This article focuses on the analysis of two Tibetan treatises on iatrochemistry, The Treatise on the Mercurial Elixir (Dngul chu grub pa’i bstan bcos) and the Compendium on the Transmutation into Gold (Gser ’gyur bstan bcos bsdus pa). These texts belong to the rasaśāstra genre that were translated from Sanskrit into Tibetan by Orgyenpa Rinchenpel (O rgyan pa Rin chen dpal, 1229/30–1309) and integrated into the Tibetan Buddhist Canon of the Tengyur (Bstan ’gyur). The treatises deal with the processing of mercury, which is indispensable to convert metals into gold (gser ’gyur) and to accomplish the ‘mercurial elixir’ (dngul chu’i bcud len). The texts start with the description of a ‘pink-coloured’ (dmar skya mdog) compound, which is described as the amalgam of ‘moonlight-exposed tin’ (gsha’ tshe zla ba phyogs), gold, and copper. According to the texts, mercury has to be ‘amalgamated’ (sbyor ba) with ‘minerals that devour its poisons’ (za byed khams) and with ‘eight metals that bind it’ (’ching khams brgyad); at the same time, mercury is cooked with ‘red substances’ (dmar sde tshan) and other herbal extracts, types of urine and salts, and reduced to ashes. Starting with an outline of the earliest Tibetan medical sources on mercury, I analyse the two treatises with regard to their entire materia alchemica and the respective purification methods aimed at ‘obtaining essences’ (snying stobs), which are then to be absorbed by mercury. I argue that the two thirteenth-century treatises were particularly significant in the process of consolidating pharmaceutical practices based on mercury and the merging of alchemical and medical knowledge in Tibet.
FlatteryD. S.SchwartzM.Haoma and Harmaline: The Botanical Identity of the Indo-Iranian Sacred Hallucinogen ‘Soma’ and its Legacy in Religion Language and Middle Eastern Folklore1989BerkeleyUniversity of California Press
LiB. W. L.‘A Critical Study of the Life of the 13th-century Tibetan Monk U rgyan pa Rin chen dpal based on his Biographies’2011PhD thesis submitted at Wolfson College Tibetan and Himalayan Studies Faculty of Oriental Studies University of Oxford.
MartinD.SchrempfM.‘An Early Tibetan History of Indian Medicine’Soundings in Tibetan Medicine. Anthropological and Historical Perspectives. Proceedings of the 10th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies (iats) Oxford 20032007Leiden, BostonBrill30725
Monier-WilliamsM.A Sanskrit-English Dictionary Etymologically and Philologically Arranged with Special Reference to Cognate Indo-European Languages New Edition Greatly Enlarged and Improved with the Collaboration of E. Leumann C. Cappeller and other Scholars1960OxfordOxford University Press
SachauE. C.Alberuni’s India. An Account of the Religion Philosophy Literature Chronology Geography Astronomy Customs Laws and Astrology of India about 1030 AD1910vol. ILondonKegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co. Ltd.
SamuelG.CraigS.CuomuM.GarrettF.SchrempfM.‘A Short History of Indo-Tibetan Alchemy’Studies of Medical Pluralism in Tibetan History and Society (Proceedings of the 11th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies Bonn 2006)2010Andiast, SwitzerlandInternational Institute for Tibetan and Buddhist Studies GmbH22133
WallaceV. A.ArnoldE. A.‘Medicine and Astrology in the Healing Arts of the Kālacakratantra’As Long as Space Endures: Essays on the Kālacakra Tantra in Honor of H. H. The Dalai Lama2009Ithaca NYSnow Lion Publications277300
Yoeli-TlalimR.CraigS.CuomoM.GarrettF.SchrempfM.‘On Urine Analysis and Tibetan Medicine’s Connections with the West’Studies of Medical Pluralism in Tibetan History and Society (Proceedings of the 11th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies Bonn 2006)2010Andiast, SwitzerlandInternational Institute for Tibetan and Buddhist Studies GmbH195211
Tōh4313Bstan ’gyur (Sde dge) vol. 203 (mdo ’grel ngo) ff. 7r/3–8v/4. For Prafulla C. Ray’s translation of the gbb see Ray (ed.) 1956 pp. 466–73.
Tōh4313Bstan ’gyur (Pe cin) (sna tshogs ngo) vol. 114 pp. 843–59 and Tōh 4313 Bstan ’gyur (Pe cin) (sna tshogs ngo) vol. 114 pp. 860–6. Note that the Pe cin edition only provides page numbers not folios.
See Fenner1979pp. 151–79.
Tōh4313Bstan ’gyur (Sde dge) vol. 203 (mdo ’grel ngo) ff. 17v/1–18r/2. This work describes how to purify mercury obtain ‘the white silver’ and prepare mercury pills for medicinal and rejuvenating purposes.
Gawa Dorjé1995p. 74.
According to Gawa Dorjé1995p. 254 this plant is Thlaspi arvense L. It could also refer to camel’s milk which is often used in these operations. See Dash 1986 p. 180.
According to Das1998p. 421 this is Crataeva roxburghii. This could be a synonym of vāruṇa which is identified as Crataeva nurvala Buch.-Ham by Dash 1994b p. 201.
According to Dash1994bp. 256 this is Vitex negundo.
See Monier-Williams1960p. 801 and also p. 1051 where we find śatru as Asparagus racemosus L. In my opinion shatri could be Asparagus racemosus L. which according to Dash 1986 p. 56 who mentions śatāvaharī is used to prepare a kind of vinegar for processing mercury.
According to Gawa Dorjé1995p. 216 this is Datura stramonium L.
According to Gawa Dorjé1995p. 149 this is the Capsicum frutescens L.
Gawa Dorjé1995p. 245 identifies it as Aconitum kongboense Lauener.
Rock salt. See Dash1986p. 154.
Ibid. p. 156.
Ibid. p. 92. Pasang Yonten 1998 p. 203.
Ibid. p. 94.
According to Dash1994bp. 556 this could be the ‘grasshopper’ (bye ma or bye’u). Sékhar Künga Tséring 1997 p. 177 identifies it as gurgum.