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Being Human in a Buddhist World

Being Human in a Buddhist World: An Intellectual History of Medicine in Early Modern Tibet

JANET GYATSO
Copyright Date: 2015
https://doi.org/10.7312/gyat16496
Pages: 544
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/gyat16496
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  • Book Info
    Being Human in a Buddhist World
    Book Description:

    Critically exploring scientific thought and its relation to religion in traditional Tibetan medicine,Being Humanexpands our sense of Tibetan cultural history, unpacking the intersection of early modern sensibilities and religious ideals during the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama. Studying the adaptation of Buddhist concepts and values to medical concerns, the book also advances an appreciation of Buddhism's role in the development of Asian and global civilization.

    Through its unique focus and sophisticated reading of source materials,Being Humancaptures the religious character of medicine in Tibet during a period when it facilitated a singular involvement in issues associated with modernity and empirical science, all without discernible influence from the European Enlightenment. The book opens with the bold achievements of medical illustration, commentary, and institution building, then looks back to the work of earlier thinkers, tracing a subtle dialectic between scriptural and empirical authority on questions of history and the nature of human anatomy. It follows key differences between medicine and Buddhism in attitudes toward gender and sex, and the shaping of medical ethics to serve both the physician and the patient's well-being.Being Humanultimately finds that Tibetan medical scholars absorbed ethical and epistemological categories from Buddhism yet shied away from ideal system and absolutes, embracing instead the imperfectability of the human condition.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53832-9
    Subjects: Religion, History, History of Science & Technology, Philosophy, Health Sciences, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. IX-XII)
  5. A TECHNICAL NOTE
    (pp. XIII-XIV)
  6. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. XV-XVIII)
  7. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-19)

    This book studies how knowledge changes. What enables epistemic shift, and what constrains it? How do historians recognize such a shift? If it is not a full rupture with the past, how should we weigh the relative import of continuity and difference? What impact do conceptual loyalties have on the possibility of new thought, or the articulation of unique and particular experience? Do norms function differently when they are enshrined in writing and when they are construed by the senses? Under what circumstances may norms be jettisoned? What role do deference, prestige, and rhetoric have in the formation of knowledge?...

  8. PART I: IN THE CAPITAL

    • 1 READING PAINTINGS, PAINTING THE MEDICAL, MEDICALIZING THE STATE
      (pp. 23-80)

      An extraordinary set of seventy-nine paintings, executed at the height of academic medicine in Tibet, serves well to launch this study.¹ These exquisitetangkascrolls portray in meticulous detail the anatomy,materia medica, diagnostics, therapeutics, pathologies, and healthy and deleterious forces that determine the human condition. Their encyclopedic reach and generic depictions participate in trends, seen much more fully in other parts of the world during the same period, toward producing scientific illustrations from life. They are also stunning testimony to the artistic sophistication that could be mustered in the seventeenth-century Tibetan capital, and to the state’s investment in medical...

    • 2 ANATOMY OF AN ATTITUDE: MEDICINE COMES OF AGE
      (pp. 81-139)

      Not only did the Desi mastermind, from the heights of the Potala, an exceptional set of medical paintings. He also was a consummate historian who authored voluminous biographies of both the Fifth and Sixth Dalai Lamas and a detailed history of the Gandenpa school, in addition to his influential history of medicine, among other massive writings. The last and most powerful chief minister appointed by the Fifth Dalai Lama three years before his death, and then regent of Tibet until the enthronement of the Sixth, the Desi is an outstanding example of the lay intellectuals emerging in this period, particularly...

  9. PART II: BONES OF CONTENTION

    • 3 THE WORD OF THE BUDDHA
      (pp. 143-192)

      When Zurkharwa Lodrö Gyelpo quipped that “in this snowy land of Tibet, as soon as three or more get together. . . they discuss it,” his levity belied the gravity of the matter at hand.¹ The discussion to which he refers is something he cared about greatly. Not only did he codify the most radical stance of all in the heated debate about the authorship of theFour Treatises(in which many more than three participated); he was also exceptionally bold in saying what no one else dared to venture.

