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Tibetan Medicine

To date, the use of altogether 2,294 kinds of Tibetan medicine have been recorded. Over 300 of them are commonly in use, of which over 200 of them are plant herbs, making up 70 percent of the total; over 40 are animal medicines (12 percentl); and with the remaining plus-40 being minerals (14 percent).

One-third of the commonly used Tibetan medicines have the same names as Chinese traditional medicines (TCMs), while the herbal medicines produced in local Tibetan areas account for more than half of the commonly used medicines.

Five Main Characteristics of the Application of Tibetan Medicine:

First, the application of Tibetan medicine is closely related with the theory system of Tibetan iatrology (medical science).

As the Tibetan iatrological diagnosis falls into two main types -- symptoms caused by cold factors and symptoms caused by heat --, the prescriptions are classified, according to their properties, into two kinds: medicines of a warm nature and medicines of a cold nature. Tibetan doctors treat patients with symptoms caused by cold factors and heat with medicines of a warm and cold nature respectively.

Second, Tibetan medicine is classified according to its property, sapor (taste), and effectiveness.

Third, Tibetan doctors always adopt compound prescriptions in treating patients, and seldom use just a single kind of herb.

Many prescriptions contain more than 25 kinds of medicinal herbs each, with some prescriptions containing over 80 or even 100 kinds of medicine.

Fourth, Substandard medicines and substitutes are used for most Tibetan medicines.

To solve the problem of a lack of precious medicines, there are substandard medicines and substitutes to replace the original Tibetan medicines, but with the substitutes having a similar nature to the original.

Fifth, Tibetan doctors pay great attention to the process of preparing Tibetan medicines.

The toxicity of processed Tibetan medicine is eliminated or reduced, and sometimes the function and effectiveness of the medicine can be changed and raised respectively. There are three main ways of medicine processing: fire processing, water processing, and fire-and-water processing.
Development of Tibetan Iatrology

Yuthog Yonten Gonpo (708-835), the most outstanding Tibetan doctor in ancient Tibet, was a former imperial doctor who founded the Tibetan medical theory system. Combining the achievements of TCM and Western medicine, he compiled over 30 medical works to form a complete Tibetan iatrological system.

With the development of medicine practice, in the 15th century there emerged two schools of Tibetan iatrology -- the north and the south schools, which summarized the experience of the common diseases and concerned treatments in the northern cold area and the southern river valley areas, respectively.

After the 18th century, famous doctor Dima Danzengpingcuo extensively collected medicine samples and compiled the Jingzhu Annotation, recording more than 2,000 types of medicines in Tibet, and detailing the medicines' modality (the creation process), nature, taste, and function.

In 1916, the 13th Dalai Lama created the Medical Bureau. The bureau, still operating today, recruits students and teaches medical theory, promoting the development of Tibetan iatrology and medicine.

Origin of Tibetan Iatrology

As early as the ancient times, in their fight with nature, people living in the Tibet Plateau became knowledgeable about some characteristics and functions of herbs and hence began to use the herbs for therapies; people also came to know some medical functions of some animals during hunting.

Records show that the earliest popular healing art in Tibet was called "local medicine." At that time, without any systematic theory, doctors treated patients in three main ways, namely bloodletting, fire treatment, and spreading-kneading (massage ). In addition, some primitive and simple therapies such as ghee (butter) for stanching (stopping blood flow) and highland barley wine for trauma treatment were also used.

In the 4th century, noted Indian physicians came to Tibet to spread the knowledge of health care and to push forward the local health care.

From the 6th century, the medical profession, astronomy, calendar, and arithmetic from the hinterland came to Tibet.

Later, in the 7th century, Princess Wencheng entered Tibet with 404 prescriptions, five therapies, six medical apparatuses, and four medicine works.

In the 8th century, another princess, Princess Jincheng, entered Tibet also with many physicians and medicine works, with some of the works having been translated into the Tibetan language.

In the reign (755-796) of Khri-srong lde-btsan, Tibetan iatrology developed greatly and nine well-known physicians emerged.

Principles of Tibetan Iatrology

The human body's physiological functions are summed up in three major elements -- swell (energy and wind-evil, relating to the organs),"Chiba" (fire-evil), and "Peigen" (grume, or semifluid) --in Tibetan iatrology.

The functions of the swell in the human body are to keep life, maintain blood and limbs' function, and decompose food.

The Chiba is bile, to create and regulate body heat, keep a good complexion, and aid in digestion.

The Peigen is grume, to supply nutrition, increase fat, sustain skin, and keep regular sleep patterns.

According to the Tibetan iatrological theory, the three elements, when balanced, will help the body function smoothly, but when unbalanced, will cause various diseases.

Tibetan iatrology also suggests that the human body is made up of seven substances: good diet, blood, flesh, fat, bone, marrow, and energy. A human's internal organs are not separated but rather are connected with one another through nerves and blood vessels, hence making up the organism. People are closely related with nature and so their organ functions are affected by the changes of nature.

Tibetan doctors employ the methods of observation, palpating (heartbeat) manipulation, and interrogation in diagnosis. As for treatments, besides using herbals, animals, and minerals, other therapies such as puncture and bloodletting are also used.

Embryology is an important part of Tibetan iatrology. As early as the 7th century, Tibetan doctors had begun to study embryology (the growth of a baby in its first several weeks), and recorded human embryo growth. Their study in the growth of the human body predated foreign ones in many respects.

Four Medical Works

The major Tibetan medical works are Ju Xi (The Four Medical Works). The existing versions are not the original ones. The work covers an abundant array of contents, including the classification of diseases, physiology (the study of living things and their functioning parts), diagnosis and therapy, and prescriptions.

Many countries and areas in the world are studying Tibetan iatrology. The former Soviet Union Artists Publishing House published the Picture Album of Tibetan Medicines and regarded the book and The Four Medical Works as the most unique Tibetan medical works in the world.

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