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TRADITIONAL TIBETAN MEDICINE

Sowa Rigpa is Tibetan for Traditional Tibetan Medicine (TTM). It is the natural medical science of Tibet and is metaphorically compared to a large garden; an introduction is usually represented using the image of three trees.

In Traditional Tibetan Medicine, herbs, plants, and trees play an imp[ortant role. The main concept is that a healthy tree is like a healthy human being: a tree needs clean air, fresh water, adequate light and space in order to stay healthy and the same principle also applies to humans, every person needs the same elements in order to keep his/her health in balance.

Many of the principles and concepts in the Tibetan culture and its ancient medical system are originally based on the study of nature, trees, plants and the behaviour of wild animals. The results of these observations and the derived concepts are then compared with human beings in general and their health. This knowledge can be applied to topics such as how balance of health is found, what types of energies affect it and how a person should live to retain good health.

As Tibetan medicine is a natural system based on the observation of nature, the study of Tibetan medicine is consequently simplified using natural elements such as the symbology of trees. This illustrates an ancient form of study in which the tree not only represents the human form but also serves as an intellectual guide for the medical teachings. The trees become a 'mind map' of all the aspects of Tibetan medicine.

It's worth noting that traditionally, the conventional and complete study of Tibetan medicine covers no less than ninety-nine 'trees of knowledge'. The ninety-nine trees are studied sequentially and it usually takes twelve years to study the complete system of Traditional Tibetan Medicine, with all its theoretical principles and practical exercises. In contrast however, more modern educational systems such as those employed in India and Tibet where the emphasis is on the theoretical part, it generally only takes five years.

For Mantra Healing, which is part of Traditional Tibetan Medicine, only the first three trees of the entire ninety-nine are relevant.

 

The State of Balance

The first tree describes te general condition or state of a person and it has two trunks.

It represents a healthy person in which body, energy and mind are in a state of balance. A human being generally needs balance in his/her energies; energy builds the connection between body and mind. If the energy becomes imbalanced then the body and mind also become imbalanced consequently resulting in illness. On the other hand, good balance results in a healthy body, a large amount of vital energy as well as a clear, stable and happy mind.

The term energy in this context refers to a dynamic power, considered to be the source of all existence. In the body it is the psychophysical principle of vital energy. This energy arises from the five elements: space, wind, fire, water and earth. In the Tibetan view these elements are sometimes considered to be five in number and at other times four. Sometimes the element of space is not counted because it is the form in which the other four elements are found i.e. without space, earth, water, fire and air cannot exist.

The quality of space is the emptiness and the potentiality in which all phenomena origiante. Wind has the quality of movement, growth and development. Fire represents speed and heat which leads in turn to maturation. Water has the character of flow and cohesion and earth represents consistency and stability.

These four elements can then be divided into three quantities or energies. The first energy is wind, derived from the Wind element (rLung); the second energy is Bile (mKhrispa), derived from the fire element; the third energy is Phlegm (Bad-kan), which is derived from water and earth elements. These three qualities can be further divided into two natures or characteristics. Wind and phlegm are cold whereas bile is hot.

These three qualities, derived from the five/four elements, are known as humors or inner energies and have different aspects which bring about different functions:

1. Wind (rLung): arises from the elements of space and wind.:

  • Is related to movement and activity
  • Regulates thought and speech
  • Controls the nervous system, breathing and excretion
  • Areas relating to the wind element include the head, neck, shoulders, chest, heart, upper abdoment, elbows, large intesting, pelvic bone, wrists, lower abdomen, hips, knees and ankles.

2. Bile (mKhrispa): arises from fire:

  • Is related to heat
  • Regulates the body temperature
  • Bodily functions include digestion, absorption of nutrition, catabolic function, hunger and thirst, courage, motivation and visions.

3. Phlegm (Bad-Kan): arises from earth and water:

  • Has a cold nature
  • Bodily functions include cohesion, fluid, structural binding of the body, bodily fluids, anabolic functions, sleep, patience and tolerance.

The Causes of Imbalance

Where the first trunk of the first tree represents a healthy condition, the analysis and balance of different energies, the second trunk describes the types and causes of imbalance.

All diseases are the effect of incorrect behaviours which is their karmic function; good karma brings perfect balance or health and bad karma generates imbalance or disease.

