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Glossary: Medical - Tibetan Medicine

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Amaravajra Devi: a long-life deity arising from the Chakrasamvara cycle of Tantras. She is slightly wrathful, white in colour, with eight faces and sixteen hands. Amaravajra Devi also belongs to the set of 'Thirteen Golden Dharmas' of the Sakya tradition.

Amitayus Buddha: belonging to the important and popular set known as the Three Long-life Deities: Amitayus, White Tara and Ushnishavijaya. There are also mandala practices such as the Nine Deity Mandala of Amitayus along with forms of the deity where he is embracing a consort. Rechungpa, the famous student of Milarepa, recieved a special practice tradition of Buddha Amitayus from Tipu Pandita while on a trip to India. Upon his return he passed the tradition on to Milarepa. This is known as the Rechung Tradition. As a meditational practice in the lower Tantras Amitayus primarily serves as a Long-life deity.


Ayurveda Medicine: a tradition of medicine that developed in India in the 1st millenium. It was popular with most religious traditions and had many Hindu and Buddhist commentators and contributors such as Arya Nagarjuna.

Bhurkumkuta: a meditational deity specifically employed in the eradication of sickness and disease. The deity arises from the Krodha Bhurkumkuta Raja Stotra Mantra text written in the Sanskrit language and then later translated into Tibetan, Chinese, Manchu and other languages [khro'i rgyal po sme rtsegs la bstod pa'i sngags. Lha sa bka' 'gyur, vol. 90, pages 586-588].

Blue Beryl Medical Charts: The Blue Beryl (vaidurya ngonpo), Ornament to the Mind of Medicine Buddha: Blue Beryl Lamp Illuminating Four Tantras is a commentary to the Four Tantras medical text. The Four Tantras was discovered as a 'Revealed Treasure' text (terma) by Draba Ngonshe in the 11th century. The Blue Beryl medical charts were designed and commissioned by Desi Sanggye Gyatso in the late 17th century. The visual charts were created some time after that but prior to his death in 1705. Sanggye Gyatso also wrote a companion text to the Blue Beryl called the Mirror of Beryl, A Well Explained History of the Glorious Science of Medicine, A Feast to Delight the Rishis where he discusses the history of Buddhist Medicine, Tibetan medicine and the reasons for writing a commentary to the Four Medical Tantras. He began writing the text of the Mirror of Beryl in 1702 and completed the work in 1703.

Blue Beryl - Fifteen Registers: there are four main sequential topics contained in the fifteen registers: Medicine Buddha and the early Indian Gods and Rishis, the Lineage of the Four Medical Tantras, the Yutog Nyingtig Lineage and the Deities and Protectors of the Yutog Nyingtig.

Chagpori Medical College: established as a training facility primarily for monks and scholars by the Desi Sanggye Gyatso in the late 17th century.

Charts: Charts are technical paintings, drawings or blockprints dealing with the subjects of protection, astrology and medicine.

Dalai Lama, 5th: Ngagwang Lobzang Gyatso (1617-1682), the Great Fifth Dalai Lama, was born in 1617 in Chongye, south of Lhasa. He is the first of the Dalai Lamas to have a significant influence on the Tibetan people. He united the three provinces of Kham, Amdo and Utsang under his leadership and government (Ganden Podrang). The Great Fifth was both a scholar and statesman. During his time the relationship between Tibet and its neighbors, India, China and Mongolia flourished. Another achievement by Ngagwang Lobzang Gyatso, and his regent Desi Sanggye Gyatso, was the construction of the Potala Palace. As the principal home of the Dalai Lamas and the largest structure in Tibet, the Potala Palace stands today as the icon of Tibet.

Desi Sanggye Gyatso: Desi Sanggye Gyatso (1653-1705): regent of Tibet after the passing of the 5th Dalai Lama and responsible for the building of the Potala Palace. Sanggye Gyatso was the 3rd and last Desi in the employ of the 5th Dalai Lama.

Draba Ngonshe: an 11th century Tibetan teacher that founded the Dratang Monastery and also discovered the Four Medical Tantras as 'terma' in the rafters of Samye Monastery.

