Sowa-Rigpa is a Traditional Medical System that originated from Tibet and is known for its holistic understanding of the human body in relationship with its mind and the environment. The fundamental principle of Sowa-Rigpa is based on the concept of the five elements which ultimately form the basis of the three principle of bodily energies. The homeostatic state of the elements leads to health and the imbalanced state causes diseases. Understanding the indispensable relationship between disease and the ignorant mind, hygiene of emotion/mind is considered as important as the hygiene of the physical body in Sowa-Rigpa. The Buddhist practices of loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, equanimity, and the bodhicitta mind are some core principles that govern the practice of Sowa-Rigpa.

What Is the Philosophy of Tibetan Medicine?

Tibetan medicine teaches that the purpose of life is to be happy. By using Tibetan medicine for self-care, you will become aware of how your thoughts and behaviors influence your health and happiness. According to Tibetan medicine:

Health is balance and dis-ease is imbalance.

Tibetan medicine is different from conventional Western medicine because it emphasizes finding and treating imbalance as the first step towards healing and health. Dis-ease or imbalance can be present well before physical symptoms appear or before symptoms are so severe that you seek attention from a conventional health professional.

Treating illness requires correcting the underlying imbalance.

So, the goals of treating dis-ease are not about covering up a symptom or reacting to a single abnormality. Instead, each symptom and sign of dysfunction sheds light on the overall pattern of imbalance. Healing negative thinking and making healthy lifestyle choices can restore balance in your body and mind.

Well-being is a lifelong process of living in harmony with your unique nature or constitution.

Tibetan medicine teaches that all living beings are made up of energy. You were born with a unique nature or constitution consisting of three primary energies: loongtripa, and baekanLoong is movement energy. Tripa is hot energy. Baekan is cold energy. Tibetan medicine is the art and science of keeping your primary energies in balance with your constitution to promote your health and happiness.

Your unique constitution has both strengths and weaknesses. By learning about your constitution, you can enhance your strengths and turn your weaknesses into assets, or at least keep them from sabotaging you.

What are the underlying principles of Tibetan medicine?

Tibetan medicine teaches four basic principles:

Karma refers to the universal law of cause and effect. Your individual behavior affects you, other people, and the environment. Sometimes your choices have an immediate and obvious effect, and sometimes the effects are not so obvious at first or will affect you much later in a roundabout way. For example, choosing to eat a sugary cereal for breakfast may have both the immediate effect of pleasure (from satisfying a sweet tooth) and a delayed consequence of sluggishness and decreased metabolism in the afternoon. Tibetan medicine teaches the importance of being aware of both the immediate and long-term consequences of your choices so that you learn to choose what promotes health and happiness.

Suffering, which can be physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional, is a universal condition of human life. In fact, most of human life is spent trying to avoid suffering or to relieve suffering in one form or another. Physical pain is not the same as suffering, although both can be present together. Tibetan medicine teaches that suffering results from interpreting life in a negative way.

Healing, according to Tibetan medicine, results from creating a healthy mind and making lifestyle choices that bring your primary energies back into balance with your inborn constitution.

Happiness is not simply temporary pleasures and accomplishments. True happiness is lasting peace, meaning, integrity, and well-being that result from positive thinking and balanced living.

Tibetan medicine and Ayurveda, Chinese medicine, and Yoga?

Tibetan medicine is like other holistic healing systems, such as Ayurveda, a traditional healing system from India, and Traditional Chinese Medicine, a healing system from China. All three traditions teach the importance of living a balanced life. Moreover, each tradition describes characteristics of the physical world and physiology in terms of hot energy and cold energy.

However, Tibetan medicine is closest to Ayurveda in principle and in practice. Both Tibetan medicine and Ayurveda teach that you are composed of three primary energies: movement energy (loong/vata), hot energy (tripa/pitta), and cold energy (baekan/kapha). In contrast, Chinese medicine only has two energies: hot energy (yang) and cold energy (yin). Tibetan medicine and Ayurveda use different terms, but their understanding of the three primary energies is similar.  

Yoga, another ancient healing system from India, is an important part of Tibetan medicine. Yoga is a way of life that cultivates union within oneself and with everything. Tibetan medicine, like Ayurveda, explains how to create and maintain a healthy body and mind in order to live a yogic way of life. Yogis in Tibet developed Tibetan Yoga, a form of yoga that focuses on breathing, purifying exercises, and healing the mind.

The basic principles of Tibetan medicine are based on Ayurveda, which has established a character of its own in Tibet complemented by elements from Chinese medicine. The pathology and in particular the concept that the most important causes of disease are to be found in the Three Poisons of greed, hatred, and delusion is based on the teaching of Buddha who built up his truth like a system of healing. This says that the first and most important form of therapy lies in changes in a person’s ways of thinking and living and in his diet, and the use of medicinal remedies takes only a subordinate role. The close inter-relationship between medicine and the person’s spiritual core made Tibetan medicine something unique. The study of this system of healing first of all gives the student an unusual perspective on the subject of illness and healing, but then leads to a wealth of new knowledge in relation to diagnosis, and an enormous extension of therapeutic possibilities.

In Tibetan medicine there is no one complete cure. When a doctor treats a patient, they work with them to create a long-term plan. Often for chronic diseases a treatment may last many months to years. At every step of recovery, the doctor works closely with the patient and ultimately his or her community to support balance and health. If the patient is a follower of Buddhism or in general interested then the doctor can, in addition to herbal remedies, prescribe meditations or advise exercises such as Tibetan Yantra Yoga. In general, the system is scalable to the patient’s ability to participate and overall interest.

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