According to Traditional Tibetan Medicine, negative causes are divided into two categories: primary and secondary causes:

  • Primary causes arise from negative and destructive emotional states or views such as anger, aggression, lust, unhealthy attachment (desire) and ignorance.
  • Secondary causes are persistent and repetitive factors such as wrong nutrition and lifestyle, the time (seasonal causes) and provocations.

Let's look a little more closely to the secondary causes. Of the secondary type, the main cause of illness is incorrect food and lifestyle. Consider the cause of death related to cardiovascular diseases, the main cause of this disease tends to lie in nutrition and lifestyle factors. Becoming aware of one's food and lifestyle and making adjustments to them can lead to a healthy state of being; factors can include aspects such as amount and quality of sleep, daily routine, eating times, work, rest, etc.

According to the Budhist tradition "liberation lies in one's own hand" and Traditional Tibetan Medicine adopts the same approach with regard to health; it lies in one's own hand. so by analysing the cause of illness and taking action on the causes of imbalance, you can return to the first trunk which is a state of balance - balance in body, energy and mind.

Another secondary cause is time which relates to rhythms and fluctuations in the environment, the condition of light, the climate and its influence on humans, There are certain combinations of elements in each season which in turn are reflected in bodily energies, dietary customs and behaviour.

The third secondary cause is provocation. Traditionally, provocation means that invisible spirits send negative energies to influence people and cause ilness. The main view of provocation is that invisible beings inhabit the environment and influence the human world. This concept refers to the relationship of man within his natural environment. when we do not have a good relationship with our environment and the animals or when we destroy nature, we create something negative. An example of this is the pollution of air and water such as oil spills in the oceans and excessive carbon emissions, which consequently cause many health problems. It is believed that nature is the realm of the spirits, so it's important to cultivate a harmonious and respectful relationship with nature.

Methods of Diagnosis

The secod tree is the tree of diagnosis and it has three trunks.

  1. Inspection - the observation
    The patient's behaviour and apperance is closely examined; the first diagnosis is made by the analysis of urine, looking at aspects of colour, steam, bubbles, smell, sediments and oiliness, etc.

  2. Palpation - the touch diagnosis
    Different aspects of the patient's pulse are palpated and two main aspects are differentiated; palpation for typological disposition and palpation for determination of pathological state. Tibetan doctors are trained in a special Tibetan style of pulse reading called rtsapra and they're also trained in chanting special mantras to increase their pulse reading power. This method is not mentioned in the rGyud-bZhi but only in the Yuthok Nyingthig and is considered a secret practice.

  3. Anamnesis - the case history
    The patient is asked about lifestyle, and diet, sensations, emotional and physical states, etc.

Healing Methods

The third tree is the tree of treatment and in Tibetan Medicine, methods of treatment generally falls into four basic categories:

  1. Therapeutic Diet - the best treatment method
  2. Modifications to lifestyle factors - daily routine, times of sleep, likes and dislikes, etc
  3. Medication - Tibetan pharmacology uses herbs, minerals and small amounts of substances from animals
  4. Application of External Therapies - primary therapies are massage, acupuncture, moxibustion and cupping. Secondary forms of therapy include herbal baths, blood-letting, compresses, stick therapy and mongolian Moxibustion.

According to the gter-ma tradition, Mantra healing is the fifth trunk. Mantra Healing can be used separately as a treatment in its own right, or it can be combined with any of the four above mentioned treatment modalities in order to enhance their effects. When used in conjunction with diet, mantras can be used to empower foods for therapeutic purposes or to detoxify contaminated foods. Around the home, mantras may be used to create a more comfortable living space or to enhance communication and increase productivity in the work environment. Written mantras can be worn as amulets in order to protect from accidents, injury or to ward off spirit provocations.

Mantras can be combined with herbal medications to enhance their effects. During the compounding of Traditional Tibetan medicines many healing mantras are recited, incorporating the energy of sound into these complex combinations of herbs and minerals. We're able to use mantras in conjunction with Traditional Tibetan external therapies such as Ku Nye (bsKu mNye) massage, acupuncture, moxibustion, cupping and laying-on of heated stones or herbal compresses.

In summary, the general aims of Traditional Tibetan Medicine can be explained in two parts.

