Tara Rokpa's links with TTM


Its History and Origins
from Wellcome Foundation's Medical History

Under King Srong-btsan sGam-po,* the Tibetan alphabet was adapted from the Sanskrit Devanagari letters by Thonmi Sambhota who had gone to India and studied there. King Srong-btsan sGam'po's Queen, a Chinese princess, brought the medical text called Sman-dpyad Chen-mo (Great Analytical Treatise on Medicine) from China, and it was translated into Tibetan by Ha-shang Mahadeva and Dharmakosha. He invited the following three great doctors to his Court:

   from India Bharadhaja,
   from China Han-wang-Hang and
   from Persia Doctor Galenos. (Born in A.D. 603. Perhaps a Persian translator of Galen, or a pen-name adopted by a Persian doctor)

Each translated a book in their own way into Tibetan:

   The Indian doctor's texts were called hBu-shag-ma Bu Chhe-chhung (Big and Small Louse Gravel) and sByor-wa Mar-gsar (Preparation of New Butter),
   the Chinese doctor's text was called rGya-dpyad Thor-bu Chhe-chhung (Treatise of Great and Small Scattered Chinese Surgery),
   the Persian doctor's were called mGo-snon bsDus-pa (Collection of Main Additions) and The Treatment for Cock, Peacock and Parrot.
   And from the discussion between the three doctors they composed a medical text called Mi-hjjigs-pa'i mTs'on-chha (The Weapon of the Fearless One), comprising seven chapters, and presented it to the King.

They received presents from the King, took their leave, and went home, except for Galenos who stayed behind as the King's Court Physician. He settled down in Lhasa, married and had three sons: the oldest one he sent to the upper gTsang district where he married a member of the Bi-byi lineage, as a result of which it was continued from there. The middle one he sent south of Tibet, to gYor-po, which started the lineage of the Southern doctors. The youngest one




stayed with his father and they called him Jo-rong and he continued the lineage at Lhasa. At that time the King ordered a few Tibetan boys to learn Medicine and they were awarded two doctor titles: hTs'o-byed or sMan-pa, and he gave them twelve presents. Brang-ti was a court official and physician of King Khri-lde gTsug-btan who became king in A.D. 704. His teachingwas passed down through his family lineage, and later members of his lineage wrote his system down, and the ensuing book was called Brang-ti-hi-Pod-khra-Pod-dmar. After that, the son of King Mes-'ag Ts'om, whose name was lJang-ts'a, married a Chinese princess called Gyim-shang Kong-jo who brought with her medical and astrological texts which were then translated by Ha-shang Ma-ha sKyin-da and rGya-phrug Gar-mkhan and Khyung-po rTsi-rtsi and lChog-la sMon-hbar. Simultaneously, Champashila, in Tibetan called Bi-byi, was invited with many disciples from Khrom, a province in Eastern Tibet. He translated the rGyudShel-gyi Me-long (Crystal Mirror Treatise), comprising fifty chapters, then he added forty-two chapters on the anatomy of the upper part of the body and twenty-five chapters on the anatomy of the lower part of the body. This was presented to the King. They covered it with silk and put it into a box studded with jewels and called it The Treatment-Preserving Text. When Champashila was made Court Physician, the King ordered that the following six rules should be always observed:
(i) The court physician should be on all occasions offered the seat of honour.
(2) He should have the best cushions.
(3) He should be offered the best food.
(4) He should be taken and returned by horse.
(5) His fees should be paid in gold.
(6) Gratitude to him should be always remembered. Conversely, the doctors should treat their patients with compassion as if they were their own sons and not look out for food and other things in their patients' houses.

Later Champashila became regent of Tibet for some time. The descendants of Doctor Bi-byi increased in number. He had three disciples called Shang lHa-mo gZigs, sTong-bsher Mes-po, and Brang-ti rGyal-mnyes. Later on they lived in Eastern Tibet to watch the Chinese border for four years. In return the King presented them with the medical text rGyud Shel-kyi Me-long (Crystal Mirror Treatise), and the rMa-bchos-ma Bu (The Surgeon's Son) and other presents. He made them his Court Physicians and released them from the Army. During the time between King Mes-'ag-ts'oms (flourished A.D. 710) and the coronation of King Khri-srong-lde-btsan (A.D. 754), many texts were translated which have been preserved in Tibet. No names are given here as the list would be too long.

