Tibetan medicine

Tibetan medicine is a traditional system of medicine which has been practiced for over 2500 years and is still practiced today although Tibetans are now in exile.

The headquarters of the Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute are now based in Tibetan Medice Universty, Monasteries Medice colleges in Lhasa. It is here that ail the Tibetan doctors now receive all their training, and it is also where the medicines are manufactured. The period of training before one qualifies as a Tibetan doctor is for a minimum aibetof seven years. For the student to understand the medical texts a knowledge of Tibetan linguis bettics, grammar and poetry is required. The first four years of training are taken up with studying the four main medical tantras, or rGyud-bzhi; they are the root tantra, the exegetical tantra, the oral tradition tantra containing methods and instructions, and finally the subsequent tantra. In the fifth year students take exams both oral and written on these four tantras. For the sixth and seventh years students are sent for practical training under a senior and experienced doctor at one of the branches of the Tibetan Medical and Astrological institute. At present there are now over 30 branches in India and Nepal, and in addition to this there are a number of private clinics. Tibetan medicine still survives in Tibet where the Chinese have destroyed so much of the Tibetan tradition and culture. It has survived because it is of great practical help for them.

Tibetan medicine is one of the five major sciences, and it is called gSoba Rig-pa, the science of healing. It uses different kinds of ingredients such as herbs, trees, rocks, resins, soils, precious metals, saps etc. However, 95% of Tibetan medicine is based on herbs, and precious metals are used for the seven kinds of precious pill known as Rinchen rilpo. If the physician is able to make the right diagnosis and administer the right medicine, then Tibetan medicine is good for all kinds of illness. However, it has been particularly successful in its treatment of chronic diseases such as rheumatism, arthritis, ulcers, chronic digestive problems, asthma, hepatitis, eczema, liver problems, sinus problems, anxiety and problems connected with the nervous system.

The basic theory of Tibetan medicine is to keep in balance the Nyipa sum - they are rLung (pronounced loong), mKhris-pa and Bad-kan. The long-term causative factors of Nyipa sum are the three poisons of desire, hatred and delusion which show how closely connected Tibetan medicine is with Buddhist philosophy.


The general description of rLung is that it is a subtle flow of energy and out of the five elements (air, fire, water, earth and space) it is most closely connected with air. However it is not simply the air which we breathe or the wind in our stomachs, it goes much deeper than that. rLung is like a horse and tile mind is the rider, if there is something wrong with the horse the rider will not be able to ride properly. Its description is that it is rough, light, cool, thin, hard, movable. The general function of rLung is to help growth, movement of the body, exhalation and inhalation and to aid the function of mind, speech and body. rLung helps to separate in our stomachs what we eat into nutrients and waste products. However its most important function is to carry the movements of mind, speech and body. The nature of rLung is both hot and cold.

There are five types of rLung.

The first is called Srog-'dzin (life-grasping rLung). Its location is in the brain and its functions are the swallowing of food, inhalation and spitting, eructation and sneezing, clearing the senses and intellect, and steadying of the mind.

The second type of rLung is Gyen-rgyu (upward moving rLung). Its location is in the chest and its functions are responsible for speech, the increase of bodily vigour and health, the giving of lustre to the skin and the promotion of mental endeavour and diligence.

The third type of rLung is Khyab-byed (all pervading rLung). Its location is in the heart. Its locations is responsible for lifting, walking, stretching, grasping of limbs, the opening and closing of the mouth, eyelids, anus etc.

The fourth type of rLung is Me-mnyam (fire accompanying rLung). Its location is in the stomach and its function is to promote digestion and the metabolism, and ripen the seven bodily sustainers known as lus-zung dhun.

The fifth type of rLung is Thur-sel (downward cleansing rLung). Its location is in the rectum and its function is to expel faeces, urine, semen, menstruation and the foetus.


mKhris-pa is the hot nature within our body and not simply the bile which comes from our gall bladder. From out of the five elements mKhris-pa is related to fire. The description of mKhris-pa is oily, sharp, hot, light, pungent and moist. The most important function of mKhris-pa is to keep in balance the bodily temperature. It helps with the digestion of food and it is what makes us feel hungry and thirsty at the right times. It also gives lustre to the skin and helps to keep the pores clear. The nature of mKhris-pa is hot like fire or the sun.

