Mercury, Mad Dogs and Smallpox

Famous for his contributions to art and grammar, Situ Panchen is also claimed by Tibetan medical historians as one of the great figures of medicine. He was a major supporter of institutional medicine, sponsoring the reprinting of a number of important medical works, and establishing a medical college at Dpal spungs monastery. Not only did he support the medical tradition administratively, he himself was also an active student, teacher and practitioner of medicine. This paper discusses a few features of the Situ tradition of medicine, based on a study of several works attributed to Situ and to his students. I begin with a quick overview of Situ’s own medical practice and the state of institutional and textual medicine in Situ’s day, and I then comment on some distinctive features of the Situ medical tradition itself by examining the kinds of texts dominant in this tradition and the textual sources it considers authoritative. Where, among the vast body of Tibetan literature that had accumulated by the eighteenth century, did Situ and his students find authoritative information about healing illness? In the second part of this paper, I focus in particular on three topics – the use of mercury, the treatment of mad dogs, and remedies for smallpox. Our quick look at these three topics will allow me to characterize further a distinctive Situ medical tradition.

2013. Mercury, Mad Dogs and Smallpox: Medicine in the Situ Panchen Tradition. In Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies 7: 277-301.