Eating Letters in the Tibetan Treasure Tradition


This paper discusses the presence of a practice referred to as “edible letters” (za yig) in Tibetan Treasure texts (gter ma) and medical literature. The eating of these small papers on which letters are written serves a wide range of practical needs, from increasing one’s wisdom or winning arguments, to protecting against disease, spirit possession or dog bite, and it is often combined with Buddhist visualization exercises. The paper presents the development of the tradition over several centuries, identifies possible connections with similar Chinese practices, and recommends that eating letters be understood as part of a broader embodied alchemy of the alphabet. As such, edible letters unite contemplative, devotional, occult, medical, astrological, cryptographic and dietetic realms of knowledge and practice, and recommend new ways of reading across geographic, sectarian, professional or doctrinal boundaries.

2011. Eating Letters in the Tibetan Treasure Tradition. Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 32 (1-2): 85-114. PDF