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the-south-asian.com                         January  2001

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Tibetan Medicine - How and Why it Works


Dr Tamdin Sither Bradley

buddha.jpg (7042 bytes)


Diagnosis of Nyipa sum when imbalanced

There are three methods of diagnosis through:

  •  Observation

  •  Palpation

  •  Questioning

Observation is done by urine analysis and looking at the tongue. A sample of urine must be the first early morning urine of the patient.  Spicy foods, alcohol and sexual intercourse should be avoided on the night prior to providing the urine sample. In Tibetan medicine urine analysis is divided into eight sections; the physician examines the colour, vapour, odour, bubbles, sediments and albumin of the urine. The colour of the urine is determined by the intake of food and drink, seasons and diseases.

The rLung patient's urine is clear like water and has large bubbles.
The mKhris-pa patient's urine is a reddish-yellow colour, with much vapour and a very strong odour.
The Bad-kan patient's urine is white in colour and with little odour or vapour. Generally, a reddish colour indicates a hot disorder while transparency indicates a cold disorder.

When observing the tongue, the rLung patient has a very red, dry and rough tongue. The mKhris-pa patient's tongue is yellow with a thick coating.
The tongue of a Bad-kan patient is white, smooth and wet.

The second method of diagnosis is by reading the pulse. In Tibetan medicine pulse reading is divided into thirteen sections. For the Tibetan physician the art of pulse reading provides an invaluable source of information because the pulse is like a messenger between the doctor and the patient. To read the pulse it is very important for the patient to be as rested as possible. The physician places the index, middle and third fingers on the radial arteries. The space between each of the three fingers is the width of a grain of rice, and the fingers are placed half an inch from the crease of the wrist. The physician uses both hands to examine the pulse; the left wrist of a male patient is read first, whilst for the female patient it is the right wrist which is read first.

The third and final method of diagnosis is by questioning - asking the patient how and when the problem started, its location and the type of food that harms or helps them.


The fourth and final category is about the treatment of the patient. There are four methods of treatment:

  •  Advice regarding diet

  •  Advice regarding behaviour

  •  Prescribing medicine

  •  Performing surgery

Diet: If the illness is not serious advice is given regarding diet and behaviour. Generally the rLung patient must try to eat food that has heavy and nutritional potency, such as lamb, butter, molasses, alcohol, milk, soups, chicken, garlic, ginger and onions.
The mKhris-pa patient should eat beef; vegetables, fresh butter, fresh low fat cheese, cow's yogurt and buttermilk, drink weak tea, spring water and have less greasy food. The Bad-kan patient should have honey, mutton, fish, barley, wine, ginger decoction and plenty of hot water and cooked vegetables.

Behaviour: The rLung patient should stay in dark and warm places, the surroundings should be very quiet, and the surrounding views should be beautiful . The patient should have good company such as that of lovers and close friends. The patient should also rest both physically and mentally without any worries.
The mKhris-pa patient  should have cold baths and showers, sit in shaded places and walk by the sea and use a cool perfume such as sandalwood.
The Bad-kan patient should have lots of sun, warm fires in the home; should do lots of exercise such as prostrations, walking and running.

Medicines: The third method of treatment is the prescribing of medicine. It can be administered in various forms such as decoction, powder, pills etc. For the rLung patient various herbal ingredients are used such as aqullaria agollocha, allium sativum, myristica fragrans, asafoetida, santalum album etc.
For the mKhris-pa patient's medicine we use swertia chirata, momordica charantia, holarrhena antidysenterica, aconitum naviculare, ixers gracilis, chrysosplenium nepalense, swertia hookeri and berberis asiatica etc.
For the Bad-kan patient's medicine we use chaenomeles, inula helenium, coriandium sativum, meconopsis discigera, punica granatum, kaempferia galanga and phyllantus emblica etc.

Surgery: The final method of treatment is surgery - divided into mild and rough. Mild surgery for the rLung patient includes massage with year-old butter and oily compresses. Rough surgery for the rLung patient is placing moxa on the selected points of rLung; these are on the crown of the head, the first, fifth and sixth vertebrae of the spinal cord, the sternum, etc. For the mKhris-pa patient mild surgery is sitting beneath waterfall and mild purgatives. Rough surgery for the mKhris-pa patient is blood letting and cupping. For the Bad-kan patient mild surgery is hot fermentations, saunas and mild emetics. Rough surgery for the Bad-kan patient is golden needle therapy and the application of heated surgical stylets.


All diseases and illnesses can be categorised within the Nyipa sum - rLung, mKhris-pa and Bad-kan. Similarly, with all these different types of disease and illness there is no other location for them than the seven bodily sustainers and the three eliminating functions.  In Tibetan mdicineor the science of healing, we always treat the cause or the root of the disease and illness and not the symptoms. In the medical texts there is the following example -without treating the root or the cause of the disease it is the - as having a poisonous tree and just cutting off the leaves and branches without pulling it up from it's roots. If you just cut the leaves and branches it will still continue to grow. The Medicine Buddha says that if the physician treats the patient according to the medical texts the treatment will be beneficial. If the method of treatment fails, it is not the fault of the physician but the fault of the Medicine Buddha himself. This shows us how confident and sure the Medicine Buddha was about the medical texts. However, if a person is suffering from a chronic disease and expects a quick solution,  this is not possible. He will have to be patient and take the medicine for a long period of time before its positive results will show.


(Courtesy The Office of Tibet, London)




H.H. The Dalai Lama on Tibetan medicine

What is Tibetan  medicine

- History & Background

- Basis of Tibetan Medicine

- Tibetan medicine - How   and Why it works

- Future of Tibetan   medicine




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