Introduction to Tibetan Medicine

– excerpted from a lecture given by Pema Khandro, Tib ND


A Holistic Approach

Tibetan Medicine is a holistic health science which includes nutrition, spirituality, Buddhist philosophy, ethical practices, knowledge of herbs and practices for detoxification, cleansing and rejuvenation.

The concept of health in Tibetan Medicine is one that considers the whole person, their mind, emotions, lifestyle, behaviors and relationships.

International Influence

The main influences of Tibetan Medicine are Indian Ayurveda and Buddhist Philosophy. However, Tibetan Medicine was formulated under the international influence of healing traditions from India, Tibet, Nepal China, Persia, Mongolia and Greece. In fact, the first international medical conference was held in Tibet during the imperial period. Today Tibetan Medicine continues to be practiced in local villages, in institutions for learning in India and throughout Europe and North America. At the Yogic Medicine Institute, the principles of Tibetan Medicine are applied under the direction of Pema Khandro. The clinic and courses offer a main emphasis in Tibetan Medicine’s view of the many factors that contribute to disease, health and healing.


Tibetan Medicine dates itself back to the Buddha and his physician. According to the tradition, the Buddha first taught medicine to his students as part of his life’s mission to relieve human suffering. This teaching is known as “the Vinaya Sutra on Healing.” He taught that health was not based on somatic medicine alone, but had to also include the reduction of the mental poisons and to address issues of spiritual and ethical well-being. The text formulated based on Buddha’s teachings on the topic came to be known as the Gyud-shi (Tib. rGyu-bzhi), the four medical tantras which are the primary text of Tibetan Medicine today. The Buddha’s student credited as a founding father of Tibetan Medicine was known as Kumara Jivaka, a renowned physician, surgeon and pediatrician.

A Principle of Individual Specificity

The traditional accounts tell us that Jivaka became a disciple of the Buddha after the Buddha illustrated how every plant and food could be mecidine or poison depending on the person it was given to. Jivaka was initially skeptical when meeting the Buddha and so the teacher sent him to go looking for one hundred and eight different plants. When he returned with these plants he could identify most of them, but not all of them. However the Buddha taught him their uses and explained that somatic medicine could only reach its greatest powers if it also included spiritual medicine – the consideration of suffering and its cause, the consideration of the disharmony or harmony of the a person’s mind.