The Theory of Tibetan Medicine
Volume One of a Six Volume Commentary on the Four Medical Tantras
The Theory of Tibetan medicine is to keep in balance the three principal energies or Nyipa Ė Sum. In the Gyu-Shi (the four medical tantras) it says that the three principal energies are like three brothers. If one brother has a problem it is impossible for the other brothers to relax or feel comfortable, therefore it is very important for the three principal energies to be in a state of equilibrium in order for our mind and body to function properly.
Let us first look in more detail at the three principal energies. They are Loong, mKhris-pa & Bad-Kan.
What is Loong? In Tibetan Loong means mobility. This subtle flow of energy circulates throughout our body carrying blood and nutrients. It also helps the respiratory system, sensory organs and bodily growth. It separates nutrients and waste products in our body. The main function of Loong however, is to carry the movements of mind, speech and body. Movements and activities such as stretching and walking are performed by this energy, but because this subtle energy cannot be seen under the microscope does not mean that it is not there. Just as we cannot see the wind or air, we are still able to feel it when it touches our skin and we are also able to see the trees and leaves moving because of it. Loong is very much connected to the air element.
When Loong is in excess, or is deficient or blocked in our body, we will suffer from sleeplessness, aches and pains in the bones, dry skin, colon upsets, anxiety and palpitations. Loong is connected with the heart, large intestines, lungs, blood vessels and the nerves. We can detect the imbalance of this subtle flow of energy when treating patients suffering from insomnia, heart disease and problems related with the central nervous system.
From my own experience the majority of people who come to see me in the West suffer from Loong related problems. In this regard I believe Tibetan medicine can be very beneficial and can help many modern diseases which have their origin in an imbalance of Loong and for which allopathic medicine has no fully adequate answer.
In the GyuĖShi there are 63 different types of Loong related diseases, however in this website I am just going to describe the five main types.
Five Types of Loong
Loong Srog-dzin, known as the life grasping Loong. This Loong is located in the brain and it moves from the pharynx down to the oesophagus. Itís function is to help the swallowing of food, spitting, sneezing, eructation, inhalation and to focus the mind. An imbalance of Loong Srog-dzin can be caused when the mind is focused too much when meditating without proper instruction, or when thinking obsessively about one particular subject or object. At itís most pronounced it can lead to insanity. That is why in the Tibetan community, where there are many practitioners of meditation, everyone knows what Loong Srog-dzin is; therefore if someone in the community suffers from Loong Srog-dzin everyone believes that they have not been meditating according to the proper instructions. I see quite a few patients who have attended some retreat or meditation weekend without a proper basic understanding of Buddhism. They have also not investigated the authenticity of the teachers or they have been expecting a quick result from the meditation. As a result of this they have forced themselves to try to concentrate and meditate when they are not yet able to focus; consequently they have overstrained their minds which has caused insomnia, anxiety and restlessness.
Loong Gyen-rgyu, is known as the upward moving Loong. This Loong is located in the thorax and it moves in the nose, tongue and throat. Itís function is to help speech, clarity of memory and mental diligence. When Loong Gyen-rgyu is disturbed it effects our speech.
Loong Khyab-byed, is known as all-pervading Loong. This Loong is located in the heart and it is responsible for blood circulation and the carrying of nutrients throughout the body. It helps us in walking, lifting, stretching, the contraction of limbs and the opening and closing of our mouth and eyes. When there is an imbalance in Loong Khyab-byed it effects all bodily movements and motor functions. As it is all-pervading, Loong Khyab-byed plays a very important role in the proper functioning of our mind and body.
Loong Me-mnyam, is known as fire-accompanying Loong. This Loong is located in the stomach and it moves in the small intestine and the large intestine. It helps to separate nutrients and waste products, promotes digestion and helps the process of the seven bodily constituents. When there is an imbalance in Loong Me-mnyam it can effect the whole of the digestive system.
Loong Thur-sel, is known as downward cleansing Loong. This Loong is located in the rectum and it flows through the large intestine, bladder, genitalia and the thighs. Itís function is to expel faeces, urine, menstruation, semen and the foetus. When there is imbalance in Loong Thur-sel it can affect all the eliminating functions of the body, for example during child birth it can delay the delivery of the baby from the motherís womb.
What is mKhris-pa? In Tibetan mKhris-pa means flame. The main function of mKhris-pa is to keep in balance the bodily temperature, to aid digestion and absorption, and to give vitality to the body. MKhris-pa is also responsible for us feeling hungry and thirsty at the right times. It gives lustre to the skin and mentally it provides us with courage and determination.
If we have too much heat in our body it burns our system, and damages internal organs such as the liver, small intestine and gall bladder. It creates high blood pressure and other blood related problems, it damages eyesight and it causes diarrhoea. If we have too little heat in our body we are always cold and as a result we can feel low self esteem. Inflammatory illnesses, infections and blood disorders are all connected to an imbalance of mKhris-pa. So the nature of mKhris-pa is hot and it is closely connected with the fire element.