Drang Song: (See Rishi):

Five Cleansing Deities: [1] Bhurkumkuta, [2] Green Vajravidarana, [3] Blue Vajravidarana, [4] Ushnishvijaya, and [5] Vajrasattva.

Four Medical Tantras: a set of books discovered by Drapa Ngonshe (11th century) as 'terma' Revealed Treasure of the Nyingma Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. The texts were discovered in the rafters of Samye Monastery. Many different versions of the Four Tantras existed after the 11th century. many versions were re-worked by aspiring medical practitioners or scholars. In the late 17th century the Desi Sanggye Gyatso wrote the Blue Beryl commentary to the Four Medical Tantras and proceeded to present it as the most definitive and accurate.

Gampopa Sonam Rinchen (1079-1153): the famous student of Milarepa was also a Tibetan physician and commonly referred to as Dagpo Lhaje, the 'Doctor of Dagpo.'

Garuda: a meditational deity believed to be especially efficacious with naga diseases, snake bite and various types of poisoning.

Healing Deities: Vajrasattva is the principal deity of purification for moral and ethical faults, however for specific defilements and sickness there is a wide range of specialized deities.

Janguli: a meditational deity employed in curing and protection from snake bite.

Long Life Deities: he Three Long-life Deities (Tibetan: tse lha nam sum) are Amitayus, White Tara, and Ushnishavijaya. There are many different forms for each along with dozens of transmission lineages from India and indigenous Revealed Treasure (Tib.: ter ma) traditions of Tibet.

Long Life Vase: a round vessel with a base and large flared top found as an attribute for Amitayus Buddha, Ushnishvijaya, Tangtong Gyalpo and several other deities and historical figures. The vessel contains long life nectar and a physical version is used during ritual ceremonies. The long-life vase is related to the initiation vase.

Manasa: the Indian Goddess of Serpents. Manasa has the same function of protecting against snakes and snake bite in various Indian religions that the goddess Janguli has in Tantric Buddhism.

Medicine Buddha: The depicted forms and ritual practices of Medicine Buddha are derived from the Bhaishajyaguru Sutra and according to Buddhist Tradition were taught by Shakyamuni Buddha. In the Vajrayana Buddhist Tradition this sutra is classified as Tantra literature and belonging to the Kriya classification. Many works under the Kriya classification are understood as being both sutra texts and tantra texts at the same time. Medicine Buddha imagery and practice is common to all of Tibetan and Himalayan Buddhism and has become particularly important to the mythology of the Tibetan Medicine traditions.

Medicine Trees (Blue Beryl): The Three Trees of the Blue Beryl Charts function as both a detailed outline of the medical text in general as well as a mnemonic device (memory aid) for remembering the order of the chapters and topics.

Medical Charts: (see Blue Beryl):

Mentse Khang College:

Mirror of Beryl: a history of Tibetan Medicine written by Desi Sanggye Gyatso. He began writing the text of the Mirror of Beryl in 1702 and completed the work in 1703.

Myrobalan Plant (arura): terminalia chebula, believed to be the most important, or potent, plant used in Tibetan medicine.

Nagas: serpent creatures that can appear either as snakes or half human as an upper torso and with a snake lower body. Belonging to the Animal Realm, they are believed to hold great wealth in undersea cities and also are capable of causing disease and misfortune.

Nageshvara Buddha: also known as Nagaraja (Tibetan: sang gye lu'i wang chug gyal po [bcom ldan 'das klu'i dbang phug rgyal po]. English: the Enlightened One, King of Nagas). This unusual buddha form has the unique blue body colouring and a face white in colour. He holds the two hands at the heart in a special gesture and the head is adorned with a hood of seven snakes. There are three primary purposes for practicing this meditational form of Nageshvara. The first is to employ Nageshvara as a meditational deity and remove defilements along with disease and obstacles created by naga spirits. Secondly, Nageshvara rituals are used to produce rain. Thirdly, Nageshvara is also employed in the creation of ritual vases with the intention of promoting environmental health and stability.

Ngar Pan Yontan Terma - Padmasambhava: a cycle of teachings belonging to the Nyingma Tradition where Padmasambhava is depicted in a variety of different forms, most notably as Vaishravana and the Medicine Buddha.

