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Table of Contents
Year : 2019  |  Volume : 2  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 141-144

Haritaki (诃子 ), Holy Medicine of Buddhism

Department of Pharmacy, Shanghai Pharmaceutical School, Department of Chinese Materia Medica, Shanghai University of Traditional ChineseMedicine, Shanghai, China

Date of Web Publication24-Sep-2019

Correspondence Address:
Prof. Baican Yang
Department of Chinese Materia Medica, Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Shanghai
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/CMAC.CMAC_26_19

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Haritaki (诃子, Terminalia chebula Retz.) is also called “Big golden fruit,” “Wind-floating fruit,” and “Arura.” The alias “Big golden fruit” shows its appearance characteristics, the name of “Wind-floating fruit” implies its harsh living environment and tenacious vitality, and another name of “Arura,” which comes from Tibetan, emphasizes the medicinal value of Haritaki as valuable as rhinoceros horn. The Chinese name of “He Zi (诃子)” expresses the main purpose of Buddhism to universalize all living beings and save the spirit. The Haritaki tree is regarded as the holy tree of Buddhism in the folk. It is also respected as a holy medicine of Buddhism. Since it was introduced into China from India, it has been widely used as a health-preserving medicine. Haritaki, which is from Indian Buddhist culture, not only unravels the mysterious Buddhist culture but also excavates the connection and development of Indian Buddhist culture and traditional Chinese medicine.

Keywords: Arura, big golden fruit, Haritaki (诃子), Indian Buddhist culture, wind-floating fruit

How to cite this article:
Sha M, Yang B. Haritaki (诃子 ), Holy Medicine of Buddhism. Chin Med Cult 2019;2:141-4

How to cite this URL:
Sha M, Yang B. Haritaki (诃子 ), Holy Medicine of Buddhism. Chin Med Cult [serial online] 2019 [cited 2020 Feb 28];2:141-4. Available from: http://www.cmaconweb.org/text.asp?2019/2/3/141/267697

Haritaki (诃子) is advisable for patients with qi deficiency (气虚) by taking a low dose after simmered slowly. Because of its bitter and astringent flavor, it can not only relieve diarrhea with astringents but also clear away pathogenic factors.

Ben Cao Yan Yi[1] (《本草衍义》Amplification on Materia Medica)

  Introduction Top

More than one thousand years ago, numerous Indian Buddhist monks spread Buddhist Dharma (达摩) eastward along the Silk Road (丝绸之路). Master Xuanzang (玄奘) of the Tang Dynasty (唐朝) also overcame various obstacles to get Buddhist sutras from the West along this road. By these ways, volumes of Buddhist sutras, Buddhism belief, and even something mysterious were brought to the land of Central Plains (中原) together with the created Buddhist culture. Haritaki was also a small part of Buddhist culture. As a foreign medicine with Buddhist characteristics, the name of Haritaki embodies many aspects of Indian Buddhist culture as well as the eclectic culture of Chinese medicine.

  Interpretation of Medical Name Top

Haritaki tree and the Bodhi tree (菩提树) are both regarded as sacred trees of Buddhism, and the Haritaki is also respected as the four longevity medicines of Buddhism, that is, the medicines that can be taken for whole life. Buddhist sutras call it “Halileh.” Li Shizhen (李时珍) [Figure 1] said, “Halileh is brought by Brahman.” Therefore, according to Buddhist culture, the Haritaki is a gift from Brahman. The medicinal of Brahman was first recorded in the Tang Dynasty's Xiu Ben Cao (《新修本草》Newly Revised Materia Medica) [Figure 2]:“bitter flavor, warm, nontoxic, treating chest distress and abdominal distention which are caused by by pathogenic cold.” Materia medica books of all dynasties since then have recorded Haritaki and produced some aliases which can describe its color, shape, and tenacious vitality, such as “big golden fruit” and “Wind-floating fruit.” Tibetan medicine(藏医) name it as “Arura.”
Figure 1: Portrait of Li Shizhen(李时珍)

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Figure 2: Xin Xiu Ben Cao(《新修本草》 Newly Revised Materia Medica)

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Interpretation of alias

The alias “Big golden fruit” vividly describes the characteristic appearance of Haritaki [Figure 3]. On the one hand, “gold” reflects the color and texture of the Haritaki as gold; on the other hand, it implies its high medicinal value. Haritaki is a kind of solid and brown–yellow fruit with very high medicinal value, so it is called “Big golden fruit.”[2]
Figure 3: The name of big golden fruit describes the appearance of Haritaki

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Some of the Haritaki fruit falls down with the wind before maturation. Those immature fruits are called “Wind-floating fruit,” which also implies its harsh living environment and tenacious vitality. Haritaki can grow in arid and barren wilderness, especially in low-heat valleys. Even if the trunk is accidentally or artificially felled, new branches can sprout from the stump, and new crowns can grow quickly, showing its tenacious regeneration ability.