King Khri-srong-lde-btsan was thirteen years old when he was crowned. He invited Padmasambhava and Santarakshita from India and built bSam-yas Monastery, the first monastery in Tibet. Padmasambhava also wrote a text called bDud-rtsi'i sNying-po (Nectar Essence) and other medical works. In Eastern India bStan-pa'i bLo-gros wrote a book on medicine called Dri-med gZi-byid (Pure Splendour). In Uddiyana the pandit Jinamitra wrote the gSo-stong dGu-bchu rTsa-gchig (One Root Curing Nineteen Thousand). And during this time many others spread and preserved the teaching of Medicine also in India.

Padmasambhava prophesied the birth of Vairochana whose father's name would be Pa-gor He-hdod and whose mother's name would be Branka-bzah sGron-skyid, and who would become a great translator. He would be found in the district where the rivers gTsang-nyang-chhab and gTsang-chhab meet. The king sent out his messengers and they found an eight-year-old boy fitting the description, and when he was nine years old he was brought before the king. They trained him and he learned Sanskrit from Padmasambhava and Santarakshita till he was fifteen and he became very learned and became a novice in the Order of Monks. Then he was sent to India with all the equipment and bars of gold necessary for the journey in order to bring the Teaching to Tibet. He met twenty-five panditas on the way and had religious instruction from all of them, especially from pandit Zla-ba mNGon-dgah from whom he learned the rGyud-bzhi and other medical texts and brought them to Tibet. And he translated them all into Tibetan and presented them to the King and to Padmasambhava. But Padmasambhava said: 'This is not the time to teach these great life preservers. People are not ready for them. It would be better to hide them for a later age. Let us hide them in the chalice-shaped pillar on the rooftop of Samye Monastery.' And they prayed that in the future the right person should find them in the pillar, take them out and study and spread their teaching.

King Khri-srong-lde-btsan thought: 'Before my time a system of medicine was created by my ancestors. Now that I have all the medical texts which have not yet been translated into Tibetan, I should develop this further and have them translated. He sent messengers with gold out to bring doctors from different countries: from India came Santigarbha, from Kashmir Guhyavajra, from China sTong-gsum Gang-ba and Ha-sha Ba-la and Han-ti Pa-ta, from Persia Halashanti, from Guge Seng-mdo 'Od-chhen, from Dol-po came Khyol-ma Ru-tsi, from Nepal Dharmashala. Then he invited them to his palace and asked them to translate medical texts from their own language into Tibetan:

    Santigarbha translated the Bas-sgrom sMug-po'i rGyud and other texts,
    the Kashmir doctor translated the dPyad-hphreng Sel-bar-byed-pa Mun-pa'i sGron-me (A Wreath of Treatments as a Torch to Dispel the Darkness) and other texts.
    The Persian doctor translated the mGo-bchos Mu-stegs kyi sKor brGyad-pa rTsa-hgrel (Commentary to the non-Buddhist Text on Head Treatment in Eight Sections).
    The Guge doctor translated the Nag-po'i rGyud-gsum (Three Black Treatises) and other texts.
    The Dol-po doctor translated the Mi-hJigs-pa brGyad-kyi m Ts' on-chha (The Fearless eightfold System of Surgery).
    The Nepalese doctor translated the hGram-pa-ti (Treatment of Male and Female) and
    the Chinese doctor translated the sByor-ba'i hPhreng-ba (The Wreath of Preparation) and so on.

They put the translations into a box made of the wood of acacia catechu and said: 'These are the texts of the King's life preservers' and had a number of intelligent boys trained in medicine: from the upper part of Tibet Chher-rje Shig-po and Hug-pa Chhos-bzang and Bi-chhe Legs-mgon, from Central Tibet gYu-thog Yon-tan mGon~po, Mi-nyag Rong-rje and Brang-ti rGyal-bzang, and from Lower Tibet gNyah-pa Chhos-bzang and mThah-bshi Dar-po and sTong-pa Grags rgyal. These became the nine learned Tibetan doctors, the King's court physicians.

King Khri-srong-lde-btsan's chief physician was the Chinese doctor sTonggsum Gang-ba who had composed a medical text called gSo-ba dkar-po lam-gyi sgron-ma on the way from China and had presented it to the King. He cured the King's illness and was called mThah-bzhi-sTong-gsum-gang-wa. The King, who so named him because he did the work of four foreign Doctors, gave him land called gYer-stod-j. He settled there and his descendants were called mThah-bzhi sman-pa (Foreign Doctors).

