The roots of The Medicine and Compassion Project began when Dr. Shlim was working in Kathmandu, running a small clinic that specialized in the care of foreigners. During that time, he heard that a Tibetan Buddhist monastery was having some trouble getting health care for the monks, so he offered to run a free clinic there once a week to see whoever was sick.
In the fall of 1984, Dr. Shlim was taken to meet the head of the monastery, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, who at age 33, was a year younger than himself. That was the beginning of a thirty-five-year relationship that has led to what is now called “The Medicine and Compassion Project.”
Dr. Shlim slowly realized that Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche was able to help guide him in life, through romantic struggles and the pressures of running the clinic. Eventually, what had started as a nice kind of friendship evolved into seeing Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche as his teacher. Dr. Shlim received extensive instruction in mediation technique and philosophy. The side effect, at the time, of learning to have a calmer mind, was that his compassion increased in a way that he could not have foreseen. The change in Dr. Shlim’s ability to be calm and kind and open with patients was striking enough that he began to envision putting on a conference in the West, with Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche as the only speaker. It would be called, “Medicine and Compassion.”
Dr. Shlim treating sick Monks in Kathmandu, 1985
Dr. Shlim nursed that dream for more than ten years until the conference finally took place in 2000, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where he had moved with his family. A second conference was held there in 2002. Dr. Shlim then spent four years transcribing and editing the audio tapes from the conferences into a book called Medicine and Compassion. The book was published by Wisdom Publications in 2004. A second edition came out in 2015.
Another Medicine and Compassion conference with Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche was held at the Harvard School of Public Health in 2005, and a fourth one was held in Cologne, Germany in 2007 to mark the launch of the German translation of the book. The book has since been translated into Spanish, Catalan, Italian, Russian, Czech, and Chinese.
Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche with Dr. Shlim and his son Matt in Kathmandu, 1991
After the last conference, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche became too busy with all of his worldwide teaching responsibilities to do another Medicine and Compassion conference. Still the interest in compassion’s effects on medicine continued, so Dr. Shlim began receiving invitations to give talks on Medicine and Compassion, in hospitals and conferences all around the world. This sowed the seed of the possibilities of training in compassion, but the individual lectures were not followed up at the time with further learning opportunities. This led to the idea of bringing doctors and nurses together in a remote, beautiful place to do a Medicine and Compassion Retreat. This came together when Phakchok Rinpoche, the nephew of Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, offered to teach the 5-day retreat. Dr. Shlim rented a ranch in Jackson Hole and had 25 participants in 2017. He did it again with Phakchok Rinpoche in 2018. In 2019, a third retreat was held with Lama Oser, a senior monk at Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche’s monastery.
Phakchok Rinpoche teaching at the second Medicine and Compassion Retreat, 2018