan Medicine, has served as a roadmap for our board to navigate the intricate challenges that the communities in Dolpo, Nepal face as their culture transitions towards modernity.


We also met with Dr. Yangbum Gyal a doctor of Tibetan medicine who spoke of the integration of Tibetan medicine into modern settings and the ways in which it currently interfaces with standard medicine, here in the west.  Our board, Amchi Namgyal Rinpoche, Dr. Gyal and another doctor of Tibetan medicine, Dr. Dawa, were able to sit down for a roundtable discussion to talk about the changing face of Tibetan medicine as well as curriculum and how it relates to Dolpo and the changing nature of culture and ways of living there.  Dr. Gyal has agreed to help us get the word out in the midwest about our project and we look forward to working together with him more in the coming months.



There were many other speakers whom which we enjoyed, but what we all enjoyed the most was the new friendships formed with those in attendance, the speakers themselves, and the chance to sit and pleasantly enjoy our time in casual discussion with Amchi Namgyal Rinpoche and our friends in the cafe, talking about our project, and how it will all come to fruition in time.

photo 2

After the conference, there was time for sight-seeing after the conference, as we took the Dolpopas to the Empire State Building, Times Square, Chinatown, and the One World Trade Center.

Looking over Manhattan from atop the Empire State Building we took in the fantastic skyscrapers and city streets below.  It pleased me that I could show a bit of America to Amchi Namgyal Rinpoche and Lama Karma Lobsang, as they have shown us much about about the Himalaya and their culture of medicine and religion.

It is our wish that the energy put into this trip to NYC and the connections and relationships formed with those met at the conference on Tibetan medicine, propel our project forward, allowing us to directly help those in need in Dolpo, Nepal, through the instrument of our school for Tibetan medicine.



Family En Route to Kathmandu, December 2013

January 6, 2014

This past month, I had the pleasure of traveling to Nepal and India with my wife, mother, and mother-in-law.

The portion of the trip in Nepal, was about spending time together in a place that is dear to me, as much as it was about us, spending time together as a family.  I can’t remember the last time I got to spend three weeks, day in and day out, with any single person.  Without anyone having to go to work/school or other obligatory engagement. So this time together, regardless of space and place, was important because we all got to spend it together.

The day we were to depart from Chicago, I unplugged.  I closed down my Facebook account, other social media. I did this because I genuinely needed a break from the interwebs and did so without fanfare. I wanted my focus to be on our immediate experiences and to enjoy them together, without the need to post, check-in, tag, and whatever else it is I typically do to waste time online.

On the flight from Chicago to Amsterdam (where we had our first long layover), I was the lucky guest on the plane whose TV didn’t work in my sardine class seat, otherwise I would have been watching films the entire time like a normal person.  Instead, I listened to some music and wrote down a few intentions/objectives for the Nepali leg of the trip while Vani and Mom chatted away like old friends.

1) Provide enjoyable experience and safety for my family and enjoy myself with them in the process

2) Meet with key Dolpopas, Amchi Namgyal Rinpoche and others on behalf of Himalaya Project

3) Enjoy time with Nepali friends, visit Buddhist pilgrimage sites, reinvigorate meditation practice

Once we finally landed in Kathmandu, we were greeted by my friend, Lhakpa Dhondrup Lama.  He placed scarves around our necks and we quickly moved out of the chaotic stream of taxi drivers pushing their rides towards the van Lhakpa had arranged for us. Lhakpa was more or less quiet and calm, as usual.  

We drove quickly through the streets of Kathmandu.  As expected, the streets did not disappoint and were full of excitement, dust, crazy honking horns, things on fire or formerly on fire, and motorcycles.. a strange experiment in controlled or uncontrolled chaos, I’m not sure which. I am and will forever be completely amazed how that the cars, motorcycles, cows, and pedestrians do not hit each other more often than not.  

After reaching our guest house, we got settled a bit and did the usual run out to Boudha gate to change some dollars into Nepali Rupees.  This time the exchange rate was considerably advantageous for us compared to my last visit in.  98 NR to the dollar. After changing money, we walked around the magnificent Boudhanath stupa. This was Vani and Mom’s first time here. I was beaming on the inside, watching their faces react to one of the most wonderful places in the world. Letting go of expectation and control, I did my best to let them have their own experience without directing it too much with useless words of my own. Not much happened after viewing the stupa, as we only had a few hours before dark.

In the evening, Vani’s own mother, Vinita, also joined us.  Once she arrived, the four of us and Lhakpa would go out to dinner and call it an early night.  We were all exhausted, Vani was freezing cold, and I was having trouble holding myself upright by 8pm. 

