Wind and Breath in Tibetan Thought: the Confluence of Tantra and Ayurveda


Breath and wind concepts are widespread in Asia, and the Tibetans inherited both Yogic and Tantric prāṇa and Ayurvedic vāta, both translated into Tibetan as rlung. This proved a constructive confluence for Tibetan Tantra and Tibetan medicine, and may be suggestive too for modern Western understandings of consciousness and its physiological correlates.

Questions for reflection

How do the Tibetan nyepa differ from the Ayurvedic dosha?

How did the Tibetans understand the relationship between consciousness and physiology?

How might Tibetan ideas of lung and mental illness help scientific understandings the relationship between consciousness and physiology?

How did Tibetan meditation practice inform their understanding of psychiatric illness?

Further reading

Feyerabend, Paul (1993) Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Philosophy. London: Verso Books.

Samuel, Geoffrey (2019) ‘Unbalanced Flows in the Subtle Body: Tibetan Understandings of Psychiatric Illness and How to Deal With It.’ Journal of Religion and Health 58: 770-794.

Vogel, Claus (1965) Vāgbhaṭa’s Aṣṭāṅgahṛdayasaṃhitā. The First Five Chapters of Its Tibetan Version. Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner.

Yang Ga (Yangga Trarong). (2010). The Sources for the Writing of the “Rgyud bzhi”: Tibetan medical classic. PhD dissertation, Harvard University.

Yangönpa, Gyalwa. (2015). Secret Map of the Body: Visions of the Human Energy Structure. Translated from the Tibetan and annotated by Elio Guarisco. Arcidosso, Italy: Shang Shung Publications.

Yuthok Yonten Gonpo (2017) The Oral Instruction Tantra from the Secret Quintessential Instructions on the eight Branches of the Ambrosia Essence Tantra. Translated into English by Dr Sonam Dolma and others. Dharamsala, H.P.: Men-Tsee-Khang.

Geoffrey Samuel is an Honorary Associate at the University of Sydney, Australia and Emeritus Professor at Cardiff University, Wales, UK. His PhD was an anthropological study of Tibetan Buddhism in India and Nepal. His books include Mind, Body and Culture (1990), Civilized Shamans: Buddhism in Tibetan Societies (1993) and The Origins of Yoga and Tantra (2008). His current research interests include Tibetan yogic health practices, Tibetan medicine, and the dialogue between Buddhism and science.