Religion, Medicine and the Human Embryo in Tibet

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But on the whole, Tibetan translations from Sanskrit are highly accurate. Samye, the first Buddhist monastery, was founded during his reign. Created in the form of a mandala, it was presided over by the Indian saint Padmasambhava, Guru Rinpoche. From that time on, Vajrayana Buddhism and all the sciences it included became the one and only consuming interest, life-focus, and belief of the Tibetan people. From that time on Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan culture were inseparable. Religious and medical teachings were one and the same, all part of the Dharma.

Vairochana was sent to India. The Gyu-zhi , or Four Tantras , is still the most important medical text; its herbal and other remedies and psychiatric cures are still being practiced today. Naturally, Yuthog Yontan Gonpo represented Tibet, and he won the debate! Although it is difficult to imagine how they approached the language and translation problem, apparently they did manage it.

It was hidden by Padmasambhava at Samye Monastery in the 8th century and remained there until the middle of the 11th century, when it exchanged several hands before finding its way into those of the second Yuthog. He worked on it and presumably edited some of the texts, though the degree of his work is not known.

The original eighth century Tibetan translation, having been replaced in a pillar of Samye Monastery by its discoverer, was supposedly still there as recently as 20 years ago. Buddhist culture in India came under fierce attack by Muslims from Turkey during the 13th century, wiping out monks, texts and monasteries.

In the 14th century two famous doctors, Jangpa and Zurkarpa, headed rival medical systems that continued to exist into the 17th century. These rival systems engendered some confusion on both theoretical and practical matters of Tibetan medicine. The complex was named the Iron Mountain or Chagpori, which refers to the almost vertical aspect of the hill itself. The Regent, meanwhile, added various literary and artistic activities to his already considerable political duties.

He revised the Four Tantras , wrote a famous commentary, and then created a series of 79 paintings illustrating the contents of his commentary. Embryology, anatomy, physiology, materia medica , methods of diagnosis, therapy, etc.

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His assiduousness and desire for precision of depiction ranged from the indigenous medicinal plants to exotic ones and even led him to send an artist to funeral sites so as to sketch the visceral contents of corpses for his anatomical descriptions. Corpses were often cut up as food for vultures in keeping with Buddhist tradition. This wholesale adoption of the Tibetan Buddhist medical system survives today in Mongolia.

The greatest doctors in Tibet were also great lamas. This tradition of great lamas and saints applying themselves to Tibetan medicine has continued to the present. Scholars and saints wrote commentaries and treatises on a variety of subjects, thus ever increasing the existing body of knowledge. Lama Mipham, in the late 19th and early 20th century, wrote 32 volumes of works on music, logic, astrology, alchemy and medicine as well as organizing the sutras and philosophical tantras.

Also important were his writings about the healing properties of gems, the healing uses of five Tibetan grasses and his commentary on the Gyu-zhi. In the early 20th century, during the years of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, a new medical college in Lhasa named the House of Medicine and Astronomy was built through the efforts of the outstanding physician-lama Khyenrab Norbu His phenomenal memory and intellectual acuity allowed him to memorize the entire Gyu-zhi by the age of 16 and four years later he passed his medical exams with a perfect score.

Yeshi Dhonden. Ironically, since the Chinese Communist invasion of Tibet in and the subsequent exodus by many Tibetans to India and countries in the West, we in the West have learned more about Tibetan medicine and have had greater access to Tibetan doctors than ever before. Although the Chinese respected Tibetan medicine and used it themselves, they prohibited prayer in the preparation of medicines. However, over a period of time, they came to realize that the medicines were more efficacious when prayer was offered according to Tibetan Buddhist tradition; thus the practice of prayer was allowed to be resumed, and hopefully, continues to this day.

The topics corresponding to the two flowers and three fruits are the professional and spiritual qualities achieved by a totally proficient physician in this tradition. The Root Tantra looks and reads like a series of categories and lists, but in reality it is infinitely complex, requiring elucidation in the form of the many commentaries that have been written over the centuries, which contribute to the vast body of knowledge concerning the science and art of Tibetan healing.

Tibetan medicine went directly to Indian Ayurvedic medicine for its theory of the afflictive humoral elements of the body — wind, bile and phlegm — on which diagnosis of illness is based. There are five winds, five biles and five phlegms underlying the humors. All inanimate things and all animate beings also contain five elements: earth solidity , water fluidity , fire heat , air motility and space. Dhonden lists ten afflicted elements, within which are seven body constituents and three waste products.

These are as follows: 21 1 nutriment; 2 blood; 3 flesh; 4 fat; 5 bone; 6 bone marrow; 7 regenerative substances sperm and uterine blood, or ovum ; 8 excrement; 9 urine; 10 sweat. These ten characteristics intertwine with the afflictive three humoral elements of wind, bile and phlegm, making life possible until death arrives.


