By Jason Lee (Rice University ’22)
With its focus on understanding the connections between mind and body, and a whole range of therapies for curing mental and physical illnesses, Buddhism has always been closely interlinked with medicine (Zysk 1996; Hofer 2014; Salguero 2018, 2019, 2020; Triplett 2019). Commonly referred to as the “Great Physician” or “Great Medicine King,” the Buddha is regarded as the healer who cures all human suffering. Buddhist temples, in turn, have served as key sites of health care and social wellness in Asian and Asian diasporic communities throughout history and today.
As an emerging field, “Buddhist medicine” studies how various healing and medical practices have developed in different Buddhist contexts (Salguero 2018). With origins in India, Buddhism has not only spread across East Asia, Southeast Asia, and Central Asia, but also worldwide. Though often described as a pan-Asian religion, Buddhism has adapted in countless locally specific ways. From the traditional sectarian division of Theravāda/Mahāyāna/Vajrayāna to modern and nontraditional forms, Buddhism is not a singular religion but a diverse body of ideas and practices. Similarly, Buddhist medicine, as opposed to being a cohesive system, is diverse in how it has evolved according to different local cultures and traditions.
Buddhist conceptions of the relationship between Buddhism and medicine have changed over time (Salguero 2018; Salguero 2020). As observed in their continued attempts to modernize, many Buddhists straddle between reforming how they present and practice Buddhism while also attempting to hold on to certain orthodox Buddhist traditions. In terms of medicine, some have chosen to embrace modern Western biomedicine alongside traditional Asian medicine. For others, approaches to modernization entail the secularization and institutionalization of traditional Asian medicine. Buddhist diasporic communities have also had to navigate how both Buddhist and Asian health traditions intersect with mainstream Western medicine and public health (Wu 2002; Numrich 2005; Salguero 2019).
A growing body of scholarly work has analyzed the key roles that transnational Buddhist organizations have played in the globalization of Buddhism (e.g., Huang 2009; Kloos 2010; Baker 2012; Reinke 2021; Gerke 2021). Many of these organizations perceive medicine as being integral to their missions, and have established worldwide networks of medical and educational institutions, even while adapting each chapter in light of local needs. These institutions have also transformed how traditional Asian medicine is studied and commercialized to expand its influence on a global scale.
Jivaka.net’s Global Buddhist Medicine examines the role that Buddhist institutions play in contributing to all sorts of health and wellness practices across different national contexts. We map and identify key sites of interest globally, and feature short essays on the medical activities at these locations using information from both scholarly and online sources. These sources are extracted from a diverse range of languages, including Chinese, Korean, Spanish, Thai, Tibetan, and Vietnamese, among others. Each short essay also includes photographs, videos, external links, and scholarly references that offer additional information about each site, and everything is categorized and indexed to be easily used in teaching and research.
The essays presented on this site are not meant to be comprehensive, but instead are meant to offer a broadly representative perspective of Buddhist medicine and healing around the world today. Global Buddhist Medicine highlights how Buddhist medicine is locally embedded, globally interconnected, and highly relevant to global health in the contemporary era.
General Project Bibliography
- Baker, Don. 2012. “Constructing Korea’s Won Buddhism as a New Religion,” International Journal for the Study of New Religions 3 (1): 47-70.
- Gerke, Barbara. 2021. Taming the Poisonous Mercury, Toxicity, and Safety in Tibetan Medical Practice. Heidelberg: Heidelberg University Publishing.
- Hofer, Teresia (ed.). 2014. Bodies in Balance: The Art of Tibetan Medicine. New York: Rubin Museum of Art / Univ. of Washington Press.
- Huang, C. Julia. 2009. Charisma and Compassion: Cheng Yen and the Buddhist Tzu Chi Movement. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Kloos, Stephan. 2010. “Navigating ‘Modern Science’ and ‘Traditional Culture’: The Dharamsala Men-Tsee-Khang in India” in Medicine between Science and Religion: Explorations on Tibetan Grounds. Oxford & New York: Berghahn Book.
- Numrich, P. D. 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.
- Reinke, Jens. 2021. Mapping Modern Mahayana: Chinese Buddhism and Migration in the Age of Global Modernity. Berlin: De Gruyter Oldenbourg.
- Salguero, C. Pierce. 2018. “Buddhist Medicine and Its Circulation.” In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Asian History, edited by David E. Ludden. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Salguero, C. Pierce. 2019. “Varieties of Buddhist Healing in Multiethnic Philadelphia.” Religions 10 (1): 48. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10010048
- Salguero, C. Pierce. 2020. Buddhism and Medicine. An Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Sources. New York: Columbia University Press.
- Triplett, Katja. 2019. Buddhism and Medicine in Japan: A Topical Survey (500-1600 CE) of a Complex Relationship. Berlin: De Gruyter.
- Wu, Hongyu. 2002. “Buddhism, Health, and Healing in a Chinese Community.” http://pluralism.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Wu.pdf, last accessed 10 Feb. 2018.
- Zysk, Kenneth. 1998. Asceticism and Healing in Ancient India: Medicine in the Buddhist Monastery. Corrected edition. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.