UNESCO Inscribes Tibetan Medical Bathing On The Intangible Cultural Heritage List
On November 28, at the 13th session of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Port Louis, Mauritius, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) added the unique Tibetan medicine style of Medicinal Bathing to their Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list to safeguard this ancient and unique method of traditional Tibetan medicine.
Known in Tibet as Sowa Rigpa, Tibetan Medicine has been the main action for medicinal treatments in Tibet for more than 1300 years, and it is even believed by some that the four tantras of this style of medicine came from the Buddha himself. Literally meaning “the knowledge of recuperating”, Sowa Rigpa originated on the plateau in around 700 AD, and was promoted throughout the region by the 8th century high lama and physician, Yuthok Yontan Gonpo.
Sowa Rigpa is an ancient and traditional medicinal system that uses a complicated approach to diagnosis, with unique techniques such as pulse analysis, urinalysis. Treatments also included behavior and dietary modifications, medicines made from natural herbs and ingredients found on the plateau, and physical therapies, including Tibetan acupuncture and moxibustion, a therapy that starts with burning dried mugwort on certain points of the body to allow a free flow of energy.
The tradition of bathing to cure illness stems from the ancient rituals of the plateau, which have survived to this day as the Karma Dulpa Festival, also known as the Bathing Festival, which takes place on the seventh or eighth month of the Tibetan calendar. A week-long event, the festival highlights the traditional culture and medicinal practice of bathing to help ailments, especially rheumatism and arthritis, which are common on the cold high plateau. Nowadays, the festival also includes thangka paintings, carving, and the chanting and dancing of the epic Tibetan poetry. Tibetan bathing is known as “Lum” in Sowa Rigpa, and consists of bathing in hot springs, herbal waters, or a steam bath, to adjust the balance of body and mind and to improve the overall health and fitness of the patient.
Tibetan practitioners of Sowa Rigpa, known as “Manpa”, would collect the herbs and medicines they needed from the plants and animals of the plateau, and use them to cure illnesses and ailments. Once a tradition that was wholly monastic, and a heavily guarded secret, the tradition of Tibetan Medicine was intertwined with Tibetan Buddhism. It was not until the 14th century that it was finally taught in Sakya Monastery, by the Drangti family of physicians. IN 1696, the 5th Dalai Lama helped to found the Chagpori College of Medicine, and the Four Tantras became a model for the Sowa Rigpa that was used across Tibet for centuries.
Today, only one college in China specializes in teaching the traditional Tibetan medicine, and is the Traditional Tibetan Medicine School, at the Tibetan Medicine Hospital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, which has around 1,600 students every year. Traditional Tibetan Medicine is now becoming more recognized by the international community, and the classic book on Tibetan medicine, the “Four Volumes of Medicine”, has also been included in the National File of China as a piece of Heritage Literature. The Tibetan Medicine Hospital is dedicated to the protection and development of the traditional Tibetan medicines across the region, and there are now 20 institutes across China that are teaching Tibetan Medicine as part of their course structure.

TAG: Tibetan Mediceine on UNESCO list Traditional Tibetan Medicine Buddhist monastic medicine Tibetan Medicine Hospital


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