The title “Desi’ signifies “Regent”. Sangye Gyatso (1653-1705) ruled Tibet following the death of Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso (the great Fifth Dalai Lama), an event which he kept secret for 14 years. During his regency which began in 1679, he oversaw the construction and completion of the Potala palace at Lhasa.
A celebrated and prolific scholar, he wrote treatises on medicine, astrology, history, and other subjects. He is perhaps best known as the author of the Mirror Of Beryl: A Historical Introduction To Tibetan Medical Science, a fundamental commentary on the Four Tantras of Tibetan medicine. To accompany this, he produced a set of 100 medical thangka paintings that meticulously illustrated medical theory and practice. These paintings were copied and distributed to several other monasteries. In 1694, he also founded the School of Medicine and Astrology called the Men-Tsee-Khang located at Chagpori (Iron Mountain).
The physician who eliminates desire, aversion, and confusion, the ignorance that causes these three poisons, together with the wind, bile, and phlegm disorders that result from the three poisons is the blessed Buddha. He is the physician surpassed by no one.Desi Sangye Gyatso, The Mirror of Beryl: A Historical Introduction to Tibetan Medicine, trans, by Gavin Kilty. Wisdom Publications, 2016.
In addition to the reliance on the Buddha’s instructions on cultivating wisdom and insight, Desi Sangye Gyatso addressed the influence of astrology in the practice of medicine:
Using astrology one calculates the times, directions, and dates when the collecting, preparation, and taking of medicines becomes effective and auspicious. There is a great difference between these benefits and the disastrous consequences which come from not knowing this astrology.Desi Sangye Gyatso, The Mirror of Beryl: A Historical Introduction to Tibetan Medicine, trans, by Gavin Kilty. Wisdom Publications, 2016.