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A part of the Ethnographic Museum's collection, the so-called Tibetan medicine set is one of a few complete 19th/20th-century descriptions of Tibetan medicine in the world, including a set of medicines and a description of their application. It consists of two medical manuscripts and almost 300 medicines, or actually products to prepare them such as seeds, plants, fruit and minerals, mostly labelled in the Tibetan language.

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A Tibetan medicine set: a medical manuscript and medicines

Author of the medical manuscript: Btzun-gzungs Ban-do Ble-bzung Chos-phel — a learned Mongolian lama writing in the Tibetan language.
The title of the manuscript (translation): The essence of the heart's richness, (or) a collection of descriptions of diseases and related treatment methods in one book.
The original title (transliteration): Sman gžung khungs ma rnams las nad kyi rtags bcos sogs Thor bur ̒byung ba phyogs gcig tu bsgrigs pa gces btus sñing nor žes bya ba bžugs so.

Translation (from the original) of the manuscript title and names of medicines and the general description of the manuscript contents: Ireneusz Kania, a well-known Kraków translator and Tibetologist.

Medicines in leather bags

Dimensions: length = 15.5 cm and 17 cm
Inv. no.: 19316/MEK; Inv. no.: 19317/MEK
Origin: Mongolia, 19th/20th century

Collection of an exile, Witold Świętopełek-Mirski, procured by the Professor of the Jagiellonian University Julian Talko-Hryncewicz between 1892 and 1908 during a research project in Eastern Siberia and transferred to the Polish Academy of Learning in Kraków, from where, in 1921, it reached the Ethnographic Museum in Kraków.

Property of the Seweryn Udziela Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

