Protected by the world’s highest mountain ranges, Tibetan medicine has preserved an unbroken
tradition since it s introduction from India in the seventh century. The Venerable Rechung
Rinpoche has here provided translations of the most important Tibetan medical texts, including
indexes of plants, other medical texts and persons, and a brief history of Tibetan medicine,
supplemented by a bibliography of western works on the subject. A major part of the volume is
occupied by the biography of the Great Physician-Saint g Yu-thog the Elder (C.E..786-911), who
spread medical science throughout Tibet. Poetic and imaginative features characteristic of Tibetan
literature compose this narrative. The volume also includes translations from the Second and Forth
Books of the rGyud-bzhi, a work that is thought to have been derived from Sanskrit sources, but
survives only in Tibetan and Mongolian, the Mongolian version being clearly a translation from the
Tibetan one. Illustrations, including a series of intricate Tibetan anatomy diagrams, lend further
appeal to the volume.
The Venerable Rechung Rinpoche was born in Lhasa into an aristocratic family and was acknowledged
at the age of thirteen as an Incarnation of former incumbent of Rechung Monastery South of Lhasa.
He is thus recognized as he fourteenth Incarnation of Rechungpa, who told the story of the great
Yogi Milarepa (C.E.1140-1223). He is also one of the most distinguished members of the Tibetan
religious hierarchy and has been Director of the Sikkim Research Institute of Tibetology at
Gangtok, Sikkim, until his retirement in 1994.
The chief part of this book is a translation of the biography of the Elder gYu-thog yon-tan
mGon-po, the famous court physician of king Khri-sron-Ide-btsan who lived during the eight century
A.D. The Elder gYu-thog Yon-tan mGon-po visited India three times. He met and had discussions with
many learned Pandits, and thus widened his knowledge of Buddhism and especially of medicine. On
his return to Tibet he spread medical science throughout the country and shared his knowledge with
The first edition was published in hard covers by the Wellcome Institute for the History of
Medicine, London, and the University of California, Berkeley, in 1973. In 1976 the University of
California republished the book in a paperback edition. The present hardback edition published by
the Indian Books Centre is an enlarged and revised edition. Bibliographies of the most recent
books and articles on Tibetan Medicine have been added. The book has been provided with indexes of
plant names. As the plant names in the text are usually Latin, (or else English where a plant is
well – known in English), so as to be accessible to the non – Tibetan reader, there are
Latin/English-Tibetan; and Tibetan-Latin/English indexes. The introduction has been replaced by a
The first block print or xylograph of the Biography of the Elder gYu-thog Yon-tan mGon-po was made
by Dar-mo sMan-pa acquired the manuscript of the Biography of the Elder gYu-thog Yon-tan mGon-po
from a descendant of the latter, whose name was Lhun-grub bKras-shis. Having corrected the
manuscript, Dar-mo sMan-pa had the first block prints made during the seventeenth century. Until
the Communist Chinese occupied Tibet the blocks were preserved at the Lhasa Zhol par-khan
(printing house). This is the text used for the present translation (Wellcome Tibetan 4 and India
Office Library Lhasa J12). It is printed on both sides of 149 leaves, each 51.5 by 10cm or 21.35
by.4.15 inches, with six lines on each side. A second print was later made in sDe-dge in the
district Khan. The date is unknown.
In the introduction I have include the following:
(a) The History of Tibetan medicine from its origin up to modern times, which has not been written
in English before.
(b) A slightly shortened adaptation of the bShad-rygud, with added passages from the Blue Beryl
written by sDe-srid Sans-rgyas rGyas rGya-mts’o.
(c) A similar adaptation of the two importance chapters from the Phyi-rgyud; the examination of
the pulse and urine, forming the basis of Tibetan medicine and medical practice.
(d) A series of Anatomy diagrams.
First and foremost I owe my deepest gratitude to the Wellcome Institute for the History of
Medicine for awarding me a Research
Fellowship enabling me to achieve my wish to carry out and complete this work. The Wellcome
Institute has contributed a great deal towards the preservation of Tibetan culture since much has
been lost since the Chinese Communist occupation of Tibet.
My greatest thanks go to Miss Marianne Winder, former keeper of Oriental Manuscripts in the
Wellcome Institute, for her unfailing assistance and help throughout my work of translation. Miss
Winder, a scholar, has knowledge of several languages including Sanskrit, Pali and Tibetan. I was
very fortunate to have had her assistance, and it was indeed a pleasure to work with her.
My gratitude goest to the two Tibetan doctors, Dr. hJam-dbyans Legs-pa’I bLo-gros from Ladakh and
Dr. hjam-dbyans Sen-ge from sDe-dge in Kham, whom I consulted in order to clarify my doubts and
difficulties during the translation of the Commentary to the bShad-rgyud and the Phyi-rgyud.
I thank Rai Bhadur Densapa, a learned Buddhist scholar, for giving me the loan of his manuscripts
from his vast collection of rare manuscripts for reference during my work.
I should also like to thank the late Rhenock Kazi Tse Ten Tashi, Sikkim, who has assisted me
greatly in identifying the botanical names.
I thank the India office Library, London, for lending the Wellcome Institute the block print of he
Biography of the Elder gYu-thog Yon-tan mGon-po before a copy was discovered in the Wellcome
I must thank the late Yapshi Pheunkhang Sey Gompo Tesering for his help and assistance in the
collection of materials. Last but not the last, I must thank my wife Rinchen Dolma for her
continous help in translation of the medical portion.
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