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 Tibetan medicine

Basic Principles of Tibetan Medicine

Like the phenomena of conditioned existence, diseases are also the product of causes and conditions. There are two main causes of disease: a long term cause and short term cause. Ignorance or unawareness is the ultimate cause of all diseases. Because of ignorance or delusion, one cannot see the reality of the phenomena and thereby clings to personal self or ego which in turn give rise to the three mental poisons: desire. hatred and stupidity. So ignorance and the three mental poisons constitute the long term cause of disease. Secondly the short term causes of disease are the three humours: wind energy (Tib. rlung), bile energy (Tib. mkhris pa) and phlegm (Tib. bad kan). They are in fact produced by the three mental poisons: desire gives rise to wind, hatred to bile and stupidity to phlegm. These three humours constitute the basic energy system in the body. They are interrelated to all vital functions of the body, organs, seven constituents and three excretions. The seven constituents of the body are: food (nutrition), blood, flesh, fat, bone, marrow, and semen. The three excrements are: sweat, urine and faeces.

When the three humours, seven body constituents and the three excrements are balanced one is healthy; when they are unbalanced one becomes sick. There are four factors responsible for the imbalance, they are: improper climate, influence of demons, improper diet and improper behaviour. Since everything is interrelated, imbalance in one organ or one of the humours effects the rest of the body. Because of the interdependence of humours and body constituents etc., their imbalance can be diagnosed by methods specially developed and used by Tibetan doctors.

Diagnosis Procedure

  1. Interrogation

    Learning about the patient's history is very important in Tibetan medicine diagnosis.

  2. Visual Examination

    Visual examination consists of examining the patient's physical structure, eyes, tongue and urine, etc.

  3. Tactile examination

    This method of diagnosis is concerned with such things as the temperature of the body, inflammation, etc. Measuring the patient's pulse is the most important method of tactile examination.

Methods of Treatment

There are four methods of treatment:

1): Through diet

2): Through behaviour modification

3): Through medicine

4): Through physical therapy

The most important therapeutic technique is to restore the balance of the three "NYES-PA" (humours) and to ensure that the seven constituents of the body are always in a healthy state.

  1. Diet

    The first treatment involves the prescribing of a proper diet. For example, if the patient is suffering from a bile disorder he should not take alcohol and should drink cool boiled water.

  2. Behaviour Modification

    Treatment through behaviour modification: for instance, a patient with a bile disorder should not do heavy physical activities. He should rest in the shade and not sleep during the day. If these two factors fail to bring about: a positive result, further treatment should be carried out.

  3. Medicine

    Prescription of natural drugs. Here again the physician starts with less potent concoctions and turns to stronger forms, if necessary. The drugs can be classified in 10 forms: decoction, pills, powder, gruels, medicinal butter, medicinal calxes, concentrated extractions, medicinal wine, gem medicine and herbal medicine.

  4. Physical Therapy

    Apart from the prescribing of natural drugs, the physician may also have to depend on other therapeutic techniques. They are again to be classified in gentle and rough techniques. Massage, hot and cold compresses, mineral spring bath therapy and medicinal bath are the gentle techniques. Blood letting, cauterisation, moxibustion, cupping, golden needle therapy are considered as rough techniques. There is also some minor surgery such as the draining of abscesses. Surgery is no longer practised by Amchis.


Tibetan medical philosophy is a holistic philosophy involving the harmonious operation and balance of all the energies that constitute the human psycho-physical being. These energies are the psychologically originating three "NYES-PA", or humours, which correspond to the three mental poisons, and the five cosmo-physical energies that are at the basis of all phenomena. If all the factors that influence these energies (seasonal factors, diet and nutrition, life style and mental attitudes) are positively disposed, then these energies remain in balanced operation and health is experienced. It is the objective of Tibetan medicine that the balance in these energies should be maintained.