It is also important that Haritaki has also been popular in Tibetan medicine and has been known as “Arura.”[3] “A” is the first of all the rhyme and the mother of all the characters, indicating Haritaki as the king of all herbs; “Ru” means “gathering,” indicating that Haritaki has many functions and high medicinal value; “Ra” is the abbreviation of rhinoceros horn, which is used to describe Haritaki as precious as rhinoceros horn. Among the numerous prescriptions of Tibetan medicine, Arura is the mostly used one.

Interpretation of Haritaki

Haritaki is called He Zi (诃子) in Chinese [Figure 4]. Shuo Wen Jie Zi (《说文解字》Origin of Chinese Characters) [Figure 5] says: “HE means speaking loudly and angrily.” It points out that the original meaning of HE is anger and blame, with violent passions, which reflects the emergency, stubbornness, and recrudescence of the indication of Haritaki, and coincides with the main purpose of Buddhism to universalize all living beings and rescue spiritual beings. In addition, in ancient times, the term “HE (诃)” was often the same as “HE (呵)” which means care. That metaphorically implies the astringency of the Haritaki. There is such a legend about the famous Haritaki.
Figure 4: Haritaki was called He Zi (诃子) in Chinese

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Figure 5: Shuo Wen Jie Zi(《说文解字》Origin of Chinese Characters)

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A long time ago, there was a girl named Yichaoma whose father owned an inn. She was not only beautiful, intelligent, and kind but also good at making rice wine which taste like manna. Bodhisattva (菩提萨埵), king of medicine (药王), highly appreciated Yichaoma's charity and helpfulness. He gave her a tree and told her, “This tree is the best medicine in the world. Its roots, trunks, and branches can remove all kinds of diseases of flesh, bone, and skin, while its fruits can treat diseases of internal organs. With this tree, all diseases can be eliminated and therefore it must be cherished.” Yichaoma devoutly planted this tree in the most suitable area and cultivated it carefully. Finally, it was fruitful. Every year, she presented the fruits to the tourists and explained their fiunctions and uses to these tourists so that the fruits could relieve suffering and benefit the people. Later generations called this plant as the He Zi tree, and the medicated fruit was called He Zi.

Obviously, the names of “Big golden fruit,” “Wind-floating fruit,” “Arura,” “Halileh,” and “He Zi” all describe its strong vitality and previous medicinal fiunctions, making Haritaki a significant part of Indian Buddhist culture.

  Haritaki And Indian Buddhist Culture Top

In Indian Buddhist culture, the Haritaki was first used as a noble religious instrument. Pharmacist Buddha (药师佛), also called Medicine Guru Buddha, Medicine Buddha Bhaishajyaguru, is the master of the Buddhist Oriental Sukhavati. Pharmacist Buddha holds a manna bowl in his left hand and a green leaf plant in his right hand, which is Haritaki. It can cure people of diseases and help them recover from death. If someone suffers from serious illness and is dying, then if he can devote himself day and night tothe worship of the Pharmacist Buddha, reading the Buddhist Sutra 49 times, lighting 49 lamps and hanging them on the colorful banner 49 days, his life may be extended. Therefore, Haritaki tree is regarded as a sacred Buddhist tree, and the Haritaki is also respected as the holy medicine of Buddhism, which expresses people's good wishes of eliminating disasters and praying for blessings.[4] As in Zui Sheng Yao Wang (《最胜药王》The Best King's Sutra), it says, “A kind of Halileh has six flavors and can eliminate all diseases. It is worthy of the King of Medicine.”

