The Making of Medical History

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This essay addresses the transmission of medical knowledge in Tibet spanning a period of roughly six hundred years. I begin with an overview of several of the major traditions of Tibetan medicine during this period, emphasizing both how intertwined they are with each other and how connected they are to contemporaneous Buddhist traditions. I then examine how histories of medicine themselves construct the place of the medical tradition within Tibetan bodies of knowledge and literature, followed by a look at how medical study and healing practices are presented in one prominent fifteenth-century history of Buddhism in Tibet. Finally, I briefly consider what may be learned about the history of medicine by studying particular healing practices over time. In viewing Tibetan medical history from different angles, using different kinds of sources, with an emphasis on its relationship to Buddhist traditions, this essay aims to demonstrate how complex this relationship has been throughout history and to advocate for research on Tibetan medicine that is sensitive to the localized and historically contingent nature of the tradition.

2014. The Making of Medical History. In Bodies in Balance: The Art of Tibetan Medicine, ed. Resi Hofer. University of Washington Press with Rubin Museum of Art. This publication is now available online.