The Tibetan word for “science of healing,” Sowa Rigpa is professionally practiced under different names throughout Tibetan Buddhist Asia and, more recently, the world. It includes numerous Tibetan, Mongolian, Himalayan, and Siberian variations, all of which are based on the Gyü-shi, or Four Treatises. It acquired its contemporary form in Tibet during the first millennium CE, through a synthesis of Indian, Chinese, Greco-Persian, and indigenous Tibetan medical knowledge. Today, most Sowa Rigpa medicines are mass-produced in modern facilities, constituting a transnational industry worth around 1 billion USD.
Sowa Rigpa is officially recognized as part of the national health care systems of China, India, Mongolia, and Bhutan, but is also practiced in Nepal, parts of Siberia, and Tibetan and Mongolian diaspora communities around the world. In all its locations, it is a professionally organized health resource based on a complex and sophisticated system of medical theory, diagnosis, pharmacology, and treatment. Its practitioners are called “amchi,” and pass through rigorous medical training in formal 5-6 year college programs. Illness is diagnosed by pulse diagnosis, interrogation, and visual examination, and treated with mostly herbal pills or powders, dietary and behavioral advice, or external therapies.