There are five types of mKhris-pa

The first type of mKhris-pa is called 'Ju-byed (digesting mKhris-pa). Its location is between the stomach and intestine. Its function is to promote digestion and to break down essential nutrients from foodstuffs and fluids and then to separate essence and waste. It promotes bodily heat and helps to provide energy to the other four types of mKhris-pa.

The second type of mKhris-pa is called sGrub-byed (accomplishing mKhris-pa). Its location is the heart. Its function is that it anger, aggression and hatred. It provides the initial driving force behind the minds of desire, achievement and ambition.

The third type of mKhris-pa is called mdangs-sgyur (colour changing mKhris-pa). Its location is in the liver. Its function is to maintain and promote the red colouring of essential nutrients in the blood.

The fourth type of mKhris-pa is mThong-byed (seeing mKhris-pa). Its locations is in the eyes and it promotes vision.

The fifth mKhris-pa is mDog-sel (complexion clearing mKhris-pa). Its location is the skin and its function is to clear and promote skin lustre by giving it a healthy and wholesome colour.


Thirdly I will now explain the type, location and function of Bad-kan. Bad-kan is not the phlegm which comes from the chest, it is all the diseases connected with the cold nature called Bad-kan. From out of the five elements it is related to both water and earth. The description of Bad-kan is oily, cool, heavy, blunt, smooth, steady and sticky. The main function of Bad-kan is to sustain the bodily liquids. It helps to mix food in the stomach, steady the mind, and it helps to keep our joints flexible. The nature of Bad-kan is cold, like water or the moon.

There are five types of Bad-kan

The first Bad-kan is called rTen-byed (supporting Bad-kan). Its location is the chest, and it's function is to support the remaining four Bad-kans.

The second Bad-kan is called Myag-byed (mixing Bad-kan). Its location is the upper region and, its function is the mixing of liquid and solid foodstuffs into a semi-liquid state.

The third Bad-kan is called Myong-byed (experiencing Bad-kan). Its location is the tongue, and its function is to sense and experience the six primary tastes.

The fourth Bad-kan is called Tsim-byed (satisfying Bad-kan). Its location is the head, and its function is to increase and satisfy the power of the five senses.

The fifth Bad-kan is called 'Byor-byed (joining Bad-kan). Its location is the joints and its function is responsibility for the flexibility of the joints.

This is a brief description of the type, location and function of the Nyipa sum. When the Nyipa sum are balanced, then what are called the seven bodily sustainers are also balanced. The seven bodily sestinas are:

  1. Essential nutrients
  2. Blood
  3. Muscle tissues
  4. Fat
  5. Bone
  6. Marrow
  7. Regenerative fluid

To show how this process works, when we eat or drink something, it goes to the stomach, where the Bad-kan will help to mix it, the mKhris-pa will help to digest it and the rLung will help to separate the essential nutrients from the waste products. The essence of the essential nutrients will then form blood, the essence of blood forms muscle tissue, the essence of muscle tissue forms fat, the essence of fat forms bones, the essence of bones forms marrow and the essence of bone marrow forms the regenerative fluid. With the waste products there are three eliminating functions of the wastes:

  1. Elimination of faeces
  2. Elimination of urine
  3. Elimination of perspiration

This process shows how important it is for rLung, mKhris-pa and Bad-kan to be kept in balance.

There are many different types of disease and illness, but they can all be categorised within the Nyipa sum - rLung, mKhris-pa and Bad-kan. Similarly, with all these different types of disease and illness there is no other location for them than the seven bodily sustiners and the three eliminating functions. For example just as a bird has the freedom of the skies, it cannot fly above the sky. In Tibetan or the science of healing, we always treat the cause or the root of the disease and illness and not the symptoms. In the medical texts there is the following example -without treating the root or the cause of the disease it is the - as having a poisonous tree and just cutting off the leaves and branches without pulling it up from it's roots. If you just cut the leaves and branches it will still continue to grow. The Medicine Buddha says that if the physician tats the patient according to the medical texts the treatment will be beneficial. If the method of treatment fills, it is not the fault of the physician but the fault of the Medicine Buddha himself. This shows us how confident and sure the Medicinc Buddha was about the medical texts. However, if a person is suffering from a chronic disease and expects a quick solution, then this will not be possible. He will have to be patient and take the medicine for a long period of time before its positive results will show.

So this is a brief introduction to Tibetan medicine and all that has been said is based on the Tibetan medical texts. Hopefully the reader will gain some understanding of Tibetan medicine, and it will help to relieve the sufferings of all sentient beings.

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