Medicine Buddha
Tibetan Medicine
Ancient Healing Wisdom for the Modern World

This ancient, highly respected system promotes health through physical and spiritual principles and practices.

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Tibetan Medicine Resources


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Sanity, Compassion, Health and Healing
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Imagine a medical tradition, highly effective, using medicines that produce no lasting negative side effects, sustainably harvesing resources of the natural environment, and respecting basic sanity and compassion as the essential basis of health and well-being. Classical Asian medicine, in general, and in particular Tibetan medicine, as practiced throughout a vast area of central Asia for many hundreds of years, was just 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 collaborative 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, and worked to prepare and prescribe herbal medicines appropriate to the patient's condition. The patient made the effort to take the medicines according to the doctor's instructions, and make the recommended dietary and behavioral changes. 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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A Model of Healing for Modern Times

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Of all the traditional systems of herbal medicine that are still surviving, Tibetan medicine may offer the most promise. Many traditional systems are more environmentally sustainable, more affordable and more free of harmful side effects than our Western system of medication with purified chemicals, but the Tibetan system may be the most effective of all of these. 

Tibetan medicine is reputed to be ameliorate psychological problems and diseases of all sorts, including hepatitis, certain kinds of mental illness, ulcers, paralysis, gall and kidney stones (treated without surgry), arthritis, and conditions like certain cancers that Western physicians find very difficult to treat successfully. Tibetan medicine is also reported to resolve many conditions that Western doctors don't even recognize, dismissing patients' complaints with comments like "There's nothing wrong with you. Just take ibuprofen for the pain and don't worry about it."

Are the glowing reports about Tibetan medicine true? Can Tibetan physicians really cure cancer? Are they really developing a cure for AIDS? At this point, it's hard to say: Aschoff's Annotated Bibliography of Tibetan Medicine includes hundreds of research reports published in Western languages before 1995, but few of them meet modern standards of evaluation research. 

If the research now going on at a number of institutions in various countries gives positive assessments of how effective Tibetan medicine can be with various health problems, more questions will remain to be answered: How can I find a Tibetan doctor? Is this doctor competent? Do I really have to stop drinking coffee? Tibetan doctors, too, will have questions: Why won't these people do what we ask them to do to help them recover? How can we get enough herbs to make medicines for all these patients? How can we keep from driving these wild herbs to extinction? 

The health of the billions of people in the world can't 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 available to human beings all over 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, while a new generation of healers and researchers learn which Himalayan herbs can be grown as crops, evaluate the healing properties of plants indigenous to other areas, and learn to formulate remedies for the diseases we know about and new diseases that are emerging. 

Perhaps the best beginning would be for interested people to learn about Tibetan medicine and perhaps to explore its use in their own lives, and thus develop confidence in its efficacy and gentleness. Then providing support will follow naturally, support for the training and the work of a new generation of practitioners, and for preserving the medicinal plants and their environments.

Dharma Haven offers a growing array of pages on the physical, psychological, and spiritual aspects of the healing traditions of Tibet. The Directory 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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Tibetan Medicine and Spiritual Healing Pages

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Medicine Buddha Resources

Tibetan Healing Meditation

Spiritual Healing in Buddhist Tibet

Tibetan Medicine Resources


Clinics and PharmaciesMedicinal Herbs

Medical Research, Tibetan Style

Tibetan Traditional Self Care

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


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Books and Videos

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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

Tibetan Medicine
Gerti Samel

Explains the history of Tibetan medicine, the classification systems and types of treatments prescribed, including instructions for healing exercises. Offers practical advice for people suffering from a range of common ailments, so that readers can use this book to treat themselves.


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 Dhonden -- Dr. Dhonden 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 lay people 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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KARMAPA'S DREAM FLAG

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Revised on March 20, 2002

Copyright © 2002 Dharma Haven
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