Buddhist Narratives of the Forces of Creation

In this essay I consider the mechanics of causation in Tibetan narratives of human gestation. Describing the most dramatic transformation we can experience, embryology is fundamentally about change. A venue for discussing what causes growth and how change occurs, it is about “becoming” as much as “being.” Buddhists throughout history have concerned themselves with describing how change occurs in the various realms of human experience. Defining such metaphysical concepts and integrating them into systems of thought and practice is central to Buddhism from its earliest origins in India, and embryological narratives were a compelling means of expressing these difficult concepts. From India these narratives traveled to Tibet with Buddhist literature, and they were embellished by Tibetans in religious and medical circles over the centuries to follow. This essay considers how embryological narratives interacted with each other and with their literary environments throughout Tibetan history, asking more widely what embryology may tell us about the intertwining of religion and medicine in Tibet.

2008. Tibetan Buddhist Narratives of the Forces of Creation. In Imagining The Fetus: The Unborn in Myth, Religion and Culture, eds. Jane Marie Law & Vanessa R. Sasson. Oxford University Press.