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Ancient Tibetan Medicine Poster
Traditional Tibetan medicine (Tibetan : བོད་ཀྱི་གསོ་བ་རིག་པ་, Wylie : bod kyi gso ba rig pa), also known as Sowa-Rigpa medicine, is a centuries-old traditional medical system that employs a complex approach to diagnosis, incorporating techniques such as pulse analysis and urinalysis, and utilizes behavior and dietary modification, medicines composed of natural materials (e.g., herbs and minerals) and physical therapies (e.g. Tibetan acupuncture, moxabustion, etc.) to treat illness.
The Tibetan medical system is based upon Indian Buddhist literature (for example Abhidharma and Vajrayana tantras) and Ayurveda.It continues to be practiced in Tibet, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Ladakh, Siberia, China and Mongolia, as well as more recently in parts of Europe and North America. It embraces the traditional Buddhist belief that all illness ultimately results from the three poisons: delusion, greed and aversion. Tibetan medicine follows the Buddha's Four Noble Truths which apply medical diagnostic logic to suffering.
As Indian culture flooded Tibet in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, a number of Indian medical texts were also transmitted.For example, the Ayurvedic Astāngahrdayasamhitā (Heart of Medicine Compendium attributed to Vagbhata) was translated into Tibetan by རིན་ཆེན་བཟང་པོ། (Rinchen Zangpo) (957–1055). Tibet also absorbed the early Indian Abhidharma literature, for example the fifth-century Abhidharmakosasabhasyam by Vasubandhu, which expounds upon medical topics, such as fetal development. A wide range of Indian Vajrayana tantras, containing practices based on medical anatomy, were subsequently absorbed into Tibet.
Some scholars believe that rgyud bzhi (the Four Tantras ) was told by the Lord Buddha, while some believe it is the primary work of གཡུ་ཐོག་ཡོན་ཏན་མགོན་པོ། (Yuthok Yontan Gonpo, 708 AD).The former opinion is often refuted by saying "If it was told by the Lord Buddha, rgyud bzhi should have a Sanskrit version". However, there is no such version and also no Indian practitioners who have received unbroken lineage of rgyud bzhi. Thus, the later thought should be scholarly considered authentic and practical. The provenance is uncertain.
It was the aboriginal Tibetan people's accumulative knowledge of their local plants and their various usages for benefiting people's health that were collected by སྟོན་པོ་གཤེན་རབ་མི་བོ་ཆེ། the Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche and passed down to one of his sons. Later Yuthok Yontan Gonpo perfected it and there was no author for the books, because at the time it was politically incorrect to mention anything related to Bon nor faith in it.
གཡུ་ཐོག་ཡོན་ཏན་མགོན་པོ། (Yuthok Yontan Gonpo) adapted and synthesized the Four Tantras in the 12th Century. The Four Tantras are scholarly debated as having Indian origins or, as Remedy Master Buddha Bhaisajyaguru's word or, as authentically Tibetan with Chinese origins. It was not formally taught in schools at first but, intertwined with Tibetan Buddhism. Around the turn of the 14th century, the Drangti family of physicians established a curriculum for the Four Tantras (and the supplementary literature from the Yutok school) at ས་སྐྱ་དགོན། (Sakya Monastery).The ཏཱ་ལའི་བླ་མ་སྐུ་ཕྲེང་ལྔ་བ། (5th Dalai Lama) supported སྡེ་སྲིད་སངས་རྒྱས་རྒྱ་མཚོ། (Desi Sangye Gyatso) to found the pioneering Chagpori College of Medicine in 1696. Chagpori taught Gyamtso's Blue Beryl as well as the Four Tantras in a model that spread throughout Tibet along with the oral tradition.
The Four Tantras (Gyuzhi, རྒྱུད་བཞི།) is a native Tibetan text incorporating Indian, Chinese and Greco-Arab medical systems.The Four Tantras is believed to have been created in the twelfth century and still today is considered the basis of Tibetan medical practise. The Four Tantras is the common name for the text of the Secret Tantra Instruction on the Eight Branches, the Immortality Elixir essence. It considers a single medical doctrine from four perspectives. Sage Vidyajnana expounded their manifestation. The basis of the Four Tantras is to keep the three bodily humors in balance; (wind rlung, bile mkhris pa, phlegm bad kan.)
Some believe the Four Tantra to be the authentic teachings of the Buddha 'Master of remedies' which was translated from Sanskrit, others believe it to be solely Tibetan in creation by Yuthog the Elder or Yuthog the Younger. Noting these two theories there remain others sceptical as to its original author.
Believers in the Buddhist origin of the Four Tantras and how it came to be in Tibet believe it was first taught in India by the Buddha when he manifested as the 'Master of Remedies'. The Four Tantra was then in the eighth century translated and offered to Padmasambhava by Vairocana and concealed in Samye monastery. In the second half of the eleventh century it was rediscovered and in the following century it was in the hands of Yuthog the Younger who completed the Four Tantras and included elements of Tibetan medicine, which would explain why there is Indian elements to the Four Tantras.
