The fundamental text of Tibetan medicine is the Tantra of Secret Instructions on the Eight Branches, the Essence of the Elixir of Immortality, also known as the Four Tantras (Gyud Zhi), teaching four methods of treatment: Diet, Lifestyle, External Therapies, and Medication. Four works included in our Asian & Islamic Works of Art are from an extension of the Four Tantras - the commentary written by Sangye Gyamtso, Regent to the Fifth Dalai Lama, in 1687-88, entitled The Blue Beryl. The four paintings featured here include the anterior and posterior views of vulnerable points as well as a variety of herbology and medical tools from the 'Exegetical Tantra' - one of the Four Tantras that discusses the theory behind the practices laid out in the complete text.
Moxibustion in Tibet is the application of heated needle into the skin and deep muscle and is one of the preferred ways to overcome pain; the energy movement chart pictured here depicts routes that psychic energy travels throughout the human body and is used as a demonstration article rather than as something which could have been demonstrated by physical examination.
It most certainly does not claim to be a map of blood vessels although Tibetans knew about this very well. However, as medicine and Buddhism were strongly linked a chart of psychic energy movement was classified as a medical matter.
Tibetans used a broad variety of ingredients in medicine including mineral, vegetable and animal products. The painting pictured above (and the text that accompanied the painting) would tell the doctors information about the plants to be used in treatments, such as the season or moon phase in which they would be most effective. There were paintings of plants, minerals and animal products required to treat ailments such as fever. Surgical tools played a small part in the medical practice in Tibet, first resort was always pulse feeling, urine analysis or prescription of the herbs, etc. and in case of accident or obvious trauma.
The tools pictured in the above thangka almost look like weapons and were made of sharpened iron - steel was unknown - and their effectiveness was largely dependent on the skill of the surgeon. Many of them have vajras on the end to bring power into the instrument while others have scorpion motifs to ward off harmful forces.
We are delighted to offer these engaging, informative paintings in our forthcoming live online auction of Asian & Islamic Works of Art on Wednesday 13th May.