Traditional Tibetan Medicine

A Nutshell History of Traditional Tibetan Medicine

Traditional Tibetan Medicine is commonly known as “Sowa Rigpa” is a very ancient medical system based on Buddhist philosophy and psychology, considered to be one of the oldest, living and well documented medical tradition from the world over. It explains that everything existing or non-existing in the world derives from the mind and the five elements. The mind is considered to be the base because all existences and moments depend on its movements; it is the creator of every external and internal phenomenon.

Traditional Tibetan medicine is over 2,500 years old and said to originate from the medical teaching given by the Buddha around 500 BC. It is based on the religious and medical traditions of Bon and Tibetan Buddhism but also incorporated medical ideas from Greece, Persia, India, and China. In the 18th century, it was formalized in four great medical texts, the Four Tantras (the Gyud-shi). These comprise 156 chapters and 5,900 verses on concepts and causes of disease, diagnosis, and treatment and are still used for medical teaching today.

The practice of Traditional Tibetan Medicine

Three “humor” or “energies” are said to make up the physical body and regulate physical and mental processes. Each has particular qualities and functions:

  • Lung (vital energy or ‘wind’) is light, moving, and dry and influences respiration, thinking, digestion, reproduction, physical movement, and vitality.
  • Tripa (body heat or ‘bile’) is hot, oily and odorous and influences appetite, thirst, digestive function, skin quality, joint lubrication, vision, and tempestuousness.
  • Badken (moisture and fluids or ‘phlegm’) is cold, heavy and sticky in nature and regulates sleep, joint mobility, digestion, excretion, and mental alertness.

These humor, or principles, are the quintessence of the energy that constantly flows in the human body and sustains the health with mental awareness when the humors are balanced there is good health. However, the imbalance can be caused by lifestyle factors, unhealthy diet, negative thoughts, environmental factors, and spirit influences, leading to disease.

At the root of all diseases are three mental ‘poisons’: desire, hatred and confusion. Desire (characterized by attachment, greed, pride and cravings) disturbs ‘wind’. Hatred (including anger, aggression and aversion) disturbs ‘bile’. Confusion (characterized by indecision, mental lethargy and listlessness) affects ‘phlegm’.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Traditional Tibetan medicine treatment includes the prescription of herbal pills prepared according to traditional medical texts and modifications to the patient’s diet and behavior. The effectiveness of Tibetan Medicine has been demonstrated in its simple treatment of complex long-term conditions such as epilepsy, diabetes, jaundice, and certain forms of cancer and actively practiced in the Tibetan communities in Tibet and overseas. It is classifying 84,000 types of diseases divided into four main types: due to early life, present lifestyle, past life (karma) and spirit influence.

Diagnosis is based on pulse taking, urine analysis, observation (of tongue, skin, eyes, ears, gait etc) and questioning. The best Tibetan doctors are said to be able to diagnose using pulse alone. Pulses for each internal organ are taken on the radial arteries of the wrists and there are also seven ‘wondrous’ pulses for determining pregnancy and spirit influences. Astrological charts may also be used to determine predisposition to disease and underlying cause.

The aim is to restore the balance of the humors. This is achieved through dietary modification, behavioral change, medicines, external treatments, religious rituals, and purification techniques.

Diet and lifestyle changes are always recommended and are based on the effects of different types of food and behavior on each humor. Medicines are herbal, made from the roots, leaves, flowers, bark, and fruits of different plants, minerals and occasionally animal products. The remedies are given as pills, powders, decoctions, and ointments. External therapies include moxibustion (a form of heat treatment), massage and bone-setting. Spiritual healing involves prayers and rituals by the physician and/or the patient and often the healing power of the Medicine Buddha is invoked.

The medicine Buddha practice is the heart of Tibetan medicine, the guardian deity of Tibetan medicine is the Medicine Buddha who is often symbolically depicted with a bowl of long-life elixir and a myrobalan fruit – a potent medicinal plant said to cure all diseases.

In Buddhist philosophical point of view, the Medicine Buddha, he protects living beings from physical and mental sickness and other dangers and obstacles and helps them to eradicate the three poisons – attachment, hatred, and ignorance – which are the source of all sickness and danger. He is a Buddha Doctor. Therefore, all Tibetan physicians should receive the Medicine Buddha initiation and perform his practice.

What Is It Good For?

Tibetan medicine is widely used in the East and increasingly in the West to treat a wide range of disorders. Research has shown that certain formulas are particularly effective for digestive and circulation problems.

Tibetan medicine will help you to bring your energies back into balance and live a healthy, happy life. Conventional health care can be beneficial for acute illnesses and when surgery, pharmaceutical medications, and technology are needed.

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