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Within the entire digestive process is the key to good or afflicted health. The complex digestive system provides the body with nutriment, warmth, flesh, blood, fat, bone and bone marrow — all interdependent. Digestive warmth is the key to the success of the entire process of keeping three humors in balance.

Each humor plays a part in the process, and often the humors overlap to keep the body tuned harmoniously. Tibetan medicine went directly to Indian Ayurvedic medicine for its theory of the afflictive humoral elements of the body — wind, bile, phlegm — on which diagnosis of illness is based. Bile is oily, sharp, warm, light, fetid, purgative, moistening and is located mostly in the liver and gallbladder. Bile gives one a sense of courage, determination and fortitude … also leads to aggression and resentment … enables one to exert effort and have ambitions … acts as the basis for the four kinds of intelligence — deep, fast, sharp, and subtle — and it enables one to think ahead.

Phlegm is cool, dull, heavy, soft, stable, sticky and is located in the upper part of the body, especially the brain. It has the nature of earth and water. Although this is only the briefest of descriptions of these humor functions and interactions, to put it simply, a person may be dominant in or deficient in one or more of these humors, influencing individual characteristics in both negative and positive fashion.

One of the beauties of the Root Tantra is that the tree metaphor is a perfect framework of instruction, that is, a visual tool from which the categories and lists can be hung cleverly and with artistry into many subclasses. The tree is heavy in single words but sparse in descriptions, those having been provided over the centuries by the many commentaries that learned lama doctors and scholars have contributed. The delusions of attachment, hatred and ignorance are the fundamental causes of all disorders and diseases.

These three are called poisons because they kill our progress along the path to spiritual liberation. The causes of illness are both internal and external and relate to our countless previous lifetimes, in which we have inhabited a variety of bodies in different realms, and in which we were also both subject and object of ignorance, or self-grasping, repeatedly.

Religion, Medicine and the Human Embryo in Tibet

In brief, as long as one is subject to ignorance, it is impossible to be invulnerable to illness. Methods for overcoming this self-grasping are to be founding the four noble truths: these are 1 the truth of suffering, 2 the causes of suffering, 3 the cessation of suffering, and 4 the path to the cessation of suffering.

Within this last truth — the path to the cessation of suffering — is found the way to eliminate suffering. The Dharma path begins with morality; then, through meditation comes the wisdom that realizes the emptiness of this self and all phenomena, that they lack inherent existence. This leads to enlightenment. To be human is to be vulnerable to illness. Due to those contributing conditions, the bodily constituents are disturbed and agitated, and one then craves food and drink having qualities opposite to those of the disturbed humors.

Humoral imbalances derive from a state of excess, efficiency or disturbance and are applied to the seven bodily constituents and the three waste products that comprise the 10 afflicted elements. When humoral disorders arise and lead to discomfort, this is known as accumulation, which will manifest in the pulse and urine.

This result, then, is known as arousal. Specific conditions contribute to disorders of each humor. Some examples are:. Conditions that contribute to bile disorders include ingesting food that is spicy, hot, sharp or oily, experiencing strong hatred or anger, sleeping excessively during the daytime, and immediately thereafter engaging in vigorous activity… Conditions that contribute to phlegm disorders include ingesting too much sweet, bitter, heavy, oily and cool food and drink, and then lounging around or falling asleep.

The influence of the seasons mingled with the foods we eat are of essential importance in Tibetan medical theory. The seasons may bring heat, cold, rain, dryness, wind, oiliness, heaviness and will intermingle with the essential qualities of the foods we eat, which can be bitter, salty, hot, astringent, sweet or sour, and thus produce an accumulation of humoral disorders. Furthermore, humoral disorders can be overlapping and, therefore, difficult to diagnose.

When accumulation results in arousal, reversing the condition requires a process known as pacification, which means following a healthy diet, proper conduct, living in as healthy an environment as possible, and receiving the appropriate medical treatment. It is extremely important to have a correct diagnosis followed by the correct medical treatment to avoid further illness that might lead to worsening disease.

It has already been stated that illnesses arise from the three poisons of the mind — attachment, hatred and ignorance. Illnesses can be divided into three types of causes: 1 those in this lifetime; 2 karma from previous lifetimes; 3 factors in this lifetime in conjunction with karma acquired from previous lifetimes. Causes in this lifetime may be from either or both internal and external origins.

Internal types of causes refer to an imbalance in the three humors, which has already been discussed. External types of causes are threefold: a poisons, b weapons, such as spears, swords, stones … chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and c demonic influences [harm from spirits]. Beijing: Nationalities Press, Google Scholar. Tibetan—English ed. Lhasa: People's Publishing House of Tibet, Jackson, David and Janice Jackson. Tibetan Thangka Painting, Methods and Materials. London: Serinia Publications, Meyer, F. Parfianovitch, and Gyurmed Dorje. Eihei Dogen: Mystical Realist.

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