Tibetan Medicine
Preserving the Ancient 
Wisdom of Natural Healing


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Sanity, Compassion, and Health
Imagine a medical tradition, highly effective, offering medicines that produce no lasting negative side effects, sustainably using resources of the natural environment, and respecting basic sanity and compassion as the essential basis of health and welbeing. Classical Asian medicine, in general, and in particular Tibetan medicine, as practiced throuought a vast area of central Asia for many hundreds of years, was such a tradition. 

Beginning in about the fourth century A.D., the Tibetan people began expanding their own medical knowledge with information drawn from other cultures. Eventually the process became quite formal, with government sponsored conferences bringing together doctors from other lands and medical traditions -- for theoretical debate and clinical demonstrations of methods for dealing with health problems of all sorts. Physicians who demonstrated superior skill and understanding were invited to stay and work with the best Tibetan doctors. Eventually, this combined medical understanding, refined, systematized and highly effective, led to Tibet's reputation, throughout the entire region, as the Land of Medicine. 

Perhaps it's time to do that again -- bring together all the various surviving medical traditions and let the sparks fly. Indeed, many people are now working to preserve,  as much as possible, what remains of Tibetan medicine, and to give people all over the world access to this unique insight into human well being. We'd like to encourage and support the kind of colaborative research and cross fertilization that led to the development of Tibetan medicine in the first place.

Some medical traditions focus on material causes of illness and material treatments; other traditions insist on the importance of psychological and spiritual causes and remedies. Various types of conflicts between these two approaches are common. In contrast, Tibetan culture maintains a deep and powerful integration of spiritual and practical understanding, and the Tibetan healing tradition respects both of these aspects of human nature and their potential for supporting health and healing. In his Teachings on the Medicine Buddha, Venerable Thrangu Rinpoche explains this in terms of the imagery of the hands in the image of the Medicine Buddha (an image like the one at the top of this page): 

"His right hand is extended, palm outward, over his right knee in the gesture called supreme generosity. In it he holds the arura, or myrobalan, fruit. This plant represents all the best medicines. The position of his right hand and the arura which he holds represent the eradication of suffering, especially the suffering of sickness, using the means of relative truth. Sickness can be alleviated by adjusting the functioning of interdependent causes and conditions by the use of relative means within the realm of relative truth, such as medical treatment and so on. The giving of these methods is represented by the gesture of the Medicine Buddha’s right hand.

His left hand rests in his lap, palm upward, in the gesture of meditative stability or meditation, which represents the eradication of sickness and suffering— and, indeed, the very roots of samsara— through the realization of absolute truth. From the point of view of either relative truth or absolute truth, the fundamental cause of sickness and suffering is a lack of contentment and the addictive quality of samsara. Therefore, to indicate the need for contentment, in his left hand he holds a begging bowl."

In traditional Tibetan culture, respect for these two aspects of healing -- of any sort of meaningful human life, really -- was shared by patients and physicians alike. The doctor recommended adjustments in lifestyle and diet that would help restore the patient's balance, physiologically and psychologically. The doctor worked to prepare and prescribe herbal medicines appropriate to the patient's condition, and the patient worked to take them according to the doctor's instructions. All of these efforts took place in the context of a devotion to spiritual practices and training designed to foster basic sanity and compassion, a devotion shared by the patient and the physician, their families, and the entire community.

May we learn from their example.

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Models of Healing for Modern Times

The health of the billions of people in the world can not be sustained by medicines requiring rare Himalayan plants as ingredients, as the Dalai Lama has pointed out. Already several species of these herbs are in danger of extinction because of the demand for them in medical formulas.

For this healing wisdom to be fully available to human beings all over the world, a new generation of healers and researchers must learn the Tibetan principles for evaluating the healing properties of plants, and apply them to herbs indiginous to other areas, learn which Himalayan plants can be grown in other areas, and learn to formulate remedies for the diseases we know about, and for the new diseases that are emerging.

However, in order for medical systems based on Tibetan medical principles to spread to other regions of the world, Tibetan medicine must be sustained where it is now practiced. That will require preserving the plants and animals that provide the ingredients of the current medicines, and the ecologies that support those organisms. Support of all sorts is also needed for the training of physicians and to subsidize their work with severely impoverished peoples. 