In the Tibetan religious tradition there was a break at the time of King gLang-dar-ma who destroyed all religious institutions, and the teachings had afterwards to be brought back from abroad. The teaching up to gLangdar-ma was sna-dar (early propagation of the doctrine) and after gLang-darma, phyi-dar (late propagation of the doctrine). Such a break did not however occur in the Tibetan medical tradition which has been continuous from King Srong-btsan-sgam-po until today. Therefore there is no distinction between the earlier and later teaching for medicine. During King Lha-bla-ma Ye-shes-hod's reign in the latter half of the tenth century A.D., the Indian pandit Dharma Sri Varma and sNye-bo lo-tsa-ba* dByig-gi Rin-chen and Mar-lo Rig-pa gZhon-nu and other lotsa-bas translated the Commentary on the medical text yan-lag Brgyad-pa'i Snying-po bsDus-pa (Collection of the Essence of the Eight Branches).

After this, the great translator Rin-chen bZang-po was born in Guge. When he was seventeen years old he went to India and stayed there for ten years. He received instruction from seventy-five panditas, amongst them the great pandita Naropa. Rin-chen bZang-po was the most influential religious founder and translator during the later period. He offered a hundred gold srang to the Kashmir pandita Janardana and learned from him 120 chapters of the yan-lag Brgvad-pa'i Snying-po bsDus-pa and its commentary Zla-ba-hi Hod-zer (Moon Light), written by the pandita Zla-ba mNGon-dgah and by this he furthered the teaching of Medicine in Tibet greatly. He taught his chief disciple Zhang-zhung-pa Shes-rab Hod who taught rGya-ston Grags-pa Shes-rab who wrote the medical commentary on the rGyud-bzhi called gSer-gyi Bang-mdzod and a history of medicine and some other works. He passed the teaching on to gYu-thog rGya-gar rDo-rje. gYu-thog rGya-gar rDo-rje passed it on to gYu-thog brJid-po who taught mGar-po from whom subsequently the teaching of medicine was carried on. Among Rin-chen bZang-po's many disciples were Myang-hdas Seng-ge Sgra, Stag-bri Ye-shes, also called Shag-khri Ye-shes, hByung-gnas, 'Ongman 'A-ye and Mang-mo Mang-btsun. These four were called the four great Nan doctors as they came from the district of Nan. The most learned and famous of them was Mang-mo Mang-btsun, and from all parts of Tibet people flocked to learn from him. Though he had many pupils there was one whom he taught all the theory and practice of medicine, and that was Chher-rje-ti-pa who passed the teaching on to Chher-rje Shang-ston Shig-po who wrote a history of Tibetan Medicine and a medical book called bKa' s'om. His disciple gTsang-stod Dar-ma mGon-po wrote a medical work called Zin-tig and another one called Yang-tig, and during his presence the Bo-dong district flourished.

Since the start of the lo-tsa-ba Rin-chen bZang-po's lineage, the teaching of Medicine increased more and more all over Tibet. Some time later the central and the northern districts harboured the following nine famous doctors: gYo-ru, gYah-gyong-po, Su-ma-sman from sTod-lung, gYu-thog rGya-gar rDo-rje, Mi-nyag Zla-grags, Brang-ti rGyal-po, Chhos-rje Lhun-ne, Hug-spa Chhos-seng and Chher-rje Stag-la-dgah. They practised lo-tsa-ba Rin-chen's method, and many Tibetan medical texts based their teaching on that of lo-tsa-ba Rin-chen bZang-po. But the two doctors Shang-ston gZi Brjid-hbar from Yar-lung and sTod-ston dKonchog Skyabs from Ts'a-lung were not satisfied with learning from a Tibetan doctor and went to India. Shang-ston gZi Brjid-hbar went to Nalanda, and the pandita Chandrasiha (also called Chandravi) taught him medicine. The way he had met him was as follows: After arriving in India he asked who was the best teacher and was given the name of the Rishi Chandravi. He went and sat down in a grass hut in front of Chandravi's door for seven days. When the great teacher asked him why he sat there, he said he wanted to be taught medicine, and the Rishi taught him the Yan-lag brGyad-pa from his own knowledge, without the aid of books. Then Shang-ston gZi Brjid-hbar asked him to teach it to him once more, this time with the book, and to teach him the essence of the instructions and the practice. He taught him everything and asked him to write about medicine and to help the sick. And he returned to Tibet and wrote many books.