Here are a few photos of our trip en route to Nepal.  Not much to see yet, as the inside of a plane’s not all that interesting. The next post will be our first day together, in country.  


Himalayas seen while circling Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport. For some reason we were not cleared to land and went around in circles for some time, giving us a great view of the mountains.


Tulips from our layover in Amsterdam, en route to Asia.


How cool is this? The airport in Amsterdam has a space reserved for meditation

Meeting the Indiana Jones of Tibetan Buddhist Studies

March 5, 2013

I had the pleasure of meeting Matthew Kapstein, Ph.D. for lunch this past week, which was a luncheon, two years in the making. Professor Kapstein, currently Numata Visiting Professor of Buddhist Studies at the University of Chicago, spends only one academic quarter a year here in Chicago. The rest of the year he is the director of Tibetan Buddhist Religious Studies at the École Pratique des Hautes Études at the Sorbonne in Paris.

Over the past two years, we’ve been emailing back and forth attempting to meet up to hopefully discuss his work, Dolpo, and other items of conversation one might wish to pursue over lunch some Friday afternoon.

As I waited for Dr. Kapstein to arrive in the lobby of the Berghoff Bar and Restaurant in Chicago, IL (he chose the restaurant, not me.. though Berghoff was somehow quite fitting as it was also my college beer of choice), I went over in my head what I wanted to ask him about and what I wanted to tell him. I was very eager to dig into our conversation, to ask him questions about how he came across an entire collection of undiscovered Buddhist works by Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen Rinpoche. Dr. Kapstein spearheaded the translation of the life’s work and hagiography of this very important figure in the history of Tibetan Buddhism and I was looking forward to hearing about his experience surrounding Dolpopa.


I imagined Dr. Kapstein as a sort of Indiana Jones of the Dharma/Buddhist translation world and I told myself to keep cool in chatting with him rather than volley a barrage of questions his way.

Once we were seated, we appropriately began by talking about beer as I mentioned that the same company that made Berghoff, made Huber lager, which they used to sell by the case at the Mifflin Street Co-op in Madison and that my compatriots and I preferred this, as we also got a small return on the bottles at the Co-op. Our conversation immediately took off from there as he also attended UW-Madison, for 1 year in the late 60’s before heading to India. He started talking about his experience in Madison, about Mifflin St. and the riots that occurred there during the Vietnam era.

Conversation drifted to a few of our mutual acquaintances. Norbu, my Tibetan teacher, he mentioned, was a huge help to the department when U of C was starting their Tibetan language program. We also talked about one of Dr. Kapstein’s former students, Jennifer Chertow, Ph.D., a colleague of mine who has been offering her advice to our project as her background is in medical anthropology. Dr. Kapstein oversaw her dissertation in which she studied the changing views and practices of local Chicago-area Tibetans in exile concerning death and dying.

I wanted to know more about how he got is start in acadamia and what led him to study Tibetan Buddhism and how he initially learned to speak Tibetan as currently, as I am struggling through learning Tibetan.

While he was in India, he travelled to Nepal to escape the heat of summer and ended up meeting Tibetan refugees living in Boudha. He found his way to the Solu Khumbu region, near Everest, and as he non-chalantly stated, he learned Tibetan by playing cards late in the night with drunken Khampas. (Khampas are Eastern Tibetans from the region of Kham, known for their reputation as wild warriors and horsemen.) He continued to describe that the biggest piece to have working in your favor if learning a foreign language is the environmental chess piece. With a difficult language like Tibetan, this is even more important to be enveloped in a language as opposed to only studying grammar from a book.

It was after this experience with the Khampas and the Sherpas in Solu Khumbu that he began his academic study of the language and religion, stateside, at UC-Berkeley. I appreciate it that his first contact and interest did not come as an academic endeavor, but from a genuine interest in the people, themselves.

I told him some stories about the people on the other side of the Himalayas, in Dolpo, as I shared my story of travelling there in 2010 and again in 2011. I told him about our growing project, the Dolpo School of Tibetan Buddhist Medicine, the health care needs of the Dolpopa, and how the Nakpa lineage of Tibetan medicine is fast fading in the face of change. We discussed some ins and outs of politics, socio-economic factors, and related issues that have led Tibetan medicine to its current predicament in the face of modernization.

We began to talk about Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen Rinpoche. Dr. Kapstein had spent a lot of time and effort in translating and compiling the life’s work of this infamous Tibetan master. Dolpopa, was in fact born in Dolpo, but at a young age, travelled to Tibet via the kingdom of Mustang. He was a contemporary to the 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje and the two of them got along quite well.

