Today I’ll take a look at how it works.
Tibet’s culture is deeply embedded in the Buddhist way. Accordingly, Traditional Tibetan Medicine is also deeply informed by Buddhism.
Because of this, Tibetan Medicine understands that good health is attained not just by being physically healthy, but also by having a healthy mind as well.
Based on the centuries-old Buddhist study of the mind, Tibetan Medicine gives priority to factors of psychological and spiritual development in its definition of health. It seeks to understand and explain the nature and reason for the suffering people experience in their lives.
It teaches acceptance of and gives meaning to the cycle of birth, sickness, old age, and death we all encounter. Common experiences such as not getting what we want, not wanting what we get, being separated from whomever or whatever is dear to us, and being joined with people and things we dislike becomes a basis of spiritual understanding and growth.
Tibetan Medicine explains how hatred, anger and aggression, ignorance and incomprehension and a materialist view of the world result in states of mind which are at the root of our suffering, and how our habitual patterns of thinking and behaving are the primary cause of illness.
It also asserts that through study and spiritual practice an understanding and awareness can gradually be achieved which transcends that suffering.
Tibetan Medicine attempts to help people become aware of the process of physiological, spiritual and psychological evolution as it originates from what people do, what people say, and what people think.
Every action sows its seed in the mind and will eventually ripen in accordance with its nature, and no experience is seen as causeless. The transient, ever-changing nature of all things is embraced. The conclusion which is reached from this view is the interdependent nature of all things. The highest value is placed on the attainment of compassion and what is termed loving kindness.
Because of this philosophy, I think it is safe to say that Traditional Tibetan Medicine is a deeply spiritual medicine.
Regarding developing good physical health, Tibetan medical theory states that it is necessary to maintain balance in the body’s three principles of function: rLüng (pron. Loong), mKhris-pa (pron. Tree-pa), and Bad-kan (pron. Pay-gen) often mistranslated as phlegm.
Lung is 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 rLüng. There are five distinct subcategories of rLüng each with specific locations and functions: Srog-‘Dzin rLüng, Gyen-rGyu rLüng, Khyab-Byed rLüng, Me-mNyam rLüng, Thur-Sel rLüng.
mKhris-pa is 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-kan is characterized by the quantitative and qualitative characteristics of cold, and is the source of many functions such as aspects of digestion, the maintenance of 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.
In practice, the Tibetan Medical Doctor begins by interviewing the patient and finding out the pertinent medical history.
The doctor then does a urine analysis, in which the urine sample is examined. In the urine analysis the doctor looks for such things as the color of the specimen and its odor, and then after vigorous stirring, the size, color, amount, and persistence of bubbles, and any deposits. From this the doctor can begin to confirm the nature of the illness, the presence of infection and the localization of the illness among other things.
After that, the doctor feels the pulses in order to perform pulse diagnosis. In pulse diagnosis, the doctor is feeling twelve separate pulses – six distinct pulses at the radial artery of each wrist. The doctor feels for such things as the width, depth, strength, speed and quality of the pulse. Each of those factors when understood properly allows the doctor to clearly define the illness, its location, hidden complications and its etiology.
Once diagnosis is made, treatment can begin. The first consideration in treatment is the principle that all illness ultimately originates in the mind. This does not mean that all illness is psychological or psychosomatic.
Instead, it means that due to ignorance people misperceive the nature of reality and act in ways which create suffering such as illness. Given this basic principle, when treating an illness physicians first begin by recommending specific behavioral and lifestyle modifications.
If this is not sufficient, then physicians work at the level of dietary therapy. If these are not enough to cure the problem, physicians employ herbal medicines or, if needed, physical
therapies such as acupuncture.
Tibetan Medicine believes that the treatment ultimately must fit the patient; that is, treatment must be formulated in a manner which can and will be effective for that individual.
Behavioral and lifestyle modifications can include meditation instruction, spiritual advice, counseling, exercise, or the reorganization of habitual patterns such as sleep habits and eating schedules.
Herbal medicine is a big part of Traditional Tibetan Medicine. It utilizes up to two thousand types of plants, forty animal species, and fifty minerals. Herbal treatments range from simple to very complex, using anywhere from 3 to 150 herbs per formula. Each formula or set of formulas is prescribed to fit the manifestation of the disease and the evolving condition of the individual patient. As a result, herbal medicines often need to be modified at each visit.
If the behavioral modification, diet therapy, and herbal medicine are not sufficient to cure the illness, physicians can also employ therapies such as acupuncture, moxabustion, cupping, massage, and inhalation therapy.