Five types of mKhris-pa
MKhris-pa disorders are very common in countries such as India where the climate is hot. In the Gyu-Shi (four medical tantras) there are 25 mKhris-pa disorders, and here I will describe the 5 main mKhris-país.
MKhris-pa Jyoo-byed, is known as digesting mKhris-pa. It is located in the small intestine and itís main function is to digest food and drink, it promotes bodily heat and aids in the functioning of the four other main types of mKhris-pa. Disturbance of this mKhris-pa will lead to digestive problems; proper absorption depends very much on this mKhris-pa.
MKhris-pa sGrub-byed, is known as accomplishing mKhris-pa. It is located in the heart and itís main function is to motivate our minds to succeed in our life goals and ambitions, in this respect it helps to build up our confidence. Disturbance of the mKhris-pa might indicate that we have lost interest in our life.
MKhris-pa mdangs-sgyur, is known as colour changing mKhris-pa. It is located in the liver and itís main function is to promote and maintain the red colouring of essential nutrients into blood and muscle tissues. If this mKhris-pa is disturbed it means we have a deficiency of blood and as a result we will have skin problems such as lucoderma.
MKhris-pa mthong-byed, is known as sight mKhris-pa. It is located in the eyes and it is responsible for vision; when this mKhris-pa is disturbed it affects our eyesight.
MKhris-pa mDog-sel, is known as complexion clearing mKhris-pa. It is located in the skin and itís function is to clear and promote skin lustre by giving it a healthy and wholesome colour, therefore if this mKhris-pa is disturbed it affects our complexion.
What is Bad-Kan? In Tibetan Bad means earth and Kan means water. The main function of Bad-Kan is to balance our bodily fluids, to help mix food in the stomach, keep the mind stable and lubricate our joints. If there is not enough fluid in our system we become dehydrated and if there is too much we retain it which can then block blood circulation and the subtle flow of Loong energy. This can lead to problems such as oedema, water retention, excess weight, kidney and digestive problems. All of these are mainly connected to a lack of absorption, an inability to digest foodstuffs and liquids and turn them into essential nutrients. From my experience I have found these problems to be very common in the West, for example when I travel on the Underground I see many middle aged women with swollen legs and ankles. This happens because of improper diet, lifestyle and lack of exercise, all of which will be discussed later. So the nature of Bad-Kan is cold and it is most closely related to the water element.
In the Gyu-Shi there are 43 different types of Bad-Kan and here I will describe the five main types.
Five types of Bad-Kan
Bad-Kan rten-byed, is known as supporting Bad-Kan. Itís location is in the thorax and itís function is to control our thirst and to help support the other four main types of Bad-Kan. When this Bad-Kan is disturbed we suffer from excessive thirst.
Bad-Kan myag-byed, is known as mixing Bad-Kan. Itís location is in the stomach and itís function is to break down foodstuffs into a semi-liquid form. This mixing process is a very important part of the digestive system, and if it is not functioning properly undigested food will be seen in stools.
Bad-Kan myong-byed, is known as taste receptor Bad-Kan. Itís location is on the tongue and itís function is to distinguish from each other the six primary tastes of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent. If this Bad-Kan is not functioning properly we lose our sense of taste.
Bad-Kan tsim-byed, is known as satisfying Bad-Kan. Itís location is in the thalamus and itís function is to satisfy the power of the five senses of sight, taste, smell, hearing and touch. If by accident this part of the brain is injured it will affect the functioning of these five senses.
Bad-Kan byor-byed, is known as connecting Bad-Kan. Itís location is in the joints and itís function is in the movement of the joints, movements such as stretching and contracting. When it is not functioning properly it affects the movements of the joints, leading to stiffness.
This is a brief description of the type, location and function of the nyipa sum and their main sub-divisions. Once the nyipa sum are in balance then what we call the seven bodily constituents are also balanced.
Seven Bodily Constituents (Lus-zungs bdhun)
These are Ė
- Essential nutrients from ingested foodstuffs.
- Muscle tissues
- Fatty tissues
- Regenerative fluid
This process works and functions in the following way.
Essential nutrients nurture the other six bodily constituents; blood is the circulatory fluid which sustains our life and moisturises our body ; muscle tissue covers the body internally and externally like a plaster, otherwise without muscles we would be like a skeleton; fatty tissues lubricate our body internally and externally; bones help to support our body, with no bones we would not be able to stand; bone marrow helps us to generate hormones and regenerative fluid; regenerative fluid helps vitality and reproductive processes.
With the waste products there are three eliminating functions of waste.
- Elimination of faeces
- Elimination of urine
- Elimination of perspiration
Faeces helps to retain food in the small and large intestines, otherwise it will leak. Urine helps to bring waste products from out of our body. Perspiration cleans the pores and softens the skin.
The above seven bodily constituents and three eliminating functions are dependent on the strength of the rate of metabolism, or, in Tibetan, medroy, which means heat. In Tibetan medicine the most important heat is the digestive heat or the phoway medroy.
