Traditional Medicine

Film: Traditional Medicine and Spiritual Development at Won Institute, produced by C. Pierce Salguero & Lan A. Li

This film focuses on the activities of the Won Buddhist community, which is more formally involved in the practice of traditional Asian medicine than any other in the area through the Won Institute of Graduate Studies. This is a separate legal entity founded by the temple community in order to forward Won Buddhism’s mission of education in traditional Asian medicine. Serving a primarily English-speaking non-Asian student body, the school is an accredited grantor of master’s degrees in acupuncture and Buddhist studies, as well as certificates in Chinese herbal medicine. They also run clinics and special events where members of the public can receive treatments. Interviews with the director and other leaders of the Institute provide an overview of the Institute’s activities, and how these fit into the mission of the founder of Won Buddhism.



Temples and meditation centers are often sites for the practice of a range of Asian medical traditions that are not uniquely associated with Buddhism. Qigong, taijiquan,  yoga, acupuncture, herbal medicine, medicinal foods, cupping, scraping, massage, and other therapies are all practiced at various Buddhist locations in Philadelphia.

Most exchanges of traditional Asian medicines occur in informal settings, perhaps before or after public ceremonies, and receive no official endorsement or organizational support from organization leadership. However, there are some examples around the city where institutions explicitly promote certain practices or traditions. The building might include a dedicated space for treatments, for example, or the resident monk might grow medicinal herbs in a garden on the temple grounds. 

Study questions for this film:
  • How is traditional medicine an integral part of Won Buddhism, and why is that the case?
  • Why might someone want to consider using forms of Asian traditional medicine instead of or in addition to modern biomedicine?
  • What kinds of people and communities are being served by the temple’s acupuncture clinic?
  • How does contributing to community healthcare help the temple to enact Buddhist values?
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Further reading:
  • Paul D. Numrich. 2005. “Complementary and Alternative Medicine in America’s ‘Two Buddhisms.’” In Linda L. Barnes and Susan S. Sered (eds.), Religion and Healing in America. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. — A study of the differences in attitudes toward CAM among Asian and Caucasian Buddhists.
  • Pacific Asian Mental Health Research Project. 1982. “Vietnamese Healers” — Provides background to traditional medical practices in Vietnam, mental health among Vietnamese refugees in the United States, plus the case of a Vietnamese Buddhist healer in the Bay Area.
  • C. Pierce Salguero. 2017. Buddhism & Medicine: An Anthology of Premodern Sources. New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 531–608. — A selection of essays introducing and translating texts at the intersection of Buddhism and traditional medicine around premodern Asia.
  • C. Pierce Salguero. 2019. Buddhism & Medicine: An Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Sources. New York: Columbia University Press. — A selection of essays introducing and translating texts about Buddhism and traditional Asian medicine globally.