Series:

Carmen Simioli

Abstract

This paper intends to historically and conceptually analyze selected pre-modern Tibetan sources, outlining the medical and religious descriptions of a hybrid class of diseases called nyenné (gnyan nad) and rimné (rims nad). Among these sources, this essay focuses primarily on the diagnostic and ritual sections of the Great Vase of the Amṛta of Immortality (’chi med bdud rtsi bum chen). This Nyingma “treasure text” (gter ma) is representative of the magic-alchemical tradition that became an integral constituent of scholastic medical literature in Tibet from the thirteenth century onwards. Drawing on the contents of the Vase of Amṛta, the paper aims at situating this medical-oriented text in the broader context of Tibetan medical and tantric literatures.

Series:

Susannah Deane

Abstract

This paper examines some of the ways in which spirits and deities may be involved in mental illness in ethnically Tibetan contexts, resulting in symptoms such as confusion, aggression, and even madness. Whilst some such entities are discussed in the seminal Tibetan medical text, the Four Tantras (rgyud bzhi), in reality, Tibetan medical specialists are often not the first port of call for afflicted individuals and their families. Instead, lay Tibetans often describe ritual specialists as the best practitioners to consult, due to the “spiritual power” they are understood to possess, an understanding which reflects some long-standing beliefs about spirits and their relationship with Buddhism. However, in a contemporary Tibetan community, where such practitioners may no longer be available, we hear of afflicted individuals and their families often consulting a variety of medical and religious specialists from different traditions. Here I describe two narratives of spirit-caused illness in Darjeeling, India, which illustrate some enduring perspectives on spirits and their ability to cause illness, and explore some perspectives on related healing modalities within this community.

Series:

Barbara Gerke

Abstract

This chapter explores how the pharmaceuticalization of Sowa Rigpa has affected the material representations of Tibetan precious pills (rin chen ril bu). With the example of a translated leaflet of the precious pill “Jikmé’s Old Turquoise-70” (’jigs med g.yu rnying bdun cu), made in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), I analyze how the current trend towards an expanding pharmaceuticalization of precious pills reflects in their material representation and specific instructions offered in bi- or tri-lingual leaflets. I show that in the PRC Sowa Rigpa’s specific terminology and disease etiologies are largely sidelined while catering to a Chinese-speaking patient and consumer clientele, whereas in India we find elements from Buddhism and Tibetan identity integrated in the presentation and packaging of precious pills. Each serves the commodification of precious pills, but in different ways. I also highlight how the commodification and over-the-counter sales of precious pills, found largely in the PRC but also at certain clinics in India, might easily lead to their misuse.

Series:

Tawni Tidwell

Abstract

This paper provides an hermeneutical and praxis-based comparative analysis of the biomedical conception of cancer into the most proximate Tibetan medical etiological categories. Recent Tibetan medical clinical practice, scholarly work and public forums refer to cancer as dréné (’bras nad) or drétren (’bras skran) as a simple shorthand. This paper analyzes the etiological and diagnostic bases for such a categorical collapse—using the Four Tantras as the analytical base with several modern commentarial contributions as clarifying additions, including The New Dawn by Samten, one of the first publications to appeal to a biomedical sensibility in its presentation of Tibetan medical categories. This paper argues for a more complex mapping that draws upon the additional categories of méwel (me dbal), surya (surya), and other conditions related to “metabolic disruptions of nutritional essence” (dwangs ma ma zhu ba), as well as distinguishing non-cancer dréné or drétren. Interest from the Tibetan medical community in providing a one-to-one categorical mapping between Euroamerican and Tibetan medical illness categories aims to garner recognition and legitimacy amidst the broader biomedical and scientific context in which Tibetan medicine is practiced and in dialogue. However, such oversimplification threatens to entangle Tibetan medical paradigms with those of biomedicine, ignoring historical, theoretical, etiological and practical distinctions of each system and how each tradition approaches disease and health. Although both medical systems engage a single body and human experience, each also assesses salient concerns of the body and experience differentially, and therefore applies a different set of diagnostic and treatment modalities to enact healing and wellness. Comparisons of Tibetan medical categories related to biomedical cancer and other neoplasms, such as dréné and drétren are instructive in that they provide fertile grounds to compare, relate, and distinguish biomedical and Tibetan medical understandings and approaches. Likewise, the severity of disease, the presence of concrete physical morphologies, and the importance of differential diagnostics for effective treatment each reflects an urgency for understanding such distinctions.

Series:

Henk Blezer

Abstract

Based on a wide cross section of Tibetan and Greco-Arab medical sources, Henk Blezer argues that the articulations of the, apparently, novel category of “brown phlegm” disorders in Tibetan medicine may derive from an earlier Greco-Arab prototype of “black bile” disorders, particularly those of the hypochondriac subtype (that is, melancholia pertaining to the viscera below the sternal cartilage of the ribs, or in this case the diaphragm). The article builds on his earlier hypothesis, yet to be conclusively argued, that Tibetan canonical descriptions of “brown phlegm” disorders seem to show signs of a confluence or, perhaps, even a clash of “humoral” systems that seem to pertain to different medical epistemes (Greco-Arab and Indo-Tibetan in origin). He posits a plausible trajectory of development in the construction of “brown phlegm” disorders in Tibet, where treatises that presumably have developed later, eventually, seem to set the “brown phlegm” disorders apart as a so-called “combined disease” (that is a category of diseases in which several noxious substances, the so-called “humors”, appear together). Lastly, on a more speculative vein, the author addresses relevant surviving indications, if not traces, in Tibetan historical narratives for Greco-Arab influence on Tibetan medicine.

Series:

Tsering Samdrup

Abstract

This chapter investigates a newly discovered Tibetan medical text on wound-healing entitled the Nine-fold Magical Cord Cycle. The primary goal of the chapter is to find out the origin, dates, title, and contents of the manuscript through presenting anatomical typologies, diagnosis, and therapeutics mentioned in the text. After examining the writing style, language, and palaeography as well as various topics mentioned in the text, I argue that this manuscript pre-dates the twelfth century, and therefore provides a rare window into the practices of traumatology in premodern Tibet.

Series:

Tony Chui

Abstract

Secrecy is the practice of concealing information from others. Depending on its nature and motivation, the morality of secrecy is always debatable. The culture of secrecy can also be observed in medical practice, despite the fact that valuable therapeutic knowledge is covered up as a result. In a seventeenth-century commentary on the Tibetan medical work, the Four Tantras (rgyud bzhi), called the Extended Commentary on the Instructional Tantra of the Four Tantras (man ngag lhan thabs) by Desi Sanggyé Gyatso (sde srid sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, 1653–1705), there are encrypted terms called “secret medicines” (gsang sman) that are incomprehensible to ordinary readers and can be found throughout the entire manuscript. Nonetheless, the key to these encryptions can only be found in separate texts attributed to different authors, indicating that the practice of encryption is present. This study attempts to explore these esoteric approaches to the healing of life-wind illness, with specific references to the encrypted nature of this commentary and a particular focus on the possible rationale for the need of encryption in Sanggyé Gyatso’s writings.

Series:

William A. McGrath

Abstract

The Tibetan medical tradition contains multitudes; its diagnoses are at once empirical and ritual and its prognoses derive from both observation and intuition. The present chapter examines a genealogy of instructions for prasenā divination and channel examination, demonstrating their distinct instances of historical emergence but also tracing their intersections within the corpus of Tibetan medical literature. This study concludes where most studies begin—namely with the Four Tantras—arguing that the orthodox instructions for channel examination in Tibet are best understood as the synthetic product of diverse intellectual developments that took place primarly over the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries.