William R. Leon
TIBETAN MEDICINE, HISTORY AND
Origin of Tibetan Medicine
Tibetan medicine is like a time-capsule,
holding intact the ancient Greek medical system, which it assimilated via
Persia; the Ayurvedic medical tradition, which it imported with Buddhism from
India; and many forms of Chinese medicine which were gradually incorporated.
These layers of medical knowledge and traditions merged with pre-Buddhist
shamanic traditions and have continued to develop up to the present as a
thriving and highly effective indigenous medical system.
The philosophical basis of Tibetan medicine
is rooted in Buddhism. The historical Buddha Shakyamuni, sometimes called the
Supreme Physician, is said to have first taught a healing system in India during
the 6th century BCE. In many of his teachings, the Buddha used disease and
healing as metaphors to illustrate his philosophy of the human condition. From
the Buddhist perspective, physical illness is inextricably bound with mental,
social and spiritual illness. Thus the Buddhist medical system is more than
studies of anatomy, physiopathology and pharmacopoeia. It is a guide to 'right
living' and involves the spiritual aspects of healing as
During the first half of the 7th century,
Buddhism was adopted in Tibet by King Songsten Gampo. It was during his reign
that physicians from India, China, Nepal, Byzantium and Persia were invited to
Tibet for an international medical conference and as well as that importation of
Sanskrit leading to the reformulation of Tibetan scriptures later led to translate their medical
texts into Tibetan new scriptures. This became the basis for the founding of a sophisticated
medical system in Tibet, and led to many years of academic and intellectual
To this spiritual and philosophical core,
based on the unique concept of healing as developed by Buddhist philosophy,
(which sees the mind as inextricably linked to all phenomena, including illness
and wellness), the Tibetans added a whole array of ideas and concepts along with
actual treatments and medications. This original blend created a complex system
of healing which interweaves spiritual, 'magical' and rational healing practices
based on the view of health as a harmonious balance between Man's deep
relationship with his physical, mental, spiritual and natural worlds.
The Tibetan medical system developed a vast
body of medical literature, the oldest surviving written system of medical
psychiatry, an enormous herbal pharmacopoeia and a complete system of diagnosis
and treatment. The diverse and complex elements that constitute Tibetan medicine
-- its highly refined ethical principles, its philosophical and psychological
structure -- deserve serious attention, study, documentation and preservation by
the international scientific community.
Essence of Tibetan Medicine
The basic theory of Tibetan medicine is to keep in balance the Nyipa
sum - they are rLung (pronounced loong), mKhris-pa and
Bad-kan. The long-term causative factors of Nyipa sum are the
three poisons of desire, hatred and delusion which show how closely
connected Tibetan medicine is with Buddhist philosophy.
The science of medicine from the snowy land of
Tibet… has methods to bring about a long and healthy life. In
general, Tibetan medicine is an excellent science that is able
to prevent illness and cause people to live long, as well as
to heal illness and alleviate the sufferings which accompany
illness when it does occur. ”
- (ref- Dr. Tashi Pedon)
culture maintains a deep and powerful integration of spiritual
and practical understanding.
Tibetan healing tradition respects both influences as well as
its fundamental concern with the doctor-patient relationship.
As per Tibetan
tradition, the Medicine Buddha is said to have appeared
directly to the emanated sages: Rigpa Yeshe and Kamadeva, and
to have taught them the entire text called: Gyushi, the Four
Medical Tantras, in the form of a dialogue. With this pure
vision as their basis, they then arranged the text that is now
called : the Four Medical Tantras.
Sacred Texts called: Termas, or Teasure Teachings, are said to
have been hidden by Master Padmasambhava (Guru Rimpoche) only
to be discovered later by Wangchug Pelmar at the Samye
monastery in Tibet.
The Five Elements
Tibetan Medicine Theory
states that everything in the universe is made up from the five
1- Sa (Earth)
2- Chu (Water)
3- Me (Fire)
4- rLung (Wind)
5- Nam-mkha (Space)
medicine remedies for illness are made out of the Five
Elements and act to benefit the balance and stamina of
the Five Elements constituents in the body itself.
The 4 Tibetan Medicine Tantras include:
- explanation of all
- anatomy and physiology of our body; the process of birth and
Oral Transmissions Tantra
- cause, the nature, the treatment of diseases and their
- methods of diagnosis, pharmacology and support, or external
Brief Description of the Nyipa sum
What is rLung? What is mKhris-pa?
There are three (3) humours
of five (5) types of
is a single general cause of al different illnesses which
find its roots in the concept of humors. In short, to be in
good health all these humors have to be balanced.
When a humor becomes weak or too strong it creates some
unbalance which therefore leads to disease.
The concept of disease is itself linked to the Buddhist
philosophy premises called self-grasping, one of the
so-called: Poisons. The imbalance causes of the Three Humors
leading to diseases are accordingly: desire, anger and
stupidity, linked to ignorance.
Rlung or Wind
The general description of rLung is that it is a subtle flow of
energy and out of the five elements (earth, water, fire, air and space) it
is most closely connected with air. However it is not simply the air which
we breathe or the wind in our stomachs, it goes much deeper than that.
rLung is like a horse and tile mind is the rider, if there is
something wrong with the horse the rider will not be able to ride
properly. Its description is that it is rough, light, cool, thin, hard,
movable. The general function of rLung is to help growth, movement of the
body, exhalation and inhalation and to aid the function of mind, speech
and body. rLung helps to separate in our stomachs what we eat into
nutrients and waste products. However its most important function is to
carry the movements of mind, speech and body. The nature of rLung is both
hot and cold.
Now I will explain the type, location and function of rLung.
There are five types of rLung.