Obstacle Removing Deities:

Padampa Sanggye: a South Indian Buddhist teacher who spent time in Tibet. He was responsible for, or claimed to be, responsible for the introduction into Tibet of many magical/medical practices.

Padmasambhava as Medicine Buddha: the Ngar Pan Yontan Dzo 'Terma' Cycle teaches about a form of Padmasambhava where he appears in a similar appearance to the Medicine Buddha.

Parnashavari: Associated with the mysterious Shavari tribe of ancient India, the Forest Goddess, Parnashavari, with three faces and six hands, wears a skirt and a garland of thatched green leaves. She is associated with jungle tribes and the practice of healing, particularly curing contagious diseases. In the Himalayas and Tibet when a large group of people congregate to receive extended religious teachings, it is common to first give the initiation and blessing for the Forest Goddess in order to stave off sickness.

Prajnaparamita: associated with the Fifty-one Deity Mandala of the Medicine Buddha. Sometimes in painted depictions of the mandala the central figure of Medicine Buddha is replaced with the image of Prajnaparamita.

Purification Deities: the principal purification deities are the Thirty-five Confession Buddhas, Vajradaka, Vajrasattva and Vajravidarana, followed by the group known as the Five Cleansing Deities: Bhurkumkuta, Green Vajravidarana, Blue Vajravidarana, Ushnishavijaya and Vajrasattva.

Rasayana: The Ayurvedic and Tantric Buddhist system of extracting essences from various substances for the purpose of extending life, potency, subsisting on a meagre diet, or healing. Rasayana formulas containing elemental substances have been known to use mercury. Types of Rasayana include substances such as combined herbs and elements, stones, flowers, water, air, meditation and visualization.

Rishi (Drang Song): An Indian sage (rishi) as described in early Puranic and Brahmana literature is a male figure, generally elderly with white hair and a long white beard, wearing white clothing and living in the forests and mountains. They are easy to anger but regarded as a repository of ancient wisdom and learning. Rishis are referenced in the Ayurvedic and Tibetan Medicine Traditions. They play a role validating the early Indian origins and history of Tibetan medicine. The Tantric Buddhist protector deity Brahmanarupa Mahakala is modelled after an Indian rishi.

Shanglon Dorje Dudul: special protector of the Tibetan Medical Tradition, lineage and texts. There are two main forms of Shanglon. The first is a [1] seated wrathful figure that has three different forms: Outer, Inner and Secret. The second form is associated with the [2] Yutog Nyingtig and is a wrathful Mahakala-like deity that rides atop a horse and has a retinue of eight deities.

Simhamukha: a dakini, a female meditational deity with a lion face. In the Sarma traditions (Sakya, Kagyu, Gelug) she arises out of the Chakrasamvara cycle of Tantras and belongs to the Anuttarayoga 'wisdom' classification. In the Nyingma 'Treasure' tradition she is one of the many forms of Padmasambhava, specifically a secret form of Guru Rinpoche. The Sarma tradition Simhamukha is unrelated to the deity of the same name and appearance in the Nyingma tradition.

Simhanada Lokeshvara: belonging to the Kriya Tantra classification and arises from the Simahanada Tantra and the text of the Arya Avalokiteshvara Dharani. His primary activity is to remove sickness and disease especially illness caused by nagas. Jowo Atisha and Mal Lotsawa popularized the practice of Simhanada in the land of Tibet.

Situ Panchen Chokyi Jungne: 8th Tai Situpa, was particularly important in the development of Tibetan literature, grammar, medicine and art in eastern Tibet and as a sponsor in the commissioning of painting sets.

Surgical Tools: a variety of sugical tools are described in Tibetan medical literature and many more are depicted in the paintings of the Blue Beryl.

Svarodaya Tantra: of Shaiva origin thought to originate in Kashmir over a millennium ago. It is essentially a book of magic and tied very closely to astrology and the astrological magic of India. The subject of the text is also sometimes referred to as martial magic because of its origin in relation to a battle between the God Realm and the Asura Realm. The great Indian God Shiva is credited with the creation of the Svarodaya manuscript. The source of the text is a dialogue between Shiva and Shakti.