Later gTer-ston Gra-pa mNon-shes took the rGyud-bzhi out from the central pillar in Samye Monastery as had been prophesied by Padmasambhava, and he taught dbUs-pa Dar-grags and the teaching was handed down through his lineage to the Second gYu-thog Yon-tan mGon-po. And sTod-ston met Shintipa and became very well versed in the text Yan-lag Brgyad-pa. Shah wrote the commentary called Zla-ba Hod-gser on the gZhung dri-med gZi-brjid, and many scholars descended from his teaching in an uninterrupted line. sTod-ston wrote the Sa-bched bsDus-don Rin-chen phreng-ba and notes on the gZhung dri-med gZi-brjid. It was he who later taught gYu-thog Yon-tan mGon-po.

The Second gYu-thog Yon-tan mGon~po (i.e. the Younger gYu-thog who lived during the eleventh century, a descendant and reincarnation of the hero of this biography) was born in gTsah as the son of Kyung-bu rDo-rje and Pad-ma Hod-ldan. At his birth the great rishis and the medical goddesses and many other gods appeared in the sky and they poured nectar over him and washed him, and rainbows enveloped him. As soon as he was born he recited the Medicine Buddha's mantra and displayed the activities of a bodhisattva. When he was three years old he kept playing 'doctor' with the other children and took their pulse, examined their urine, diagnosed diseases and collected medicinal plants and minerals. Wherever he went, the place smelt of medicinal plants. His religious knowledge was very good, especially the branch dealing with the teachings of Medicine. He became like the Medicine Buddha himself, and people called him hJam-dbyangs (gentle-voiced) gYu-thog Yon-tan mGon-po (the Excellent Protector). After he had reached the age of eighteen, he went to India six times, and learned a great number of medical texts from the dakini dPal-ldan hPhreng-ba, and also to Ceylon to learn their version of the rGyud bzhi from the rishi gSer-gyi Go-chha and many other medical texts, and he was protected by the dakini from all troubles. When he came back, Medicine began to flourish in Tibet and he himself wrote a great number of medical texts, as for instance the rGyud kyi Chha-lag bChos-brgyad. He taught it to the chief disciple amongst his many disciples, whose name was Sum-ston Ye-shes Zung. He died at the age of seventy-six and ascended to lTa-na-sdug without leaving his body. After his death his lineage flourished for some time.

His disciple Ye-shes-zung composed a very secret history of gYu-thog's life and teachings and a commentary on the hBum Chhung gSal-sgron and on the bShad rGyud (Explanatory Treatise), a part of the rGyud-bzhi, and other medical texts. In the fourteenth century there were two famous doctors, Byangs-pa and Zur-mKhar-pa. Byangs-pa was born as the seventh in the lineage of King Mi-nyag Se'u rGyal-po, as the son of Gung-chhos Grags-dpal-bzang and hBum-skyon rGyal-mo, the daughter of Se-tu Chhos-rin in the wood pig year of the seventh rab~byung (i.e. 60-year cycle). When he was small none of his activities were like those of ordinary children. His teacher was Lo-chhen Byang-chhub Rtse-mo and his blood relative bsTan-pa'i rGyal-mts'an. He became very famous during the reign of the Second Dalai Lama dGe-hdun rGya-mts'o (1391-1475), who discussed many questions with him. He composed medical texts called gSo-rig sNying-po bsDus-pa, comprising 120 chapters, and a commentary on the bShad-rgyud, and one on the Phyi-rgyud. He put new life into Medicine by the teaching, discussing and writing of medical works. He lived for eighty-one years and had many disciples. Among them was the court physician Byams-pa dKon-chog Rin-chhen who, descended from Srong-btsan sGam-po, in the line of kings of Tibet, had many teachers and became very learned in science and philosophy and was especially learned in all Tibetan medical texts. His son bKra-shis dPal-bzang was also learned in medicine, having been taught it by his father. He wrote a commentary on the bShad-rgvud, called Legs-bshad Nor-bu, and a commentary on the Phyi-rgyud, and a history of Tibetan Medicine, and a commentary on the whole of the rGyud-bzhi.

