Friday, January 15, 2010

Mirror of Beryl: Historical Introduction to Tibetan Medicine

Whoa, Nelly! Here is one we almost missed. Since we haven't seen it yet (just released in late December), we'll lead with the publisher's blurb:
Composed while its author was the ruler of Tibet, Mirror of Beryl is a detailed account of the origins and history of medicine in Tibet through the end of the seventeenth century. Its author, Desi Sangyé Gyatso (1653-1705), was the heart disciple and political successor of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama and the author of several highly regarded works on Tibetan medicine, including his Blue Beryl commentary on the foundational text of Tibetan medicine, Four Tantras. In the present historical introduction, Sangyé Gyatso traces the sources of influence on Tibetan medicine to classical India, China, Central Asia, and beyond, providing life stories, extensive references to earlier Tibetan works on medicine, and fascinating details about the Tibetan approach to healing. He also provides a commentary on the pratimoksha, bodhisattva, and tantric Buddhist vows. Desi Sangyé Gyatso’s Mirror of Beryl remains today an essential resource for students of medical science in Tibet. Mirror of Beryl is a fascinating and illuminating resource.
I will start saving the pennies, get a copy, and review it here in what one hopes is the not-too-distant future. As a brief aside, Barry Clark swears that Blue Beryl should be cast in English as Aquamarine, which if you know your minerals is an interesting assertion. Maybe we ought to ventilate that whole thing one day, as well.

If your pennies are already saved, you can purchase a copy of this book by clicking here.

UPDATED: Oh, well... maybe just a little bit...

Beryls are cyclosilicates, and include aquamarine, emerald, and morganite. With reference to aquamarine, I find it most interesting that the largest, most powerful aquamarine crystals in the world are found in Pakistan, in the Hunza lands. Does that ring a bell? It should, because Hunza is where people are famously long-lived. In any event, beryls are hexagonal, and the crystals can grow quite large, up to around 200 tons and 18 feet long. They can be pale green, blue, yellow, dark green, pink, red, or even colorless. Beryl is the primary source of beryllium, which is alloyed with copper, and is also used in the nuclear industry as a neutron reflector.

To get some idea of the scale of beryl crystals, note the workman in the above photo, then note the crystals, and now understand that beryl crystals can be roughly twice the size of the ones you see in the photograph. By the way, the crystals in the photo are in Mexico, and they are not beryls.

Desi Rinpoche was a polymath, and doubtless knew his minerals as a practical matter -- or at least he knew people who did. The dominant sources in the literature of the time (17th century) were of Middle Eastern origin, and it is highly likely he had access to these, as did all in India, China, and elsewhere, who had any interest in gemstones. Therefore, when he uses "blue" beryl as the title for his medical treatise, and "white" (colorless) beryl as the title for his astrological treatise, and then turns around and uses Mirror of Beryl as the title for his historical treatise, we can bet it isn't being done frivolously.

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1 reader comments:

Anonymous said...

Malcolm Smith ( convinced vaidurya is actually star sapphire. I'm not convinced its identity is yet established. For instance, one sometimes comes across references of texts written in gold on vaidurya; that's possible if vaidurya is lapis lazuli, but seems less plausible for if vaidurya is beryl, aquamarine, or star sapphire. On the other hand sutras mention vaidurya's translucency and though I've heard of semi-translucent lapis lazuli I've never seen any.