“Tibetan Astro-Science” is the consolidated form of indigenous ‘Ancient Tibetan Astro-Science’, ‘rGya-rTsis’ from China and ‘dKar-rTsis’ from India. It depicts the motions of the celestial bodies like the Sun, the Moon, the Planets and the constellations; and the consequential external change of the weather and the cycle of the four seasons. And subsequently on this basis, it clearly reveals the internal content – the sentient beings – with wisdoms of embracing happiness and averting suffering. It is also an inseparable element of traditional Tibetan Medicine and thus, an important feature of the traditional Tibetan Science of Healing. This science illustrates how both the Universe of the celestial bodies, and this human body, come into existence by the assembly of the five elements. And with regard to this, it demonstrates their interdependence as how the external change affects the internal flow of energy — on as minute a scale as a breath (time) and a particle (position). The Tibetan fields of science can flexibly be differentiated into the ten fields of studies, out of which ‘Astro-Science’ is one of the five minor studies. However ‘Tibetan Astro-Science’ in its real essence is a part of the Kālacakra Tantra, which remains one of the most revered texts of Non-dual Tantra — the third of the three aspects of Anuttara Yoga — and thus it is not just a study, but a way of living and a path of practice of the Buddha Dharma.
How Tibetan Medicine and Astro-Science are Related
Tibet is a country with a rich history dating back thousands of years and over the centuries the Tibetans have developed a sophisticated variety of skills in the fields of arts and academics indigenously. Over different periods, this has been influenced by neighbouring countries including India, China, Nepal and Mongolia. Due to this inclusiveness, the Tibetans now have a very rich living tradition and culture which can be considered to be ‘The Ten Fields of Knowledge’. One unique feature of all the studies involved is that they can be condensed into one interlinked and cohesive whole and they all derive from the same essence — the ethics of Tibetan Buddhism. Whether imbibing knowledge from grammar, healing, logic, arts and crafts, philosophy, poetry, synonyms, metrical science, astro-science or theatrical performance, the guiding principles all lead to spiritual and temporal wellbeing.
Unlike most medical systems, especially the modern-day and dominant allopathic school, traditional Tibetan Medicine is not only related to traditional Tibetan Astro-Science, but both these ancient systems are based on the same basic fundamentals of the five elements —Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space. The following section tells more about this symbiotic relationship, the historical background and a few practical or applied uses of Tibetan Astro-Science within the practice of Tibetan Medicine.
Ancient Tibetan Astro-Science
Ancient Tibetan Astro-Science consisted of the ‘numerical system’ and the ‘system of appraisal and appreciation’. These methods of calculation included the acknowledgement and counting of numbers, addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. These techniques were used to evaluate all phenomena and this marked the beginning of all the computational arts in general, followed progressively by astronomy and astro-science.
According to a Bön text, it was during the reign of Tibet’s first king, Nyatri Tsenpo, around the second century B.C., that the Gyuyi Bön Shepa Chunyi — The Twelve Fields of Knowledge of Bön Origin — came into being. This encompassed the practice of medicine (sMan), astro-science (rTsis), offerings to divine spirits (lHa-gSol), the ceremony to secure prosperity (gYang-‘Gugs), foretelling (Mo), funerary rites for the dead (Dur-rDzongs), rites of ransom effigies (Glud), etc. This was the era when Buddhism was yet to arrive in Tibet. There are many more uniquely Tibetan observations belonging to Myong-rTsis, the system of appraisal and appreciation, a knowledge enhanced by familiarization over centuries of experience. For example, indications are deduced from observations of the clouds, rainbows, wind, thunder, birds and other animals. The findings of these observations guide the populace in carrying out their various occupations and the practice has been orally transmitted amongst the masses — even to this day.
This complex Ancient Tibetan Astro-Science is a vital component of Tibet’s unique culture, added to over the millennia by the everyday experiences of the Tibetan people, possessed of wisdom and learning. It has guided the livelihood of today’s forefathers and later it served as fertile soil for the fruition of astrological sciences from China and India.