The Basics of Tibetan Medicine

The basics of Tibetan medicine involce a holisticapproach that strives to not only treat the symptoms of disease, but to locate and treat the root cause of these symptoms. This root cause often can’t be found in our body, but in our mind. It can be affected by various poisons like anger, pride and ignorance, which in turn cause physical symptoms. Tibetan medicine has found its own way to eliminate the root of disease with meditation and awareness.
The Basics of Tibetan Medicine

Ayurveda, the Indian alternative medicine, has become quite popular in the West. But what not many people know is that just a little bit north in Tibet we can also find an ancient medicine system. One of the basics of Tibetan medicine is to examine the patient holistically. It also groups the body along the four elements earth, water, fire and air. The principle of Tibetan medicine is to find a person’s center and to balance the poisons of the mind.


The Relationship Between Mind and Body

There are two things far removed from our mind. One is the body and the other is death, which are, of course, closely connected. For example, if your body is sick, you take it to a doctor who we assume to understand our own body better than we do and to heal it. But ideally, you, the ones who live inside your own body, should know our bodies best.

A first step for this is meditation, which can bring the mind “home”, so it fills its vessel, the body. 

Therefore, meditation practices begin with breathing and continue with body-sensing to get into the body. Unfortunately, the average person today is unaware of the structure of their own bodies and the location of their organs.

The goal of Tibetan medicine is to reverse this.


mortar basics of tibetan medicine+

Health and the Four Elements in Tibetan Medicine

According to the basics of Tibetan medicine, there are two kinds of health: ultimate and relative. Ultimate health is when we become enlightened, free, cleansed of our poisons. Our mind is freed from all kinds of urges and compulsions. The Buddha succeeded in this kind of enlightenment through in-depth meditation.

Relative health is about the various poisons that live in us and balancing them. There are physical, emotional and conscious poisons. In this we can strive for a balance between them.

In Tibetan medicine physical toxins can be grouped into four elements and four states.

For example, the dominant element can be determined just from the state of your hand:

  • cold-dry: earth element (anxiety)
  • cold-wet: water element (panic)
  • warm-wet: air element (pride)
  • warm-dry: shift towards fire element (anger)

The first level of Tibetan medicine is the diagnosis of these symptoms and the proportions of the ancestral elements in a person. Cold/warm and dry/wet sensations are mainly observed, and from these it is possible to perceive in which element the disposition is.

But the best medicine does not only treat symptoms, but researches and eliminates the causes of the symptoms. There is a correlation between external and internal elemental manifestations. We distinguish four types of pain according to the four primordial elements: pressure, dull, stinging, and burning pain (earth, water, air, fire).


Different Poisons as the Root of Disease

Tibetan medicine distinguishes between two types of poisons that can affect the mind.

The 5 emotional poisons: anger, pride, jealousy, desire and doubt. They can even lead to death. They hurt, they give birth to karma. They make people small-minded and unbalanced. Signs of tension in the physical body, excessively tense muscles. (Kinesiology is specialized in these symptoms.)

These emotional poisons can cause constant tension in our body and through this tension even restrain the free, deep flow of our breath. 

The 3 consciousness poisons: ignorance, attraction, repulsion. These can also be time-related problems. Chewing on the past causes indigestion, our vision is related to breathing, while the present is represented by time in the heart. A healer should allow the toxins to level off and there should be no shift in either direction, instead balance should be achieved.

First, we need to observe ourselves with due vigilance. Then, if we succed in this, we will be able to diagnose others. Of course, diagnosing ourselves and others is only possible by acquiring the right knowledge and practice!


How to Diagnose Disease in Tibetan Medicine

Each disease consists of two factors, an imbalance and a disturbance of the mind. These are the causes of suffering: karma, desire, ego, a veil of mistakes. Trisna (desire, longing) causes imbalances, and avidja (ignorance) causes disturbances of the mind. This imbalance of the elements is solved by the samatha (calmness of the mind), the disturbances of consciousness by the vipassana meditation techniques.

We need to look at what a disease blocks us from and what it forces us to do. The diagnosis should be holistic. For this we examine five things that may indicate an imbalance: the patient’s environment (space), events (time), body (physique), emotional state (speech), mental state (consciousness).

The disease consists of symptoms, however, it is not the symptoms that need to be treated, but their root causes. They need to be mapped. If we relax and observe the symptoms (satipatthana), we can deduct the root causes from there.


The Division of the Organs

Tibetan medicine divides the organs in four groups with an element assigned to each.

  • Rhythm organs: lungs, heart, circulation – moved by air.
  • Filter organs: liver, kidneys – gained by the earth’s function.
  • Alkaline, drainage organs: small intestine, colon – water element.
  • Acidic, bladder organs: bladder, gallbladder, stomach – fire.

It is important to know where these are located in the body. The body also consists of 7 constituents that sustain life processes:  skin, blood, muscle, fat, bone, bone marrow, genital secretions. 

A basic practice in Buddhism is to observe the body (vipasana), along with which we also practice its acceptance. Most people today do not observe their bodies, so they have no exact idea of ​​their illness. Visualize your internal organs and observe your senses!


tibet mountains basics of tibetan medicine


Diseases and Healing in Tibetan Medicine

According to the basics of Tibetan medicine the cause of illness always starts with a state of consciousness, emotion and discouragement. By the time the body becomes ill the problem has already run through the “system” and the process of self-healing could begin if we did not prevent it. 

So the physical symptoms that we consider diseases already mean healing according to the basics of Tibetan medicine. In Buddhism, veils that limit us from seeing clearly are diseases. Each patient is given a different therapy, taking into account all personal circumstances (holistic diagnosis).

Yoga and meditation are both great ways for a holistic healing approach to our body and mind. Check out one of the best yoga studios in Budapest and try it yourself! 


The article was prepared using the following literature, which is also recommended for a deeper understanding of the topic:

TKBF Tibetan Medicine Lesson Note

Csögyal Namkhai Norbu, 2010. Birth, Life and Death, Budapest: Hungarian Dzogchen Community

Pema Dorje, 2009. Tibetan Spiritual Medicine, Budapest: Tericum published by

Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, 2004. Medicine Buddha Teachings, New York, Boulder, Colorado: Snow Lion Publications Ithaca


The information provided in writing is not a substitute for the treatment and in case of health complaints consult a doctor or specialist.



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