During the Han Dynasty (汉朝), Haritaki was introduced into China from India and widely used as a health-preserving (养生) medicine. In the 1st year of Yongping in the Southern Song Dynasty (南宋), when a Sanskrit monk came to Guangxiao Temple to preach, he brought a kind of plant which was called “Halileh” in the West at that time. It was so widely planted in Yu garden which was also called “the Haritaki wood.”[5] These trees witnessed the great monks of Guangxiao Temple preaching and practicing scripture [Figure 6], which makes it very spiritual. The monks in the temple often chewed the fruits in their mouths when they chanted the Sutra and felt thirsty. They could quench their thirst and feel refreshed with these fruits. The fruits were often decocted with liquorice to treat many pilgrims. It tastes sweet and sour so that it can quench thirst. Haritaki became more popular with people. Liu Yuxi (刘禹锡), a famous poet of the Tang Dynasty, once suffered from dysentery with severe symptoms. Although he took all kinds of medicines, he did not recover and turned to diarrhea with red and white pus. In desperation, a general surnamed Linghu (令狐) gave him a pot of medicinal wine. After Liu Yuxi drank the wine, his dysentery was removed. The medicinal wine is made from Haritaki.
Figure 6: Hundred years of Haritaki tree in Guangxiao Temple, Guangzhou

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The Buddhist purpose of “cherishing life and universalizing all living beings” is revealed by Haritaki. Haritaki displays the core value of Buddhist doctrine compassion. As a herbal medicine, Haritaki also embodies the belief of Chinese medicine – “In the world, people are the most spiritual creature, and the most important thing for people is life” and “the greatest compassion and concealment of heart is to save the suffering.” Haritaki shows the common concept of traditional Chinese medicine as well as Buddhist culture: “people-oriented, disease-relieving, health and longevity.”

  Functions Of Haritaki Top

Haritaki plays a very important role in Buddhist culture, which is related to its extensive medicinal use. Haritaki is bitter, sour in taste, astringent, and has a plain nature. It exists in lung and large intestine channel. Its functional characteristics are focused on “astringent” – astringing lung for relieving cough and astringent intestine for relieving diarrhea.[6] Its major functions are listed below:

  1. Astringes the lung to relieve cough. Haritaki is bitter, sour, astringent, and in lung channel. It can not only astringe the lung and relieve cough but also lower the adverse qi and treat cough. It also can relieve sore throat to stop cough. It is very suitable for chronic cough accompanied by throat discomfort
  2. Astringes the intestine to relieve diarrhea. Haritaki is bitter, sour, astringent, and in large intestine channel. It can not only astringent intestine and relieve diarrhea but also clear intestinal heat and stop diarrhea. It is commonly used for the patients who suffer from chronic diarrhea and dysentery.

In addition, Haritaki also has a good effect of relieving sore throat. It is suitable for the diseases of throat discomfort, hoarseness, and even aphonia, especially for the hoarseness and aphonia caused by long cough.

With the wish of delivering all living creatures from torment, Indian Buddhist monks trekked along the ancient Silk Road, conveying their beliefs to the Chinese people, bringing Buddhist culture and enriching the medical connotation of traditional Chinese medicine. Haritaki from Indian Buddhist culture not only unravels the mysterious Buddhist culture but also excavates the connection and development of Indian Buddhist culture and traditional Chinese medicine.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Kou ZS. Ben Cao Yan Yi. Shanxi: Shanxi Science and Technology Press; 2012.  Back to cited text no. 1
Qu L. The similarities and differences and prospects of Haritaki in Chinese and Mongolian medicine. Chin Foreign Med Treat 2008;10:52-3.  Back to cited text no. 2
Dreger B. Clinical use of Mongolian medicine-Haritaki. J Med Pharm Chin Minor 2007;7:46.  Back to cited text no. 3
Xiao X. A preliminary study of Buddhist medicine in Yi Xin Fang. Glob Chin Med 2015;8:961-3.  Back to cited text no. 4
Lei YF, Du YD, Hou BQ. Buddhist holy tree-Haritaki and its development and utilization prospects. Guangdong For Sci Technol 2010;26:89-92.  Back to cited text no. 5
Liu YS. Herbal research on the medicinal characteristics and function of exotic Chinese herb-Haritaki. Sichuan Tradit Chin Med 2012;30:50-1.  Back to cited text no. 6


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4], [Figure 5], [Figure 6]


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