Tibetan Medicine and Dharma

Recently I was on retreat and one of the teachers read this quote by Atisha, an 11th century Buddhist scholar and monk who helped the spread of Buddhism in Tibet. I like it and thought I would share it with you.

The greatest achievement is selflessness
The greatest worth is self mastery
The greatest quality is seeking to serve others
The greatest precept is continual awareness
The greatest medicine is emptiness of everything
The greatest action is not conforming with the worldly ways
The greatest magic is transmuting the passions
The greatest generosity is non-attachment
The greatest goodness is a peaceful mind
The greatest patience is humility
The greatest effort is not concerned with results
The greatest meditation is a mind that lets go
The greatest wisdom is seeing through appearances.

– Atisha

What does this have to do with Tibetan medicine?  Tibetan medicine is unique in its marriage of dharma and medicine.  It is said that it is only due to our ignorance, the fact that we haven’t perceived the selfless quality of our inherent Buddha nature that we are in a human body.  And it is the qualities of greed, hatred and delusion (desire, aversion, ignorance) that correspond to the three nyes pa of loong, tipa, and pakan in the body.  The fact that we have a body means that we automatically have the three nyes pa and that they are the ‘long distance’ or remote causes of illness.  When they are in balance then our health is good.  When they are out of balance then we suffer from ill health.

By practicing the dharma we can begin to balance our tendencies towards greed or desire, hatred or aversion, and delusion or ignorance.  We begin to become aware of our thoughts and motivations and to bring to bear some effort towards change.  By working with our mind, we develop some inner balance and this in turn is reflected in our bodily health and well-being.

That being said, it is also not at all necessary to be a Buddhist to receive help from Tibetan medicine.  Not only can the mind influence the body but the body can also influence the mind.  Tibetan herbs are very helpful for bringing balance in the body such that it helps insomnia, depression, anxiety and many other common disorders affected by the mind.  Likewise, the external therapies such as Tibetan Kunye (a form of massage) and horme (warming specific points) are extremely relaxing and calming to the system.    Sometimes just getting a really good, relaxing massage is just what we need for an attitude adjustment!