When the Buddha was A Doctor

In the Golden Sutra (1) there is a story of the Buddha’s past life as a doctor.

During this period there was an epidemic. A young man named Chubeb developed compassion in his heart for the suffering and illness he saw around him. Thousands of people had died. Chubeb’s father was trained in medicine, so Chubeb asked his father to teach him medicine so that he could save lives and help others.

His father agreed and gave him an explanation of Tibetan Medicine which included

  • – Knowing the seasons in order to administer appropriate medicine based on the ecological influences of that time.
  • – The elements of the body – to recognize the workings of the inner ecology based on the five elements.
  • – The manner in which disease enters the body.
  • – How to recognize the signs and symptoms of disease. In Tibetan Medicine this includes symptoms of the body, mind and personality. There are various diagnostic methods to ascertain these symptoms such as pulse diagnosis, tongue diagnosis, face diagnosis and so forth.
  • – The four main body constitutions in Tibetan Medicine which are wind, bile, phlegm and all of them combined.
  • – Advice on dietary choices according to the seasons and the five elements
  • – How to identify which body constitution a person has through their physical signs and psychological demeanor. For example, a phlegm constitution will tend towards a more steady mind, a bile constitution will tend towards a more sharper intelligent mind and a wind constitution will tend towards a more busy or unstable mind.
  • – The different kinds of medicines such as purgatives for excessive bile constitution nourishing oily medicines for wind constitution and emetic treatments for excess phlegm. This is a key concept of Tibetan Medicine – there is not the idea that there is one right medicine for everyone, instead medicines are catered towards the individual’s constitution and season.
  • – The key factors of a wise physician.
  • – The key signs of dying. The system of such signs are also given in Buddhist texts as well. They are used to identify when someone is close to death so that it is clear whether medicine and healing measures should still be taken.
  • – Medicines to give. A medicine mentioned in the text is Terminalia Chebula. In Ayurveda this herb is known as Haritaki. It is the herb that the Medicine Buddha is shown holding because it is considered a herbal remedy for a wide variety of ailments. This is an herb recognized by western research as efficacious in fighting infections by destroying the protective biofilms the bacteria hides in. (2) These biofilms are what make bacteria resistant to antibiotics. It has a wide variety of properties including being Immunomodulatory, having Antispasmodic properties, Adaptogenic, Anti-inflammatory, Anti-arthritic activity, Antiprotozoal activity, Antiviral activity, Antifungal activity and more. This herb is also one of the three herbs in Triphala which is widely recommended by Ayurvedic practitioners as a daily health supplement. (3)
  • – Chubeb’s teacher also gave him advice on the importance of cultivating love and compassion as the first priority in his medical activity.

After learning these things, Chubeb became skilled in Tibetan Medicine and cured many people. Thus, this was one of the life times of altruism that later led to his future lives as the Buddha, that is the founder of Buddhism.



(1) Tib. mdosde gser-od-dampa; Sanskrit Ārya Suvarõaprabhàsottamasåtrendraràjamahàyànasåtra

(2) Read more about this here. Pema Khandro’s recommended reading on Haritaki

(3) Interesting article on Triphala here: Pema Khandro’s recommended reading on Triphala



See Dr Pasang’s translation of the text.