The fundamental text of Tibetan medicine is the Tantra of Secret Instructions on the Eight Branches, the Essence of the Elixir of Immortality and commonly abridged as Four Tantras. These tantras are not four separate treatises but the same medical doctrine from four perspectives. The 'Root Tantra' encompasses the teachings of Bhaisajyaguru and the origins of diagnosis and treatment; the 'Exegetical Tantra' covers aspects as diverse as anatomy, physiology, diet, and herbology; the 'Instructional Tantra' serves as a manual for techniques and diagnosis while the 'Subsequent Tantra' builds on the former adding pulse techniques, divination, demonic possession and urinalysis.
The paintings are an extension of the Four Tantras appearing as part of the commentary written by Sangye Gyamtso, Regent to the Fifth Dalai Lama, in 1687-88, and entitled The Blue Beryl. Sangye Gyamtso was entrusted by the Fifth Dalai Lama to codify the histories and traditions in medicine from the various schools of Tibetan Buddhism into a centralized source. The first set of 62 medical paintings appeared in 1688. The publication of The Blue Beryl later resulted in Regent Sangye Gyamtso's founding of the Chagpori College of medicine in 1696 on the Iron Hill adjacent to the Potala Palace.
The paintings included here are:
(A) Diagram of divination through urinalysis from the 'Subsequent Tantra';
(B) Moxibustion (burning of moxa or other substances on the skin to treat diseases or to produce analgesia) and points for minor surgery, anterior and posterior views from the 'Subsequent Tantra';
(C) Moxibustion according to the 'King of the Moon' treatise, anterior and posterior views from the 'Subsequent Tantra'
(D) Bloodletting channels and moxibustion from the 'Subsequent Tantra';
(E) A Posterior View of Vulnerable Points from the 'Exegetical Tantra' (F) Localization of the purulence of the viscera from the 'Instructional Tantra';
(G) Course of Lifespan Principle (through capillary system) from the 'Exegetical Tantra'
(H) and frontispiece Outlines of Treatment and Diagnosis with depictions of Bhaishajyaguru from the 'Root Tantra';
(I) An anterior view of vulnerable points from the 'Exegetical Tantra'
For an in-depth discussion of Tibetan medical practice and further illustrations, see A. Aris (ed.), Tibetan Medical Paintings: Illustrations to the Blue Beryl Treatise of Sangye Gyamtso (1653-1705), 1992. See also some 17th century prototypes in the Norbulingka Collection illustrated in Trésors du Tibet, Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, 1987, pl.86-93.