Tangtong Gylpo: Tsondru Zangpo (1385/61-1464/85) typically appears as an old man with long white hair, a long white beard, and depicted in a seated posture. Sometimes he is shown with a very dark brown complexion. There are no standard hand attributes for Tangtong Gyalpo, but, he sometimes holds a medicinal pill in the upraised right hand, or a link of chain in the right hand - extended across the knee. The left hand can hold a skullcup in the lap, a long-life vase, or a combination of the two. He is generally depicted in a very relaxed seated posture, the feet bare. Tangtong Gyalpo is known for creating many formulas for medicinal pills.

Tantric Medicine:

Terdag Lingpa: the founder of Mindrolling monastery, a prolific author and a revealer of hidden treasure teachings of the Nyingma Tradition. He was directly involved with the development of Tibetan Medicine in the 17th century working alongside the 5th Dalai Lama and Desi Sanggye Gyatso.

Trees: there are many ways that trees are depicted and used in art from mnemonic systems to wish-fulfilling.

Trees, Medicine (Blue Beryl): the Three Trees of the Blue Beryl Charts function as both a detailed outline of the medical text in general as well as a mnemonic device (memory aid) for remembering the order of the chapters and topics.

Ushnishavijaya: 'Victorious Crown Ornament,' is one of three special long-life deities along with the Buddha Amitayus and White Tara. This group is known as the Three Long Life Deities (Tibetan: tse lha nam sum). There are other deities associated with long life and healing but these three are commonly referred to as the principal deities and form their own group. The three were not formulated in India but rather popularized as a Tibetan iconographic convention.

Vajradaka: A deity of purification from the Vajradaka Tantra belonging to the larger category of the Chakrasamvara Cycle of Tantras. The physical sculpture of Vajradaka is a ritual piece used while performing one of several specific meditations involving purification. At a certain point in the ritual black sesame seeds are inserted into the mouth of the Vajradaka sculpture accompanied by the recitation of mantras. The black sesame seeds then fall through the hollow body of the metal sculpture and onto an incense pot filled with burning embers or coals. The seeds are burnt and the smoke rises upwards and dissipates just as the defilements and sins of the practitioner are imagined to be destroyed through the power of the ritual.

Vajrasattva: a Buddhist deity originating in India and primarily functioning universally as a Tantric practice for the purification of sins and defilements. Vajrasattva also has a number of forms used as meditational deities (ishtadevata, yidam).

Vajravidarana: a male meditational deity. He can appear as white and peaceful, green and semi-peaceful/semi-wrathful, or blue and wrathful. Four different forms are found in the Kriya classification of Tantra and one wrathful form with a seventy-five deity mandala in the anuttarayoga classification of Tantra.

White Beryl: an astrological text written/compiled by Desi Sanggye Gyatso.

White Tara: the female Buddha of longevity. Tara is a completely enlightened buddha and as a young bodhisattva she promised always to appear in the form of a female bodhisattva and goddess for the benefit of all beings and especially to protect from the eight fears. In this white form she appears specifically for the purpose of bestowing longevity. Practiced in all Schools of Tibetan Buddhism Tara is second in popularity only to Avalokiteshvara. Her practices are found in all classes of tantra - Nyingma and Sarma.

Yantra Yoga: the physical yoga of Tantric Buddhism as taught in the Anuttarayoga Classification of Tantra. The physical exercises of Yantra Yoga are more robust and dynamic than Indian Hatha Yoga.

Yoga: a word having many different meanings and uses in both art and religion: yoga appearance, yoga exercises, yoga meditations, etc.

Yutog Nyingtig: the 'heart essence' cycle of meditation practice and teachings derived from a 'Terma' Revealed Treasure text of the Nyingma Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. The text was revealed by Yutog Yontan Gonpo in the 12th century. The practices were later included into the Blue Beryl of Desi Sanggye Gyatso.

Yutog Yontan Gonpo (12th century): acknowledged as the Physician King of Tibet. There are allegedly two Yutog Yontan Gonpos - referred to as the Elder and Younger. The existence of the Elder Yutog (8th century) has been questioned by many scholars over the centuries. The younger Yutog (12th century) is the originator of the Yutog Nyingtig cycle of 'Revealed Treasure' teachings. It is most likely the case that all painted depictions, and sculpture, of Yutog Yontan Gonpo are depictions of the younger 12th century Yutog.

Jeff Watt 4-2014