A part of the Ethnographic Museum's collection, the so-called Tibetan medicine set is one of a few complete 19th/20th-century descriptions of Tibetan medicine in the world, including a set of medicines and a description of their application. It consists of two medical manuscripts and almost 300 medicines, or actually products to prepare them such as seeds, plants, fruit and minerals, mostly labelled in the Tibetan language. Both medicines and manuscripts were compiled and written down at the turn of the 20th century in the territories of Northern Mongolia and Buryatia, once under the influences of the Tibetan culture. The whole set was procured from a collector-in-exile, Witold Światopełek-Mirski, by Julian Talko-Hryncewicz (1850–1936), an anthropologist and professor of the Jagiellonian University. Between 1892 and 1908, he was a physician in Eastern Siberia in the so-called Zabaykalsky Krai, where he simultaneously ran research projects among the Buryatia people, Tungusic peoples and Mongolians. His collection related to Buddhism, including the medicine set procured from the exile, was given to the Museum in 1921. What makes an inextricable part of the medicine set is a manuscript entitled The essence of the heart's richness, (or) a collection of descriptions of diseases and related treatment methods in one book, which mostly describes the medicines included in the medicine set. It is a kind of compendium of medical knowledge entirely based on Indo-Tibetan theory and medical praxis developed for over 2000 years. Although it includes elements of folk medicine, this compendium should be regarded as a scholarly work rather than a piece of folk writing since it is based on written Indian treatises on treatments and diseases included in the oldest Vedic texts. The manuscript is primarily based on Āyurveda texts, i.e. The knowledge of life (from Sanscrit: āyus – life; Veda – knowledge), which belongs in the category of Upaveda, i.e. texts complementing a given Veda; in this case, it is a study supporting the youngest of four Vedas – Atharvaveda. Āyurveda is concerned with humans in a holistic way, their physical, mental and spiritual well-being. According to Eastern beliefs and studies, humans and their bodies reflect cosmic forces. The human organism is a microcosm reflecting the macrocosm, while being a part of the latter. For this reason, getting to know the cosmos is as important for medicine as medicines and treatments.
Medical theory and practice in Mongolia and Buryatia were almost entirely imported from Tibet, including other fields of knowledge and religion and even the language of science and liturgy of Tibet. Tibetan medicine is a traditional system based on a very old written tradition originating from India as well as China and Persia. Foundations and principles of medical theory were borrowed entirely from India, from where principal medical books and related commentaries were borrowed between the 8th and 11th centuries along with other Buddhist books, including the famous Four Books of Catuș-tantra (Tibetan: Rgyud bzi), credited to the legendary medicine teacher, Bhaișajyaguru, the cult of whom spread in Central Asia and China as early as the 3rd and 4th centuries AD. Its Sanskrit original did not survive, but we can enjoy a Tibetan translation dating back to the mid-8th century. It is a complex piece of work that encompasses elements of Chinese medicine framed in traditional Indian medicine. Here we find Chinese names of plants with properties described in accordance with the Indian medical system and Indian names of body organs classified in accordance with the Chinese system by means of the ying-yang principle. There are also references to both Indian etiology, covering the causes of diseases, and Chinese pulse and urine examination methods.
Tibetan medical literature is tremendous. Tibetans extended it by combining the knowledge and medical practices from foreign medical texts into a single compilation of healing thoughts and concepts; they also added contemporary medicines and treatment methods. Additionally, the authors of medical manuals – learned lamas, especially those originating from great families, deemed it desirable to make their own contribution into another textbook being developed. However, these were mostly imitative works, replicating treatment solutions and practices of older works. This does not change the fact that medical knowledge from Indian medical treatises and commentaries translated into the Tibetan language, which appeared in the Tibetan Buddhist medical canon (gso-rig-ba), mostly exists to this day and is an example of empirical and rational Ayurvedic medicine.
As specified in Ireneusz Kania's description, the medical manual in the Museum's collection consists of 121 chapters describing various diseases and related treatment methods. Some chapters discuss dietary solutions, bloodletting, moxibustion and bathing, others touch upon causes, treatment mistakes and what must be considered when diagnosing a patient. Tibetan medicine, just like Indian medicine, strongly emphasised diet, physical and psychic hygiene as well as prophylaxis. It was important to determine the cause of a sickness and regain balance by eliminating the causes. Treatment also involved magical practices.
Chapters differ in volume, but their internal structure is similar. First come the causes of a sickness, a primary sickness, resulting from ignorance, cosmic ignorance – the source of all evil, and a secondary sickness – depending on the circumstances, occurring upon the imbalance of three elements of the organism, the so-called tridosha, i.e. bile, phlegm and wind. The following order was used: a description of symptoms, treatment methods, a list of medicines and their application. The end of the work includes information on the author and manuscript development. The manuscript was penned by an eminent lama from a famous family; he was a scholar and physician, working in the late 19th century and early 20th century, well-known in Mongolia. According to his advice and his instructions, the book was complemented and corrected by Honourable Sadharma Vijaya, of whom little is known.
It is also worth mentioning that the manuscript is in good condition; it underwent conservation, during which it gained a narrow ribbon – a type of ”covering” typical of all ancient Eastern manuscripts.
The set of medicines accompanying the manuscript includes almost 300 medicines of all kinds: plant roots, seeds, fruit, minerals and powdered substances, mostly contained in chemist's jars. Many labels and Tibetan names of medicines written down in Dbu Can have survived, but not all of them. An additional difficulty in deciphering is that sometimes the name on the jar does not correspond to the actual contents, which is likely to result from those peculiar exhibits having ”wandered” for some time before they reached their final destination. And here is the challenging task for the Museum: it is necessary to fully examine those medicines pharmacologically and botanically.
The two medicines presented in leather bags are Thang-prom (Pchysochlaina physaloides): a herbal healing plant in a powdered form, in a brown leather bag, used to treat muscular pains and tensions; and Thar nu: an unidentified brown powder in a small claret leather bag. All labels with the names of the medicines have also undergone conservation and additionally complement the whole set.

Elaborated by Eleonora Tenerowicz (The Seweryn Udziela Ethnographic Museum in Kraków), © all rights reserved

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Medycyna tybetańska — kilka cytatów

Medycyna tybetańska charakteryzuje się podejściem holistycznym. Korzysta z praktyki tantr buddyjskich (jej podstawą są „Cztery Tantry Medyczne”). Opiera się na przekonaniu, że wszystko, co istnieje, jest manifestacją jednego bytu. Zachwianie równowagi jednego elementu pociąga za sobą chorobę...