The Process of the Seven Bodily Constituents
First of all the Loong srog zin helps the process of swallowing food and drink and pushing it into the stomach, here the decomposing Bad-Kan which is located in the stomach, will break down the ingested food into a semi-liquid form. During this process the mixture is turned into froth and itís taste is sweet, this is because Bad-Kan is generated by the earth and water elements and it is these which generate the sweet taste. It is my opinion that if one eats too much sweet foods and drink it delays this stage of the digestive process and this in turn will lead to diabetes, where sugar is not absorbed by the body and circulates in the blood stream. For this reason Tibetan medicines treats this part of the digestive process and in regard to the treatment of diabetes it helps.
This sweet tasting mixture is then further digested and absorbed by the digestive mKhris-pa which is located in the small intestine in the jejunum. The nature of the digestive mKhris-pa is hot and this gives the chyme a sour or acidic taste. As with the previous stage, if someone eats too much acidic and spicy foods and drinks, it affects this stage of the digestive process and will lead to too much acid in the system, thus causing ulcers. This is the main stage of digestion and absorption and after this the Loong Me-mnyam will help to separate in our large intestine, the nutrients and waste products and during this stage the nutrients and waste products have a bitter taste.
The essential nutrients then divide into two; the essence of essential nutrients is absorbed through the small intestine to the liver where it produces blood, whilst the impure parts of the essential nutrients turn into mucus.
The essence of blood forms into muscle tissue whilst impure blood forms bile in the gall bladder.
The essence of muscle tissue forms into fatty tissue and the impure muscle tissue forms grit in the eyes and wax in the ears.
The essence of fatty tissue forms into bones and the impure fatty tissues forms cellulite and perspiration.
The essence of the bones forms into marrow and the impure bones forms into nails and hair.
The essence of marrow forms into regenerative fluid and the impure marrow turns into bodily oils which lubricate our skin and faeces.
The essence of regenerative fluid forms dhang, or vital essence. The dhang is located in the heart and circulates with the blood throughout our body. It helps prolong our life, promote the senses and vitality and in my opinion dhang is what comprises our immune system. The impure essence of regenerative fluid is used in the reproductive functions which produce sperm and ovum. In the West there are many men who have a weak sperm count and I think this is due to them eating poor quality food and also because of their stressful lifestyle; by contrast in the East, problems related to male fertility are few.
At the end of the process the waste products go to the colon and separate into faeces and urine. The faeces go through the sigmoid colon to the rectum and the urine goes through the kidneys to the urethra and to the urinary bladder.
We can now see how important it is for the digestive system to be strong, and in the Tibetan medical texts it is mentioned that the real physician is someone who can look after the patientís digestive system. For example if someone goes to a Tibetan physician with an arthritic problem, the physician will prescribe a medicine to be taken in the morning to help restore their digestive system. This is because lack of digestive heat leads to so many other problems, including arthritis, and in fact it can be said that every illness is connected to our digestive system. In regard to this I can say with full confidence that Tibetan medicine can be of great benefit to someone with chronic digestive related problems.
Recently I read a newspaper article saying that so many old people in the West die in the winter because of the cold. This is because as we get older our metabolic rate becomes slower, in the same way that other parts of our body diminish in strength and become weaker in their functioning. To prevent this and to restore the digestive heat Tibetan medicine has two traditional herbal formulas called Pomegranate 5 and Pomegranate Nutrient Restorer. These can be taken along with eating warm and cooked foods, rather than cold and raw foods and the metabolic rate will increase as a consequence. This is discussed more fully in the chapters on diet and lifestyle.
Taking care of our digestion is the key to good health and well being. Otherwise if what we eat is not digested properly, it goes down too quickly and causes diarrhoea, or it just stagnates within our digestive system, causing constipation. In this country constipation is very common, and naturally it is related to digestion, however people are often ashamed to admit they are constipated and thus have to suffer great discomfort.
Constipation is caused by eating an excess of processed foods, foods with preservatives, sugar, and starchy foods, and by not eating enough fresh fruit and vegetables and by not following a high fibre diet and not drinking enough water. It is also caused by mental stress, especially when we are so busy that we do not give ourselves enough time to relax and allow our bodyís eliminating functions to work properly after eating. When we eat too much sugar, either intentionally or unintentionally (for example a baked bean contains sugar) we can also suffer from constant constipation which can leave toxins in our system. These in turn cause parasites in our stomach which can further lead to candida, irritable bowel syndrome and colon cancer. To combat these kinds of illness we need to change our basic eating habits and increase our intake of fresh fruit and vegetables, pulses, cereals and drink plenty of water. At the same time we need to reduce our intake of sugar, red meat and starchy foods. Once our diet is well balanced we cease to have constant hunger and craving for sugary food.
This process shows how important it is for Loong, mKhris-pa and Bad-Kan to be kept in balance in order for the seven bodily constituents and the three eliminating functions to function normally and thus keep our mind and body in balance. It will give us health and longevity to enable us to fully enjoy our lives, accumulate the causes of material wealth and more importantly it will give us the opportunity to practise a spiritual life. Therefore our health is everything.