Tibetan Medicine

Tibetan Medicine


“Much has been written on Tibetan medicine, but all in a piecemeal fashion and often misrepresenting it as some kind of tribal medicine with no interaction with the world. We need to rectify this image and show how Tibetan medicine is relevant also beyond the Tibetan community.”

Dr. Dorjee Rabten


Tibetan medicine or “Sowa Rigpa” is one of the five major Tibetan sciences. It is a professionally organized health resource based on a highly complex and sophisticated system of medical theory, diagnosis and treatment. It acquired its contemporary form in 7th century Tibet through a synthesis of Ayurvedic, Chinese, Greek/Persian, and indigenous medical knowledge. Today, Tibetan medicine is practiced under different names in Tibet, China, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Mongolia, and Buryatia, as well as the Tibetan diaspora all around the world.

Tibetan medicine’s standard treatise is the Gyü-shi or Four Tantras, which is closely connected to Tibetan Buddhism. Its practitioners are called “amchi.” They diagnose illness by interrogation, visual examination, and pulse or urine diagnosis, and treat it mostly with herbal compounds, dietary advice or external therapies. This requires detailed knowledge of the medical texts, but also of the different potencies of foods, behaviors and pharmaceutical ingredients.

Tibetan medicine has always been a dynamic science of healing, adapting its materia medica, practice, theory and institutional organization to different geographical, cultural, and political contexts. It underwent dramatic changes during the past century, beginning with the 13th Dalai Lama’s modernization efforts, through the Chinese annexation of Tibet, the Cultural Revolution, and exile to its more recent engagements with modern science, globalization, and industrialization.