A long time ago, in a Himalayan paradise realm far, far away, an extraordinary gathering of gods, bodhisattvas, rishis and sages, the likes of which the universe had never seen before, came together. They gathered within the great forests of Earth, full of medicines that can cure every disease known to humanity, to hear a four-year-long teaching given by the Buddha. This is the source code of Tibetan medicine.
If you wonder what the real origins of Shilajit are, you are in the right place. We are a globally recognised authority on Shilajit, both as suppliers of the finest medicine and also for our passion for the Himalayan regions that we have been so deeply involved with for decades.
Genuine Shilajit is solely Himalayan, and its roots are usually associated with the Indian medical science of Ayurveda. I had known for a long time that it is also intimately connected with the medicine of Tibetan Buddhism and wanted to get this information recorded, so read on for how this amazing substance connects to Tibet and the teachings of the Medicine Buddha, aka the King of Sapphire Light.
Some years ago my friend Romio Shrestha, personal artist to the Dalai Lama, introduced me to the Four Tantras, the medical paintings of Buddhism. At the time I was already well versed in the art and science of collecting and processing Shilajit. Gazing at the first painting, Heavenly Abode of the Medicine Buddha, I realised the fundamental relationship between Shilajit and traditional Tibetan medicine.
Sources for this blog post were sometimes in the original Tibetan, so translations were needed to confirm the connections between images and words. These texts are quite extraordinary, often highly detailed and complex, but also wonderfully expansive and inspiring. I hope that this post will give you a glimpse, and maybe even more, of the wondrous world of the Medicine Buddha, a boundless, inclusive world of love, that we never need to reach for, as we are already within it.
The Coming of the Medicine Buddha
On the summit of a mountain, there exists the celestial city of Sudarshana. This is where the Medicine Buddha is recorded as having appeared to the world. This mystical paradise is surrounded by great forests of extraordinary medicine, full of potent and powerful remedies that cure all diseases known to humanity.
The Medicine Buddha came in the form of a deity, and the world simultaneously transformed into a sacred realm. By the time he had finished teaching, everything that could be known about medicine had been communicated, the source of the Blue Beryl was born, and the importance of Shilajit within Tibetan medicine had been shared. The most significant references to this are in the Blue Beryl’s instructions for creating the super-revitalising medicines the Greater Elixir of Rejuvenation and the Lesser Elixir of Rejuvenation, and also in the masterpiece painting titled Heavenly Abode of the Medicine Buddha Bhaisajyaguru, which includes precise descriptions of five different kinds of shilajit. A full breakdown of all the individual parts of this painting follows.
The many names of the Medicine Buddha
Bhaishajyaguru, the Medicine Buddha, is the master of remedies and the patron deity of Tibetan medicine. The supreme healer, he usually resides in one of the paradise realms. He goes by many names and is also known as Vaidurya Prabha Raja, translating as King of Sapphire Light, and as Sangyé Menla, which I’d say is: ‘to be awakening from ignorance and being purified from darkness, opening and blossoming like a lotus flower to all that is knowable’. Also known as the King of Beryl Radiance, the Medicine Buddha is the source of the Four Tantras.
Tanatuk, the mystical medical paradise
The Four Tantras is still used as the primary source of knowledge for physicians of Tibetan medicine. For centuries scholars have speculated where the Medicine Buddha’s teaching happened. Some say that it took place in one of the heavens, a paradise such as Trāyastriṃśa at the summit of Mount Meru, or in Akanishtha, a pure and pristine abode. As far as a physical location goes, it was possibly in Uddiyana – Northwest India or Afghanistan, the source of many diverse tantric texts and sciences. However it appeared, and wherever it happened, it was a place of absolute perfection, a mystical medical paradise that is known as Tanatuk, literally “pleasing when looked upon”, a place beyond subject and object.
Sudarshana, the celestial city of medicine
At the centre of Tanatuk is Sudarshana, the city of medicine. There are three realms to Sudarshana. The first is the outer Sudarshana, referring to the actual emanational or geographical location in which the Buddha teaches all the medical science. The second is the inner Sudarshana which is the physician’s actual environment. The third is the secret Sudarshana which is the energy inside the physician’s own body. If you are interested in chakras, these would be the energy centres of which the texts speak.
At the centre of Sudarshana arises a magnificent celestial palace, made of gold, silver, white and red pearls, and beryl. It has walls constructed in five bands and has battlements built of precious gemstones which when turned into medicines, can cure all four hundred and four diseases caused by an imbalance of the three humours, and remove all the one thousand and eighty obstacles to health, fulfilling all wishes. Standing guard at the palace gates are the four Great Kings of the cardinal directions.