The teaching remained mostly that of the original Yan-lag brGyad-pa up to the time of sTod-sman hTs'o-byed gZhon-nu. Then it declined a little. Lha-btsun bKra-shis dPal-bzang and other doctors wrote commentaries on medical texts, and in this way the teaching recovered. The doctors founded a new system called the Byang-lugs. Doctor Zur-mKhar-ba mNyam-Nyidr Do-rje wrote a commentary on the rGyud-bZhi and other medical texts. He had eight chief disciples and many others. His system was called after him Zur-lugs-pa. The Byang-lugs and the Zur-lugs continued for a long time uninterruptedly. But during the Fifth Dalai Lama's reign (1617-1682) there was a decline. The Fifth Dalai Lama's first institution of a medical school was at dGah ldan pho-brang in the hBras-spungs monastery. There he put Nyi-thang Drungchhen bLo-bzang rGya-mts'o in charge. Then he started a medical school in a country house called bsam-grub tse. The regent, sDe-srid Sangs-rgyas rGya-mts'o (1653-1705), wrote a commentary on the rGyud-bzhi called the Vaidhurya s.Ngon-po (Blue Lapislazuli), and other texts. He practised the byang-lugs and the zur-lugs. At that time the Fifth Dalai Lama had as a court physician Dhar-mo sMan-rams-pa bLo-bzangChhos-grags, who saw to the printing of the life story of the first and second gYu-thogs and composed some other texts.

But the Fifth Dalai Lama wanted to build a suitable complex of buildings for a medical college and a hospital. To find a suitable place, sDe-srid Sangsrgyas rGya-mts'o circumambulated Lhasa by order of the Dalai Lama. When he came to the place called lChags-po-ri, he sat down to take a rest. Suddenly he had a vision of the place looking like lTa-na-sdug. He went to the Fifth Dalai Lama and told him all about his good omen for a suitable place to build a medical college on. The Dalai Lama was very pleased and, for the sake of all Tibetans, he gave the permission to build it on the mountain of lChags-po-ri. Then sDe-srid Sangs-rgyas decreed that from that time onwards each bigger monastery near Lhasa and in each district should receive from that medical college a doctor of its own. These were the beginnings of Public Health in Tibet. Medicine flourished there since that time until 1959. In his Medical History of Tibet, sDe-srid Sangs-rgyas rGya-mts'o says that in the Biography of gYu-thog the story of the rope between heaven and earth and the coming down of Dam-pa Tog-kar and the story of the wheels and the twenty-one-headed raksha king, and the distance of lTa-na-sdug from Buddhagaya are of the same character as the myths in the Vedas; but that from the account of the life of Dung-gi Thor-chog-chan onwards, everything is true.

Under the Thirteenth Dalai Lama (1895-1933) Tibetan medicine flourished because during his reign the new medical college at Lhasa, called sMan-rtsis-khang (House of Medicine and Astronomy), was built by mKhyen-rab Nor-bu. mKhyen-rab Nor-bu was born in the Lho-kha region south of Lhasa in 1882. As a boy he became a monk at the Lnga mchhod Dra-ts'ang Monastery south of Lhasa. Within two years he learned reading and writing perfectly. At the age of fourteen he went with his parents on a pilgrimage to Lhasa. During their visit to the lChags-po-ri Medical College, he felt the strong wish to stay there and study medicine. He asked for and received permission to become a student there. Within two years he learned the complete rGyud-bzhi by heart and passed his examination. Then he studied the rGyud-bzhi under His Holiness's court physician Thub bstan rGyal-mts'an. With his teacher he went through the rGyud-bzhi page by page and had every word explained to him, and within four years he gained complete comprehension of it. Surrounded by teachers, doctors and students, he passed his final examination without making the slightest mistake. With his own hands, His Holiness's court physician presented him with a scarf and his doctor's degree certificate. Congratulating him, he said: 'You will most certainly become a shining light in medical science!' He also learned Sanskrit, grammar, astronomy, and became extremely knowledgeable and well-versed in Buddhist literary tradition and history. He thought: 'Now I ought to found a college of medicine and astronomy. In this way I would be of great benefit to the Tibetan people, the Buddhist religion and also the Tibetan government.' He wrote to His Holiness's Cabinet asking for the permission and funds to build a college and halls of residence for students and a grant for books, apparatus etc. His Holiness, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, was very pleased with this idea and granted everything needed. He commended the building of the college to the protection and attention of his Government. At the age of thirty-three, mKhyen-rab Nor-bu was able to start building the sMan-rtsis-khang College in bsTan-rgyas-gling near the gTsug-lag-khang, the most famous temple in Lhasa, which had been built by Srong-btsan sGam-po's queen in the seventh century. The College contained lecture halls, a hospital, living quarters for teachers and students, laboratories, store rooms, and so on. The Government issued a decree permitting the college to receive one student from each provincial monastery, altogether 150 students, and also any private students who wished to study there. It was given the name of Medical and Astronomical College. The College was of great benefit to many people.