Tibetan Embryology

Tibetan Embryology Part III

ancien tibetan script explaining the tibetan embryology
2.6. Traditional theory of child conception (Ngal’zinpai-dus)

Probably from Yuthok Yonten Gonpo the younger (12th century) up to this century, many debates and researches have been done on the subject of conception. However, with time and development of new understandings on human biology with modern scientific knowledge, much more information on human physiology functions have been acquired. These developments have created some doubts and also have clarified many hidden things in some areas of the rGyud-bzhi. For example, a simple question case such as the ‘time of conception of child’ developed in Tibetan Medical history. On that point, the ancient literatures and modern western interpretation on conception are very different, even if Tibetan physicians unanimously accept that the possible time for the conception starts on the 3rd day after the beginning of menstruation. Numerous books on Tibetan Medicine have been published recently with the modification of the conception time, while some others have kept it as it was. The point of changes and new interpretation are:
1. Ancient concept and interpretation: The traditional Tibetan Medicine teaching continues to keep its literal explanation of the commentary of rGyud-bzhi on the conception time, which states:

The conception will not take place on the first three days of the menstruation and also on the 11th day after the three first days of the menstruation. The conception taking place on odd days only (1,3,5,7,9) will give a male child; if the conception takes place on even days (2,4,6,8) a female child will be born. The womb will close its door after the 12th day like the lotus after the sunset” (the counting day system begins after the 3rd day of menstruation, which means that the 4th day is considered the first day of possible conception).

The literal explanation says that the first three days are menstruation time and sexual intercourse should be avoided. It also says that on the 11th day, a male child won’t be conceived, but that a female child could be conceived. To get an easy comprehension see the following table:

General conception days and sex/gender First three menstruation days 4th day after menstruation (counts as 1st day) Day
Male 1st day 3rd 5th 7th 9th
Female 2nd day 4th 6th 8th
tab emb 3

This concept is also shared in the Buddhist saint Phakhol’s (Vagbhata) Astangahrdaya, one of the most leading Ayurvedic medical texts, which was translated into Tibetan by Indian Pandita Jarandhara and Lotsawa Rinchen Sangpo in the 11th century A.D. Especially the Vagbhata’s commentary Astangahrdaya-nama-vaiduryakabhasya, translated by the Indian Pundita Dharmashrivarma and the Tibetan translator Sakya Lodoe, gives details on the subject. The tantric literatures also give the same information. Therefore it is the general concept stated by ancient Asian spiritual, cultural and medical sciences. In this context the conception will not take place during the ovulation time.

Secondly a new explanation was recently developed in Tibet. Interestingly, it uses the same text but with a different understanding. The new interpretation states that, “The conception will not take place during the first three days of menstruation nor on the eleven following days. After the 14th day (from the menstruation start) the conception begins. If it takes place on the odd days 1,3,5,7,9 a male child will be born, while conception on even days 2,4,6,8 will give female child”. In short, the second concept accepts that the conception may happen during the ovulation time. The interpretation is closer to the modern scientific concept on the subject.

2.7. Sign of conception (mNgal-‘zinpai-rtags)

As a sign of conception, the woman immediately feels heaviness and satisfaction. After one month or two, the pregnancy syndrome begins with headache, nausea, body ache and sometimes desire for special food, etc. These symptoms are considered as being normal. The pregnant woman should be helped morally, and only if necessary, be given a light treatment. Generally it is safer to avoid any treatment and surgery.

Precaution during the pregnancy
Traditionally a pregnant woman should avoid eating particular meats that do not belong to her culture or for which she doesn’t have interest. For example beef in India and horse, donkey or dog meat in Tibet, etc. as it might bring a negative psychological effect, which could influence herself and the child. Therefore Tibetan medicine advises the pregnant woman to avoid eating horse, donkey, and various birds meat. Generally, the pregnant woman is psychologically sensitive and fragile, therefore she should also avoid harmful emotions, and keeping harmony around her is important.

3. Development of the embryo (Lus-‘pheltshul)

The fetus development starts just after the conception, lasts thirty-eight weeks, and develops through three significant stages that resemble to fish, turtle and pig. The basic source of development is the mother, as she gives nutrition to the fetus through the umbilical cord via the placenta.

3.1.Development process

First month
The 1st day of the first week after the conception is the time of fertilization. The mixed sperm and ovum is like a drop of yeast mixed with milk. A subtle wind, called Myonmongpei-yid-srog-rLung-A[1], manifests from the mind consciousness (Srog-rlung-A: subtle wind of the mind. During the next weeks, winds are going to manifest from this wind). It harmonizes the elements and energies of the parents to develop the body.

2nd week a subtle wind called Kuntu-sdudpa manifests from Srog-rLung-A and begins to mix the two energies together (sperm and ovum). The fertilized ovum becomes a little thicker and longer.

3rd week
a subtle wind called mZodka manifests from the Srog-rLung-A and helps the two energies mix totally and the fertilized ovum becomes like curd[2].

4th week
a subtle wind called Leskyi-rLung-mngonpar-sdudpa manifests from the same wind Srog-rLung-A and begins to develop the fertilized ovum into a round, oval or elongated shape, according to the child’s gender (male, female or neutral (hermaphrodite) sexes respectively).

Pregnancy signs
During this week, the child’s gender develops and the pregnancy syndrome appears with vomiting, various desires, etc. Tibetan medicine says that these symptoms manifest from the child’s needs for his/her development. Therefore one should not repress the longing for special food, or emotions, even if they produce some troubles. Preventing the consumption of the desired food and drinks may harm the child’s physical development.

2nd month
5th week a subtle wind called Yangdagpar-sdudpa manifests and begins to develop the child’s navel and navel chakra, in the center of the body. This stage is called ‘beginning of the fish stage’[3] because the fetus develops a fish-like shape.

6th week
a subtle wind called rGyachhenpo manifests and helps develop from the navel the central channel of the body, like a growing sprout.

7th week a subtle wind called ‘Khyilwa manifests and helps develop all the three channels (right, left and central) and forms the eyes organ in the head, and the crown chakra first, then the heart and secret chakras.

8th week a subtle wind called zlogching-bsgyurwa manifests and helps form the throat chakra, and shapes the head.

9th week a subtle wind called rNampar-byedpa manifests and helps develop the upper and lower body abdomen. This stage is the end of the first section of the development stage and is called ‘completing the fish stage’.

  1. Srog-rLung-A is a subtle wind element of the mental consciousness. It is an energy aspect of the mind that makes the ‘life sustaining wind‘ and different other winds manifest at each embryological development stages.
  2. In this stage, one can change the gender or plan the sex of the child. There is a lengthy method of ritual described in the second tantra commentary. It is also described in the Astangahrdaya.
  3. Hevajra tantra describes that the human child in the mother’s womb is similar to a pseudo Buddha, referring to the shaped head, innocent and pure heart, naked body (unconditioned), etc and this state is then qualified as pseudo-Buddhahood. The child’s development is also described in the Kalachakra Buddhist tantra.