Perhaps the best beginning is for interested people to learn about  Tibetan medicine and perhaps to explore its use in their own lives, and thus develop confidence in its effacacy and gentleness. Once this confidence has developed, providing support for the training and the work of a new generation of practitioners will follow naturally.

Dharma Haven offers a growing array of pages on the physical, psychological and spiritual aspects of the healing traditions of Tibet. The Web Resources section of this page provides links to them. Finally, the Books and Videos section highlights a few selected works, and links to a comprehensive listing with many more titles.

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Dharma Haven's Tibetan Medicine Pages

Learning Resources
Web Sites, Training Centers

Clinics and Pharmacies -- Medicinal Herbs

Tibetan Medicine Home Page
News - Preserving Tibetan Medicine 

Tibetan Spiritual Healing Methods
Incense - Mantra - Meditation - Prayer Wheels - Prayer Flags

Tibetan Healing Meditation

Teachings on the Medicine Buddha

Dying Without Shame; Dying Without Panic

Tibetan Traditional Self Care

Books and Videos on Tibetan Medicine
Basic Books - Advanced Books - Art Books - Videos

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Books and Videos

Comprehensive Listings

Books and Videos on Tibetan Medicine
Basic Books - Advanced Books - Art Books - Videos

Books on Tibetan Traditional Self Care

Editor's Choice Selections

Principles of Tibetan Medicine -- Dr. Tamdin Sither Bradley

This simple introduction includes: 

             Theory and practice of Tibetan Medicine 
             Historical Background 
             Diagnosis, treatments and therapies 
             Tips for healthy diet and lifestyle 

Trained at the Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute in Dharamsala, India, the author now practices Tibetan Medicine in England. 

An article by the author is available on the Web: Introduction to Tibetan Medicine 

Tibetan Healing: The Modern Legacy of Medicine Buddha

Can the ancient healing wisdom of Tibet help us to improve our own well-being? Peter Fenton thinks so, after his journey to India and Nepal to see how traditional Tibetan healing practices are used today. Full of fascinating stories and interviews, and illustrated with photos, charts, and botanical drawings, the book offers a relatively balanced view of all the many facets of healing that are integrated in traditional Tibetan culture. Exploring physical, psychological and spiritual aspects of healing, he includes topics such as healing sounds and symbols, and shamanic healing and divination, that are not usually addressed in books on Tibetan medicine.

Oriental Medicine: An Illustrated Guide to the Asian Arts of Healingpaperback -- hardcover

A lavishly illustrated, comprehensive survey of traditional medical and healing arts of India, Tibet and China, from the perspective of both Western scholars and traditional health practitioners. An authoritative introduction to the history, theory, and practice of the Asian healing arts, this is also a beautiful 12" x 9" gift book, featuring magnificent full-page color images of body charts, herbal medicines, and other paraphernalia, exquisite artworks including paintings, sculptures, and ceramics; and revealing views of contemporary medical practice throughout Asia.

Books by Dr. Yeshi Donden -- Dr. Donden received the traditional Tibetan medical training in Lhasa, Tibet, and served for over two decades as the personal physician to H.H. the Dalai Lama. He re-established the Tibetan Medical Center in Dharamsala, India, and achieved fame by successfully treating many people, some of whom were respected public figures from Western countries. His books are widely considered to be the clearest and most informative works on Tibetan medicine available in English, appropriate both for laypeople and professionals.
Healing from the Source
Published 2000

Tibetan Medicine: Buddhist Approach to Healing -- Video
Filmed at the Tibetan Medical Center in Dharamsala, India, this video explores the combination of modern and traditional styles of healing through the work of Dr. Ama Lopsang Dolma, Tibet's first woman doctor. Examining patients, devising and applying traditional herbal remedies, and using acupuncture and moxibustion to help them heal themselves, Dr. Dolma successfully treats a wide range of complaints.

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Revised on April 11, 2001

Copyright © 2001 Dharma Haven
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