Understanding Ideas of Toxicity in Tibetan Medical Processing of Mercury

in Asian Medicine
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Duk (dug) in Tibetan language means ‘poison’ and has the connotation of a substance being harmful. In the Tibetan medical tradition, anything which adversely affects our system and causes suffering and pain can be referred to as a poison; for example, the afflictive emotions are labelled ‘mental poisons’. The term duk is coined based on its harmful effects, just like medicine is called men (sman) because of it being beneficial. Tibetan medical practitioners know that mercury is highly toxic. Nevertheless, Tibetan medicine still uses it in the particular form of mercury sulphide as an important ingredient in some multi-compound medicines to treat severe diseases. This is possible because Tibetan pharmacology describes detailed methods of processing mercury, which are complex and long and demand the involvement of highly skilled people and a particular environment. The ability to transform a virtual toxin into a tonic is an invaluable skill based on the in-depth understanding of the characteristics of the various types of duk contained in unprocessed mercury as this article will explore.

Asian Medicine

Journal of the International Association for the Study of Traditional Asian Medicine



Sangyé GyatsoDesi Sde srid Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, 1653–1704 Gso ba rig pa’i bstan bcos sman bla’i dgongs rgyan rgyud bzhi’i gsal byed bai dur sngon po’i ma lli ka 1982 2 vols Lha sa Bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang

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PüntsokDeumar Tendzin De’u dmar Bstan ’dzin phun tshogs, born 1672 Shel gong shel phreng 2009 Dharamsala Men-Tsee-Khang

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RidakDawa Bod kyi gso ba rig pa las sman rdzas sbyor bzo’i lag len gsang sgo ’byed pa’i lde mig 2003 Delhi Rig Drag Publications

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Ridak 2003, p. iv. See also Dawa 2009.


Yutok Yöntan Gönpo 2006, p. 590.


For example, ibid., p. 106.


Desi Sangyé Gyatso 2008, pp. 129–42; Ridak 2003, p. 403; Jampa Trinlé 1991, pp. 72–7.


Ridak 2003, p. 414.


Jampa Trinlé 2006, p. 186.


Deumar Tendzin Püntsok 2009, p. 576.


Yutok Yöntan Gönpo 2006, pp. 691–5; Desi Sangyé Gyatso 1982, pp. 1288–95.


Ridak 2003, p. 399.


Deumar Tendzin Püntsok 2009, p. 577. Details of this tradition and its proponents are unknown.


Ibid., p. 579. Nāgārjuna, the Indian philosopher and alchemist, whose dates are unknown, is said to have authored texts on mercury, such as the Rasendramaṅgala. See Wujastyk 1984.


Ridak 2003, p. 403. See Czaja and Simioli, this issue, for details on Orgyenpa Rinchenpel.


Yutok Yöntan Gönpo 2006, p. 692.


Sallon et al. 2006.


Ibid., p. 409.


Ibid., p. 410.


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