Although there is clear written instruction in the Four Tantra, the oral transmission of medical knowledge still remained a strong element in Tibetan Medicine, for example oral instruction may have been needed to know how to perform a moxibustion technique.
Like other systems of traditional Asian medicine, and in contrast to biomedicine, Tibetan medicine first puts forth a specific definition of health in its theoretical texts. To have good health, Tibetan medical theory states that it is necessary to maintain balance in the body's three principles of function [often translated as humors ]: rLung (pron. Loong), mKhris-pa (pron. Tree-pa) [often translated as bile ], and Bad-kan (pron. Pay-gen) [often translated as phlegm ].
• rLungis the source of the body's ability to circulate physical substances (e.g. blood), energy (e.g. nervous system impulses), and the non-physical (e.g. thoughts). In embryological development, the mind's expression of materialism is manifested as the system of rLung. There are five distinct subcategories of rLung each with specific locations and functions: Srog-'Dzin rLüng, Gyen-rGyu rLung, Khyab-Byed rLüng, Me-mNyam rLung, Thur-Sel rLüng.
• mKhris-pais characterized by the quantitative and qualitative characteristics of heat, and is the source of many functions such as thermoregulation, metabolism, liver function and discriminating intellect. In embryological development, the mind's expression of aggression is manifested as the system of mKhris-pa. There are five distinct subcategories of mKhris-pa each with specific locations and functions: 'Ju-Byed mKhris-pa, sGrub-Byed mKhris-pa, mDangs-sGyur mKhris-pa, mThong-Byed mKhris-pa, mDog-Sel mKhris-pa.
• Bad-kanis characterized by the quantitative and qualitative characteristics of cold, and is the source of many functions such as aspects of digestion, the maintenance of our physical structure, joint health and mental stability. In embryological development, the mind's expression of ignorance is manifested as the system of Bad-kan. There are five distinct subcategories of Bad-kan each with specific locations and functions: rTen-Byed Bad-kan, Myag-byed Bad-kan, Myong-Byed Bad-kan, Tsim-Byed Bad-kan, 'Byor-Byed Bad-kan.
A key objective of the government of Tibet is to promote traditional Tibetan medicine among the other ethnic groups in China. Once an esoteric monastic secret, the Tibet University of Traditional Tibetan Medicine and the Qinghai University Medical School now offer courses in the practice. In addition, Tibetologists from Tibet have traveled to European countries such as Spain to lecture on the topic.
The Tibetan government-in-exile has also kept up the practise of Tibetan Medicine in India since 1961 when it re-established the Men-Tsee-Khang (the Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute). It now has 48 branch clinics in India and Nepal.
The Government of India has approved the establishment of the National Institute for Sowa-Rigpa (NISR) in Leh to provide opportunities for research and development of Sowa-Rigpa.
Tibetan Buddhism is the form of Buddhism practiced in Tibet, where it is the dominant religion. It is also found in the regions surrounding the Himalayas, much of Central Asia, the Southern Siberian regions such as Tuva, as well as Mongolia.
Longchen Rabjampa, Drimé Özer, commonly abbreviated to Longchenpa (1308–1364), known of as the " all-knowing", was perhaps the most famous of the realized scholars in the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. Along with Sakya Pandita and Je Tsongkhapa, he is commonly recognized as one of the three main manifestations of Manjushri to have taught in Central Tibet. His monumental work of Tibetan literature is the Seven Treasuries, while his more than 250 treatises encapsulate the core of the previous 600 years of monastic Nyingma doctrine and Buddhist thought in Tibet. Longchenpa was a critical link in the exoteric and esoteric transmission of the Dzogchen teachings. He was abbot of Samye, one of Tibet's most important monasteries and the first Buddhist monastery established in the Himalaya, but spent most of his life travelling or in retreat.
Dzogchen, also known as atiyoga, is a tradition of teachings in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism aimed at discovering and continuing in the ultimate ground of existence. One's primordial ground is said to have the qualities of purity, spontaneity and compassion. The goal of Dzogchen is knowledge of this basis, this knowledge is called rigpa. There are numerous spiritual practices taught in the various Dzogchen systems for awakening rigpa. Dzogchen developed in the Tibetan Empire period and the Era of Fragmentation and continues to be practiced today both in Tibet and around the world. It is a central teaching of the Yundrung Bon tradition as well as in the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. In these traditions, Dzogchen is the highest and most definitive path of the nine vehicles to liberation. Dzogchen is also practiced in other Tibetan Buddhist schools, such as the Kagyu and the Gelug school.
The Nyingma school is the oldest of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. The other three are the Kagyu school, the Sakya school, and the Gelug school. "Nyingma" literally means "ancient," and is often referred to as Ngangyur, "school of the ancient translations" or "old school". Nyingma is founded on the first translations of Buddhist scriptures from Sanskrit into Old Tibetan in the eighth century, during the reign of King Trisong Detsen. The Tibetan alphabet and grammar was created for this endeavour.
