Home Institution

Tufts University

Publication Date

Fall 2013

Program Name

Nepal: Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples


According to Tibetan Medicine, rlung is one of the three principal energies of the human body; rlung can be translated loosely as “wind” because its predominate element is air. It is responsible for all movement internal and external to the body, from the circulation of blood to the movement of limbs. rLung is the “vehicle” of consciousness, the force which holds and moves the mind. According to the rGyud-bZhi, the traditional Tibetan medical text, rlung is the beginning and end of disease because of its pervasive nature and its close relationship with the mind; it has the power to spread and strengthen disease. It is therefore important to understand its nature, function, and disfunction as related to the mind and the body in order to maintain health. rLung is associated with insomnia, chronic stress and anxiety, depression, heart palpitations and other heart conditions, stiffness in the body, various digestive problems, among many more physical and mental ailments. There are a variety of factors, ranging from diet and lifestyle to season and environment, that create rlung imbalance and disease. Primary psychological causes, according to Tibetan Medicine, are desire, excessive thought or mental exercise, and wrong-view. Most, if not all the Tibetan doctors I spoke with related to me that rlung is most usually developed in “foreign”(European and American) patients and people who meditate. They continued, saying that it is also becoming much more common in other patients as well. There are a number of factors contributing to these findings. Perhaps the strongest is the psychological, primarily the increasing stress of modern lifestyles. Allopathic medicine has yet to recognize rlung, thus there is no framework in which to know how to take care of it. Because allopathic medicine is the leader of modern healthcare, it is important for it to integrate conceptions of rlung as to better diagnose and more holistically treat disorders related to rlung. Treating rlung in Tibetan medicine is a multi-dimensional process that includes lifestyle changes, medicine, external therapies, and relaxation techniques. Perhaps the strongest treatment is the preventative; learning to become aware of rlung and its effects can foster greater understandings in how to maintain healthy rlung, and thus a healthy mind and body. The following study is a result of my stay in Dharamsala, a cultural heart of Tibetan Buddhism and medicine being the headquarters for the the main Men Tsee Khang Clinic and College and the home of the Dalai Lama. During the month of November 2013, I had the opportunity to meet with many Tibetan doctors, Buddhist practitioners and scholars, and people who deal with rlung related illness. It is from these meetings that I have gathered a fuller understanding of rlung and its effects. I have supplemented this knowledge with readings about Tibetan Medicine and Buddhism written by great scholars.


Medicine and Health Sciences | Social and Cultural Anthropology