The first is called Srog-'dzin (life-grasping rLung). Its
location is in the brain and its functions are the swallowing of food,
inhalation and spitting, eructation and sneezing, clearing the senses and
intellect, and steadying of the mind.
The second type of rLung is Gyen-rgyu (upward moving
rLung). Its location is in the chest and its functions are
responsible for speech, the increase of bodily vigour and health, the
giving of lustre to the skin and the promotion of mental endeavour and
The third type of rLung is Khyab-byed (all pervading
rLung). Its location is in the heart. Its locations is responsible
for lifting, walking, stretching, grasping of limbs, the opening and
closing of the mouth, eyelids, anus etc.
The fourth type of rLung is Me-mnyam (fire accompanying
rLung). Its location is in the stomach and its function is to promote
digestion and the metabolism, and ripen the seven bodily sustainers known
as lus-zung dhun.
The fifth type of rLung is Thur-sel (downward cleansing
rLung). Its location is in the rectum and its function is to expel faeces,
urine, semen, menstruation and the foetus.
for the bone marrow, nerves, heart, bones, etc. It gives
rise to sensation of the five sense as well
as memory and awareness. It also allows
of hands, feet, respiratory system, smooth muscle
contraction of all types of movements.
Mkhrispa or Bile
mKhris-pa. is the hot nature within our body and not simply the
bile which comes from our gall bladder. From out of the five elements
mKhris-pa is related to fire. The description of mKhris-pa
is oily, sharp, hot, light, pungent and moist. The most important function
of mKhris-pa is to keep in balance the bodily temperature. It helps
with the digestion of food and it is what makes us feel hungry and thirsty
at the right times. It also gives lustre to the skin and helps to keep the
pores clear. The nature of mKhris-pa is hot like fire or the
sun. There are five types of
The first type of mKhris-pa is called 'Ju-byed (digesting
mKhris-pa). Its location is between the stomach and intestine. Its
function is to promote digestion and to break down essential nutrients
from foodstuffs and fluids and then to separate essence and waste. It
promotes bodily heat and helps to provide energy to the other four types
The second type of mKhris-pa is called sGrub-byed
(accomplishing mKhris-pa). Its location is the heart. Its function
is that it anger, aggression and hatred. It provides the initial driving
force behind the minds of desire, achievement and ambition.
The third type of mKhris-pa is called mdangs-sgyur (colour
changing mKhris-pa). Its location is in the liver. Its function is
to maintain and promote the red colouring of essential nutrients in the
The fourth type of mKhris-pa is mThong-byed (seeing
mKhris-pa). Its locations is in the eyes and it promotes
The fifth mKhris-pa is mDog-sel (complexion clearing
mKhris-pa). Its location is the skin and its function is to clear
and promote skin lustre by giving it a healthy and wholesome colour.
In brief, mKhris-pa
or Bile, is of the
nature proto-element being: fire.
supports the stomach, spleen, gall bladder, blood, etc. It Gives
rise to the heat and radiance of the body. It is
situated in the Digestive and reproductive system
Bad-kan or Phlegm
Amongst the three humors,
Bad-kan or Phlegm is of the nature of the proto-elements of Earth
and Water. Bad-khan is not the phlegm which comes from the chest, it
is all the diseases connected with the cold nature called Bad-kan.
From out of the five elements it is related to both water and earth. The
description of Bad-kan is oily, cool, heavy, blunt, smooth, steady
and sticky. The main function of Bad-kan is to sustain the bodily
liquids. It helps to mix food in the stomach, steady the mind, and it
helps to keep our joints flexible. The nature of Bad-kan is cold,
like water or the moon. There are five types of Bad-kan
The first Bad-kan is called rTen-byed (supporting
Bad-kan). Its location is the chest, and it's function is to
support the remaining four Bad-kans.
The second Bad-kan is called Myag-byed (mixing
Bad-kan). Its location is the upper region and, its function is the
mixing of liquid and solid foodstuffs into a semi-liquid state.
The third Bad-kan is called Myong-byed (experiencing
Bad-kan). Its location is the tongue, and its function is to sense
and experience the six primary tastes.
The fourth Bad-kan is called Tsim-byed (satisfying
Bad-kan). Its location is the head, and its function is to increase
and satisfy the power of the five senses.
The fifth Bad-kan is called 'Byor-byed (joining
Bad-kan). Its location is the joints and its function is
responsibility for the flexibility of the joints.
This is a brief description of the type, location and function of the
Nyipa sum. When the Nyipa sum are balanced, then what are
called the seven bodily sustainers are also balanced. The seven bodily
3) Muscle tissues
7) Regenerative fluid
FAQ: Tibetan physicians…
FAQ: How is Tibetan medicine made?
I think it is not advisable to prepare the medicine without
thorough knowledge. This requires a rigorous training in terms of
identification of the ingredients, their potential, taste, nature,
quality, effects, processes like detoxification, precipitation,
The Tibetan medical system remained secret for well over thousand
years. The physicians in Tibet kept their knowledge closely
guarded. Medicine in Tibet was a hereditary profession. The secret
of medicine making was handed over from a father to son or
sometimes from a teacher to a single disciple; after all, medicine
is a matter of precious life and death.
FAQ: Tibetan herbal pills
isn’t Tibetan medicine until it is blessed.
The preparation of Tibetan medicine requires many steps, like
detoxification and purification of most of the ingredients. The
Tibetan physicians do not treat the body as a machine but with a
holistic approach, i.e. physically, mentally and spiritually.
Therefore, the blessing of medicine is considered to be
important. The blessing of the medicine is conducted by
performing the rituals and by reciting the mantras of the eight
manifestations of the Medicine Buddha, who have vowed to ease
the sufferings of the sick. This supports the purification of
the medicine spiritually through receiving blessings from the
more logo/text to use...