Dolpopa was a controversial figure in Buddhism during this time period as he was a proponent of the Zhentong school of thought concerning emptiness and the nature of Mind. (see, Zhentong)

Before Dr. Kapstein uncovered Dolpopa’s complete life’s works and biography in Ngaba (Eastern Tibet), Dolpopa’s writings were unknown to the West and it was not even known if a complete collection existed. Kapstein caught wind that a monastery in Ngaba had a collection of Dolpopa’s works and subsequently found them. This mother lode of texts turned out to be Dolpopa’s complete writings, teachings and life story.

Once he realized what he had uncovered, he phoned Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center’s founder, Gene Smith, who was completely speechless on the other end of the line. Kapstein chuckled that Gene Smith was not one to ever remain silent, but the news of Kapstein’s find took away his words.

In my mind, discovering a lost text like this, is worlds better than uncovering any archaeological object, or anything else Indiana Jones ever found in his films (especially the glowing skull thing). Writings like Kapstein’s find, contain the teachings of a master in their own words, their pith instructions, as they wrote them down, themselves. I wonder what it feels like to discover such a treasure.

Meeting with Dr. Kapstein and hearing about his process of starting as a young man playing cards with Khampas and the good that came of his interest in Tibet, inspired me to work even harder at my own language endeavors and with our project in Dolpo.

Someday, once our school in Dolpo is finished and our students all graduated and treating hopefully hundreds of patients, it is my wish to be able to assist in translation work, perhaps even with Tibetan medical texts.

Mountain View

February 7, 2013

In this clip, one can see Jampa Gompa, a 1000 year old monastery at roughly 4000 meters above sea level.  Inside is a one-story statue of Maitreya Buddha as well as numerous priceless wall paintings and frescoes done with natural pigments made from stone and plants.

One catches a view of the 8 stupas, or chortens in Tibetan, in front of the monastery.  These are monuments representing enlightened body, speech, and mind.

It is Autumn, in this video, and the barley is ready for harvest.  Men and women wake early in the morning to harvest before the sun comes up as this is the best time to cut the barley.

Dolpo’s pastoral nature and mountain peaks invoke a sense of calm when one travels there.  In a busy city where time is money and money is time, it is nice to be reminded that there are places where time practically stands still, money doesn’t mean everything, and life is permitted to rest and breathe.

Ngakpa Lama Dances in Dolpo, Nepal

October 27, 2012

Many people think that to be Buddhist one must live as a monastic, which is not historically accurate. In the Tibetan tradition of Buddhism, there were monastic practitioners, lay practitioners and of course the yogis.

I shot the video below at the Ribo Bumpa Festival Festival in the Dho-Tarap Valley of Dolpo in 2011.  The dancers are all lay and yogi tantric practitioners, local to the Dolpo region.

Instead of shaved heads and red robes, you can see the lamas with their long hair and white and red chubas.  Each of these lamas has a wife and children and responsibilities to the community such as farming and herding, in addition to their religious role in society as lamas.

These house-holder lamas and yogis are called Ngakpa, in Tibetan.(སྔགས་པ) and may be male or female (female, Ngakma) practitioners of the Vajrayana school of Tibetan Buddhism.

The rare dance performed in this video is the dance you would see at a funeral of a local who recently died.  The lamas with their dance, song, horns and drums, are calling in the vultures for ‘sky burial.’

Ngakpa Lama Dancing

Footage of the Dolpo School of Tibetan Buddhist Medicine

October 9, 2012

I thought it would be nice to begin sharing a few specific details of our project in Dolpo.  The Dolpo School of Tibetan Buddhist Medicine will be located in the Tarap Valley of Dolpo Nepal.  At this altitude, (4000m, 1323ft), building can be an issue, as all timbers other building materials must be brought up from lower altitudes.

Fortunately, we already have a building to use for our school.  A similar building in the area built within the last few years cost nearly 70,000 Euro, so we are quite fortunate to have our building in place, ready for our teachers and students to begin classes.

I took these video clips during my last trip to Dolpo, in 2011, knowing that our donors and friends would like to see where our classes will be held and what our buildings look like.

The first clip is a walk around our main classroom space.

This second clip is short, but one can see the Tibetan style paintings of Tenzin Norbu, a Dolpopa thanka painter.  The images are of amchi (Tibetan doctors) taking pulses of patients, picking herbs, a nursing mother, a show leopard, and a yak.  All familiar iconography to region.

The third clip, I am walking around our building towards the gate.  Lower down from our building is the Crystal Mountain School, where the local children attend elementary school.  We have a good relationship with the school’s sponsor, Action Dolpo, a French NGO, who are the first to bring government education to the Dolpopas.

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