Jamgön Ju Mipham Gyatso, or Mipham Jamyang Namgyal Gyamtso (1846–1912) was a very influential philosopher and polymath of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. He wrote over 32 volumes on topics such as painting, poetics, sculpture, alchemy, medicine, logic, philosophy and tantra. Mipham's works are still central to the scholastic curriculum in Nyingma monasteries today. Mipham is also considered one of the leading figures in the Ri-me (non-sectarian) movement in Tibet.
The Guhyagarbha Tantra is the most important Buddhist tantra of the Mahayoga class and the primary tantric text studied in the Nyingma tradition. It is the main Nyingma source for understanding empowerment, samaya, mantras, mandalas and other Vajrayana topics, and has influenced the Dzogchen tradition. The Nyingma scholar Longchenpa sees it as "the highest summit of all vehicles, the source of all verbal transmissions, the great great shortcut of the vehicle of all Buddhas of the three times, the most secret."
Longdé is the name of one of three scriptural divisions within Dzogchen, which is itself the pinnacle of the ninefold division of practice according to the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism.
Anuyoga is the designation of the second of the three Inner Tantras according to the ninefold division of practice used by the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. As with the other yanas, Anuyoga represents both a scriptural division as well as a specific emphasis of both view and practice.
Anuttarayoga Tantra, often translated as Unexcelled Yoga Tantra or Highest Yoga Tantra, is a term used in Tibetan Buddhism in the categorization of esoteric tantric Indian Buddhist texts that constitute part of the Kangyur, or the 'translated words of the Buddha' in the Tibetan Buddhist canon.
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The Tree of physiology is a Tibetan Thangka depicting human physiology and certain pathological transformations.
Desi Sangye Gyatso (1653–1705) was the sixth regent (desi) of the 5th Dalai Lama (1617–1682) in the Ganden Phodrang, who founded the School of Medicine and Astrology called Men-Tsee-Khang on Chagspori in 1694 and wrote the Blue Beryl treatise. His name is sometimes written as Sangye Gyamtso and Sans-rGyas rGya-mTsho
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Rongzom Chökyi Zangpo (1040-1159), widely known as Rongzom Mahapandita, Rongzom Dharmabhadra, or simply as Rongzompa, was one of the most important scholars of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. Together with Longchenpa and Ju Mipham, he is often considered to be one of the three "omniscient" writers of the school. His elder contemporary Atiśa (980–1054) considered Rongzompa to be an incarnation of the Indian ācārya Kṛṣṇapāda, the Great. The Tibetan historian Gö Lotsawa (1392–1481) said of Rongzom that no scholar in Tibet was his equal.
Dampa Sangye was a Buddhist mahasiddha of the Indian Tantra movement who transmitted many teachings based on both Sutrayana and Tantrayana to Buddhist practitioners in Tibet in the late 11th century. He travelled to Tibet more than five times. On his third trip from India to Tibet he met Machig Labdrön. Dampa Sangye appears in many of the lineages of Chöd and so in Tibet he is known as the Father of Chod, however perhaps his best known teaching is "the Pacification". This teaching became an element of the Mahamudra Chöd lineages founded by Machig Labdrön.
Kamalaśīla was an Indian Buddhist of Nalanda Mahavihara who accompanied Śāntarakṣita (725–788) to Tibet at the request of Trisong Detsen.
Vima Nyingthig, "Seminal Heart of Vimalamitra", is one of the two "seminal heart" collections of the menngagde cycle Dzogchen, the other one being "Seminal Heart of the Dakini". Traditionally the teachings are ascribed to Vimalamitra, but they were codified and collated by their Tibetan discoverers in the 11th and 12th century.
In Tibetan Buddhism, specifically in the literature and practice of Dzogchen, the seventeen tantras of the esoteric instruction cycle are a collection of tantras belonging to the textual division known as the "esoteric instruction cycle".
Yuthok Yonten Gonpo the Younger (1126–1202) was a Tibetan doctor and ngakpa, credited with composing the Four Medical Tantras, a four-book treatise on Traditional Tibetan Medicine which forms the main course of study in the Tibetan medical tradition. He is widely regarded as the main founder of Tibetan medicine, mostly based on his composition of the Four Medical Tantras. His other important contribution to Tibetan culture was the Yuthok Nyingthik, whose full name is the Yuthok Nyingthik Guru Sādhanā, ‘Compassionate Sunlight for Dispersing Suffering’s Darkness’, which is the main Tantric Buddhist practice-cycle associated with Tibetan medicine. It is traditionally considered to be an important spiritual component of healing in Tibetan medical culture, and moreover is regarded in all Tibetan Buddhist traditions as a very special method for attaining awakening and realization quickly.
Yeshi Dhonden was a Tibetan doctor of traditional Tibetan medicine, and served the 14th Dalai Lama from 1961 to 1980. In 2018, the Indian government honoured him with the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award in India.