Traditional Medicine

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

The Won Buddhist Temple is more heavily involved in traditional Asian medicine than any others in the area, through its educational branch, the Won Institute of Graduate Studies. This is a separate legal entity founded by the temple community in order to forward their founder’s mission of spiritual development through education. 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 events where members of the public can receive treatments. The film focuses on the school’s mission and public outreach activities.



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. 


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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.