Visceral Anatomy as Depicted in Tibetan Medicine

In: Knowledge and Context in Tibetan Medicine


Anatomical description without any visual aid is a widespread medical genre of pre-modern medical texts in various medical cultures. The thorough depiction of bodily structures helps students understand the shape and topographical relations of internal organs and their vascular connections. Both texts and images are didactic tools used to develop the physician’s conceptions of the interior body. Nevertheless, neither of these two media represents the real anatomical world observed during surgery or during dissection. Visceral anatomy is the knowledge of the structure and topography of internal organs. Until the late seventeenth century Tibetan medical texts, first and foremost the Four Tantras (rgyud bzhi) and its commentaries, contained descriptive information on anatomy and terms of certain visceral structures, but generally without any visual aid. This changed fundamentally with the elaborated Illustrations to the Blue Beryl. However, it is not only the ten paintings that illustrate the fourth chapter of the Explanatory Tantra on the “condition of the body” that reveal knowledge on the relative positions of internal organs. More details and special terms can be found in different paintings representing aspects of the Instructional and Subsequent Tantras. Taking these paintings as a starting point, this paper examines the Tibetan development of anatomical depictions and the creation of the nomenclature of organ structures in the course of time up to the integration of “modern” biomedical terms into the Tibetan medical vocabulary.