Meditations on Health

Based on Tibetan values,'Karma' holds words of wisdom for all people


By Rhoda Fukushima

St. Paul Pioneer Press

Monday, December 10, 2001

The memory of the elderly Buddhist nun still makes Miriam Cameron cry. Cameron and her party were visiting Tibet and stopped at a nunnery. The tiny woman wore a maroon robe, sweater and hat, with prayer beads around her wrist. At 72, she had been a nun for 60 years. She walked toward Cameron, who immediately sensed her compassion and faith. Envisoning the struggles the nun must have endured, Cameron began to weep, knowing she was received "as is."

"She treated me with such acceptance, kindness," says Cameron, a nurse-bioethicist at the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota. "I didn't have to defend myself anymore."

Cameron included that moving moment in a new book, "Karma & Happiness: A Tibetan Odyssey in Ethics, Spirituality and Healing." Part travelogue, part journal, part historical overview, "Karma" describes how principles of Tibetan medicine can be helpful for all people, regardless of their religious persuasion.

"There is nothing to be afraid of with this -- unless you're afraid of diversity," says Cameron, daughter of a Lutheran minister, whose spiritual practice includes elements of Judaism, Buddhism, 12-step and yoga. "You can use Tibetan values alongside (your) other values, whether Christian, atheist, agnostic, Jewish, Moslem or whatever."

Title: "Karma & Happiness: A Tibetan Odyssey in Ethics, Spirituality and Healing." Author: Miriam E. Cameron. Publisher: Fairview Press. Price: $16.95. Miriam Cameron will discuss Tibetan medicine and healing at 7 p.m. Jan. 17 at Pathways, A Health Crisis Resource Center in Minneapolis. Event is free. Preregistration is required. Call (612) 822-9061.

Tibetan medicine has roots in Buddhism. People yearn to be happy and healthy, which comes from a balanced life and peaceful relationships, she says. A researcher and nurse, Cameron says all people want to live with integrity and meaning -- even in the midst of terrible events like the Sept. 11 attacks.

"When people create suffering for other people, it's because they're suffering," Cameron says. "They want to live with meaning and integrity, but they're misguided. Why is it they're suffering, and how can we change that?"

According to the Tibetan approach, illness is rooted in imbalance. That imbalance stems from negative thought, which can lead to bad choices and have harmful consequences. Tibetan practitioners acknowledge genetics, environmental factors and other influences on a person's health, but they say people can still influence their own well-being.

"We are constantly changing according to the choices we make," Cameron says."That is karma."

Tibetan medicine puts negative thinking into three categories:

Attachment, greed and desire.

Anger, hostility and aggression.

Delusion, confusion and close-mindedness.

Tibetan practitioners evaluate the person's pressing complaint as well as personal, health, dietary and spiritual history, Cameron says. The first line of treatment is prayer, mantras and meditation. To overcome attachment, they recommend meditating on impermanence. To heal anger, meditate on compassion. To deal with delusion, meditate on wisdom.

If the illness persists, practitioners will recommend herbal medicines of increasing strength, visualization, acupuncture, massage and exercise. Surgery is a last resort.

While in Tibet, Cameron became ill with light-headedness and nausea, later attributed to the high altitude and Tibetan food. When the symptoms persisted, she went to a medical doctor there. Before he asked for details, the doctor studied her eyes. This made Cameron think of how Western medicine's reliance on technology can atrophy powers of observation.

"Too often, we don't look directly into an individual's eyes and we fail to ask in-depth questions," she writes. Cameron believes that to heal, people must develop their spirituality. She practices what she preaches. She has a meditation room in her home decorated with Tibetan art. She meditates and does yoga every day. Spirituality, she says, is a way of "evolving toward wholeness." Put another way, that is health and healing.

Rhoda Fukushima can be reached at

or (651) 228-5444

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