What Children Need

Photo by Mona Schrempf

In this article I explore the care of children in Tibetan culture as expressed through several works on the medical and ritual treatment and protection of children. These texts describe a remarkably broad range of technologies aimed and healing and protecting children, recommending the feeding of pills, soups, butters, beers, or texts to children, parents, or deities; physically manipulative techniques, such as as surgery, washing, annointing, fumigating or massaging; the wearing of all manner of amulets, talismans, strings, papers, ointments, or letters; and the theatrical staging of elaborate hospitality or ransom dramas. Some of the texts I will examine are old, but all of them are in use today, in some way, each having been recently reprinted in one or more editions; none of this material is therefore obscure or terribly esoteric. Anyone who has spent time around small children in Tibetan parts of Asia, particularly in rural areas, will have observed ample evidence of the kinds of therapeutic technologies we will see described in these texts: amulets hanging from children’s necks, mantras and diagrams posted on household doors, ransom effigies left at dusty intersections. Through an examination of the making and use of these therapeutic and protective objects, I will propose that we can describe a material culture of childhood that may in turn tell us a bit about the child as a category.

2012. “What children need”: Making Childhood with Technologies of Protection and Healing. In Buddhist Children in Texts and Culture, ed. Vanessa Sasson. Oxford University Press.