Unit 3: Tibetan & Unani Medicine

Part A: Tibetan Medicine

In this section we will study the basic principles of Tibetan medicine and relate these to our current understanding of Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine.

Just as Ayurvedic medicine is influenced by Hinduism and Chinese medicine is influenced by Taoism, so Tibetan medicine is influenced by Buddhism. The gentle Buddhist approach to life shines through in this amazingly powerful branch of ancient medicine.

Tibetan medicine is a blend of Ayurvedic, Chinese and Greek medicine which you will clearly see as you work your way through this section. Tibetan medicine is based on the Gyud-Shi which translates as ‘The Four Tantras’ (Tantra = text). The Gyud-Shi contains the medical teachings that Buddha gave in Varanasi, India when he was 71 years old (c 870 BC). In the 8th century the Gyud-Shi was translated into Tibetan.

The Gyud-Shi still remains the fundamental medical text for Tibetan medicine. It consists of 156 chapters divided as follows:

Root tantra: 6 chapters containing 9 sections

Explanatory tantra: 31 chapters grouped into 11 sections

Oral transmission tantra: 92 chapters grouped into 15 sections

Last tantra: 27 chapters grouped into 4 sections

The last two chapters of the last Tantra conclude the whole of the four Tantras. The uniqueness of this work is that the whole concept of medicine is shown in the form of a tree having three roots, nine trunks, forty seven branches, 224 leaves, two flowers and three fruits. An image of a medicine tree is shown at the beginning of this section. We will look at this concept in more detail when we study how Tibetan medicine views disease.

To be fully qualified the Tibetan physician needs to have studied these four medical tantras for a minimum of seven years. The first four years are spent memorising approximately forty specific chapters of the text. Furthermore, Tibetan physicians must have purity of mind, dexterity in different fields of knowledge, expertise in medical matters and scholarship in religious and spiritual affairs. These qualities allow the physician to possess purity of mind and an expansive knowledge of the human condition (mind, body and spirit) allowing him/her to be perfectly placed to provide healing to their patients. This purity of mind allows the physician to be endowed with the spirit of Lord Buddha which is free from all sins and defilements. The physician is then able to visualise the miseries of his patients and to be involved in beneficial activities for all living beings with love and compassion. To the Tibetan physician, pleasure and pain, friendship and enmity become equal. He fully accepts that all human beings are one. Because of this state of mind he practices the following four principles of the Tibetan medical profession:

Compassion for all human suffering

Friendship with patients and to treat them as if they were his own family

Happiness in attempting treatment of curable patients

Being able to detach with love from incurable patients


Part B: Unani Medicine  

We will now turn our attention towards Greek Medicine and Unani Tibb which has developed out of ancient Greek medicine (Unani=Greek; Tibb=medicine in Arabic). I am indebted to my dear colleague Shahid Bukhari, Unani Tibb practitioner and registered Naturopath for his immense help and input to this section of the module.

Unani medicine has its basis in the universal laws which were understood by the ancient Greek and Egyptians, as well as Arabs and non-Arabs of the middle ages. The earliest surviving manuscripts recording Greek medicine can be traced back to Hippocrates (ca 460BCE-370BCE) and Galen (ca 129CE-199/201CE), both of whom studied medicine in Egypt. Arabic translations did not become available until the seventh and eighth centuries.

Later, Avicenna (980CE-1037CE) contributed to the knowledge of Greek medicine of his day by reading and commenting on the works of Galen, Hippocrates and Aristotle, and adding his own interpretation and ideas as well. He wrote over 450 works, and of the 250 that have survived, 150 are on philosophy and 40 on medicine. One of his main medical works is ‘The Canon of medicine’-a medical encyclopaedia which covers his understanding and interpretation of the humours, temperaments and many other aspects of Unani medicine which are covered briefly in this overview. The Canon remained a medical authority for centuries, setting the standards for medicine in Medieval Europe and the Islamic world and was used as a standard medical textbook throughout 18th century Europe. It makes extremely interesting reading and is still used in Unani medicine today as a guide.

As you work through this module you will notice many similarities to Ayurvedic principles which surely had an influence upon Greek medicine and vice-versa. It is likely that the two disciplines developed independently through observation with the temperaments in the natural world. For example, the correlation between spring, summer, autumn and winter with warm, hot, cold and wet. Observations would also have been made as to the effect that food had on different people and whether it caused a person to feel hotter, colder, dryer etc. or a combination effect of hot and dry for example. This phenomenon was not simply observed by Greek, Chinese, or Ayurvedic philosophers and physicians but also by some Native Americans who also used temperaments and humours and had no links to Ayurvedic and Greek medicine. Sources attribute the four humours to Egyptian medicine but it is difficult to find confirmation of this. Certainly, Egyptian medicine was well developed by 500BCE when Greek medicine was developing. The Egyptians had a clear and established view of anatomy and physiology which was incorporated into Greek medicine. Greek medicine appears to be a combination of viewing the body with an understanding of anatomy and physiology from an Egyptian perspective but also of using the ancient understanding of Ayurveda and how we interact with our universe and that of the elements. Greek medicine recognises the four states of matter, also referred to as the four elements, which were referred to thousands of years ago in the Rig Veda of Ayurvedic medicine.

We will look at the similarities between other medical disciplines and Greek medicine as we work through this section. 

Tibetan & Unani Medicine Course 

Units: 1
Study Hours: 100
Time: Estimated 2 months (timing up to you)
Enrolment period: 4 months (with option to extend)
Books: Purchased separately
Certification: Certificate in Tibetan & Unani Medicine
Study Options: E-learning (online) or Correspondence (paper)

Aims of the course

  • To provide detailed information about these two eastern medical traditions of Tibetan and Unani medicine
  • To enhance understanding of an eastern medical approach and how to use this in practice
  • To enhance understanding of human nature through study of the three mental poisons and the four temperaments
  • To provide energetic nutritional approaches to enhance nutritional and naturopathic practice
  • To further an understanding of health and disease from an eastern medical perspective.

Why study Tibetan & Unani Medicine
Tibetan and Unani medicine, together with Ayurvedic and Chinese Medicine, make up the four main Eastern medical approaches to health and disease. Each discipline offers its own unique blend of amazing knowledge and when combined, gives the student a knowledge and understanding of health, disease and human nature that is unsurpassed in modern medical approaches.

An understanding of these combined four approaches provides an excellent foundation to progress to studying Naturopathic medicine in detail. The Eastern medicine modules will provide an unrivalled approach to Eastern nutrition which will set you apart from other practitioners using more orthodox nutritional approaches to health.

A programme that combines the four main Eastern medicines with Naturopathy disciplines.