The Four Tantras and the Blue Beryl – the Tibetan medical masterpieces
Desi Sangye Gyatso (1653-1705), was a significant figure in Tibet. He was a revered confidant and advisor to the Fifth Dalai Lama. He was recognised as a reincarnated Tibetan high lama as a child and was raised under the special care of the Dalai Lama. Between 1687 and 1703, Sangye Gyatso collaborated with many scholars and artists to create a set of seventy-nine stunning paintings that illustrated the Four Tantras, the teaching of the Medicine Buddha. At the same time that the Four Tantras were being painted, Sangye Gyatso also wrote the classic Blue Beryl, a written explanation of the Four Tantras, 156 chapters and 5,900 verses long, covering the equivalent of some 4,800 pages, and to this day the main reference of traditional Tibetan medical knowledge. The sixteen-year project was a truly epic undertaking, and the finished works were presented to the newly enthroned Sixth Dalai Lama.
Heavenly Abode of the Medicine Buddha, Bhaisajyaguru
This first painting of all seventy-nine in the collection you see here and at the top of the post is known as Heavenly Abode of the Medicine Buddha Bhaisajyaguru and illustrates Chapter 1 of the First Tantra. The descriptions of the paintings that we provide include translations from the original Tibetan in the Blue Beryl, which has yet to be fully available in English.
Sitting in the centre of the palace, on an elaborate throne made of jewels, is the Medicine Buddha. The gemstones are mainly white, yellow and blue beryl. The throne is surrounded by lions, elephants, horses and peacocks. The Medicine Buddha sits on the throne in the luminous form of the blue emanational buddha-body, shining unimaginable rays of blue light, as vast and endless as the sky. These brilliant rays are emitted from the King of Beryl Radiance, dispelling the gloom of ignorance, anger and desire, and curing all physical ailments.
The Buddha’s right hand is turned outwards, signifying abundant generosity, holding the fruit and stem of the myrobalan plant, the universal panacea. His left hand holds a begging bowl containing nectar that cures diseases, restores the dead to life and prevents ageing.
The Medicine Buddha’s teaching takes the form of a dialogue between his emanation as the five hermit sages, embodying the purification and transmutation of the five poisons into the natural glow of the five pristine cognitions1.
Gods, Divinities, Boddhisatvas and Sages, the four retinues
Dressed in the saffron robes of a monk, and as the emanational forms of Vidyajnana, the five tones of gnosis, he simultaneously explains the science of medicine to the four different retinues of revered beings that surround him. These are the Gods2, Hindu gods3, Buddhist Bodhisattvas4 and non-Buddhist hermit sages5.
The Gods of Devaloka, places of eternal light, sit in the lower left part of the palace. These are the original transmitters of the ancient medical science. The first is the divine physician Prajapatidaksha, one of the progenitors of the art of therapy, next to his students the Ashvinikumarau twins, followed by Indrashakra and Amritadevi. Amritadevi received her name after she had made a nectar and given it to the Buddha.
In the top left side of the palace are the Hindu gods, Brahma, Shiva, Vishnu, Kartikeya, Ganesha, and Parashu Rama.
In the top right are Buddhist bodhisattvas Manjushri, Avalokiteshvara and Vajrapani, who embody discriminative awareness, compassion and power, along with pious attendants Ananda, Kashyapa, and Upali, who compiled the Buddha’s early teachings, and the physician Jivakakumarabhrita, who looked after the Buddha and his community.
The lower right of the palace is occupied by the great hermit sages, human and divine, who received the science of Ayurveda from Indra’s disciple Atreya and transmitted it. These sages are the ones that are legendary for ascetic feats.
Along the very top row of the painting is the lineage of medical teaching. From left to right, we see the fifth Dalai Lama (1617-82), the lineage holder who is responsible for transmitting the science of medicine to the Blue Beryl’s author, Desi Sangye Gyatso. He is followed by the eight Medicine Buddhas6, and three emanational hermit sages known as Vidyajnana, representing buddha-mind, buddha-body and buddha-attributes of Bhaisajyaguru, master of remedies.
As the Medicine Buddha spoke, two sages appeared from within him. From his heart appeared the sage Rigpai Yeshe, and from his tongue emerged the sage Yilay Kye. They entered into a fruitful dialogue, with Yilay Kai asking questions and Rigpai Yeshe answering.
The Buddhist texts say that out of all that are gathered, only Yilay Kye understood the entire teaching, with the gods, rishis and other attendees understanding in different ways, each to the level of their abilities and comprehension.
