Blo bzang Chos grags' Anatomy:

A historical and ethno-medical study and examination of the Tibetan macro-anatomical knowledge in the seventeenth century


Katharina Anna Sabernig MD/MA

In my previous project, which focussed on the murals at the Labrang Monastery Medical College, (FWF P 22965-G21), it was proven that a text by Blo bzang Chos grags onUnfolded Trees of the Explanatory Tantra (2005) formed their written basis. His contribution listed in the chapter on anatomy is remarkable and goes far beyond the descriptions in the Bshad rgyud or its commentaries Vaiḍūrya sngon po and Mes po'i zhal lung. The aim of the following project planed in this proposal is to examine the new anatomical achievements in Blo bzang Chos grags' text, and to analyse differences between this and the Bshad rgyud commentaries. It is also to explore the related circumstances surrounding the development of Tibetan macroscopical anatomy in the seventeenth century, with a major focus on looking into the reasons why the personal physician of the Fifth Dalai Lama wanted to find and count the bones and ligaments mentioned in classical texts through human dissection?


Blo bzang Chos grags' examination of the locomotor system will be compared to other anatomical systems circulating in Asia at that time; such as the anatomy of Andreas Vesalius which was translated into Chinese in the seventeenth century during the Jesuit Mission. Their medical impact on China and Tibet has to be examined in this context. Anatomical descriptions in Blo bzang Chos grags' text which seem to be a new achievements but can be traced back to older commentaries shall be examined. Which of these findings are based on research through human corpse dissection in Tibet and which are based on older influences from India, the Orient or the East Mediterranean? In the scope of these questions a symposium will be held in order to discuss the historical sources of various medical systems with specialists in the relevant scientific fields.


Another aim of this proposed project is the examination of anatomical vocabulary. All terms revealed will be entered into a database and all terms will be made available on the Internet. In order to show the development of the intrinsic meaning of these terms, they will be examined, contextualised and compared with depicted Tibetan medical terminology shown in modern Tibetan anatomical atlases as well as in classical thangkas. This comparison is crucial, not only to developing our understanding of the history and context of this knowledge but also in terms of the safety of applied Tibetan medicine. As a result this interdisciplinary research will not only give new insights into seventeenth century Tibetan anatomical terminology but also into the history of Asian anatomy.