  1. Preventive aspects
    Prevention of illness through correct lifestyle and diet are fundamental to Traditional Tibetan Medicine. In this modern age, most chronic diseases arise as a result of imbalance of mental attitude, incorrect lifestyle and incorrect diet. Diabetes and cardiovascular disease are well-known examples of this.
  2. Curative aspects
    Once imbalance arises, overt disease become manifest and it is then neccessary to re-create balance through working on the underlying causes and effects. This means, in the first instance, attending to dietary and lifestyle factors, and then making use of herbal therapies and external therapies.

The Philosophy of Space and Time

The most important philosophical base for Traditional Tibetan Medicine is the interdependent origination of phenomena, which in Tibetan language is called tendrel. This philosophical view is accurately represented in Tibetan; ten means interdependent and drel means interconnection. The teachings essentially illustrate that nothing can exist by itself, everything is interconnected and co-existing. Our body, energy and mind are pefectly interdependent with the environment and with nature, co-existing with every single small object that is part of the greater universe. Everything is linked both directly and indirectly through visible and invisible energy, where great space and time are one in their primordial state.

The Sanskrit word shunyata is one of the most important terms in Mahayana Buddhism. It is composed of shunya which means empty, open, unsubstantial or nothing, and the substantive suffix ta. Shunyata is therefore the emptiness, openness, the non-substantiality of phenomena. However it does not mean a vacuum or nothingness. One may ask emptiness of what? It is in fact the emptiness of terms, mental constructions and projections. Emptiness is only that which is free of terms, categories, values, etc.

Opposed to the term emptiness is the term substantiality or inherent self existence. The expression below demonstrates the tendency in which phenomena are present in words or qualities.

All that which is 'A' can not be 'not-A'. When a thing is attributed as 'A', then a separation takes place between the things 'A' and the things 'not-A'

According to Buddhist philosophy, the confusion in this concept is that neither of the things own such attributes, nor do they exist in such a distinguished way.

the lack of inherent self-existence means that nothing is unvarying in its appearance and substance.

The description of a tree can serve as an example. It is made of numerous cells from which some create the bark, others the wood and still some others the roots and leaves. If a leaf falls from a tree, then we consider the cells that, until that point we regarded as part of the tree, to now be separate from the tree and now an individual leaf. However it falls onto the ground where it will rot among other leaves, subsequently becoming nutrient for the tree and other leaves.

If our eyes were open to see subtle interdependence, we would then see an uninterrupted exchange of gas and substance with the atmosphere of the earth and countless organisms. We refer to it simply as a tree, but in reality we're dealing with an extremely complex phenomenon that is in a constant state of movement and exchange. If only a single factor is removed from the chain, leading to the appearance of the phenomenon, then the phenomenon disappears. Then it would be without a self i.e. with non-inherent verbal or conceptual attributions. Each phenomenon or object can be analysed in this way.

The Buddhist concepts 'emptiness of inherent self-existence', 'non-duality' and 'inseparability' are expressions for the alternating connection of all phenomena in an all-embracing, undivided and inseparable casual/conditional net. All beings, including human beings, are part of this net. As human beings we find ourselves continually exchanging and moving. We come to being through the substances of our parents, we are born, we breathe, we eat, we need movement, light and a certain temperature, etc. Nevertheless, during our life our cells continually die and new ones are created so that every seven years, we are in fact a completely new person. Everything is dependent on many factors and everything is movement, space and time, having never been created and never destroyed,

"Emptiness is form and form is emptiness" - Buddha

The nature of all existence is emptiness, and emptiness manifess within all existence, so emptiness is the form or wholeness, and there is no separation between existence and non-existence. Space and time arise or manifest through emptiness and that which is perfectly created by a clear and omni-pervasive mind. Once one realises the nature of mind, there is no longer any distinction made between subject and object, as reflected in Yuthok's song:

"In the clarity and emptiness of my mind,
the ineffable authentic state,
Bliss is omni pervasive, arising unceasingly and,
Emptiness and compassion are undifferentiated.
Hence, the phenomena created by mind are naturally liberated."

TREE OF DIAGNOSIS


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Sowa rigpa is the art and science of healing of traditional Tibetan medicine, astronomy and astrology. It involves the proper alignment of the body, energy and mind into a state of equilibrium. The diagnostic techniques include visual observation, touch and case history. Treatment advice can be diet & lifestyle changes for support and prevention. Herbs and external therapies may also be recommended.

 

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