The gods perceived his teachings as the Hundred Thousand Verses of Medical Therapy, the hermit sages as the Eight Sections of Caraka, the Hindu divinities as the Tantra of Black Isvara, and the Buddhists in forms that included the cycle of the Lords of the Three Families.
He wrote the teachings down on gold with ink made from precious blue beryl (although some say lapis lazuli). It was then passed to the Dakinis, the tantric priestesses, and kept the teachings in a sacred abode. These gold tablets were to become the source of the Blue Beryl text of The Four Tantras.
The great forests of Tanatuk
Surrounding the Medicine Buddha, and all those in attendance, are the medicinal flora and fauna of the great forests, able to cure every disease.
To the North – The Himalayas
Looking to the North, we see the cold snow-clad mountain of Himavant. This is the kingdom of the Himalayas, and Himavant is the ruler. Here the power of moon is strong, and medicines that come from here are cooling and possess the fragrance and power to ameliorate fevers and diseases that are hot or warm in nature. The plants are bitter, sweet, astringent and bland.
Flourishing in this snowy realm are various plants and animals:
The inside row shows the following plants growing: white sandalwood, camphor, eaglewood/aloeswood, chinaberry, gentian, liquorice, coleus leaves, white aconite, red sandalwood, birthwort, spleenwort, kapok stamen, calyx, and corolla, and grape.
The animals we can see living in the Himalayas are a hare, an elephant, civamcivaka (translates as half bird/half human, but possibly a highly intelligent bird), a rhinoceros, and a Himalayan black bear.
To the South – Thunderbolt Mountain
To the South rises Thunderbolt Mountain. This is Vindhya, the mountain range separating the Deccan Plateau from the Indo-Gangetic plains of North India. Here the sun is strong, the plant medicine grows hot and removes cold diseases from the body. The plants are hot, sour and salty.
Along the inner row are growing pomegranate, black pepper, long pepper, capsicum, asafoetida, sumac, cinnamon, cassia or ginger, pine tree-trunk, clematis, rhododendron, buttercup, civamcivaka, buttercup, and bonducella fruit.
Living on Thunderbolt Mountain, painted along the outer row, is a peacock, a sparrow, an elephant, a musk deer, a saiga antelope, a parrot, a Himalayan black bear, and a cuckoo.
To the East – Fragrant Mountain
Looking to the east rises Fragrant Mountain. This is eastern Gandhamadana mountain, equally endowed with the powers of sun and moon. In the Indian epics the Mahabharata and the Puranas they speak of Gandhamadana as one of the four mountains that enclose the central region of the world. Gandhamadana literally means ‘intoxicating fragrance’, due to the aroma that emanates from the rare herbs within the forest. Flourishing here are eight species of chebulic myrobalan.
Myrobalan is an exceptional fruit. Tibetan physicians call it the King of Medicines, and it is the fruit of immortality that is found in the bowl of the Medicine Buddha. He is holding one in the centre of the painting. On the inner column are eight types of Myrobalan7. Myrobalan has all the six tastes and eight powers of Tibetan medicine. Its perfume heals all four hundred and four diseases in Tibetan medicine.
Animals living on Fragrant Mountain, along the outside edge are a tiger, a saiga antelope, a sparrow, a peacock, and a tiger.
To the West – Cool Mountain
In the West rises Cool Mountain. This is the Western Malaya mountain, a region that today is considered one of the hottest ‘hot-spots’ of biological diversity in the world, and also equally endowed with the powers of sun and moon. Flourishing on Cool Mountain is a monkey, a deer, a rhinoceros, a Tibetan elk, and a peacock. Here grow the Six Good Things, said to simply bring happiness to all people. The painting shows them on the inner left column. There is nutmeg, clove, bamboo pith, saffron, cardamom, cubeb/greater cardamom. These six treat wind, heart, lungs, liver, kidneys and spleen respectively. There are also five types of limestone8, and five medicinal springs.
There are also five darker areas, the source of these springs, located in the centre of this cropped area of the painting below, and also towards the upper left of the complete painting at the top of this page:
Each of these darker areas in the picture has a description in Tibetan.
Correctly translated we could see that they refer to five different types of Shilajit, confirming Shilajit as an essential, intrinsic part of the realm and materia medica of the Heavenly Abode of the Medicine Buddha.
The exact translations and description of each of the five types of Shilajit after translation from the Blue Beryl are:
Gold shilajit (Tibetan: gser zhun) described as being reddish-yellow colour, sweet-bitter taste. Cooling and oily potency, it cures conditions of air and bile.
Silver shilajit (Tibetan: dngul zhun) of white colour, bitter-sweet taste. Cooling and dry potency, it cures serum disorders such as leprosy.
