“Where there is poison, there is medicine”
As early as the ancient times, in their fight with nature, people living in the Tibet Plateau became knowledgeable about some characteristics and functions of herbs and hence began to use the herbs for therapies; they also came to know some medical functions of some animals during hunting. Then there comes the ancient medical theory “Where there is poison, there is medicine; medicine and poison are of coexistence, which can transform into each other”. This is considered as the earliest theory of Tibetan medicine.
“Theory of Three Factors”
Although Tibetans are now in exile, Tibetan medicine, which has been practiced for over 2500 years and is still practiced today, is a traditional medical system. It is run by its own integrated theoretical system.
According to the theory, the human body’s physiological functions are summed up in three major elements. The basic theory of Tibetan medicine is to keep in balance the Nyipa sum – rLung (pronounced loong), mKhris-pa and Bad-kan. The long-term causative factors of Nyipa sum are the three poisons of desire, hatred and delusion, which show how closely Tibetan medicine is connected with Buddhism. Firstly, what is rLung? What is mKhris-pa? And what is Bad-kan? Before these terms can be explained it must be pointed out that there is no equivalent translation of them into Sanskrit; therefore the original names are used.
The general description of rLung is that it is a subtle flow of energy and out of the five elements (air, fire, water, earth and space) that are most closely connected with air. However it is not simply the air that we breathe in and out or the wind in our stomachs. It goes much deeper than that. Suppose rLung is like a horse, the mind is like the rider; if there is something wrong with the horse, the rider will not be able to ride properly. Its description is that it is rough, light, cool, thin, hard and movable. The general function of rLung is to help growth, movement of the body, exhalation and inhalation and to aid the function of mind, speech and body. RLung helps to separate in our stomachs what we eat into nutrients and waste products. However its most important function is to carry the movements of mind, speech and body. The nature of rLung is both hot and cold.
Bad-kan is not the phlegm which comes from the chest; it refers to all the diseases connected with the cold nature called Bad-kan. From out of the five elements (air, fire, water, earth and space) it is related to both water and earth. The description of Bad-kan is oily, cool, heavy, blunt, smooth, steady and sticky. The main function of Bad-kan is to sustain the bodily liquids. It helps to mix food in the stomach, steady the mind, and keep our joints flexible. The nature of Bad-kan is cold, like water or the moon. According to the Tibetan pathological theory, the three elements, when balanced, will help the body function smoothly, but when unbalanced, will cause various diseases.
The basic theory of rLung, mKhris-pa and Bad-kan is responsible for the human physiological activities. According to these factors, human are divided into four types named: RLung, mKhris-pa, Bad-kan and type of mixture on the basis of different figures, colors and characters.
Tibetan medicine states that everything within the universe is composed of five proto-elements: wind, earth, water, fire and space. Wind is responsible for movement; earth gives substance; water holds things together; fire heats or transforms; and space provides the living room for the creatures. Nothing can go without any of the five significant elements. The harmonious relationship between herbs and the environment are reasonably stated according to this medical theory.
Physiologist and Dissection
With a history of some 1,300 years, the Tibetan medicine has won itself a reputation for strong traditional characteristics in its understanding of physiology, organs of human body, diagnosis and treatment etc. Hence Tibetan medicine is considered as one of the earliest and the most advanced traditional medical system in the world.
Traditional Tibetan medicine is based on the “theory of three factors.” The theory centers on the “seven substances” and “three excrements” of the human body. The three factors refer to what have been mentioned above. The seven substances include diet, blood, flesh, fat, bone, marrow, and seminal fluid; and the three excrements are sweat, urine and stool. When a person is in good health, the relations between the three factors, seven substances and three excrements are in good balance. Keeping balance is an important principle of traditional Tibetan medicine.