      The Desi’s nemesis and medical predecessor by over a century,...

    • 4 THE EVIDENCE OF THE BODY: MEDICAL CHANNELS, TANTRIC KNOWING
      (pp. 193-250)

      Another medical star from the heyday of the Fifth Dalai Lama’s rule is surely Darmo Menrampa Lozang Chödrak (1638–1710). An elder colleague of the Desi, he was at the helm of several of the Great Fifth’s medical initiatives in the mid-seventeenth century. But right at the start of his long collaboration with the Dalai Lama, Darmo performed an experiment, apparently on his own initiative. It would have constituted one of the boldest challenges to textual authority—Buddha Word or not—in all of Tibetan medical history.

      The incident is especially striking in light of the larger history of science...

    • 5 TANGLED UP IN SYSTEM: THE HEART, IN THE TEXT AND IN THE HAND
      (pp. 251-264)

      One further anatomical perplexity lucidly demonstrates how the physician’s experience could play against—and with—received textual system. This time the discrepancy involves not Buddhist scripture (notwithstanding some bids to make it so) but theFour Treatisesitself. A claim the work makes as part of its theory of pulse examination seems blatantly at odds with what is known empirically. The commentators are uncomfortable with it, and they subtly modify a key detail of the authoritative text. Their skillful means in doing so illustrates how Zurkhar-wa’s preservation of the tantric channel system in the formative first weeks of life could...

    • CODA: INFLUENCE, RHETORIC, AND RIDING TWO HORSES AT ONCE
      (pp. 265-283)

      A small, further detail on the heart tip question provides a fitting way to close our study of the last three chapters’ debates. It points to a critical dimension of the processes by which knowledge changes, exemplified not only in the tenor of Zurkharwa’s interventions but also in the culture of medical learning by the Desi’s day.

      The detail is that while Zurkharwa’s solution to theFour Treatises’puzzling assertion about the heart was ingenious, it wasn’t really his. This small epiphany draws our attention back to the many skillful maneuvers in which Zurkharwa engaged. A key part of that...

  10. PART III: ROOTS OF THE PROFESSION

    • 6 WOMEN AND GENDER
      (pp. 287-342)

      Gender and the status of women are complicated matters to take up in any context. Inevitably they entail contested issues in which not only the objects of our study but also we, the researcher or student, have personal stakes. Stakes can cloud our perceptions. Add to this the nature of gender itself—by which I mean the style and significance associated with sexual identity.¹ Such associations are often vague or inconsistent, if articulated at all.

      The present chapter comes firstly out of a curiosity on my part. Should we expect the physician’s immersion in medical realities to make a dent...

    • 7 THE ETHICS OF BEING HUMAN: THE DOCTOR’S FORMATION IN A MATERIAL REALM
      (pp. 343-396)

      In the world of theFour Treatises, medical knowledge is embedded and intersubjective. Medical education forms whole persons, persons who are keenly aware of their material and social situations. Their teacher’s own embodied example is at the heart of much of what they need to learn, as the first injunction, from an early commentary by Yutok Yönten Gönpo’s leading disciple, urges here. Its ethos jettisons any judgment on the teacher’s proclivities, whether oriented toward religion (the Dharma) or fighting. The virtue being advanced is rather about the student-teacher relationship itself.

      TheFour Treatisesprovides a full chapter on the training...

    • CONCLUSION: WAYS AND MEANS FOR MEDICINE
      (pp. 397-408)

      Medical knowledge in Tibet faced at least two challenges, both having to do with ideals. One is very basic, and shared across the history of medicine: the incongruity between the need to catalogue information and the need to heal individuals. Standard, generic rubrics are essential to structure knowledge. But their very ideality can stand in the way when the physician is trying to pinpoint the unique combination of factors in a particular pathological condition. It is the problem of the discrepancy between rational system and nature.

      A second challenge has to do with a proclivity to favor ideal bodies—now...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 409-472)
  12. BIBLIOGRAPHIES
    (pp. 473-498)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 499-520)