Copper shilajit (Tibetan: zangs zhun) of reddish-green colour like a peacock’s neck. Bitter and salty taste, and with a potency which is cool and light, it cures disorders of phlegm and bile.
Iron shilajit (Tibetan: lcags zhun) of black colour. Bitter and slightly salty taste, and with hot and sharp potency, it cures disorders of phlegm.
Dark Lead shilajit (Tibetan: tshon mo steng) having the same taste and potency as iron bitumen but less effective.
The curative properties of each can only be fully understood within the full context of the Blue Beryl and with medical expertise and are not limited to just the conditions that are stated above.
People can be seen to be bathing in these five medicinal pools to restore health that flow from the Shilajit ore. These therapeutic hot springs originate from subterranean rocks which ignite on contact with water and are said to cure disorders of all three humours (Tibetan principles of life-force) since they are equally cooling and warming. If these springs also contain deposits of calcite and sulphur, they respectively alleviate diseases caused by heat and cold.
We only collect the very finest grade of Shilajit which according to the above categories is Iron Shilajit (lcags zhun). It has to come from only the highest quality of iron-rich raw Shilajit exudate. The Ayurvedic masters of India are in complete agreement with this Tibetan knowledge, as the paradise of Tanatuk contains the seed of both Tibetan medicine and Ayurvedic medicine. Raw Shilajit collected from the best Himalayan locations, purified using the correct method that includes the synergy of medicinal herbs and processing temperatures, processing times and heat sources is the only proven method to transform raw Shilajit into the legendary natural panacea. We focus on enhancing your cognition, energy and overall well-being, reversing degenerative conditions and extending lifespan. You can enquire about purchasing here: Buy Shilajit
If you want to read about more types of Shilajit, you can read the blog post about Geshe Tenzin Phuntsog: The 18th Century Tibetan Polymath who discovered 115 different kinds of Shilajit
A sincere thank you to my friend Romio Shrestha, the personal artist to the Dalai Lama, for personally introducing me to the Four Tantras. At the age of six, Romio was recognised by Buddhist lamas to be the seventeenth reincarnation of the master Tibetan thangka painter Arniko. He is a modern master of Indo-Nepali-Tibetan Buddhist traditions of enlightenment art, and his thangka paintings are found in many of the great collections of the world.
In the 1980s’ and 90’s, Romio and his team of artists were commisioned to create a new set of the Four Tantras, as close to exact recreations to the 17th-century originals as is possible. In 2011 they were brought to the United States and exhibited at the American Museum of Natural History. The exhibition title was Body and Spirit: Tibetan Medical Paintings. The entire collection is now permanently housed in the museum’s Division of Anthropology.
Here is a brief introduction to the exhibition by its curator:
1 The five cognitions: the mirror like pristine cognition that defies delusion, the pristine cognition of emptiness that defies hatred, the pristine cognition of sameness that defies pride, the pristine cognition of discernment that purifies desire, and the pristine cognition of accomplishment that purifies envy.
2 Gods: Prajapatidaksha, physician of the gods, Ashvinikumarau, Indrashakra, and Amritadevi or Hariti.
3 Hindu gods: Brahma, Shiva, Vishnu, Shadanana Kumara, Ganesha, and Parashu Rama – the sixth avatar of Vishnu.
4 Buddhist Bodhisattvas and pious attendants: Manjushrikumarabhuta, Avalokiteshvara, Vajrapani, Ananda, Jivakakumarabhrita, Kashyapa, and Upali.
5 Hermit sages: Carakaparivrajika, Jatukarna, Ksharapani, Parashara, Punarvasu (Atreya), Dhanvantari, Bharadvaja, Agnivesha, Atreya – the great hermit sage, Aurabhra, Nimndhara, Kashyapa and Aurabhra.
6 Sunamaparikirtana, Svaraghosharaja, Suvarnadhadravimala, Ashokottama, Dharmakirtisagaraghosha, Abhijnaraja, Shakyaketu and Bhaishajyaguruvaiduyaprabha.
7 victorious myrobalan, fearless myrobalan, nectar myrobalan, enriching myrobalan, dry myrobalan, small black myrobalan, golden coloured myrobalan, and beak-shaped myrobalan.
8 neuter limestone (gypsum), girl limestone, boy limestone, female limestone, male limestone.
The Blue Beryl, Desi Sangye Gyatso
The Mirror of Beryl, Desi Sangye Gyatso
Tibetan Medical Paintings, Gyurme Dorje
And original selected thangkas painted by Romio Shrestha and atelier
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