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October 28, 2015

Dalai Lama’s doctor preaches compassion in medicine

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Californian Dr. Barry Kerzin traveled to India nearly 30 years ago after he heard the Dalai Lama wanted a Western physician to help train traditional Tibetan doctors. He now serves as one of the Dalai Lama’s personal physicians.

The Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of millions of Tibetan Buddhists, many of whom live in exile in India. Based on his teachings of love and empathy, many non-Buddhists have been drawn to the Dalai Lama, including celebrities and musicians.

Kerzin began practicing meditation and eventually became an ordained Buddhist monk. But he followed the Dalai Lama’s advice to keep his physician credentials and emphasize compassion in medicine just as much as knowledge.

Kerzin has taken part in a number of scientific studies that point to the positive effects of long-term meditation on the brain. Researchers discovered changes in the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that helps with executive function, including planning, reasoning, imagination and empathy.

The studies may help combat a rising feeling of dissatisfaction in the medical profession, including one study that stated 50 percent of doctors were unhappy, according to Stanford School of Medicine’s Dr. Abraham Verghese.

Verghese hopes more doctors will hear Dr. Kerzin’s message and spend less time on their computers and more time directly caring for their patients.


 Vocab

Buddhism — a religion or philosophy based largely on teachings attributed to Gautama Buddha, commonly known as the Buddha

Dalai Lama — the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism

meditation — to spend time in quiet thought for religious purposes or relaxation

Warm up questions
  1. Who is the Dalai Lama?
  2. What is Buddhism?
  3. What are some of the differences between traditional and Western medicine?
Critical thinking questions
  1. What were some of the findings associated with the brains of people who practice meditation?
  2. Why do you think as many as half of all doctors may be depressed?
  3. How could practices like meditation and compassionate medicine improve healthcare for patients?
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