Tibetan Medical Anatomy and Buddhist Concepts of the Human body


Oslo Buddhist Studies Forum

Lecturer: Katharina Sabernig (MD/MA)


Tibetan Medicine is closely connected with the Buddhist faith – historically, in terms of transmission and identity, and with regard to its theoretical foundations. Although an elaborated body of medical concepts had existed in Tibet for a long time, it was essentially in the seventeenth century that medical knowledge became standardised and institutionalised. This fruitful development was the result of strong political support. Dar-mo sman-ram-pa Blo-bzang chos-grags, the personal physician of the Fifth Dalai Lama, was a major figure in this process.

He was a surgeon and anatomist, wrote pharmacological texts, and created didactic materials for students. Another thing he did was to practice dissection of the human corpus in a park in Lhasa in order to detect and verify anatomical structures as they were described in the authoritative texts he was familiar with. Later on he became director of the newly established Medical College at the Iron Hill opposite the Potala Palace.

His analyses of the visible, or macro-anatomical parts of the body, for example, go beyond the depictions of the famous thangka illustrations to the Blue Beryl, a well-known commentary on the Rgyud-bzhi compiled by Sde-srid Sangs-rgyas-rgya-mtsho. While some of Blo-bzang-chos-grags’ statements can be found in an older commentary, the Mes-povi zhal-lung of Zur-mkhar Blo-gros-rgyal-po, a number of others appear to be new contributions to the history of anatomy, such as his discourse on bones and vulnerable part of the body. Some of his findings in relation with the anatomy of the heart, which will be discussed, seem partly at odds with traditional Buddhist medical theories. The lecture will also touch the Tibetan concept of a healthy human being, embryology, body metaphers, and anatomy illustrated by Tibetan medical paintings.

As always, all are cordially invited and after the talk and discussion light refreshments await us.

Venue: PAM building, seminarrom 11, University of Oslo 




Tibetan Medical Anatomy and Buddhist Concepts of the Human body