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Medycyna tybetańska charakteryzuje się podejściem holistycznym. Korzysta z praktyki tantr buddyjskich (jej podstawą są „Cztery Tantry Medyczne”). Opiera się na przekonaniu, że wszystko, co istnieje, jest manifestacją jednego bytu. Zachwianie równowagi jednego elementu pociąga za sobą chorobę całego organizmu.
Poniżej kilka cytatów m.in. z Ayurvedy (określanej jako wiedza o zdrowym życiu):
„Niech świat zostanie oświecony promieniami (bijacymi od) mojego ciała i niech wszystkie istoty będą obdarzone, jak ja, w oznaki wielkiego Puruszy[1].
„Niech każda istota będzie wyleczona ze swojej deformacji słysząc moje imię”[2].
„Niech moja nieskończona wiedza i przyswojone informacje dają ochronę i pomoc istotom i w konsekwencji niech nie będzie żadnej zdeformowanej istoty”[3].
„Zdrowie i choroba mają te same źródła; istnienie, które w sprzyjającym stanie stwarza osoba, powoduje różne dysfunkcje w niesprzyjającym stanie”[4].
Zobacz apteczkę tybetańską w zbiorach Wirtualnych Muzeów Małopolski.

Opracowanie cytatów: Eleonora Tenerowicz (Muzeum Etnograficzne im. Seweryna Udzieli w Krakowie), © wszystkie prawa zastrzeżone

[1] Bhaișajyagurusūtra: cytat za K. G. Zysk, Ascetism and Healing in Ancient India, Delhi, 1998, str. 63.
[2] Tamże.
[3] Tamże.
[4] Ch. Samhita, Handbook on Ayurveda, vol. I, ed. G. Van Loon, Durham Center for Ayurveda, 2002–2003.

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What connects the valuables of the Scythian princess with a Tibetan medical kit?

What connects the Tibetan medical kit – one of the oldest items in the collection of the Ethnographic Museum – to the costume of the Scynthian princess – one of the most valuable exhibits of the Archaeological Museum of Kraków? 

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What connects the Tibetan medical kit – one of the oldest items in the collection of the Ethnographic Museum – to the costume of the Scynthian princess – one of the most valuable exhibits of the Archaeological Museum of Kraków?

Both of them have found their way to the museum collection (directly or indirectly) thanks to Julian Talko-Hryncewicz.
Having finished his medical studies, Talko-Hryncewicz was sent for an apprenticeship to the small town of Zvenyhorodka. His interests and curiosity of the world made him embark on a journey around Europe in 1876. The tour aroused his interest in anthropology and archaeology. Having returned, he directed his attention to kurgans situated nearby Zvenyhorodka. Hoping to make some crucial discoveries, he excavated a fragment of the site, yet the ground was not generous to him. When abandoning the site, he could not have assumed that he was only a step away from a grand discovery. After some time the ground slid down, revealing its secrets – the entrance to one of burial chambers. Professional archaeologists were called on the spot and, supervised by Gotfryd Ossowski, exposed the remains of a Scythian princess together with the valuables, all of which are displayed in the Archaeological Museum of Kraków today as well as in the collection of Małopolska's Virtual Museums. Further on, Julian Talko-Hrynckiewicz went to Siberia, where he not only treated its inhabitants, but also documented their life, conducting ethnographic research and inspiring local communities to open a museum and a library. He also correctly recognised the cause of the plague epidemic decimating the population of the capital of Mongolia (40 years later Albert Camus wrote his famous work, The Plague). Having returned to Kraków, he took over the Chair of Anthropology at the Jagiellonian University. He also became the co-initiator of establishing the Ethnographic Museum in Kraków (in 1911). The collection gathered over the years initiated the museum collection. One of the objects is the Tibetan medical kit, received by the doctor from the Polish exile, Witold Świętopełek Mierski.

Elaborated by Anna Berestecka (Editorial team of Małopolska's Virtual Museums),
Licencja Creative Commons

 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

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