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Vulnerable Parts

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Locating and Defining Vital Areas of the Body in Tibetan Medicine

image of Asian Medicine

In Tibetan medicine, ‘vulnerable parts’ (gnyan pa gnad) are bodily structures which should not be damaged. Most of these anatomical locations are important in terms of surgical care and the management of wounds. They are described in the primary classical text of the Tibetan medical tradition, the Four Treatises (Rgyud bzhi), and in far more detail in its respective commentaries. A list of these more than three hundred delicate spots is included in at least two sixteenth-century commentaries, but its origin remains unclear. With the help of the medical ‘scroll paintings’ (thang ka) accompanying the seventeenth-century Blue Beryl (Vaiḍūrya sngon po) commentary to the Four Treatises, we can identify the locations of many of these vulnerable anatomical structures. However, it is uncertain if these identifications have remained consistent over time. With increasing integration of Tibetan medical practices into the Chinese health care system, it became necessary to find and define new terms. A veritable revolution in Tibetan medical terminology has taken place over the past several decades. Through a careful examination of these ‘vulnerable parts’ of the body, including an exploration of three examples, this article examines the shift of anatomical designations and the coining of new terms for anatomical details in classical and modern publications. Correctly identifying the vulnerable parts matters a great deal, especially with regard to patient safety.

Affiliations: 1: Medical University of Vienna


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