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Concepts

KEY CONCEPTS OF THE TRADITIONAL TIBETAN MEDICAL SYSTEM

 

Impermanence of human life and health

 

Buddhist science, philosophy and the traditional Tibetan medical system state that everything in the universe is in a constant state of flux. All phenomena are characterized by impermanence, and the only universal permanent feature is impermanence itself. As Lord Buddha once said, “No matter whether perfect beings arise or not, it remains a fact and necessity of existence that all creations are transitory.” It is this impermanence that causes each and every being to suffer at one point or another. Thus, suffering is not accidental; it arises from a specific cause, which can have its origin in the present or a previous life. Only through proper learning and genuine practice of Buddha’s teachings and self-discipline can one liberate oneself from the vicious cycle of suffering.

Five Basic Elements in Traditional Tibetan Medical System

Tibetan medical theory states that everything in the universe is made up of five proto-elements:

  1. Sa   earth
  2. Chu   water
  3. Mae   fire
  4. Lung   air
  5. Nam-mkha   space

Although all five proto-elements are responsible for the formation of each cell in the body, each element also has a specific influence on human development:

  1. sa (earth element) exerts greater influence on the formation of muscle cells, bones, nose and sense of smell,
  2. chu (water element) is responsible for the formation of blood, body fluids, tongue and sense of taste,
  3. mae (fire element) is responsible for maintaining the temperature of the body, maintaining a healthy complexion, the development of eyes and sense of vision,
  4. lung (air element) is responsible for breathing, skin development and sense of touch,
  5. nam-mkha (space element) is responsible for the development of body cavities, ears and sense of hearing.

 

The Three Principle Energies

The power of mind and the five elements manifest themselves in the form of energy and gross material substances which can be divided into three aspects: body, energy, and mind. In the human body, they are reflected in the form of three principles or energies called wind (Tib: lung), bile (Tib: tripa), and phlegm (Tib: badken). These principles are the quintessence of the energy that constantly flows in the human body and sustains health and mental awareness. The three principles cause good health when they are in equilibrium and harmony, and cause illness when the balance between them is lost. This is the central concept of the general theory, etiology, pathology, diagnosis, and treatment of the body and mind in the traditional Tibetan medical system.

  1. Lung (wind) is one of the three principal energies and it manifests the nature of the air element in the body. It is rough, light, cold, subtle, hard, and mobile. It is responsible for the physical and mental activities, respiration, expulsion of urine, feces, menstruation, spitting, burping, loquacity, childbearing, clarity of sense organs and sustaining life by means of acting as a mind/body connection.
  2. Tri-pa (bile) has the nature of fire. It is oily, sharp, hot, light, fetid, purgative and fluid. Tri-pa is responsible for hunger, thirst, digestion and assimilation; it promotes bodily heat, gives luster to body complexion and provides courage and determination.
  3. Bad-kan (phlegm) is cold in nature. It is oily, cool, heavy, blunt, firm and sticky. Bad-kan is responsible for firmness of the body and stability of the mind. It induces sleep, connects the joints in the body, lubricates the body and generates a tolerant and slightly lazy character.

 

The Proper Alignment of a Healthy Body

According to the traditional Tibetan medical system, a healthy body involves the proper alignment of the three humors: the balance between wind (lung), bile (Tri-pa), and phlegm (bad-kan). The seven bodily constituents are sense, blood, flesh, fat, bone, marrow and regenerative fluid. The three excretions are feces, urine and perspiration. If we are able to maintain equilibrium between the three humors, the seven bodily constituents and the three excretions, the body is said to be healthy, or free from psycho-physiological disorders, whereas disequilibrium in any of these energies constitutes a disordered state of illness.

The Five most important organs are:

  1. heart
  2. lung
  3. liver
  4. spleen
  5. kidney

Secondary organs are:

  1. stomach
  2. small intestine
  3. colon
  4. gall bladder
  5. urinary bladder
  6. Samsiu – refers to sperm ducts and the ovaries

The Eight Main Branches of Traditional Tibetan Medical System

  1. Adult diseases
  2. Childhood diseases
  3. Female diseases
  4. Nervous system diseases
  5. Cuts and Wounds
  6. Poisonings
  7. Senile diseases
  8. Infertility and reproduction

 

Classification of the Four Fundamental Ailments

Physical and mental disorders can be classified in many different ways, depending on their location in the body, type, environmental factors, state of mind, and so forth. The 404 diseases mentioned above are categorized into 4 basic groups:

  1. 101 untreatable karmic diseases that are caused by actions (karma) taken in present and previous lifetimes, having its impact on current life time because of the inevitable nature of the law of causality.
  2. 101 diseases caused and affected by harmful evil spirits, negative forces and bad energy.
  3. 101 diseases of this lifetime which have their causes in an early period of life and manifest later in the same lifetime.
  4. 101 superficial diseases; they are so-called because one can correct them by following a daily proper diet and behavior without having to resort to medication and therapy.

Karmic diseases. Diseases caused and affected by karmic action of the previous and present lives are very difficult to treat in Western hospitals and clinics. It is because Western medicine does not acknowledge the importance of non-physical factors in the etiology of diseases. For this reason, spiritual practices can be very helpful for all spiritual backgrounds. Tibetan Buddhist practices of making offerings to Medicine Buddha are the most effective methods of relieving these kinds of ailments.

Evil spirit and Bad energy diseases. Diseases caused by evil spirits, which, according to Buddhist explanation, are unseen forces that can harm any individual. Even if there may not be any visible cause for a disorder, a person can be afflicted with pain and different forms of disorders due to the influence of such spirits. Even if treated for a long period of time with medication, the person may not respond to treatment and may continue to suffer. Unless the spirit is subdued by the spiritual method, no form of therapy, external or otherwise, will be able to free the person from the disorder. When the spirit is exorcised, however, the disease is cured.

Present lifetime disorder. Diseases that have their causes in this lifetime are recognized and treated by both modern medicine and traditional Tibetan medical system. This group of diseases encompasses many kinds of health problems. It is not always possible to find the causes and effects of these ailments, and the right way to treat them. For this reason, we need to understand the reality of life. An individual must take serious responsibility in order to change for better. One also needs more good luck, medication, self-discipline, a proper diet, positive thinking, good sleep and the golden hand of a doctor. Further research is needed to deepen our understanding of this group of diseases to achieve better treatment outcomes. Even the greatest physicians will not say that they can help us for sure. This group of diseases is very complicated and sometimes difficult to treat. But every doctor, whether Eastern or Western, will do his best to help his patients and be compassionate towards them. Physical sickness and emotional suffering are the worst experiences in human life. Trust between the patient and his physician forms the basis of their relationship and the foundation of recovery. Moreover, it is important for the doctor to have balanced emotions and lifestyle, founded upon compassion and motivation to work with patients. Excessive worry, stress, and lack of sleep can prevent the doctor from making a correct diagnosis. For this reason, a doctor who is diagnosing his patients should follow right conduct. Only the patient can say which method of treatment is best for him, because every human being has the right to choose. It is better to study different medical systems and retain the valuable methods of treatment of each. This is about gaining better understanding between East and West and different methods of treatments. Because of our lack of knowledge, we can often have misconceptions about a different system. Open dialogue and exchange of clinical experience is better, giving physicians the opportunity to expand their professional knowledge.

Superficial ailments. Modern life characterized by challenges: competitions, expectations, anxiety and a shortage of time that result in improper intake of foods, drinks and behavior pattern. Changing one’s behavior pattern and diet with the guidance of a physician can help one meet these challenges without resorting to treatment.

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