Currently the number of recorded Traditional Tibetan Medicine (TTM) has already hit 2,294. Approximately over 300 are widely used, among which, 200, or 70 %, are of plants and herbs; 40, or 12% of animals and 40, or 14% of minerals. One third out of the commonly used TTM utilizes the same raw materials as the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) while more than half of the TTM contains herbs native to Tibet. The features of TTM are elaborated as below:
The TTM is highly integrated into the practical utilization. The TTM is categorized in accordance to their distinct natures, tastes and functions including 8 natures, 6 tastes and 17 functions. The use of multiple medicines in a single prescription constitutes another important characteristic of TTM: some TTM contain about 25 ministerial medicines; for some others, the number of ministerial medicines even exceeds 100. In most cases the TTM has its substitute in an attempt to remedy the inadequacy of some precious raw materials. For each sort of TTM there may accordingly go along some substitute or the medicine of the similar nature and use. The TTM emphasizes the appropriate combination of different medicines and special attentions are also drawn to the relevant processing.
The TTM is deemed to be one of the five great inventions by the Tibetan people (The Tibetan have 10 inventions, among which, five majors are craftsmanship, medicine, phonology, Tibetan philosophy and Buddhism; five minors rhetoric, lexics, studies of rhythm, drama and astrology.
The TTM does not originate from India or regions of other ethnics; instead it was the intelligent crystallization of the Tibetan people that took its form in their thousands of years of wrestle with diseases on the Plateau. The TTM constitutes a peerless medical system that caters in particular to the specific needs of the unique natural, economic and cultural environments of Tibet.
The origin of the TTM can be found in the Tibetan ancestors’ fighting against the natural hardship and various diseases. In around 300 BC the first Tibetan king Niecizanbu was about to ascend the throne, the fifth of the total 6 questions he raised was as regards “poison”. The sage Zila Gmayoude argued that the “poison” that Tibet had was actually medicine. According to Lunbogatang the Tibetan people at that time had already been fully aware of the medical functions of plants, animals and minerals among others. Additionally they had known some complex detoxification approaches.
During the first century AD the advancement of agriculture and animal husbandry facilitated the discovery of many new medical raw materials, a case in point was the ghee refined from milk which could be used to stop bleeding. In the following centuries the development of TTM has never stood still, thanks to the digestion of numerous exotic medical nutrition like that from ancient India, Kashmir, TCM and Cong (in today’s Xinjiang, China).
Owing to the unique geographical position of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and its historical transformation, the TTM constitutes an integration of ancient Indian, Greek, Persian, Chinese and Arabic medicines, primarily addressing the motion balance of three factors: Long, Ciba and Peigeng.
The TTM is well illustrated by the first picture “The Town of Medicine King” of the Quadruple Medical Classics. In the picture medicines of different sorts and origins are arranged in four directions of north (top), south (bottom), east (right) and west (left) accordingly. These medical raw materials were obtained beyond the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Coral and crab shell from the ocean, for instance, were also included. At that period of time, the TTM indeed belonged to the category of Buddhist medicines derived from temples. There was a Manbacang, or a Medical School, in each of the then temples. In those temples lamas should study the TTM for at least 10 years before they formally accomplished the doctor qualification. This unique doctor education and training system provided an environment in which the medical lamas were disturbed by no distraction from family and other lay world affairs. Despite being a blending of multiple medical philosophies and schools, the TTM itself constitutes an independent medical school and system.