Buddhism and Medicine in Tibet: Origins, Ethics, and Tradition

McGrath, William, Religious Studies - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Germano, David, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Schaeffer, Kurtis, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia

This dissertation claims that the turn of the fourteenth century marks a previously unrecognized period of intellectual unification and standardization in the Tibetan medical tradition. Prior to this time, approaches to healing in Tibet were fragmented, variegated, and incommensurable—an intellectual environment in which lineages of tantric diviners and scholarly literati came to both influence and compete with the schools of clinical physicians. Careful engagement with recently published manuscripts reveals that centuries of translation, assimilation, and intellectual development culminated in the unification of these lineages in the seminal work of the Tibetan tradition, the Four Tantras, by the end of the thirteenth century. The Drangti family of physicians—having adopted the Four Tantras and its corpus of supplementary literature from the Yutok school—established a curriculum for their dissemination at Sakya monastery, redacting the Four Tantras as a scripture distinct from the Eighteen Partial Branches addenda. Primarily focusing on the literary contributions made by the Drangti family at the Sakya Medical House, the present dissertation demonstrates the process in which the Tibetan medical tradition transitioned from controversy, competition, and change, to a narratively unified set of theories and practices that came to be taught at Buddhist institutions throughout the Tibetan plateau. From the fourteenth century onward, sharing an established Buddhist origin, bodhisattva code of ethics, and monastic institutional center, the theories and practical instructions of the Tibetan medical tradition continued to be transmitted and diffused throughout the Buddhist networks of Asia, from the center of the Tibetan plateau to the periphery of the Mongolian steppe and beyond.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Buddhism, medicine, Tibet, Tibetan medicine, narrative, history, transmission, practice, tradition
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