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Origin and Development of Tibetan Medicine (part 1)

"Tibetan Medicine - A Practical and Inspirational Guide to Diagnosing, Treating

                             and Healing the Buddhist Way"  Gerti Samel"

"A Buddhist Art of Healing

There is hardly any other widespread system of medicine in which religion plays such

an important role as in Tibetan medicine.  This deep connection is clear from the fact that Buddhist doctors recite mantras during certain kinds of treatment, and the patient

is expected to do likewise. 

In former times Mahayana Buddhism, which underpinned the religious rulership of an-

cient Tibet, was able to spread so successfully in Asia because travelling monk-doctors treated and cured people.

According to the Buddhist view, Tibetan medical knowledge derives from Buddha him-self.  He propounded medical doctrine in his emanation as Medicine Buddha.  The Ti-

betans revere him as their greatest healer and benefactor, and as 'King of Aquamarine

Light', who can overcome all 404 illnesses in a condition of meditative equilibrium.

The Medicine Buddha and the Ideal of Compassion

                'Through the virtue of his compassion, simply by hearing the name

                of this transcendent, outstanding and perfect comforter and conq-

                ueror, whose deeds serve the well-being of all living creatures, we

                are protected from the agonies of unfortunate life-conditions.  I 

                bow down before the Aquamarine Light, the Master of Medicine, 

                the Awakened One, who dissolves the three poisons and the three


                                  From the Root Tantra

According to Tibetan medicine, the doctor's compassion towards his patient is one of

the most important prerequisites for curing illness.  In Buddhism, the doctor's profess-

sion is regarded as noble, since he is obliged to practice the ideal of compassion.  The

Boddhisatva is viewed as the ideal ethical model for a doctor.  This highly evolved be-

ing has already attained his goal of enlightenment and could enter Nirvana but chooses

through compassion to remain in the world in order to show as many people as possible

the path that leads away from suffering.

Before Buddhism

Before Buddhism came to Tibet, a shamanistic medicine and religion called Bon held

sway in the snowy Himalayas.  Bon was the original religion of the people.  It has mag-

ical aspects and involved superstition and the summoning of spirits.  Vestiges of Bon still remain to this day.  In remote mountain regions the healing traditions of Bon shamans live on.  Almost all of these medicine men and women subscribe to the beliefs of Bud-

dhism, and do not find any contradiction between the teachings of the Buddha and their

magical practice of healing.

According to many texts, the history of Tibetan Buddhism and medicine begins with

King Songsten Gampo (A.D. 620-49), the founder of Greater Tibet.  As destiny would have it, this king married two Buddhist princesses (from Nepal and China).  They brought the first Buddhist statues to these snow-clad mountains, and had temples built in Lhasa.  Eventually they converted their husband to their religion, and from then on

Buddhism was practiced at court.

The new faith met with resistance among the common people.  To make this relatively elite doctrine of Buddhism comprehensible, early Buddhists integrated the concepts of

Bon with tenets of their own faith.  From the very beginning, therefore, Tibetan Buddhism included practices such as exorcism, ritual healings and possessions."


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