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William  R. Leon 








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 well.

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 exchange.

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)


*Tibetan culture maintains a deep and powerful integration of spiritual and practical understanding.


*The 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.

Furthermore, 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 proto-elements:

1- Sa (Earth)

2- Chu (Water)

3- Me (Fire)

4- rLung (Wind)

5- Nam-mkha (Space)

Tibetan 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 Tantras  (Gyu-shi)


The 4 Tibetan Medicine Tantras include:
*1) Root Tantra -  explanation of all diseases.
*2) Explanatory Tantra - anatomy and physiology of our body; the process of birth and dying.
*3) Oral Transmissions Tantra - cause, the nature, the treatment of diseases and their classification.
*4) Last Tantra - methods of diagnosis, pharmacology and support, or external treatments.




Brief Description of the Nyipa sum

What is rLung? What is mKhris-pa? What is Bad-kan?

There are three (3) humours of five (5) types of each:

*1) rlung (wind)
*2) mkhrispa (bile)
*3) badkan (phlegm)
*There 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 diligence.

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.

*In brief, rLung or Wind, supports 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 the movement 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 mKhris-pa :

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 of mKhris-pa.

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 blood.

The fourth type of mKhris-pa is mThong-byed (seeing mKhris-pa). Its locations is in the eyes and it promotes vision.

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. It 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 sestinas are:

1) Essential nutrients

2) Blood

3) Muscle tissues

4) Fat

3) Bone

6) Marrow

7) Regenerative fluid



FAQ: Tibetan physicians…
Physicians shall…
*Be committed
*Practice with respect towards life and wealth
*Have awareness
*Be hard working
*Become doctor as teacher (Docere)
*Have Compassion


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, elimination, etc.
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
*It 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 Medicine Buddha.












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